Burke or Hegel?

Marx or Locke? Nietzsche or Aristotle? Frederick Beiser gives us another opposition in his article “Hegel’s Historicism”. Burke or Hegel? Famously, Hegel’s historicism has both a conservative side and a progressive side, and political theory must unite the medieval ideal of participation with the modern need for strong central authority. Beiser favorably contrasts the practical necessity of the state, for Hegel, to Burke’s traditionalism:

Both stressed the value of community and tradition. Both appealed to history to undermine the claims of French radicals to change all of society according to some abstract plan. Nevertheless Hegel, unlike Burke, saw history as an argument for rather than against a new constitution based upon reason. Burke argues against the attempt to create a new constitution on the grounds that it is incompatible with historical development. Hegel, however, argues in favor of such a constitution on the grounds that it is necessary to historical development. In general, Hegel affirmed the fundamental legal principle of the Revolution that laws are legitimate only if they accord with critical reason. He criticized traditionalists like Burke on the grounds that historical precedent by itself could never be the source of law… Turning the principle of positive law against the traditionalists, he argues that if the basis of law is history, then law must change with history. (297)


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