Hegel, Marx, and the English State


345 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7842-7
DDC 320'.01




Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.


Critical opinion has it that Hegel and Marx are worlds apart in their
thinking. Both are influential thinkers, but Hegel is a conservative
idealist, and Marx is a radical materialist. This is a misperception
that MacGregor tries to set right.

He combines a study of English political and legislative history in the
early Victorian period with a revisionist reading of Hegel and Marx.
MacGregor’s touchstone is the increasing power assumed by the state
during the 19th century; in particular, he surveys the causes and
effects of the Reform Act of 1832 and the Factory Act of 1833, which he
calls “the first effective legislative interference” in a mature
economy. To this MacGregor adds a reading of Hegel’s theories on
personality, on family, and on wage contracts, and a revisionist
analysis of Marx’s theory of government. In his view, the English
reforms “link” these German philosophers, because Hegel thought that
they would be the concrete embodiment of freedom and equality, while
Marx saw them—specifically, the system of factory inspections that
ferreted out industrial exploitation of women, children, and men—as
models of how government can relieve the suffering of working people.

The core of MacGregor’s work is the idea that “Marx takes the state
seriously” and that this is evidenced by his praise of the factory
inspectors. Although most readers see the state as a crucial concept in
Marxism, MacGregor says that the idea that the inspectors were a
“leading force behind the solution to overwork and unsafe working
conditions in industry” makes Marx a “Hegelian.” This is a curious
but useful argument: by establishing Marx’s “Hegelian
credentials”—i.e., the state as a “counterpoise” to capitalism,
factory inspectors as heroic agents of government, the family as the
model for factory legislation, creative personality as a basis for
communism—MacGregor reveals a less-radical Marx who was influenced by
romantic speculations on government and freedom.

A large part of the book proves that Hegel is more radical than Marx,
but this is less valuable than MacGregor’s vindication of the state
and of civil servants in the final chapter. It is here that he offers a
Hegelian defence of the public sector on the grounds that it is inspired
by a vision of love, which may or may not measure up to the endless
right-wing refrains that government is antithetical to individual


MacGregor, David., “Hegel, Marx, and the English State,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/5484.