Monday, April 02, 2012

Hegel and the State, some confusions in terminology

Hegel is in fact not as Statist as he's often portrayed in the English speaking world. Although a conservative, Hegel was not, in my opinion, at all a totalitarian. The confusion comes from the different terms used in the German and English speaking worlds to refer to the same things. In this case, although Hegel's "Philosophy of Right" makes many statements about "The State", about "The State" being the realized absolute freedom of humanity in spiritual as well as normal ways, etc...if you look at what he's really talking about, it's not government he's referring to, but a state of affairs in the country itself. The State in Hegel does not automatically refer to the Government.

The parts of Hegel's philosophy of right are very clearly set out: there are three spheres of human activity, that of the family, that of the world of individuals, and that of the State. The family corresponds to rural small towns, the world of individuals refers to commercial towns where business is done, and the State refers to political entities that encompass features of both, of agricultural society and commercial trading, along with commercial production. In other words, the State that Hegel talks about is what we in the U.S. would probably call a Country, or, literally, a particular State in the U.S. like "The State of Michigan" or "The State of New York", referring to all of the activity of people that happen within that State, but not necessarily including the government of that State itself.

One could also label it the Nation-State.

Because of this it's clear that Hegel's many statements about the State being the realm of freedom refer to a social change in how everyday life occurs in a developed political entity. The State, the form of a modern country, resolves the age old contradiction between conservative rural life and individualistic city-state life by allowing for both collective or communal forms of organization as well as individual freedom. This is very close to socialism, with the proviso that Hegel most likely thought of this as being an extension or accommodation with paternalism rather than the complete overturning of it and use of collective organization in non-paternalistic ways.

Evidence for the separation of Government from The State in Hegel comes directly from the fact that he treats Government separately, explicitly so, as something that acts in harmony with the State but that does not constitute the entire State. The State exists, but government exists to reinforce the norms that The State has already established, and implement various projects for the general welfare based on the feelings and wishes of all actors in The State taken together.

"273. The political state is divided into three substantive branches: (a) The power to fix and establish the universal. This is legislation. (b) The power, which brings particular spheres and individual cases under the universal. This is the function of government. (c) The function of the prince, as the subjectivity with which rests the final decision. In this function the other two are brought into an individual unity. It is at once the culmination and beginning of the whole. This is constitutional monarchy.

" The fanciful abuses of this idea of The State by some are just that. For instance, Giovanni Gentile's conception of Hegel is like a watered down mockery of Hegel's actual philosophy done by someone who wasn't very intelligent to begin with.

on edit: from Hegel,section 278 of Philosophy of Right

"Because sovereignty is the ideality of all particular powers, it easily gives rise to the common misconception, which takes it to be mere force, empty wilfulness, and a synonym for despotism. But despotism is a condition of lawlessness, in which the particular will, whether of mon- arch or people (ochlocracy) counts as law, or rather instead of law. Sovereignty, on the contrary, constitutes the element of the ideality of particular spheres and offices, in a condition which is lawful and consti- tutional. No particular sphere is independent and self-sufficient in its aims and methods of working. It does not immerse itself in its own separate vocation. On the contrary, its aims are led by and dependent upon the aim of the whole, an aim which has been named in general terms and indefinitely the well-being of the state.

This ideality is manifested in a twofold way. (1) In times of peace the particular spheres and businesses go their way of satisfying their particular offices and ends. According to mere unconscious necessity self-seeking here veers round to a contribution in behalf of mutual pres- ervation and the preservation of the whole (§183). But, also, through a direct influence from above is it that these employments are continually brought back and limited by the aim of the whole (see “Function of Government,” §289), and led to make direct efforts for its preservation. (2) In circumstances of distress, internal or external, the organism con- sisting of its particulars, comes together into the simple conception of sovereignty, to which is intrusted the safety of the state, even at the sacrifice of what is at other times justifiable. It is here that idealism attains its peculiar realization (§321). "

Sovereignty here is the power of the executive. Hegel goes on to say that, basically, the sovereign, in this case the Constitutional Monarch, should be someone who is fully representative of the character of the people, and who is also constrained in action by the Constitution, which is also an emanation of the character of the people.

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