Friday, March 18, 2011

Hegel and the State

I think that Hegel has gotten a little bit of a bad rap in that although his whole political position was definitely for an expansive State components of his reasoning can be used for other purposes. One of these components is his idea of there being three realms, or general areas, of life, each with its own unique overriding mode of existence.

The three realms he identifies are family, market, and the state, but the names don't do them justice. More generally, they're related to his idea of there being three areas of logic, the theoretical or formal logic, corresponding to the family, the dialectical area of logic corresponding to the market, and an area of logic that balance both the formal and the dialectical, corresponding to the state. By the state, I don't take it to only mean a formal State structure but any sort of collective decision making that goes beyond that of the family and of the market and seeks to balance the family against the market and regulate both, with the much greater emphasis on regulation being the market rather than the family.

For Hegel family life was the realm of formal tradition and custom, where questioning wasn't proper, and that grew only slowly according to the development of custom over time. It was also the first cooperative aspect of life. The market, on the other hand, was the place where individuals as individuals existed, proved themselves, contested ideas, argued. Unlike family traditions, in the market presumably everything was open to question. The state, or governmental decision making and structure, sought to balance the freedom of the dialectical model of life against the logical or formal model of traditional family life, through structures that were free enough to regulate the market without subsuming it into family life, the world of customs, yet not so free as to let the market determine the course of life as a whole.

The state, Hegel's State, is like family life in that it's based on collective customs, but those customs are abstracted from actual family living and instead applied in a more generic way as social regulations, which could easily be modified to include social programs and other collective features resembling the mutual aid that families naturally give to members that could be generalized to society as a whole.

One thing about the usage of the word "state" in European writing that I've noticed is that it's just assumed that some level of government is necessary for society. The idea that there doesn't need to be some sort of government at all, or that government itself needs to completely justify itself appears to be a uniquely American idea. Even the anarchists in Europe tend to agree that there should be some collective decision making apparatus in communities. Because of this, saying that the "state" reconciles the family and the market, or the collective family life and that of the individual, is not necessarily the same as advocating for a totalitarian or absolutist state, but can also be seen as advocacy for a type of functional government that's more along the lines of social democracy. Hegel is definitely for a more expansive government, but I don't think that his work should be interpreted as only being the antithesis of a more libertarian framework.

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