Political Will and Public Opinion : On Hegel’s Theory of Representation
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The article accepts Ritter’s dictum that Hegel is a philosopher of the French Revolution. Admittedly, Hegel considers the French Revolution to be the political birth of the modern era, nevertheless he also sees this historical event as the warning example of democracy based on the general will of the people which results in a terror. The article seeks to explain the argument that Hegel’s mature theory of representation makes both against Rousseau’s conception of the general will and against the modern tradition of liberal contractualism. Of key importance in this respect are the concepts “political will” and “public opinion”, which play, as Urbinati has argued, a key role in the theory of representation. The starting point of the argument is Schmitt’s distinction between representation and identity as two principles of political form, which is to some extent shared also by Hegel in his polemic with Rousseau as a theorist of democratic revolution. Hegel understands the State as the unification of civil society in political will, which is mediated by a number of institutions. This mediation of will is seen as a process of political representation, in which the fundamental role is played by the estates (Stände). Hegel’s theory of representation also sets it against the tradition of liberal contractualism, as shown in a polemic with Kant’s conception of the public. But Hegel’s conception of public opinion betrays his considerable mistrust of the subversive potential of democracy. Nevertheless, his theory of representation offers us a fundamental way to think about the concepts of political will and public opinion, thus creating an alternative tradition of modern political theory and providing us with a theoretical instrument for contemplating the contemporary crisis of representative democracy.
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