I argue that the concept of practical necessity adds to our understanding of the notion of constraint by analysing the use of this concept in the writings of Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hegel and Marx. Objective and subjective aspects of practical necessity are identified, and the relation between them is explained. It is also shown that human beings can be wrong about what is a matter of genuine practical necessity at the same time as some people have an interest in fostering in others false beliefs regarding this matter. In short, appeals to necessity may perform an ideological function.
Hegel associates 'subjective' freedom with various rights, all of which concern the subject's particularity, and with the demand that this particularity be accorded proper recognition within the modern state. I show that Hegel's account of subjective freedom can be assimilated to the 'positive' model of freedom that is often attributed to him because of the way in which the objective determinations of right (Recht) recognise the subject's particularity in the form of individual welfare. To this extent, the practical constraints to which individuals are subject in the modern state are not purely external ones, and the freedom which they enjoy within it is not merely subjective in kind. In exploring the role of certain practical forms of necessity in Hegel's account of civil society I show, however, that Hegel points to the existence of a group of people, the poor, who must be thought to lack subjective freedom, because they will experience the constraints to which they are subject as purely external ones. He also suggests the existence of a form of freedom that is merely subjective in kind, because it consists in a sense of absence of constraint that fails to reflect fully the practical forms of necessity that underlie civil society and constrain an individual's actions. The importance of the concept of necessity in Hegel's Philosophy of Right, as highlighted in the paper, demonstrates, moreover, that the emphasis on freedom found in recent interpretations of Hegel's social and political philosophy needs to be counterbalanced by greater recognition of the role played in it by this concept.