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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Hegel’s Rabble and Marx’s Proletariat

In his account of civil society, Hegel argues that modern society creates an impoverished class, whose existence is against the principles on which the society is founded, and whose condition cannot he improved through the economic and social institutions. Hegel calls this improvised class "rabble" and sees them as a threat to society. In his Lectures on the Philosophy of Right, Hegel says: "The rabble is a dangerous ill, because they have neither rights nor duties" Karl Marx, on the other hand, sees a political significance in the Hegelian rabble class; he sees them as the working class, the proletariat, and the true spirit of the society.

Allen Wood, in his essay “Hegel and Marxism,” (Chapter 13; The Cambridge Companion to Hegel, Edited by Frederick C. Beiser) conducts a comparison between the rabble of Hegel and Marx:

"Like Marx, Hegel thinks the condition of poverty gives rise to a distinctive disposition or mind-set on the part of the poor, which is hostile to the ethical principles of civil society. But whereas Marx sees the mission of the impoverished class as positive and its (at least incipient) mentality as creative and progressive, Hegel sees this mentality, despite the fundamental rationality embodied in it, as entirely corruptive and destructive, harboring no potentiality of abolishing or redeeming the evils that have produced it.

"Poverty, Hegel says, turns the poor into a "rabble" [Pobel). The mark of the rabble is not poverty itself, but "a disposition coupled with poverty, an inner indignation against the rich, against society, the government, etc." (Philosophy of Right) The poor turn into a rabble not through want alone, but through a certain corrupted attitude of mind that want tends inevitably to bring with it under the ethical conditions of modern civil society. The separation of the poor class from civil society's cultural benefits leads to a deeper separation, a separation of "mind" or "emotion" [Gemiit): "The poor man feels himself excluded and mocked by everyone, and this necessarily gives rise to an inner indignation. He is conscious of himself as an infinite, free being, and thus arises the demand that his external existence should correspond to his consciousness" (Lectures on the Philosophy of Right).

"Poverty is a wrong, an injustice; but the poor do not suffer merely some contingent denial of a right, which might leave intact their dignity and their will to defend their rights generally. Instead, poverty destroys the sense of self that for Hegel is the necessary vehicle of ethical attitudes in modern society."

While Hegel denounces the rabble mentality, he accepts that the rabble class is justified in believing that they are not being fairly treated by the civil society. In Philosophy of Right, Hegel talks about the “right of necessity,” which entails that when the rights of others threaten my well-being as a whole, then my violation of their right ceases to be a wrong. In normal cases, the right of necessity becomes valid only in circumstances of extreme danger or distress, but Hegel confers this right on the rabble class. In his essay, Allen Wood says:

"Hegel argues that when you are poor, the right of necessity comes to apply generally to you, because your whole life is carried on beneath the minimum level recognized as necessary for a member of civil society. Thus the right of necessity becomes universal for you; against you, no one has rights any longer: "Earlier we considered the right of necessity as referring to a momentary need. [In the case of poverty, however], necessity no longer has this momentary character." Poverty thus gives rise to "the non-recognition of right.” The poor thus fall outside the ethical life of civil society. 

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