Philistine spirit of today’s political age

September 19, 2013

When Joe Hockey, the Liberal Party opposition Treasury spokesman, ridiculed an Australian Research Council-funded project on the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (“The God of Hegel’s Post-Kantian Idealism” by Paul Redding), it represented more than unwarranted interference with academic freedom (“Tony Abbott win leads to humanities funding fears”, 9 September): Hockey also displayed an inability to comprehend the meaning and importance of Hegel’s thought. After all, the philosopher’s works feature among mankind’s most important books.

Hegel was the first philosopher to develop a comprehensive thesis on civil society’s structure at the dawn of modernity. For him, it starts with the family and includes churches, corporations and civic institutions such as political parties. Hegel saw the state’s role as providing a police force, defence and social welfare for citizens. In all of that, religion has its place as an institution of civil society, not as something belonging to families or the state. Research projects into Hegel are not “wasteful” but rather improve our understanding of the constitution of modern societies.

The great philosopher was exposed to Prussian censorship during his lifetime. Today, Hockey and Australia’s Coalition government appear to be fostering the same censorious spirit. Regardless, Hegel’s writings remain highly relevant for civil society, and it is for this reason that they remain popular around the world. Scientific research into his work needs to be conducted unhindered by the politicians.

Thomas Klikauer
University of Western Sydney

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