While Hegel’s political philosophy has been attacked on the left by republican democrats and on the right by feudalist reactionaries, his apologists see him as a liberal reformer, a moderate [bold mine-DL] who theorized about the development of a free-market society within the bounds of a stabilizing constitutional state. This centrist view has gained ascendancy since the end of the Second World War, enshrining Hegel within the liberal tradition [bold mine-DL]. ~From the description of Renato Cristi’s Hegel on Freedom and Authority
Cristi is also author of “Hegel’s Conservative Liberalism”. I cite scholarship on this question, since I assume that people who spend their lives studying Hegel might know a thing or two I don’t. That is why scholars, like bloggers, make citations in the first place–to recognise that there are subjects on which others are greater authorities.
Karl Popper, interesting, brilliant and fine man that he was, was not a Hegel scholar and was retrojecting onto Hegel the sort of exaltation of the state that he rightly found so terrifying in his own time. He was not alone in this, but he was wrong to do this. In mid-20th century, support for any kind of monarchy was likely to throw your credentials as a political liberal into doubt. Because a constitutional monarchist is, almost by definition, some kind of liberal, as only a liberal or Whig would dare to suggest that the monarch be subject to the limits of a constitution (especially a written constitution), the only thing one might say about my description of Hegel is that it was a bit redundant. Pretty much all constitutional monarchists were liberals (in the 19th century, European sense), though not all liberals were constitutional monarchists. It is possible to find in 19th century liberalism evidence of a dangerous centralising and “rationalising” tendency (demonstrated by Austrian liberals, Red Republicans and Garibaldian revolutionaries), and it is possible to criticise 19th century liberals for their close attachment to nationalism. What you cannot do is deny that people who were plainly political liberals were, indeed, political liberals.
Of course, when I referred to Hegel as a “moderately liberal constitutional monarchist,” a statement that is actually true whether or not some people want to accept it, I was referring to the liberalism of his day. What started all of this was my criticism of the lumping in of Hegel into a discussion of so-called “liberal fascism,” since Hegel was neither a modern liberal nor was he a proto-fascist.
What is strange about all of this is that Hegel’s 19th century liberalism does not actually make him look that good to me. However, there is still a big difference between sympathising with the principles of 1789 and believing in a totalising, all-intrusive state. That said, Hegel’s sympathy for the principles of 1789 ought to make him bad enough for traditional conservatives today that no one should need to resort to trying to pin later totalitarian ideas on him. If you want to make the argument that 1789 led inexorably to 1917 and 1933, that would be an argument for why being a 19th century liberal is not necessarily the most desirable thing to have been. However, for good or ill, that is what Hegel was.
Update: It is also worth noting that Hegel, while he did approve of the principles of 1789, was not an uncritical admirer of the Revolution. Similarly, it is possible for Hegel to be a liberal without being uncritically accepting of all elements in natural rights-based liberalism. He also had some criticism for the Enlightenment. The more I am made to think about it, “moderately liberal” sounds more accurate all the time.