Law and Critique

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 189–206 | Cite as

‘Expression of Contempt’: Hegel’s Critique of Legal Freedom

  • Daniel LoickEmail author


In this paper, I argue for the existence of pathologies of juridicism. I attempt to show that the Western regime of right tends to colonize our intersubjective relations, resulting in the formation of affective and habitual dispositions that actually hinder participation in social life. Speaking of pathologies of juridicism is to claim that the legal form fundamentally contaminates the way in which we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the world, resulting in an ethically deformed, distorted or deficient form of (inter-) subjectivity. To support my thesis I consult a philosopher, whose work still provides a powerful analysis and critique of juridicism, namely, Hegel. Hegel provides an historic and a systematic theory of the pathologies of juridicism. His historical theory locates the origin of the abstract subjectivity of right in Roman antiquity. His systematic theory understands the negative effects of an absolutization of the legal domain as a persistent threat to social integration and an individual’s pursuit of the good life. I clarify these argumentative dimensions in two steps, beginning with Hegel’s historical analysis of right in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History. I then reconstruct Hegel’s critique of the subjectivity of right in the short chapter on the ‘Condition of Right’ in his Phenomenology of Spirit. In conclusion, I argue that, although Hegel’s diagnosis is correct, his prescribed therapy must fail: instead of radically altering abstract right in terms of content and form, it only recommends its complementation through other ethical spheres.


Abstract right Hegel Juridicism Legal subjectivity Rome Social pathology 



This study was funded by the VolkswagenStiftung (Germany) and carried out during my fellowship at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University. I am grateful for tremendously helpful comments by Amy Allen, Chad Kautzer, and the participants of the ‘Right & Subjectivity’ workshop that took place in April 2013 at Harvard.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für PhilosophieGoethe UniversityFrankfurtGermany

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