‘Hegel’s Moral Corporation’ reviewed by Onur Erdal Kökerer

Hegel’s Moral Corporation

Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2015. 320pp., £75 hb
ISBN 9781137547385

Reviewed by Onur Erdal Kökerer

About the reviewer

Onur Erdal Kökerer is working on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right for his MA thesis at …


In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Ethical Life (Sittlichkeit) stands as the highest stage of objective spirit. Ethical Life comprises three sections, namely Family, Civil Society and The State. Civil Society, which contains Hegel’s description of economic relations, is concerned with the satisfaction of material needs. Although Hegel’s account of this is generally positive, he also notes some difficulties that the modern market economy creates. These include unemployment, poverty, deskilling, a lack of recognition of one’s work and a failure to perceive one’s dependence on others. Due to these problematic features of Civil Society, Hegel introduces the idea of ‘The Corporation’, which is an association established by individuals who share a common profession. The main aim of the corporations is to protect their members from the contingencies of unemployment and poverty, and to provide professional education for new members. In addition, by being members of corporations, individuals recognize each other as subjects who share common goals based on their professions, and also become conscious of their dependence on others. It is for these reasons that Hegel describes the corporations as the second family’ for its members.

In his book, Hegel’s Moral Corporation, Thomas Klikauer contrasts Hegel’s corporations with modern ones. The reason Klikauer considers Hegel’s corporations as a model is because Hegel is ‘the only philosopher ever to examine the morality of corporations at the dawn of their existence’ (29). He describes the book as

an invitation to a “thought experiment” on a moral-philosophical discussion reaching beyond the deeply ingrained “Hegel’s corporations are different” that is commonplace in Hegel studies and to modernize Hegel by examining today’s business corporations in the light of Hegel’s sittliche corporations (16).

Another aim of the book is to introduce Hegel’s social and political philosophy to managers and management students (5). To achieve these aims, Klikauer first examines Hegel’s corporation and its place in ‘Ethical Life’ and then presents the differences, and general superiority, of Hegel’s corporations over their modern counterparts

In modern corporations, Klikauer argues that

Morality and Sittlichkeit have been reduced to mere add-ons, appendices and prefixes that corporate management has taken on in order to pretend to give consideration to external community expectations of being a good corporate citizen with corporate social responsibility (20).

In contrast to them, Hegelian corporations are part of “Ethical Life”, which means they are for the good of society, not only for the sake of profit. For Hegel, as has been said, corporations are like a second family. Corporations secure their member’s subsistence and guarantee their dignity and social recognition. Accordingly, for Klikauer, Hegel’s corporations can be considered as a role model for business corporations of our age to make them moral institutions, which aim for the dignity of humanity (21).

Partly in chapter 1, but mainly in 2, Klikauer compares Hegel’s corporations with modern ones, and then argues for the superiority of Hegel’s. In order to explicate their diverging moments, Klikauer firstly introduces some basic terms about the subforms of management, such as managerial regimes, management studies, Managerialism as an ideology and managerial capitalism (15). The main aim of these subforms, according to Klikauer, is to ‘ideologically neutralize the profit-making character of companies’ (15). Accordingly, these subforms have been founded in order to attain the highest profit possible in corporations. By contrast, instead of being a for-profit organization, Hegel’s corporation is ‘a voluntary association of persons based on occupational or various social interests such as professional and trade guilds’ (33). As a result of this comparison, Klikauer emphasizes the need of morality in modern corporations (38). Without having a moral character, he argues, modern corporations are despotic institutions with the managerial regimes in which ‘few are free [managers] and not man as such [employees]’ (45).

Chapter 3 focuses on management studies, particularly their moral aspect. As he does throughout the book, Klikauer compares Hegel’s corporations with modern ones, and discusses a possible approach that would make modern corporations more like Hegel’s. Accordingly, in order to make a change in modern corporations, ‘management studies would need to teach the role of corporations not merely as business but predominantly as moral institutions’ (49). However, in our world, by using the managerial language in education, which hinders the main aim of management that is profit, management studies treat morality as a subtopic (56). This strategy breaks the bonds of modern corporations with morality. As Klikauer states, ‘managerial capitalism can operate relatively unhindered from unwarranted influences such as NGOs, trade unions, state regulations, and consumer protests’ (53). Thus, in today’s management studies, the main aim is ‘to accumulate wealth and external conveniences’ (50) and in this way, ‘convert human complexities into managerial simplicities so that these can be managed and made useful for management’ (51). Consequently, ‘management studies’ is one of the areas that has to be changed in order to actualize Hegel’s corporations in the world.

In chapter 4, Klikauer discusses the place of corporations in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. He explains how corporations are related to the other sections of ‘Ethical Life’ such as the Family and the State, and how they represent the universality in Civil Society, which is the only section in ‘Ethical Life’ that aims at the meeting of individual ends. Following that, Klikauer again contrasts Hegel’s corporations with modern ones and focuses on the economic inequalities that are created by modern corporations (86-91). He explains how Hegel’s corporations can solve some of the inequalities in society, even though Hegel himself accepts that he has no absolute solution for the problem of poverty and the rabble it creates (83).

Chapter 5 focuses on the internal relations of the modern corporations. According to Klikauer, in modern corporations, human beings are considered as mere means rather than ends (99). This process is done by ‘instrumental rationality’. With instrumental rationality the moral sphere has been abandoned and de-personalized, de-humanized structures have been established (101). This process ‘results in HRM’s [Human Resource Management] prime ideology of reducing human beings to corporate tools or human resources’ (101-2). By treating them as a mere means, modern corporations force individuals to work as hard as they can in a competitive way and thus break the solidarity between individuals (115).

In chapters 6 and 7, Klikauer considers how corporations are administered. Here, he criticizes modern corporations for having oligarchical methods of administration, rather than democratic ones. The managers are isolated and any possible social totalities that can be established in corporations are excluded (126), which is in contrast with Hegel’s corporations (127). Consequently, modern corporations lose their moral character and, as Klikauer says in chapter 8, they become irrational institutions, since a rational social institution encourages freedom in personal, moral and social aspects (152). Lastly, he gives an introductory view of Hegel’s “Ethical Life”, focusing in particular on how corporations are involved in the process of actualizing freedom and on the contrasting moments between Hegel’s “Ethical Life” and our modern world.

As will be clear, in Hegel’s Moral Corporation Klikauer argues that Hegel’s corporations are better than modern ones. However, though this point is repeated throughout the book, the defence of Hegel’s corporations is not developed in detail. There is no inquiry into the question ‘How can business corporations become sittliche [Moral] corporations according to Hegel’s system of Sittlichkeit [Ethical Life]?’ (225). Klikauer does not consider the feasibility of Hegel’s corporations for the modern world. Neither does he consider criticisms of Hegel’s account of corporations or of the modern economy more generally, e.g. from a leftist or Marxist perspective. As a result, the possibility of modernizing Hegel’s concept of corporations remains unclear (though Klikauer does state that these topics will be considered in his next book). Leaving these issues aside, then, the book only focuses on the differences between Hegel’s and modern corporations, and the narrow point that Hegel’s corporations are superior to modern corporations as a result of their moral standards.

Lastly, as Kilkauer himself admits, the book is unlikely to be of great interest for Hegel scholars, since it only gives an introductory view of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right without considering different interpretations of the text and the issues that it raises (5). However, for students and scholars of management, Hegel’s Moral Corporation provides a good introduction to Hegel’s conception of Civil Society in general and his idea of corporations in particular.

2 December 2016

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