"Death Must Have Become Terrifying": The Social Conditions of Anxiety

Document Type : Original Article


Department of Philosophy, Columbia University


While Hegel would agree with existentialist philosophers that anxiety testifies to an existential condition, applying to any human being as such, he believes that the experience of anxiety is shaped by social and cultural institutions and changes over history. The paper offers a reconstruction of Hegel’s account of the social conditions of anxiety. While my focus is the modern period, I use Hegel’s comments on death in previous epochs—and especially in ancient Greece—to bring out the peculiarity of modernity. In the first half of the paper, I discuss the nature and conditions of anxiety. In the second half, I trace Hegel’s critique of a common way to avoid—of flee from—anxiety in modernity, which results in social isolation, boredom, and emptiness. As long as the modern individual is only an economic actor in civil society, she is prone to anxiety. To confront her finitude, Hegel argues, she must endorse her political affiliation, namely, be an active and sacrificing citizen of the state.


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