the state as a community of persons in hegel; a critique
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1.1 BACKGROUND OF HEGEL’S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
1.1.1. HISTORICAL SURVEY
Every individual is a child of his time. It is not easy for one to escape the influence of his epoch or contemporary world. Hegel himself is not innocent of this. His historical judgments and moral evaluations were in fact as much conditioned by time, place and personality, as those of other philosophers.
However, in virtue of the nature and scope of our topic, this portion will rather concentrate more on the de facto German political condition which presented itself glaringly before Hegel and to which his political thought was nothing but a reaction.
Hegel made a comprehensive and scholarly case study of his native German state and discovered the multiple ills that overwhelmed it. He lamented that people considered private property and interest to be indeed common to all society so as to justify their selfish ends.
He also saw the pseudo-democratic spirit that shrouded the state which he thought would engender more threat to freedom than ever. In effect, he wished to eradicate all these. He wanted to substitute them with a magnificent theory of power vested upon the state and the monarch.
From his experiences of the French Revolution, Hegel deplored the consequences of the Revolution. He even tagged it a ‘glorious dawn,’ but he also meant that at the inception of the revolutionary wars, Germany was not free from the revolutionary armies’ invasion. The invasion came up when Hegel was twenty-one.
On another note, Germany was infested with a myriad of petty despotisms that were loosely linked together as the Holy Roman Empire under the leadership of Francis I of Austria. Marcus enumerating this noted that:
The Reich consisted of Austria and Prussia, the prince Electors, 94 ecclesiastical and secular princes, 103 barons, 40 prelates, and 51 Reich towns, in sum it consisted of nearly 300 territories.
Under this heteronomy of despotisms, Germany found it extremely hard to subsume their personal whims under a united national spirit. There was rather an evidence of porosity, individualism and weakness. In view of this Hegel as one of the contributors to the development of the German state made this elegant remark;
Without law and justice, without protection from arbitrary taxation, uncertain of the lives of our sons and our freedom and our rights, the existence of the despotic power, our existence lacking unity and a national spirit… This is the status quo of our nation.
Therefore, this was a period when people believed strongly in the divine right of kings even though they could not reach out for laws and justice. This means that rationality was conspicuously lacking and this manifested itself in the introduction of arbitrary taxations and insecurity. However, everyone yearned for the German reunification, which has for long eluded her even after the revolutionary wars during which Austria and Prussia were vanquished.
At this time when the French power was incumbent, Germany experienced much reformation. In Prussia, for instance, Von Stein, a liberal, was appointed chief adviser to the king, and he immediately abolished serfdom and reorganized the system of government. Following him was Von Hardenberg, who promised to give Prussia a representative constitution; but these hopes were obliterated completely after Napoleon’s defeat.
On his own part, Frederick William III, the Prussian king lost interest in reform, and after years of delay, in 1823 he set up only provincial ‘estates’ which engaged only in advice, and in any case were completely dominated by land owners.
Moreover, in 1819, at a meeting at Carlsbad, all the German states agreed to censor repressive measures against those who advocated revolutionary ideas. After observing all these, Hegel viewed that Germany has had a real genetically political cankerworm. He instantly detected these national defects of German character as ‘provincialism’ and ‘particularism,’ which, he said, are the causes of the empire’s weakness.
He also observed that Germany, viewed from the cultural point of view, was a nation but it had not understood what it meant to subjugate parts to whole which was essential to (the) a national government. The central government, he noted, was weak because its power flowed from its parts. Even the existing constitution reflected nothing but an explicit subterfuge for weakness.
Thus, there was total individualism among the people and sheer sectionalism among corporations, estates, guilds and even religious sects. For this reason then Hegel identified this German particularism with an anarchical love of freedom which misconceived liberty as an absence of discipline and authority. And this he contrasted with “true freedom”, which is to be found only within the bounds of a national state. Freedom as Hegel understood it had nothing to do with the individualism of English and French political thought but it was rather a quality reflected upon the individual by the national power of self-determination.
In effect, Hegel saw Germany as revolving around what he termed the’ civil society’ with no greater aim than collective protection of its industrial property. He aimed at elevating Germany from its political and social trash to an organic natural state, the divine idea in the universe. Following his diagnosis of Germany’s weakness Hegel defined the state as a group which collectively protects its property. Its only essential powers are civil and military establishment sufficient to this end.
1.1.2 THE PHILOSOPHICAL IMPLICATIONS
Hegel’s treatment of most of the social issues can rightly be seen as a direct criticism and rejection of some of Rousseau’s liberal opinions. Rousseau had put forward his idea that man is born free but is everywhere in chains. For him man is naturally free. He captures his freedom as soon as he gets the opportunity. This freedom of the individual, ordained by nature, offers the general will. The general will is the will that discrete individual, that appear to be more powerful than their fellow individuals, and the less powerful individual falls the victim of surrendering to more powerful individual and as a result pay their obeisance to them. As it were, it was Rousseau who initiated the romantic cult of democracy. This led him to formulate the contractualist theory of the state against which
Hegel would hold as a contrary view, one that is strictly organic. More so, the constitution of Germany showed clearly that Hegel’s conception of the dialectic was controlled by a moral rather than a scientific purpose. Hegel explained that the object of the essay was to promote understanding of things as they are, to exhibit political history not as arbitrary but as necessary. The unhappiness of man is a frustration that arises from the discrepancy between what is and what he is feigned to believe ought to be. It occurs because he imagines that event is mere unrelated detail and not a “system ruled by a spirit.” Its remedy comes with reconciliation, the realization that what is must be and the consciousness that what must be also ought to be. This is manifestly the principle which Hegel later summarized in his aphorism, “the real is rational and the rational is real” The authority that was fully conferred on the civil society, with the elimination of the state government as it were upheld by Rousseau was seen by Hegel as nothing but transitory means to and end and not the end itself.
Thus, the absolute democracy of Rousseau was rightly criticized by Hegel. And the criticisms gave direction to Hegel’s philosophy of the organic state. This absolute democracy gave individuals the right to agree and form government of all citizens’ participation. This implies that there is no state outside the civil society, because all are decision makers. This form, according to Rousseau, accords well with individual inalienable freedom that should not be surrendered to another. Hegel found serious faults against this liberalist individualist absolute democracy. He saw its demolition and replacement as the hope of a new socio-political order,
1.1.3 HEGEL’S AIM OF POLITICS
Hegel aimed at introducing a substantial change in the entire socio-political structure but with a special reference to Germany. To achieve this he brought in his new logic, the dialectic which is the underlying principle for validation of the historical necessity of a people’s national mentality and spirit. Again he wanted to present a view of the individual as an entity whose end is the absolute spirit, and without the existence of the absolute spirit it automatically loses its authenticity as a substantial individual.
Also the de facto German government which he says has not yet arrived at a national unity requires a binding force to achieve its organic structure. This, in fact, would elevate it to the level where it will be the teleology or the ‘entelechy’ of the individual. It would be the highest authority, the most moral being and the superlative synthesis of all families and civil societies.
At such a stratum, it will dedicate itself to the so-called Hegelian Nobel act of institutionalizing the common interest and defending it against all external and internal conflicts. Thus the state will not only embody or encapsulate its citizens but also pastures them like a flock. This then gave Hegel more courage to hold that the state is far superior to and qualitatively different from the civil society. That is why he said:
The state is the actuality of concrete freedom. But concrete freedom consists in this, that personal individuality and its particular interests not only achieve their complete development and again explicit recognition for their right (as in the family and civil society) …they also pass over of their own accord into the interests of the universal,… they know and will the universal. Even recognize it as their own substantive mind; they take it as their end and aim and are active in its pursuit. The result is that the universal does not prevail or achieve completion along with particular interests and through the co-operation of particular knowing and willing…
The summary of his political purpose could rightly be regarded as an effort to reconcile freedom and authority which is accomplished when the state emerges and imposes its laws (in the form of the constitution) upon the lesser associations in which the individuals are involved. Sequel to this he upholds a standardized organic system which is directly contrapuntal to Rousseau’s absolute democracy.
More over, his desire includes portraying the state as an unrivalled and magnificent institution that invests its government with standards of absolute reason and laws that are universally valid. To this end he sets out to reconstruct political philosophy in general. Little wonder then, the outcome of such an ambitious venture was his elegant work “The Philosophy of Right”- a work that is difficult to comprehend. It was as a result of this incomprehensibility of this material that many people described him as a fellow that embraced an abstract philosophy.
Hegel’s aim was to set forth a philosophical system so comprehensive that it would encompass the ideas of his predecessors and create a conceptual framework in terms of which both the past and future could be understood philosophically. Such an aim would require nothing short of a full account of reality itself. Thus, Hegel conceived the subject matter of philosophy to be reality as a whole. This reality, or the total developmental process of everything that is, he referred to as the Absolute.
According to Hegel, the task of philosophy is to chart the development of the Absolute. This involves first, making clear the internal rational structure of the Absolute; second, demonstrating the manner in which the Absolute manifests itself in nature and human history; and, third, explicating the teleological nature of the Absolute, that is, showing the end or purpose towards which the Absolute is directed.