Finally, as we have seen, Hegel’s approach investigates the social bonds necessary at a time for a society to generate allegiance to a regime and a social order, and so to be able to inspire sacrifices for it when required. I have been concentrating on the potential ethical harms to individuals that worried Hegel even before Fordism and a massive expansion of the productive power of capitalism would greatly exacerbate those dangers. But if Hegel is right about the harm done by inequality in the social bases of self-respect, and so the lack of standing, acknowledgment and recognition that for him are essential to a free and thus worthy life, we should certainly expect that harm to have disastrous consequences for the social bond itself. It could easily promote a culture of grievance, resentment, suspicion, paranoia and various compensatory pathologies, all the way to what are now rightly described as “deaths of despair.”
We have been experiencing for several years now the political consequences of such a culture of grievance driven by an “unleashed” globalized attempt at the maximization of profit. For reasons we have been exploring, it would also be a great mistake to think of all of this as remediable by greater income equality alone (however important that is) or the “return” of supposedly wonderful and fulfilling “factory jobs,” or some supposed liberation from work itself. Without a greatly reformed economic system in which men and women can come to feel respected for meaningful work, we should also expect that it will be hard to persuade anyone of the value of sacrificing much of anything for the sake of a social whole they do not experience themselves as a real part of. Appealing only to self-interest and the interests of loved ones has always been an argument with very little appeal to those who are willing to “take their chances,” and it implicitly concedes there is no basis in our social world for a wider appeal. In that case, we could expect there to be dangerous and widespread noncompliance, and thoughtless impatience from populist political leaders whose rise was fueled by such resentment, should there ever be a need to ask for sacrifices, for example, like lockdowns and quarantines in the case of a global pandemic.
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