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Elements of the Philosophy of Right

Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right was published in 1820, though the book's original title page dates it to 1821. This work is Hegel's most mature statement of his legal, moral, social and political philosophy and is an expansion upon concepts only briefly dealt with in the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences, published in 1817 (and again in 1827 and 1830).

The Philosophy of Right (as it is usually called) begins with a discussion of the concept of the free will and demonstrates that the free will can only realize itself in the complicated social context of property rights and relations, contracts, moral commitments, family life, the economy, the legal system, and the polity. A person is not truly free, in other words, unless he or she (and for Hegel, this person is most likely male) is a participant in all of these different aspects of the life of the state.

Hegel also demonstrates that the state itself is subsumed under the higher totality of world history, in which individual states arise, conflict with each other, and eventually fall. The course of history is apparently toward the ever-increasing actualization of freedom; each successive historical epoch corrects certain failures of the earlier ones, but Hegel does not seem to have figured out--and he admits as much--how the modern state can solve the problems of poverty and class division. At the end of his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, Hegel leaves open the possibility that history has yet to accomplish certain tasks related to the inner organization of the state. Thus, the thesis of the "end of history," proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama and his followers, cannot with justification be called Hegelian.

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