Annotations and Criticisms of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right”, Paragraphs 241-245, On Poverty

I made a bunch of quotes from Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right”. They include paragraphs 241-245 on pp. 187-189 retrieved from I also added some annotations and cross-references to Marx upon making these quotes. Hegel offered interesting insights into some of the more practical observations of the world in these passages.

241. Not the arbitrary will only, but accidental circumstances, which
may be physical or external (§200), may bring the individual to poverty.
This condition exposes him to the wants of the civic community, which has
already deprived him of the natural methods of acquisition (§217), and
superseded the bond of the family stock (§181). Besides, poverty causes
men to lose more or less the advantage of society, the opportunity to acquire
skill or education, the benefit of the administration of justice, the care for
health, even the consolation of religion. Amongst the poor the public power
takes the place of the family in regard to their immediate need, dislike of
work, bad disposition, and other vices, which spring out of poverty and the
sense of wrong

Hegel is describing the manifestations of poverty without explaining how poverty is, according to Marx, a necessary condition for capitalist production instead of an “accidental circumstance”. “But in fact it is capitalist accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces indeed in direction with its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant working population, i.e. a population which is superfluous to capital’s average requirements for its own valorization, and is therefore a surplus population.” (“Capital”, p.782) Notice also how important the “arbitrary will” is for Hegel, i.e. that all we know about the world must have something to do with us being rational agents with the will to achieve a certain objective.

242. The subjective element of poverty, or generally the distress, to
which the individual is by nature exposed, requires subjective assistance,
both in view of the special circumstances, and out of sympathy and love.
Here, amidst all general arrangements, morality finds ample room to work.
But since the assistance is in its own nature and in its effects casual, the
effort of society shall be to discover a general remedy for penury and to do
without random help.
Note.—Haphazard almsgiving and such foundations as the burning of
lamps beside holy images, etc., are replaced by public poor-houses, hospitals,
street lighting, etc. To charity enough still remains. It is a false view for
charity to restrict its help to private methods and casual sentiment and
knowledge, and to feel itself injured and weakened by regulations binding
upon the whole community. On the contrary, the public system is to be
regarded as all the more complete, the less remains to be done by special

Hegel describes the concept of public charity coming from the welfare state, i.e. a contractual agreement by the state to not let its poorest citizens suffer from absolute poverty, i.e. a lack of food, clothing shelter and other necessaries in life. This concept is opposed to private charity, which he sees to be incomplete and haphazard. Hegel is defending a strong state and civic community. And that is in the interest of what Rousseau described as the “General Will”, right? And what Marx in the Manifesto would deride under the title of “Conservative, or Bourgeois, Socialism” defined as “[a] part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances, in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society”. I would make that leap, because Hegel was concerned with the ability of all members of society to be integrated into the civic community, including the poor, and if you replace the term ‘civic community’ with ‘bourgeois society’ you will get such analogy. (My personal opinion is that Hegel coming from a ‘realist’ framework and regarding the civic community (state) under capitalism as a traditional foundation for society and wanting to redress the plight of the poor by means of a proactive welfare state is probably most realistically right. Whereas Marx wants to abolish capitalism and replace it with communism, i.e. repeal the surplus extraction of the working class by the capitalist class, and regards any other pittance for the poor temporarily as superficial in terms of sustaining a good society. Sounds well and fine, but how to get from here to there?)

243. When the civic community is untrammelled in its activity, it increases
within itself in industry and population. By generalizing the relations of
men by the way of their wants, and by generalizing the manner in which the
means of meeting these wants are prepared and procured, large fortunes are
amassed. On the other side, there occur repartition and limitation of the
work of the individual labourer and, consequently, dependence and distress
in the artisan class. With these drawbacks are associated callousness of
feeling and inability to enjoy the larger possibilities of freedom,
especially the mental advantages of the civic community.

Hegel roughly describes the historical process at which the wealth of society, or, according to Adam Smith, the wealth of nations, has increased, whereas social discontent, income inequality, wealth concentration and poverty have also gone up. What he describes, but not explains is the capitalist mode of production, and the internal contradictions embedded in it. The contradiction can be summed up in the question, why does the society (for Marx, the worker) produce more and more goods and services, while parts of the society (according to Hegel the aristan class) become impoverished? But again, from a Marxian viewpoint, you can see that Hegel is not digging deep enough and only refrains himself to the manifestations of the processes in the economic system (capitalism) rather than describing how exactly these processes cause those manifestations. One part of Marx’ “Capital” is going to talk about the so-called “primitive accumulation” of the rising bourgeois class, i.e. the bourgeoisie is stealing land from peasants and then using this land as private property to derive profits. Take say, for example, the Brazilians or the Chinese recently, who are rounded up from their home areas and then have to work in a factory to make a living. In this factory they produce a surplus for the factory owner, and in return receive a wage that is always lower in value than the value they produce for the company and is never controlled by the worker himself, but by the factory owner even though he is not the person that has created the value in the first place, but the worker. It is like saying that you can use your parents’ and aunt’s money at your discretion even though they have worked for the money. No traditional person could accept the younger generation to expropriate income from the older generation, but capitalism is precisely so organized that the producers do not control the money, but another small group of elites. Marx describes this as a particular social relation springing up from the capitalist mode of production rather than a ‘natural’ economic law enshrined for reverence into eternity like Jesus Christ stands to Christianity.
But Hegel is onto something important when describing the negative outcomes associated to the distress of large segments of the population. The civic community can under such circumstances no longer be sustained. What he is describing is a loss of positive freedom, i.e. the freedom for doing/achieving something. This stands in opposition to John Stuart Mill’s blind application of the Harm Principle (“do as you wish as long as you don’t injure others”, refer to Curtis “Great Political Theories”, pp 200-204) or negative freedom, i.e. the freedom from something. The freedom from government or civic community interference, regulation, oppression, suppression, repression, subjugation. If you are poor it doesn’t matter, because at least the government is not oppressing your freedom. For Marx the government is a sub-function in the interest of the bourgeois class, but he does notice that the lack of restraint of the “markets” leads to a tyranny of its own sort through the impoverishment of the working class and the increasing instability of the capitalist system (which is historically verified- a wonderful piece on Western economic history of the 20th century, which the author describes as the ‘neoliberal policy regime’ can be read here This is what Hegel would characterize as the loss of access to the civic community, which is harmful to the civic community.
The sociologist Herbert Spencer is in regards to the redress of grievances for the poor even more radical. In applying biological, Darwinian concepts of evolutionary struggle he does not think that the government or civic community should pass any provisions in caring for the poor and reducing social discontent. He argues, “Besides an habitual neglect of the fact that the quality of a society is physically lowered morally and intellectually, by the artificial preservation of those who are least able to take care of themselves.” (Curtis, p.262) For him the civic community is endangered by caring for what he thinks are the weakest and dumbest members.

244. When a large number of people sink below the standard of living
regarded as essential for the members of society, and lose that sense of
right, rectitude, and honour which is derived from self-support, a pauper
class arises, and wealth accumulates disproportionately in the hands of a
Addition.—The way of living of the pauper class is the lowest of
all, and is adopted by themselves. But with different peoples the minimum
is very different. In England even the poorest man believes that he
has his right, and with him this standard is different from that which
satisfies the poor in other lands. Poverty does not of itself make a pauper.
The pauper state implies a frame of mind, associated often with
poverty, consisting in inner rebellion against the wealthy, against society,
and against constituted authority. Moreover, in order to descend to
the class, which is at the mercy of the changes and chances of life, men
must be heedless and indifferent to work, as are the Lazzaroni in Naples.
Hence, in this section of the community arises the evil thing that a man
has not self-respect enough to earn his own living by his work, and still
he claims support as a right. No man can maintain a right against nature.
Yet, in social conditions want assumes the form of a wrong done to
one or other class. The important question, how poverty is to be done
away with, is one which has disturbed and agitated society, especially in
modern times.

Hegel is again offering an interesting characterization of the concrete manifestations of what Marx described as the capitalist mode of production without describing what they are. He just assumes that it naturally comes into being, and then applies an analysis which fits his thesis of what is necessary to sustain the civic community (if that is what is his thesis at all, we don”t know that yet). But one manifestation deserves somewhat more scrutiny “Poverty does not of itself make a pauper. The pauper state implies a frame of mind, associated often with poverty, consisting in inner rebellion against the wealthy, against society, and against constituted authority.” There was a nice report I watched on Russian television about British gang violence that is flaring up especially as the economic crisis takes a toll on the young British under class. What Hegel is concerned about is that the alienation of the poor leads to disintegrating tendencies within a society that needs to sustain this civic-republican “core” or this civic community. This is actually a fairly conservative notion, even though in today’s politics it could not be recognized as such. Labels are inversely flipped around. So back in the days the word ‘reform’ meant a progressive change in policies that would benefit the marginalized sectors of society, including voting right expansions or welfare system implementations etc. Today reform means neoliberal ‘reform’, which means the opposite, i.e. the dispossession of rights for the marginalized populations, or what the Occupy movement calls the ‘99%’ (insofar my term ‘marginalized population’ might be misleading, because it indicates a much smaller proportion in society). A Hegelian conservative is today a left-wing radical, wheras for Marx he would be a bourgeois socialist, i.e a man solidly in the right and against recognizing the state of the economic system, i.e. capitalism, and the subsequent revolutionary overthrow of this economic system, the latter (revolution) being premised on the former (recognition).
Notice also the statement, “Yet, in social conditions want assumes the form of a wrong done to one or other class.” Hegel already recognizes the importance of class, and for Marx this will be the center premise of his argument, that there are two distinct classes in the capitalist mode of production. In the Manifesto he delineated that the bourgeoisie has “simplified the class antagonisms”.

245. If upon the more wealthy classes the burden were directly laid
of maintaining the poor at the level of their ordinary way of life, or if in
public institutions, such as rich hospitals, foundations, or cloisters, the
poor could receive direct support, they would be assured of subsistence
without requiring to do any work. This would be contrary both to the
principle of the civic community and to the feeling its members have of
independence and honour.
Again, if subsistence were provided not directly but through work,
or opportunity to work, the quantity of produce would be increased, and
the consumers, becoming themselves producers, would be proportionately
too few. Whether in the case of over-production, then, or in the case of
direct help, the evil sought to be removed would remain, and, indeed, would
by either method be enhanced. There arises the seeming paradox that the
civic community when excessively wealthy is not rich enough. It has not
sufficient hold of its own wealth to stem excess of poverty and the creation
of paupers.
Note.—These phenomena may be studied in England, where they occur on an
extensive scale. In that country may also be observed the consequences of
poor rates, of vast foundations, of unlimited private benevolence, and,
above all, of the discontinuance of the corporation. In England,
and especially in Scotland, the most direct remedy against poverty and
against laziness and extravagance, which are the cause of poverty, has been
proved by practical experience to be to leave the poor to their fate, and
direct them to public begging. This, too, has been found to be the best
means for preserving that sense of shame and honour, which is the subjective
basis of society.

Hegel claims that the wealthy should not merely provide handouts to the poor, but create jobs for the poor so that they can sustain their ‘independence’ and ‘honor’. Then he hinted at a problem connected to the increased amount of workers, who are then “artifiically” employed. (Such a term could only be applied under capitalism, where employment serves the purpose of profit creation (!), not the fulfillment of individual human needs, according to Marx, and the enjoyment of freedom in the civic community, according to Hegel) This passage contains some very controversial elements that require further elucidation. The premise of his statement is that the rich legitimately through the market process have earned their wealth, and with that wealth to which they deservedly claim private property protected by state law, i.e. civic community (there might be problems in mixing the terms state with civic community, because I think that Hegel thought that the state is a concrete manifestation of the umbrella term civic community, which encompasses all aspects of society), they can do whatever they want with it, including giving handouts to the poor, who in their state of laziness and dependence on the benevolence of the rich would remain in their condition unconducive to a civic community, which requires the active engagement and participation of all members of society, i.e. all of its members to do some work. And how can the rich after they have earned their money be compelled to contribute to the poor, who don’t deserve because they didn”t work for it? Now, this is not a 19th century argument, but a current one. Think about it. When in America, a wealthy school district says that it won’t pay more in taxes so that a poor school district may receive more subsidies to run a decent school system in an area where its own tax base is insufficient to provide such a decent school system, then it is using precisely such logic. The wealthy people over and over again lay universal claim to “their” fruits of labor, and are not willing to share it. The bourgeois socialist or philantrophist or vulgar economist, on the line of Marx, would be stuck on that level of analysis, would adopt the premise (that the rich earned their money), and then deplore the fact that these rich people are so mean to the poor, and that in the interest of the General Will (Rousseau) or the civic community (Hegel) should increase- at best voluntarily- their level of contributions in favor of the poor.
This is bourgeois socialist line, not a Marxist line. If you remember what I wrote a few paragraphs ago, I stated that in the Marxist analysis under capitalism the wealth that is accumulated by the capitalist stems from the surplus created by the worker, but owned by the capitalist (when I raised the example with using your aunt’s and parents’ money). So, to give you an illustration, the wealthiest CEOs in America today are health care executives, who in many instances are responsible for the expensive health care system. Other countries spend between 2-3% of health care spending for administrative (i.e. personel remunerations) expenses, in America it comes close to 30% in some areas. So the wealthy health care executives derive their fortunes not through the magical hand of hard work, but through the appropriation of health care dollars paid for by the customers, i.e. theft. Now, that is not a very Marxian line, because for him the theft occurs not against customers in the consumer market, but against workers in the production process (a very important distinction). But if you want to look at the economic system as a totality, you would need to run the line on consumer theft. E.g. why are Nike shoes so expensive even though the cost for producing them, i.e. labor costs, have gone down due to cheap Asian labor? The consumers are screwed, and the workers are screwed, but the capitalist profits. Not through his own sweat, but the sweat of his workers. And after he accumulate other people’s wealth, he can then give it back to the people. A reading of Marx’ “Eighteenth Brumaire” might be especially helpful, when he characterized Louis Bonaparte’s pedantic attempt to please the multi-class public that has elected him to power. “Bonaparte would like to appear as the patriarchal benefactor of all classes. But he cannot give to one without taking from another. Just as it was said of the Duke de Guise in the time of the Fronde that he was the most obliging man in France because he gave all his estates to his followers, with feudal obligations to him, so Bonaparte would like to be the most obliging man in France and turn all the property and all the labor of France into a personal obligation to himself. He would like to steal all of France in order to make a present of it to France, or rather in order to buy France anew with French money, for as the Chief of the Society of December 10 he must buy what ought to belong to him.”

I will also include a link to a work by Marx called “Results of the Direct Process of Production”, where his economic theories are concisely put together.

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