The Rule of Law in The German Constitution

The Owl of Minerva 22 (2):159-174 (1991)
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Hegel’s definition of the state as a common public authority in The German Constitution marks his first thorough attempt to understand the authority of the modern state in terms of the rule of law. Such an understanding of the state constitutes an important advance in Hegel’s political philosophy since, in his early political-theological writings, the legal relation was in essence excluded from the political sphere. Positing a fundamental opposition between legality and authentic ethical life, Hegel interpreted societies in which legal forms become particularly pronounced as societies founded on degenerate political institutions and caught up in an inexorable process of decline. Until Hegel grasped the positive ethical significance of legal authority, something accomplished in The German Constitution, his theory of the state remained largely determined by a Greek-inspired, virtue-based paradigm of political life. Only with the overcoming of this paradigm could he move to a comprehensive analysis of both modern institutional structures and the political theories that attempt to understand and justify them. Hegel’s evolving theory of modern legal form thus provides an important index and measure of his complex stance toward modern political society and of his critical assessment of the self-interpretations of modernity offered by the natural right tradition and the Enlightenment.



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