Hegel on Property

Short Version: Hegel said some stuff about how private property is socially important. I criticise it, and conclude that while he is onto something, it still implies that communism is a good idea.

What Hegel says: ‘property is the mark of personality.’ Through owning things, that is, you realise your freedom and your personhood.

Now Hegel draws two critical conclusions from this. Firstly, he uses it to argue against a certain sort of ‘communism’, for him symbolised by Plato’s ‘philosopher-republic’, where things like personal families, private property, and the right to make poetry, are all abolished in the name of promoting the ‘greater good’ as divined by the self-selecting caste of ‘philosopher-kings’.

He also, however, uses this view of property as a criticisim of bourgeois society, prefiguring a neat line in the Communist Manifesto: the the necessary condition for private property for capitalists is the lack of property for proletarians. If, therefore, property is a mark of personhood, then those who are deprived of property are not only made, in material terms, worse off, they are also de-personalised, de-humanised. The problem of poverty is one that haunted Hegel throughout his life but to which he could never offer a coherent solution.

Now this all sounds rather fishy though. Is property actually a precondition for personhood? I think there is in fact something of importance here. We can see it better if we bring in an idea which was important both for Hegel and for Marx: ‘alienation’.

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