The Right of Resistance as the Struggle for Recognition: Reading Hegel Against Hegel

  • Abstract:

    Axel Honneth, drawing on the methodology of the Frankfurt School critical theorists, frames The Struggle for Recognition around a rehabilitation of a social theory of intersubjectivity found in Hegel’s early writings and in the Philosophy of Right. The aim, on Honneth’s account, is to offer a normative and critical social theory capable of extending Hegel’s theory of recognition beyond the sphere of legal right, wherein Honneth believes Hegel abandons his project in favor of a ‘philosophy of consciousness’ (or, the unilateral objectification of Spirit at the level of the State). It is the “struggle for recognition,” Honneth claims, that drives social progress and the actualization of individual freedom at the level of civil society, but this struggle becomes subsumed under the institutionalized relations of social interaction and exchange that constitute the State. The present analysis examines Honneth’s exploration of intention in the context of the right of necessity, and its subsequent implications on the yet-unsolved problem of the rabble in Hegel’s theory of the State. I begin by positioning Honneth’s theory of recognition in the corpus of Hegel’s work, to better assess Honneth’s own critique of Hegel’s philosophico-political teleology. As will become clear, Honneth finds the theory of recognition between subjects transformed into the positive relationship between the educated subject and the State in the second half of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. The consequence of this reorientation, so to speak, is to rob PR of the socially progressive move it could have extended to a theorization of “disrespected” subjects’ political and moral struggles for recognition. By drawing on Honneth’s and Hegel’s writings, I offer a reading of the rabble centered in the conflict between State and civil society that Honneth himself neglects, predicated on a right of resistance that I argue is embedded within the Hegelian right of necessity.