Abstract: Hegel’s “Keynesian” Political Economy?

German Idealism Panel at the 2020 APA Central conference.

I argue that claims in recent political economy scholarship (Mann, Tooze, et al.) that Hegel is a “Keynesian” are exaggerations. These claims also invite close examination of the political and economic thought of both Hegel and Keynes, valuable for understanding the deep theoretical differences between the two and also the central problems of their respective eras.

There are striking similarities to be found in the political economy in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1821), and Berlin lectures, and Keynes’ Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) and General Theory of Unemployment, Interest and Money (1936). After identifying the most significant of these, I make a case for the judgment that they are merely formal similarities. This judgment rests on two modes of analysis, philosophical and historical.

Despite the similarities in both Hegel’s and Keynes’s respective understanding of the causes and consequences of the modern social inequality dynamic – i.e., the production of unprecedented levels of social wealth and a new form of social deprivation simultaneously – and that between the kinds of political intervention they endorse, there are essential philosophical differences between the two. These can be found in their political aims and moral-political priorities.

But these philosophical differences should not be understood abstractly either. Their respective historical contexts are of critical significance for understanding of the problems of their times. More than 115 years of economic and political development separate the two. Those decades brought about unprecedented economic expansion and new political developments affecting the modern social inequality dynamic. Some of those changes may have been foreseen by Hegel, including the possibilities and the problems created by colonization, which he remarks on at some length in his Berlin Lectures of 1819/20. Political developments in that period, in particular, make comparisons between the two thinkers very limited, if not anachronistic.