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The Freedom of Desire: Hegel's Response to Rousseau on the Problem of Civil Society

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The ever-growing body of literature on civil society can benefit from a return to the original theoretical articulation and defense of the concept in the work of G.W.F. Hegel. Specifically, this article suggests that Jean-Jacques Rousseau's influential critique of civil society remains unanswered and argues that Hegel responded with a sweeping and sympathetic institutional design that remains relevant today. Hegel agrees with Rousseau that commercial society aggravates the dissatisfaction of its members, and that educating individual desire through institutional design is necessary to solve this difficulty. However, modern states need not adopt Rousseau's extreme and impracticable solution. Hegel's concrete, market-based associations of civil society render desires satiable and elevate them to accord with the common good, while still maintaining the freedom and distinctness of a pluralistic modern society.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Houston

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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