Hegel’s Account of the Market Economy

  • Norbert Waszek
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 120)


The aim of the present chapter is to consider some basic elements of Hegel’ views on economic matters in the light of the Scottish influence on him. Before beginning the account of a market economy which Hegel gives in his “System of Needs”, it is necessary to bring to mind that he had previously provided — in his section on ‘Abstract Right’ (§§34–104) — some of the very presuppositions which Smith’s and Steuart’s models of economic life required for their proper functioning, most notably, private property, the existence of money as a general means of exchange, and an elaborate system of private law, centring on the law of contract. These presuppositions, though not always explicitly re-stated, are supposed to be effictive throughout the “System of Needs”. Like-wise, these pre-conditions of the ‘system of needs’ are later comple-mented in his ‘Rechtspflege’ (‘The Administration of Law’ ; §§ 209–229, an account of the means by which abstract right is enforced. A detailed consideration of these features goes beyond the scope of the present work,2 but it will be shown briefly that the institutional, jurisprudential framework of Hegel’s economic model already betrays significant par-allels with the Scots’ views.


Civil Society Free Hand Universal Class Business Class Ethical Life 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Carl Ludwig Michelet, Naturrecht und Rechtsphilosophie als die praktische Philosophie enthaltend Rechts-, Sitten- und Gesellschaftslehre. In 2 vols. (Berlin, 1866) Vol. I, pp. 6 f.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See: Joachim Ritter, “Person und Eigentum”, and Peter Landau, “Hegels Begründung des Vertragsrechts”, both in Manfred Riedel (1975) Vol. II, pp. 152–175 and 176–197 respectively.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    VRP, Vol. II, § 46, p. 216 - TMK, p. 42: “Since my will, as the will of a person, and so as a single will, becomes objective to me in property, property acquires the character of private property.”Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    This difference has recently been clarified by Christopher Berry, “Property and Possession: Two Replies to Locke — Hume and Hegel”, J.R. Pennock & J.W. Chapman (Eds.), Property (New York, 1980) pp. 89–100; a comparison which throws light on both accounts.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cp.: Landau/Riedel (1975) Vol. II, pp. 180 f.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    VRP, Vol. II, § 71, p. 296 - TMK, p. 57: “Contract presupposes that the parties entering it recognize each other as persons and property owners. It is a relationship at the level of mind objective, and so contains and presupposes from the start the moment of recognition.”Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    VRP, Vol. II, § 63, p. 260 - TMK, p. 51; for Aristotle’s own exposition see: Nicomachean Ethics Book V.8. I have used the German edition: Die Nikomachische Ethik. Translated and edited by Olof Gigon (Zürich, 2nd edition, 1967) pp. 163–166.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Peter Landau, I think, makes this point in too sweeping a manner: Landau/Riedel (1975) Vol. II, p. 182.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    VRP, Vol. II, pp. 261 f; cp.: Hegel’s early distinction between ‘ideal’ and ‘empirical measure’ of goods (SdS, p. 437).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    A gulf, incidentally, which supports our previous claim that Hegel’s direct knowledge of Ricardo was rather limited.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    A point which Paul Chamley (1969, p. 157) has rightly stressed.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    This definition is illustrated with the example of “silver-plate curiously wrought” of which “the intrinsic worth subsists entire” (SJS, Vol. I, p. 312).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    SJS, Vol. II, p. 409: “The value of things depends upon many circumstances, which however may be reduced to four principal heads: First, The abundance of the things to be valued. Secondly, The demand which mankind make for them. Thirdly, The competition between the demanders; and Fourthly, The extent of the faculties of the demanders.”Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    SdS, pp. 32 + 66; HGW, Vol. VI, p. 324; HGW, Vol. VIII, p. 225.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    VRP, Vol. II, note to § 63, p. 263; cp.: VRP, Vol. III, pp. 240 f; VRP, Vol. IV, p. 229; and Hegel’s aphorism of the Berlin period: “Money is the abbreviation of all external need” (TWA, Vol. XI, p. 565).Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    SJSW, Vol. I, p. 42: “By Money, I understand any commodity, which purely in itself is of no material use to man for the purposes above-mentioned, but which acquires such an estimation from his opinion of it, as to become the universal measure of what is called value, and an adequate equivalent for any thing alienable.” See also: SJSW, Vol. II, pp. 270–278.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    This point has been stressed by George E. Davie, “Anglophobe and Anglophil”, SJPE, Vol. XIV (1967) pp. 291–302, here p. 296.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    SJS, Vol. I, p. 20: “Man we find acting uniformly in all ages, in all countries, and in all climates, from the principles of self-interest...”Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    For Smith, there is not only the famous passage in the “Wealth of Nations”, on the butcher, brewer, and baker whose self-interest makes them provide our dinner (SGE, Vol. II. 1, pp. 26 f), but also a number of passages from the “TMS”: SGE, Vol. I, pp. 85 f, 135, 173.Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    VRP, Vol. I, p. 308- Cp.: VRP, Vol. II, § 182, p. 633-TMK, p. 122: “The concrete person, who is himself the object of his particular aims...”; VRP, Vol. II, § 187, p. 636 -TMK, p. 124; TWA, Vol. VII, Addition to § 182+, p. 339- TMK, p. 267:“In civil society each member is his own end, everything else is nothing to him.”Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    VRP, Vol. III, p. 472: “The particular interest of individuals”.Google Scholar
  22. 24.
    VRP, Vol. II, § 183, p. 633-TMK, p. 123: “selfish ends”; cp.: VRP, Vol. III, p. 569; VRP, Vol. IV, p. 473.Google Scholar
  23. 25.
    Immanuel Kant, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose”, Hans Reiss (Ed.), Kant’s Political Writings (Cambridge, 1970) p. 44.Google Scholar
  24. 26.
    My own translation of: VRP, Vol. I, p. 308.Google Scholar
  25. 27.
    VRP, Vol. II, § 196, p. 644 - TMK, p. 128.Google Scholar
  26. 29.
    TWA, Vol. VII, § 189+, p. 347: “dieses Wimmeln von Willkür — TMK,” p. 268: “this medley of arbitrariness”. Cp.: VRP, Vol. III, p. 576 & Vol. IV, pp. 486, 491 f.Google Scholar
  27. 30.
    The whole purpose of AF1 could be described as a ‘natural history of man’ and Ferguson is highly explicit about this methodological feature (AF1, pp. 4 f); see also AF2, pp. 15–75, and compare Smith’s ‘Lectures on Jurisprudence’ (SGE, Vol. V, pp. 333 ff & 487 ff).Google Scholar
  28. 31.
    Adam Ferguson, Grundsatze der Moralphilosphie. Uebersetzt und mit Anmerkungen versehen von Christian Garve (Leipzig, 1772) pp. 300 f.Google Scholar
  29. 34.
    SGE, Vol. II, 1, p. 181: “... the desire of the conveniences and ornaments of building, dress, equipage, and household furniture, seems to have no limit or certain boundary... those desires as opposed to the desire of food... cannot be satisfied, but seem to be altogether endless.”Google Scholar
  30. 35.
    SJS, Vol. I, p. 139: “there are no bounds to the consumption of work...”Google Scholar
  31. 36.
    VRP, Vol. III, p. 576. In his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” Smith actually uses the very formulation “insatiable desires” (SGE, vol. I, p. 184).Google Scholar
  32. 37.
    Marginal note to Hotho’s lecture notes; according to Ilting, this note was dictated by Hegel’s assistant, Leopold von Henning (VRP, Vol. III, p. 574 and cp.: pp. 81 ff.Google Scholar
  33. 38.
    Especially Smith: SGE, Vol. V, pp. 333 f & 487 f.Google Scholar
  34. 39.
    VRP, Vol. II, § 190, p. 641 - TMK, p. 127: “... by the differentiation and division of concrete need into single parts and aspects which in turn become different needs, particularized and so more abstract.” Cp.: VRP, Vol. III, pp. 590 f, Vol. IV, p. 489.Google Scholar
  35. 40.
    VRP, Vol. III, pp. 591 ff (my own italics; N.W.); cp.: HGW, Vol. VIII, p. 243; VRP, Vol. I, p. 311 & Vol. II, § 191, p. 542 - TMK, p. 127 & Vol. III, p. 588 (L.v. Henning). -Man’s refinement of desires and corresponding skills is equally stressed by Smith and Ferguson: AF1, pp. 6 f & 168; SGE, Vol. II, 1, p. 181 & Vol. V, p. 335.Google Scholar
  36. 44.
    Compare the growing literature on Hegel’s concept of labour: Ivan Dubsky, Hegels Arbeitsbegriff und die idealistische Dialektik (Prag, 1961);Google Scholar
  37. 44a.
    Bernhard Lakebrink, “Geist und Arbeit im Denken Hegels”, Philosophisches, Jahrbuch Vol. 70 (1962/63) pp. 98–108;Google Scholar
  38. 44b.
    Sok-Zin Lim, Der Begriff der Arbeit bei Hegel. Versuch einer Interpretation der Phänomenologie des Geistes (Bonn, 2nd ed. 1966).Google Scholar
  39. 45.
    TWA, Vol. VII, § 191 +, p. 349 - TMK, p. 269; cp.: VRP, Vol. III, p. 593. — Adam Smith does indeed use the word “comfortably” in a passage which distinguishes ‘necessaries’ from ‘luxuries’ (SGE, Vol. II.2, pp. 869 f).Google Scholar
  40. 46.
    Paul Chamley (1963) tentatively suggested this parallel (pp. 88 f), but as the Berlin lectures were not available to him, his case was less convincing.Google Scholar
  41. 49.
    AF2, p. 66; cp.: AF1, p. 7: Even “naked in the woods” man finds a “badge of superiority” in “the strength of his limbs and the sagacity of his mind”; Hume, “Essays”, p. 309, note 1.Google Scholar
  42. 50.
    AF2, p. 31: “Men, in all ages, are fond of decoration.”Google Scholar
  43. 57.
    SGE, Vol. II.2, pp. 869 f: “By necessaries I understand, not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.”Google Scholar
  44. 61.
    AF1, p. 7: “The occupations of men, in every condition, bespeak their freedom of choice, their various opinions, and the multiplicity of wants by which they are urged...”Google Scholar
  45. 62.
    As opposed to his implicit use of the concept of ‘labour’ in his discussion of property.Google Scholar
  46. 63.
    VRP, Vol. IV, p. 496 (my own italics; N.W.) - cp.: VRP, Vol. II, § 196, p. 644-TMK, p. 128.Google Scholar
  47. 64.
    TMK, § 196, p. 128; cp.: VRP, Vol. III, p. 601.Google Scholar
  48. 65.
    For the wider implications of ‘Bildung’ in the ‘Phenomenology’, compare: I. Dubsky (1961); B. Lakebrink (1962/63); S.-Z. Lim (1966).Google Scholar
  49. 66.
    TMK, § 197, p. 129; cp.: VRP, Vol. III, pp. 605 f & Vol. IV, p. 500.Google Scholar
  50. 77.
    Paul Chamley, “La Doctrine Economique De Hegel Et La Conception Hégélienne Du Travail”, HSBh 4 (Bonn, 1969) pp. 147–159.Google Scholar
  51. 78.
    Cp.: P. Chamley (1969) p. 155: “Il est donc faux de dire que, dans la doctrine économique hégélienne, le travail joue a lui seul, par lui-même, un rôle mediateur. C’est là le rôle du travail et de l’échange, du travail pour l’échange.”Google Scholar
  52. 80.
    SJS, Vol. I, p. 17; cp.: ibid., p. 89: “... the best way of binding a free society together is by multiplying reciprocal obligations, and creating a general dependence between all its members.” (my own italics in both quotations; N.W.).Google Scholar
  53. 81.
    Helmut Reichelt’s introduction to his edition of: G.W.F. Hegel, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Frankfurt, 1972) p. xxxvi.Google Scholar
  54. 82.
    A criticism frequently directed against Adam Smith as well as Hegel. With regard to Smith, this criticism can be found in: G. Myrdal, Das politische Element in der nationalökonomischen Doktrinbildung (Hannover, 2nd edition, 1963) pp. 158 f; Lucio Coletti, “Mandeville, Rousseau è Smith”, Ideologia è Societa (Bari, 3rd edition, 1972) pp. 288 ff. Helmut Reichelt (1972) may serve as an example of the application of this criticism to Hegel.Google Scholar
  55. 84.
    Karl-Heinz Ilting and others have rightly stressed that the systematic shape of Hegel’s early economic views, as contained in the “System der Sittlichkeit” (1802/3), follows the first book of Aristotle’s “Politics”; cp.: K.-H. Ilting, “Hegels Auseinandersetzung mit der aristotelischen Politik”, Philosophisches Jahrbuch. Vol. 71 (München, 1963/64) pp. 38–58. However, the Aristotelian frame soon proved inadequate for the integration of the modern materials, as derived from the Scottish economists, and thus sank to the position of a dwindling influence.Google Scholar
  56. 85.
    TMK, § 299, p. 195; see also TMK, §§ 185, 206, 262+; pp. 123 f, 133, 280 & VRP, Vol. III, pp. 634 f & 722; Vol. IV, pp. 523 & 637. A worthwhile, though partly dated, treatment of Hegel’s criticism of Plato is to be found in M.B. Foster, The Political Philosophies of Plato and Hegel (Oxford, 1935) Chapter III, pp. 72–98; appendix E, pp. 101–109.Google Scholar
  57. 91.
    In this context, Hutcheson appeals to pity, “the sentiments of compassion and humanity,... even tho’ it [slavery] could be vindicated by some plea of external right [this is alluding to the case of captives].” Francis Hutcheson, A System of Moral Philosphy (London, 1755) Vol. II, p. 203 - Cp.: Wylie Sypher, “Hutcheson and the ‘Classical’ Theory of Slavery”, Journal of Negro History (1939) Vol. XXIV, pp. 263–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. 92.
    In this context, Hutcheson refers to “the natural rights of mankind” and appeals to his readers’ “sense of natural justice”: Hutcheson (1755) Vol. II, pp. 201 & 85. - Cp.: T.D. Campbell, “Francis Hutcheson: ‘Father’ of the Scottish Enlightenment”, R.H. Campbell & A.S. Skinner (Eds.), The Origins and Nature of the Scottish Englightenment (Edinburgh, 1982) pp. 167–185, here pp. 177 f.Google Scholar
  59. 93.
    AF1, p. 185: “We feel its injustice [of slavery]; we suffer for the helot, under the severities and unequal treatment to which he was exposed...” & AF2, p. 201: “No contract or forfeiture can deprive a man of all his rights, or render him the property of another. No one is born a slave; because every one is born with all his original rights.”Google Scholar
  60. 94.
    Duncan Forbes, “Natural Law and the Scottish Enlightenment”, R.H. Campbell & A.S. Skinner (1982) pp. 186–204, here p. 193.Google Scholar
  61. 97.
    For contemporary critical reaction, see: The Critical Review. Vol. 23 (1767) p. 413 & The Monthly Review. Vol. 36 (1767) p. 465. Both reviews disapproved of Steuart’s example of slavery: Lycurgus’ Sparta, an example which will soon be commented upon in greater detail. — Johannes Hoffmeister, in his notes to DHE (P. 467), misrepresents Steuart’s position as recommending slavery (“empfiehlt.. direkte Sklavenhalterei”).Google Scholar
  62. 98.
    SJS, Vol. I, pp. 168 f: “Where hands therefore are principally necessary, the slaves have the advantage; where heads are principally necessary, the advantage is in favour of the free.”Google Scholar
  63. 102.
    David Hume, The History of England. In 8 vols. (Oxford, 1826) Vol. I, chapter 3, Appendix, Section 5: “The Several Orders of Men”, pp. 186–189.Google Scholar
  64. 103.
    Cp.: Duncan Forbes, Hume’s Philosophical Politics (Cambridge, 1975) p. 311.Google Scholar
  65. 104.
    SGE, Vol. II.2, p. 681; cp.: SGE, Vol. V, p. 192 and Vol. II. 1, p. 80: “.. . Indostan or antient Egypt (where every man was bound by a principle of religion to follow the occupation of his father, and was supposed to commit the most horrid sacrilege if he changed it for another)... (my own italics; N.W.) — Hegel also refers to “a religious authority” (TMK, § 206, p. 133).Google Scholar
  66. 105.
    Compare VRP, Vol. II, § 299, p. 766 - TMK, p. 195 with SGE, Vol. II.2, p. 681.Google Scholar
  67. 106.
    SJS, Vol. II, p. 381: “We see by the works of Xenophon, of Plato, of Aristotle, and of many other writers of merit, that, in their age, all professions which were calculated to gain money, were regarded as unworthy of a freeman ... Plato would have a citizen punished who should enter commerce.” Cp.: SGE, Vol. II.1, p. 388.Google Scholar
  68. 107.
    This has convincingly been demonstrated by H.F. Fulda, Das Recht der Philosophie in Hegels Philosophie des Rechts (Franfurt, 1968), pp. 48 f.Google Scholar
  69. 108.
    DHW, Vol. III, p. 291: “It is well known with what peculiar laws Sparta was governed, and what a prodigy that republic is justly esteemed by every one, who has considered human nature as it has displayed itself in other nations, and other ages. Were the testimony of history less positive and circumstantial, such a government would appear a mere philosophical whim or fiction, and impossible ever to be reduced to practice.” (my own italics; N.W.)Google Scholar
  70. 109.
    SJS, Vol. I, p. 218: “Of this plan [of Lycurgus’ republic] we have a description in the life of this legislator written by Plutarch ...” — AF1, pp. 62, 157, 196, 229.Google Scholar
  71. 110.
    SJS, Vol. I, p. 220: “Whatever regards any other object than his plan of political economy, shall here be passed over in silence.”Google Scholar
  72. 111.
    S.R. Sen came to a similar conclusion: The Economics of Sir James Steuart (London, 1957) p. 133.Google Scholar
  73. 112.
    SJS, Vol. I, pp. 220–223; compare those aspects with Hegel’s fullest treatment of Sparta, in the “Lectures on the Philosophy of World History”, TWA, Vol. XII, pp. 319–323.Google Scholar
  74. 113.
    These fragments were first edited by Karl Rosenkranz (1844) pp. 520 f & 525 and are now conveniently to be found in DHE, pp. 263 f, 268 f and TWA, Vol. I, p. 434.Google Scholar
  75. 114.
    According to Rosenkranz, they belong to Hegel’s Bern period, but Hoffmeister, Lukács and others consider them to be from the Frankfurt years.Google Scholar
  76. 115.
    See above, p. 164; cp.: Sen (1957) p. 131.Google Scholar
  77. 116.
    DHE, p. 268 (my own italics; N.W.) — TWA, Vol. I, p. 439; cp.: SJS, Vol. I, pp. 169 & 221.Google Scholar
  78. 121.
    Wilhelm Seeberger, Hegel oder die Entwicklung des Geistes zur Freiheit (Stuttgart, 1961).Google Scholar
  79. 124.
    Cp.: SJS, Vol. I, p. 217: “When once a state begins to subsist by the consequences of industry, there is less danger to be apprehended from the power of the sovereign.” — AF1,Google Scholar
  80. pp. 143 f; 261: “It has been found, that, except in a few singular cases, the commercial and political arts have advanced together.”Google Scholar
  81. 125.
    AF1, p. 160; cp.: SJS, Vol. I, pp. 218 ff.Google Scholar
  82. 126.
    AF1, p. 263; cp.: SJS, Vol. I, pp. 70 f.Google Scholar
  83. 127.
    Hume (1826) Vol. III, pp. 262–270 “Remarks on the Progress of Science and Government.”Google Scholar
  84. 128.
    William Robertson, The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V. [1769], here quoted from The Works of William Robertson. In 12 vols. (London, 1824) Vol. IV, pp. 196–210, 233–240.Google Scholar
  85. 129.
    The German ‘Die ‘Stande’ implies both ‘social classes’ and ‘estates’ (in their political function), see: VRP, Vol. II, § 303, p. 773 - TMK, p. 197 f. Since, in what follows, I am mainly dealing with the social dimension, I have used the rendering ‘classes’ throughout the present section.Google Scholar
  86. 131.
    See: Franz Rosenzweig (1920) Vol. I, p. 138; Vol. II, p. 122; and the more recent study by R.K. Hocevar, Hegel und der Preussische Staat (München, 1973) pp. 86–90. The implied irrelevance of Hegel’s discussion is perhaps the main reason why this aspect of Hegel’s thought has received comparatively little attention.Google Scholar
  87. 132.
    It is disputed, however, whether one should identify the traditional nobility or Napoleon’s ennobled military officers with this level of Hegel’s account; cp.: Haym (1857) p. 177; Rosenzweig (1920) Vol. I, p. 135; Lukács (1973) Vol. II, p. 584.Google Scholar
  88. 133.
    SdS, pp. 472 f- SoEL, p. 153: “The former utility is that the first class is the absolute and real ethical shape and so, for the other classes, the model of the self-moving and self-existent Absolute, the supreme real intuition which ethical nature demands.”Google Scholar
  89. 134.
    SdS, p. 473 - SoEL, p. 153: “The latter utility, according with the mode of the other classes, lies in the negative [i.e. in labour], and on the part of the first class labour is established likewise, but it is the absolutely indifferent labour of government and courage.”Google Scholar
  90. 135.
    SdS, p. 475 - SoEL, p. 155: “The greatest height which this class can attain by its productive activity is (a) its contribution to the needs of the first class and (b) aid to the needy.”Google Scholar
  91. 136.
    SdS, p. 473 - SoEL, p. 153.Google Scholar
  92. 137.
    SdS, p. 476 - SoEL, p. 156.Google Scholar
  93. 138.
  94. 139.
    HGW, Vol. VIII, p. 269Google Scholar
  95. 140.
    Rosenzweig thus seems to over-emphasize the difference when he contrasts Hegel’s views of 1802, characterized by feudalism and estates [‘aristokratisch-ständisch’], with a later level of ‘monarchisch-bürokratisch’ (1920) Vol. I, p. 189.Google Scholar
  96. 141.
    TWA, Vol. III, pp. 435 & 513; TWA, Vol. IV, p. 63.Google Scholar
  97. 145.
    SJS, Vol. I, p. 301: “There must be a third class; to wit, those who are maintained and taken care of at the expense of the whole community, in order to serve as a defence.”Google Scholar
  98. 148.
    SJS, Vol. I, p. 57 — It ought to be remembered that ‘industry’ is a technical term for Steuart (SJS, Vol. I, p. 146).Google Scholar
  99. 149.
    G.E. Davie (SJPE, 1967) p. 292 — My argument is indebted to Dr. Davie’s interpretation of Steuart’s ‘middlemen’.Google Scholar
  100. 150.
    SJS, Vol. I, p. 149: “... the better to simplify our ideas, we supposed the transition to be direct from the manufacturer to the consumer, and both to be members of the same society.” (my own italics; N.W.)Google Scholar
  101. 156.
    SJS, Vol. I, p. 16: “The statesman (this is a general term to signify the legislature and supreme power, according to the form of government) ...”Google Scholar
  102. 157.
    SJSW, Vol. V, p. 227; cp.: SJS, Vol. I, pp. 142–145.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norbert Waszek
    • 1
  1. 1.Hegel-Archiv der Ruhr UniversitätBochumGermany

Personalised recommendations