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Hegelian organicism, British new liberalism and the return of the family state

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This paper examines the tensions between liberalism, Hegelian idealism and organicism in the thought of the nineteenth-century British ‘new liberals’ such as T.H. Green and Bernard Bosanquet. It maintains that these thinkers drew upon Hegelian conceptual motifs to help them compensate for what they saw as orthodox liberalism's lack of social responsibility. Ultimately, however, they rejected Hegel's state theory and turned to organicism and Social Darwinism to help them imagine an alternative notion of community. Yet, through the process of first embracing Hegel, then rejecting his state theory, then evoking the organic, the new liberals were caught in an ironic philosophical cycle that ultimately led them to endorse a social vision wherein family relations governed the political order. In the end, the paternalistic form of politics to emerge from this idea of the ‘family state’ was often in conflict with these thinkers' own professed support for liberal political causes.
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Keywords: Bernard Bosanquet; British Hegelians; British idealists; Charity Organization Society; David Ritchie; Hegel; Sittlichkeit; T.H. Green; community; family; liberalism; natural selection; new liberalism; nineteenth-century; organicism; paternalism; social organicism; state; state intervention

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Politics Department, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA 99362, USA. Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 01 January 2002

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