The Pathos of Politics (41) Georg Hegel

Georg Hegel

The German spirit is the spirit of the new world. ~ Georg Hegel

German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) was a deep thinker with strong biases. For Hegel, there was a natural order of “inherent rationality.”

What is rational is actual and what is actual is rational. ~ Frederic Hegel

In the political realm, the natural order is found in the power of the state.

The nation-state is mind in its substantive rationality and immediate actuality and is therefore the absolute power on Earth. It follows that every state is sovereign and autonomous against its neighbours. ~ Georg Hegel

Individual freedom is not found the ability to do what one pleases. On the contrary.

The state is the actuality of concrete freedom. In duty the individual acquires his substantive freedom.

Virtue is the ethical order reflected in the individual character so far as that character is determined by its natural endowment. When virtue displays itself solely as the individual’s simple conformity with the duties of the station to which he belongs, it is rectitude. ~ Georg Hegel

For Hegel, “the state is absolutely rational” but its subjects are not assuredly so; thus, democratic participation could represent an infection of irrationality.

To hold that every single person should share in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern on the ground that all individuals are members of the state, that its concerns are their concerns, and that it is their right that what is done should be done with their knowledge and volition, is tantamount to a proposal to put the democratic element without any rational form into the organism of the state, although it is only in virtue of the possession of such a form that the state is an organism at all. ~ Georg Hegel

Hegel declared democracy a silly idea.

This idea comes readily to mind because it does not go beyond the abstraction of “being a member of the state,” and it is superficial thinking which clings to abstractions. The rational consideration of a topic, the consciousness of the idea, is concrete and to that extent coincides with a genuine practical sense. ~ Georg Hegel

Eschewing false freedom to do as one pleases, Hegel explained how a virtuous ethical order can only be attained by individuals serving the state, whereby winning their real freedom.

Since the laws and institutions of the ethical order make up the concept of freedom, they are the substance or universal essence of individuals, who are thus related to them as accidents only. Whether the individual exists or not is all one to the objective ethical order. It alone is permanent and is the power regulating the life of individuals. Thus the ethical order has been represented by mankind as eternal justice, as gods absolutely exist, in contrast with which the empty business of individuals is only a game of see-saw.

Duty is a restriction only on the self-will of subjectivity. It stands in the way only of that abstract good to which subjectivity adheres. When we say: “We want to be free,” the primary meaning of the words is simply: “We want abstract freedom,” and every institution and every organ of the state passes as a restriction on freedom of that kind. Thus duty is not a restriction on freedom, but only on freedom in the abstract, i.e. on unfreedom. Duty is the attainment of our essence, the winning of positive freedom. ~ Georg Hegel

However keen or disinterested Hegel’s appreciation of diplomacy may have been, he considered the savagery of war rational.

If states disagree and their particular wills cannot be harmonized, the matter can only be settled by war. War is not to be regarded as an absolute evil or something which ought not to be. ~ Georg Hegel

It is hard to imagine how anyone with a lick of sense took Hegel seriously, as his abounding abstractions were mired in fantasy; but appealing ideas have a way of solidifying in men’s minds to give them a vitality entirely underserved. As such, Hegel was quite influential, particularly his dialectic method of argumentation, whereby concepts negate themselves via internal contradictions: as if logical dissonance acts to torture out the truth. Marx applied Hegel’s dialectic to social and economic processes.

Hegel’s unshakable but paradoxical faith in human rationality resonated with later thinkers who sought to hope that societies could be logically structured for the benefit of all. Hegel planted the seeds that sprouted Marxist socialism, and which later took actual form in totalitarian communism, which was actually nothing more than naked tyranny in socialist garb.