The Contribution of Hegel's immanent critique to the theory of International Relations and the Conceptualization of Citizenship

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The objective of this dissertation is to reinstate the significance of Hegel’s
    thought to the theory of International Relations (IR). It seeks to demonstrate that
    Hegelian thought can offer an alternative conceptualisation of agency, freedom
    and ethics which enriches our understanding of inter-state relations, citizenship,
    security and international development. Although Hegel’s insights have inspired
    certain IR scholars before, yet their approaches are limited, mainly because they
    underplay his notion of Spirit (Geist) and the contribution of Hegel’s method of
    immanent critique and since they fail to take into consideration - coherently - the content of Hegel’s work. These IR scholars focus primarily on specific excerpts of the Philosophy of Right or the Phenomenology of Spirit and treat Hegel as a proto-realist thinker, ignoring Hegel’s notion of immanent critique and his philosophical system of Spirit (Geist). In that respect, these IR approaches are unable to follow Hegel’s thought consistently and fail to unveil not only Hegel’s intellectual wealth but also the contribution of his insights to the field of International Relations. In short, this dissertation after following Hegel’s thought consistently and taking into consideration Hegel’s philosophical system of Spirit (Geist), seizes novelty as it: a) rectifies and enriches Hegelian thought in the field of IR; and b) forms an additional philosophical point of reference which was previously ignored by IR theorists. This Hegelian perspective is strong enough to counterbalance the highly influential Kantian and Foucaultian philosophical IR approaches after exposing their theoretical shortcomings while providing a more complete, if not superior, philosophical alterative.

    Moreover, the consideration of Hegel’s notion of Spirit (Geist), reveals
    the distinctive contribution of immanent critique, which overcomes the
    separation between: 1) the subject from the object of knowledge; 2) the universal from the particular dimension (providing a content to empty supranational norms); 3) empiricism and idealism after re-approaching the conjunction of reality and reason. The value of these points which provide a deeper understanding of knowledge, subjectivity, freedom, reality and reason become evident throughout the five chapters of this dissertation which enrich our conceptualization of agency, security, ethics and citizenship. Specifically:

    The first chapter, with the title - Revisiting Hegel’s Contribution On
    Interstate Relations, War and Security - traces the limits of IR thought with
    regard to subjectivity and the method of knowledge. Specifically, after focusing
    on the evolution of the consciousness forms as found in the Phenomenology of
    Spirit, it is stressed, how a flawed understanding of subjectivity is responsible for a flawed method of acquiring knowledge regarding interstate relations and the issue area of security. An immanent critique of the (neo)realist, the Copenhagen and the critical school of security unveils these flaws and demonstrates the shortcomings of separating the subject from the object of knowledge (point 1). Separating the subject from the object of knowledge conveys a problematic account of subjectivity which accommodates only a descriptive or a prescriptive approach to knowledge. Thus, Hegelian thought helps us see how IR thought and security studies are committed to a divide between prescriptive and descriptive theorizing, which is limiting and misleading.

    The second chapter, titled - The Shortcomings of Foucaultian Application
    In The Theory of International Relations From A Hegelian Perspective, departs
    from the point the previous chapter ended. Namely, how the problematic account of subjectivity and knowledge is echoed in Foucaultian thought. Specifically, it is argued that Foucault unsuccessfully attempted to reconsider reality without transcendental means via the notion of power. It is demonstrated that Foucault failed where Hegel’s immanent critique and his philosophical system of Spirit (Geist) succeeded as the Foucaultian notion of power is based on transcendental premises and forms a misleading account of subjectivity which separates empiricism from idealism (point 3) rendering knowledge and subjectivity relativistic. Such a relativistic treatment of subjectivity promotes a self-alienated agent who is controlled by the administrative mechanisms of power and lacks consciousness. Thus, any attempt of the subject to emancipate itself is selfdefeating, since an infinite succession of Foucault’s power regimes, renders the subject eternally contingent and relativist. This chapter will in turn clarify the implications of Foucaultian approaches on IR thought. Specifically it is shown that IR scholars tend to take uncritically for granted Foucault’s concepts of power, subjectivity and freedom. Here, it is argued that an elaborate examination of these concepts, from a Hegelian perspective, reveals the intellectual flaws these concepts entail which IR scholarly debates leave unexamined. Foucaultian inspired IR scholars promote too a flawed understanding of subjectivity in the form of a relativistic and self-alienated individual that lacks self-consciousness and free will. Foucault’s notion of power is guilty of promoting a problematic account of subjectivity and freedom since it fails to promote the selfconsciousness of the subject.

    The third chapter titled - Hegel’s Contribution Towards Unveiling the
    Limits of Conceptualizing Freedom in Foucaultian, Kantian and IR Thought -
    elaborates further on Hegel’s understanding of freedom. Hegel’s notion of
    immanent critique unveils that Foucaultian, Kantian and IR thought
    accommodate a misleading account of freedom. In particular an immanent
    critique of Foucault’s and Kant’s perspective reveals that their conceptualisation
    of freedom rests on transcendental and contingent premises which promote a
    misleading conceptualisation of subjectivity and ethics. Highlighting Hegel’s
    enriched account of subjectivity and consciousness (point 1) as well as the
    interplay between the universal and the particular dimension (point 2)
    demonstrates not only the limits of Kantian and Foucaultian thought, but also
    how a problematic understanding of subjectivity and freedom is promoted in IR
    thought too by the scholars who are inspired by Foucault and Kant. The
    transcendental premises of their thought which immanent critique reveals,
    separate the universal from the particular dimension and promote a misleading
    understanding of freedom with excluding and non-emancipating effects.
    Similarly the IR scholars who separated the universal from the particular
    dimension and promoted a misleading understanding of consciousness such as Mervyn Frost and David Chandler promote too a self-defeating understanding of
    freedom. Their understanding of freedom too is responsible for nourishing liberal ideals with socially excluding effects which promote coercion and undermine the agents’ free will.

    The fourth chapter titled - Hegel’s Contribution Towards a Richer
    Understanding of Citizenship - stresses how an immanent critique of certain
    universalist or cosmopolitan perspectives on citizenship unveils their
    transcendental theoretical premises. Specifically, Hegel’s immanent critique and
    his philosophical system of Spirit (Geist), allows us to see how the distinction
    between the universal and the particular dimension of citizenship is misleading,
    demonstrating the significance of (point 2). The universal approaches of
    citizenship which celebrate only one the two dimensions are based on the
    promotion of the cosmopolitan character of (liberal) rights. Hegel’s insights
    unveil how the separation of the universal from the particular dimension
    contributes to the inaccurate understanding of citizenship. The theoretical flaws
    of these approaches to citizenship are associated to: i) The treatment of abstract
    principles such as ‘equality’, ‘freedom’ and ‘(human) rights’ which are founded
    on transcendental premises as normative truths; ii) The incorporation of a selfdefeating understanding of nation(alism), culture, values and duty based on
    empty formalisms. On the other hand Hegel’s notion of ethical life (Sittlichkeit)
    which rests on his philosophical system of Spirit (Geist) provides and alternative
    account of citizenship, capable of rectifying these flaws after: putting forward a
    theory that is neither descriptive nor prescriptive which rejects transcendental
    normative truths. Moreover, Hegel’s notion of ethical life (Sittlichkeit)
    overcomes the empty formalism of universal supranational values and the
    abstract foundations of (human) rights. Thus, the insights of Hegel’s immanent
    critique which rest on his philosophical system of Spirit (Geist), allow us to
    overcome the shortcomings which emerge from the distinction of citizenship
    between the universal and particular dimension after incorporating both

    The last chapter titled - An Empirical Analysis of Hegel’s
    Conceptualization of Citizenship: On the Alternative Implications of Economy
    and the Market in Singapore - adds a case study unlike the previous chapters.
    This case study is added to demonstrate that the metaphysical dimension of
    Hegel’s notion of Spirit (Geist), upon which the contribution of immanent
    critique lies, does not rest on transcendental premises. Moreover, the case study
    reveals the practical application of Hegel’s immanent critique which promotes an
    alternative understanding of knowledge that is not founded on the authority of
    the subject (or theorist) after avoiding the separation between the subject from
    the object of knowledge (point 1). In that respect, the case study of Singapore
    which reveals how the notion of ethical life (Sittlichkeit) actualises and evolves,
    clarifies that Hegelian thought is not founded on transcendental but immanent
    premises since it is tied to the evolution of history and the contingency of the
    theoretical object. Just as the Philosophy of Right portrays the explanatory
    strength of immanent critique after elaborating on the evolution of the subject’s
    self-consciousness - without transcendental premises - via the development of
    ethical life (Sittlichkeit) within the state; similarly the case study of Singapore is
    introduced to illustrate the explanatory strength of Hegelian philosophy in
    practical and immanent terms rather that abstract ones. The case study of
    Singapore elucidates immanent critique’s practical contribution after portraying
    the civic evolution of the Singaporeans from opportunistic individuals (which
    echoes the incomplete moment of civil society) to selfless citizens which
    suggests a primitive form of ethical life (Sittlichkeit). Finally, since Singapore
    celebrates capitalism without sharing the traits of liberal democracies, the islandstate serves as and ideal example to explain the implications for citizenship of Singapore’s development from a Hegelian perspective which the liberalcapitalist inspired analyses of Singapore have failed to grasp.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • King's College London
    SupervisorAlex Callinicos (Supervisor), Stathis Kouvelakis (Supervisor) & Magnus Ryner (Supervisor)

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