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Hegel and Mill on “civil society”: Elements for a criticism of Hayek’s liberalism

Ege Ragip, BETA
Gillig Philippe, BETA

Hayek, while defending “true liberalism”, famously referred to the Scottish Enlightenment, and especially to Ferguson for having stressed the spontaneous character of human institutions. Hegel, one of Hayek’s targets, was also impressed by Ferguson and Smith but for having developed the concept of “civil society” meant as the second moment, between the family and the state, where individuals can satisfy their own needs but also develop their subjectivity. Curiously, while Hayek welcomes the first aspect of civil society - the possibility to satisfy their own needs - he praises at the same time tradition and moral order, deliberately ignoring the fact that modern society represents a break with the past. Evidence to that are Hayek’s attacks on Mill’s defence of subjectivity expressed in On Liberty. On the other hand, Hayek expresses a great mistrust towards the concept of state. However, Hegelian political philosophy demonstrates that a specific form of state constitutes the very condition of possibility of civil society. Our contribution suggests that Hayek retains a very restrictive conception of civil society, purely market-based, associated with moral authoritarianism. As a consequence, Hayek’s apology of liberalism appears to be highly contradictory, since he himself considers that the central belief of liberalism is based on the idea that only a wide variety of individual experiences favor the emergence of better knowledge.

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Keywords: Hegel; J.S. Mill; Hayek; civil society; liberalism

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