Reason and Revolution. Herbert Marcuse 1941
THE first volume of the Science of Logic had appeared in 1812, the last in 1816. During the four year interim had come the Prussian ‘War of Liberation,’ the Holy Alliance against Napoleon, the battles of Leipzig and Waterloo, and the victorious entry of the Allies into Paris. In 1816, Hegel, then principal of a high school in Nuremberg, was appointed to a professorship of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. The next year, he published the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences and was chosen Fichte’s successor at the University of Berlin. This final goal of his academic career coincides with the end of his philosophical development. He became the so-called official philosopher of the Prussian state and the philosophical dictator of Germany.
We shall not enter further on an account of Hegel’s biography, since we are not here dealing with his personal character and motives. The social and political function of his philosophy, and the affinity between his philosophy and the Restoration must be accounted for in terms of the particular situation that modern society found itself in at the end of the Napoleonic era.
Hegel saw Napoleon as the historical hero fulfilling the destiny of the French Revolution; he was, thought Hegel, the one man able to transform the achievements of 1789 into a state order and to connect individual freedom with the universal reason of a stable social system. It was not an abstract greatness he admired in Napoleon, but the quality of expressing the historical need of the time. Napoleon was ‘the soul of the world,’ in whom the universal task of the time was embodied. That task was to consolidate and preserve the new form of society that stood for the principle of reason. We know that the principle of reason in society meant for Hegel a social order built on the rational autonomy of the individual. Individual freedom, however, had assumed the form of brute individualism; the freedom of each individual was pitted in life-and-death competitive struggle against that of every other. The Terror of 1793 exemplified this individualism and was its necessary outcome. The conflict among feudal estates had once attested that feudalism was no longer capable of uniting the individual and the general interest; the pervasive competitive freedom of individuals now witnessed that middle-class society also was not. Hegel saw in the sovereignty of the state the one principle that would bring unity.
Napoleon had to a large extent crushed the vestiges of feudalism in Germany. The Civil Code was introduced in many parts of the former German Reich. ‘Civil equality, religious liberty, the abolition of the tithe and of feudal rights, the sale of ecclesiastic holdings, the suppression of the guilds, the multiplication of the bureaucracy, and a “wise and liberal” administration, a constitution that brought with it the voting of taxes and of laws by the notables, all these were to weave a network of interest closely bound with the maintenance of French domination.’ The absurdly impotent Reich had been replaced by a number of sovereign states, especially in southern Germany. These states, to be sure, were only caricature forms of a modern sovereign state as we know it, but they nevertheless were a marked advance over the former territorial subdivisions of the Reich, which had vainly sought to accommodate the development of capitalism to the old order of society. The new states were at least larger economic units; they had a centralized bureaucracy, a simpler system for administering justice, and a more rational method of taxation under some kind of public control. These innovations seemed to be in line with Hegel’s demand for a more rational ordering of political forms to permit the development of the new intellectual and material forces unleashed by the French Revolution, and it is no wonder, therefore, that he at first viewed the struggle against Napoleon as a reactionary opposition. His reference to the ‘War of Liberation’ is, therefore, contemptuous and ironical. He went so far, in fact, that he could not acknowledge the defeat of Napoleon as final even after the Allies had triumphantly entered Paris.
Typical of Hegel’s attitude to the political events of these years are the utterances in his lectures (1816) in which he defiantly emphasizes the purely intellectual values as against the actual political interests:
We may hope that, in addition to the State, which has swallowed up all other interests in its own, the Church may now resume her high position – that in addition to the kingdom of the world to which all thoughts and efforts have hitherto been directed, the Kingdom of God may also be considered. In other words, along with the business of politics and the other interests of every-day life, we may trust that Science, the free rational world of mind, may again flourish.
Truly, this was a strange attitude. The political philosopher who but one year later became the official ideological spokesman for the Prussian state and then declared the state’s right to be the right of reason itself, now denounces political activity and interprets national liberation to mean freedom for philosophical scholarship. Truth and reason he now sets far beyond the social and political whirl, in the realm of pure science.
We shall note that Hegel’s new position stayed with him. As for his shift from a rather anti-nationalist to a nationalist position, we may recall a similar ‘inconsistency’ in the early days of modern philosophical writing. Hobbes, who may be called the most characteristic philosopher of the rising bourgeoisie, found his political philosophy compatible first with the monarchy of Charles I, then with Cromwell’s revolutionary state, and finally with the Stuart reaction. It was irrelevant to Hobbes whether the sovereign state assumed the form of a democracy, oligarchy, or limited monarchy, as long as it asserted sovereignty in its relations with other states and maintained its own authority in relation to its citizens. So, too, for Hegel, differences in political form between nations did not matter so long as the underlying identity of social and economic relations was uniformly maintained as that of middle-class society. Modern constitutional monarchy seemed to him to serve quite well in preserving this economic structure. Upon the downfall of the Napoleonic system in Germany, he consequently was quite willing to hail the ensuing sovereign monarchy as the genuine heir of the Napoleonic system.
To Hegel, state sovereignty was a necessary instrument for preserving middle-class society. For, the sovereign state would remove the destructive competitive element from the individuals and make competition a positive interest of the universal; it would be capable of dominating the conflicting interests of its members. The point that is here implied is that where the social system requires the individual’s existence to depend on competition with others, the only guarantee of at least a limited realization of the common interest would be the restriction of his freedom within the universal order of the state. Sovereignty of the state thus presupposes international competition among antagonistic political units, the power of each of which resides essentially in its undisputed authority over its members.
In his published report of 1817 on the debates of the Estates of Wurttemberg, Hegel’s views are entirely dictated by this attitude. Wurttemberg had become a sovereign kingdom by act of Napoleon. A new constitution was necessary to replace the obsolescent semi-feudal system, and newly acquired territories had to be combined with the original state so as to form a centralized social and political whole. The king had drafted such a constitution and had submitted it to the assembled estates in 1815. The latter refused to accept it. Hegel, in his strong defense of the royal draft against the estates’ opposition, interpreted the conflict between the two parties as a struggle between the old and new social principle, between feudal privilege and modern sovereignty.
His report shows throughout the guiding thread of the principle of sovereignty. Napoleon, he says, established the external sovereignty of the state – the historical task now is to establish its internal sovereignty, an undisputed authority of the government over its citizens. And this engenders a new conception of the relation of the state to its members. The idea of the social contract must be displaced by the idea of the state as an objective whole. The Jenenser systems had repudiated any application of the social contract to the state. Now, the main theme that shapes Hegel’s philosophy is that the state is separate from society.
Out of the irreconcilable conflict of particular interests, which are the basis of modern society’s relations, the inherent mechanisms of this society can produce no common interest. The universal must be imposed upon the particulars, as it were, against their will, and the resulting relation between the individuals on the one hand and the state on the other cannot be the same as that between individuals. The contract might apply to the latter, but it cannot hold for the former. For, a contract implies that the contracting parties are ‘equally independent of each other.’ Their agreement is but a ‘contingent relation’ that originates from their subjective wants. The state, on the other hand, is an ‘objective, necessary relation,’ essentially independent of subjective wants.
According to Hegel, civil society must finally generate an authoritarian system, a change that springs from the economic foundations of that society itself, and serves to perpetuate its framework. The change in form is supposed to save the threatened content. Hegel, we may recall, outlined an authoritarian system when he spoke of a ‘government of discipline’ at the conclusion of the Jenenser system of morality. That government form did not amount to a new order, but simply imposed a method on the prevailing system of individualism. Here, again, in elevating the state above society, Hegel follows the same pattern. He gives the state the supreme position because he sees the inevitable effects of the antagonisms within modern society. The competing individual interests are incapable of generating a system that would guarantee the continuance of the whole, hence an uncontrovertible authority must be imposed on them. The government’s relation to the people is removed from the sphere of contract and made ‘an original substantial unity.’ The individual bears primarily the relation of duty to the state and his right is subordinate to this. The sovereign state takes shape as a disciplinary state.
Its sovereignty, however, must differ from that of the absolutistic state – the people must become a material part of the state power. Since modern economy is founded on the individual’s emancipated activity, his social maturity must be asserted and encouraged. It is notable in this connection that Hegel gave special criticism to one point in the royal constitution, that dealing with the restriction of suffrage. The king had provided, first, that officials of the state as well as members of the army, clergy, and medical profession were not to be elected and, secondly, that a net income of at least 200 florins from realities should be a prerequisite to suffrage. Hegel declared, on the first that the consequent exclusion of state officials from the popular Chamber was extremely dangerous. For it was precisely those who were statesmen by profession and training who would be the ablest defenders of the common as against the particular interests. Every private business in this society, he declared, by its very nature sets the individual against the community.
Realty owners as well as tradesmen and others who find themselves in possession of property or of a craft are interested in preserving the bourgeois order, but their direct aim therein is to preserve their private property.
They are prepared and determined to do as little a., possible for the universal. He adds that this attitude is not a matter of ethics or of the personal character of some individuals, but is rooted ‘in the nature of the case,’ in the nature of this social class. It can be counteracted by a stable bureaucracy as far removed as possible from the sphere of economic competition and thus capable of serving the state without any interference from private business.
This essential function of bureaucracy in the state is a material element of Hegel’s political thought. Historical developments have borne out his conclusions, though in a form quite different from his expectations.
Hegel also repudiates the second restriction of the franchise, that by property qualifications. For property is the very factor that makes the individual oppose the universal and follow the ties of his private interest instead. In Hegel’s terminology, property is an ‘abstract’ qualification that has nothing to do with human attributes. The political influence of the mere quantity of holdings, he declares, is a negative heritage of the French Revolution; as a criterion of privileges it must eventually be overcome, or, at least, must no longer constitute ‘the sole condition for one of the most important political functions.’ The abolition of property qualifications as prerequisites for political rights would strengthen rather than weaken the state. For, the strong bureaucracy that would be made possible would set this state on much firmer ground than the interests of relatively small proprietors can provide.
Describing the struggle between the king and the estates in Wurttemberg, Hegel depicts it as that between ‘rational State law’ (vernünftiges Staatsrecht) and the traditional code of positive law. Positive law comes down to an outmoded code of old privileges held to be eternally valid only because valid for hundreds of years. ‘Positive law,’ he argues, ‘must rightly perish when it loses that basis which is the condition of its existence.’ The old privileges of the estates have about as much basis in modern society as have ‘sacrificial murder, slavery, feudal despotism, and countless other infamies.’ These have been done with as ‘rights,’ – reason has been a historical reality ever since the French Revolution. The recognition of the rights of man has overthrown old privilege and has laid down ‘the everlasting principles of established legislation, government, and administration.’ At the same time, the rational order that Hegel is here discussing is gradually stripped of its revolutionary implications and adapted to the requirements of the society of his time. It now indicates for him the furthest limits within which this society can be reasonable without being negated in principle. He holds up the revolutionary terror of 1793 as brutal warning that the existing order must be protected with all available means. The princes ought to know ‘as a result of the experiences of the past twenty-five years, the dangers and horrors connected with the establishment of new constitutions, and with the criterion of a reality that conforms to thought.’
Hegel generally praised the endeavor to fashion reality in accordance with thought. This was man’s highest privilege and the sole way to materialize the truth. But when such an attempt threatened the very society that originally hailed this as man’s privilege, Hegel preferred to maintain the prevailing order under all circumstances. We may again cite Hobbes to show how anxiety for the existing order unites even the most disparate philosophies: ‘The state of man can never be without some incommodity or other,’ but ‘the greatest, that in any form of government can possibly happen to the people in general, is scarce sensible, in respect of the miseries, and horrible calamities, that accompany a civil war ...’ ‘The present ought always to be preferred, maintained, and accounted best; because it is against both the law of nature, and the divine positive law, to do anything tending to the subversion thereof.’
It is not an inconsistency in Hegel’s system that individual freedom is thus overshadowed by the authority vested in the universal, and that the rational finally comes forward in the guise of the given social order. The apparent inconsistency reflects the historical truth and mirrors the course of the antagonisms of individualist society, which turn freedom into necessity and reason into authority. Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, to a considerable extent, owes its relevance to the fact that its basic concepts absorb and consciously retain the contradictions of this society and follow them to the bitter end. The work is reactionary in so far as the social order it reflects is so, and progressive in so far as it is progressive.
Some of the gravest misunderstandings that obscure the Philosophy of Right car; be removed simply by considering the place of the work in Hegel’s system. It does not treat with the whole cultural world, for the realm of right is but a part of the realm of mind, namely, that part which Hegel denotes as objective mind. It does not, in short, expound or deal with the cultural realities of art, religion, and philosophy, which embody the ultimate truth for Hegel. The place that the Philosophy of Right occupies in the Hegelian system makes it impossible to regard the state, the highest reality within the realm of right, as the highest reality within the whole system. Even Hegel’s most emphatic deification of the state cannot cancel his definite subordination of the objective to the absolute mind, of the political to the philosophical truth.
The content to come is announced in the Preface, often attacked as a document of utmost servility to the Restoration and of uncompromising hostility to all the liberal and progressive tendencies of the time. Hegel’s denunciation of J. F. Fries, one of the leaders of the insurgent German youth movement, his defense of the Karlsbader Beschlüsse (1819), with their wholesale persecutions of every liberal act or utterance (arbitrarily labeled with the then current term of abuse, ‘demagogic’), his apologia for strong censorship, for the suppression of academic freedom, and for restricting all trends towards some form of truly representative government have all been quoted in confirmation of the charge. There is, of course, no justification for Hegel’s personal attitude at the time. In the light of the historical situation, however, and especially of the later social and political development, his position and the whole Preface assume quite another significance. We must briefly examine the nature of the democratic opposition that Hegel criticizes.
The movement sprang from the disappointment and disillusionment of the petty bourgeoisie after the war of 1813-15. The liberation of the German states from French rule was accompanied by an absolutist reaction. The promise of political recognition for popular rights and the dream of an adequate constitution remained unfulfilled. The response was a surge of propaganda for the political unification of the German nation, a propaganda that did contain in large measure a truly liberalist hostility to the newly established, despotism. Since, however, the upper classes were capable of holding their own within the absolutist framework, and since no organized working class existed, the democratic movement was, to a large extent, made up of resentment on the part of the powerless petty bourgeoisie. This resentment received striking expression in the program of the academic Burschenschaften and of their precursors, the Turnvereine. There was much talk of freedom and of equality, but it was a freedom that would be the vested privilege of the Teutonic race alone, and an equality that meant general poverty and privation. Culture was looked upon as the holding of the rich and of the alien, made to corrupt and soften the people. Hatred of the French went along with hatred of Jews, Catholics, and ‘nobles.’ The movement cried for a truly ‘German war,’ so that Germany might unfold ‘the abundant wealth of her nationality! It demanded a ‘savior’ to achieve German unity, one to whom ‘the people will forgive all sins.’ It burned books and yelled woe to the Jews. It believed itself above the law and the constitution because ‘there is no law to the just cause.’ The state was to be built from ‘below,’ through the sheer enthusiasm of the masses, and the ‘natural’ unity of the Volk was to supersede the stratified order of state and society.
It is not difficult to recognize in these ‘democratic’ slogans the ideology of the Fascist Volksgemeinschaft. There is, in point of fact, a much closer relation between the historical role of the Burschenschaften, with their racism and anti-rationalism, and National Socialism, than there is between Hegel’s position and the latter. Hegel wrote his Philosophy of Right as a defense of the state against this pseudo-democratic ideology, in which he saw a more serious threat to freedom than in the continued rule of the vested authorities. There can be no doubt that his work strengthened the power of these authorities and thus assisted an already victorious reaction, but, only a relatively short time later, it turned out to be a weapon against reaction. For, the state Hegel had in mind was one governed by the standards of critical reason and by universally valid laws. The rationality of law, he says, is the life element of the modern state. ‘The law is ... the Shibboleth, by means of which are detected the false brethren and friends of the so-called people.’ We shall see that Hegel wove the theme through his mature political philosophy. There is no concept less compatible with Fascist ideology than that which founds the state on a universal and rational law that safeguards the interests of every individual, whatever the contingencies of his natural and social status.
Hegel’s attack on the democratic opponents of the Restoration is, moreover, inseparable from his even sharper criticism of the reactionary representatives of the organic theory of the state. His criticism of the Volksbewegung is linked with his polemic against K. L. von Halley’s Restauration der Staatwissenschaft (first published in 1816), a work that exerted great influence on political romanticism in Germany. Haller there had considered the state to be a natural fact and at the same time a divine product. As such, he had accepted without justification the rule of the strong over the weak, which every state implies, and had rejected any interpretation of the state as representing the institutionalized rights of free individuals or as subject to the demands of human reason. Hegel characterized Haller’s position as nothing short of ‘fanaticism, mental imbecility, and hypocrisy.’ If supposedly natural values and not those of reason are fundamental principles of the state, then hazard, injustice, and the brute in man replace the rational standards of human organization.
Both the democratic and feudal opponents of the state agreed in repudiating the rule of law. Hegel held, against both of them, that the rule of law is the only adequate political form of modern society. Modern society, he said, is not a natural community or an order of divinely bestowed privileges. It is based on the general competition of free owners of property who get and hold their position in the social process through their self-reliant activity. It is a society in which the common interest, the perpetuation of the whole, is asserted only through blind chance. Conscious regulation of the social antagonisms, therefore, by a force standing above the clash of particular interests, and yet safeguarding each of them, could alone transform the anarchic sum-total of individuals into a rational society. The rule of law was to be the lever of that transformation.
At the same time, Hegel rejected political theory as such, and denied that it had any use in political life. The rule of law was at hand; it was embodied in the state and constituted the adequate historical realization of reason. Once the given order was thus accepted and acquiesced in, political theory was rendered superfluous, for ‘theories now set themselves in opposition to the existing order and make as though they were absolutely true and necessary.’ Hegel was impelled to renounce theory because lie maintained that theory was necessarily critical, especially in the form it had taken in Western history. Ever since Descartes, it was claimed that theory could plumb the rational structure of the universe and that reason could through its efforts become the standard of human life. Theoretical and rational knowledge of the truth thus implied recognition of the ‘untruth’ of a reality not yet up to standard. The inadequate nature of the given reality forced theory to transcend it, to become idealistic. But, Hegel now says, history has not stood still; mankind has reached the stage where all the means are at hand for realizing reason. The modern state is the reality of that realization. Hence, any further application of theory to politics would now make theory Utopian. When the given order is taken as rational, idealism has reached its end. Political philosophy must henceforth refrain from teaching what the state ought to be. The state is, is rational, and there’s the finale. Hegel adds that his philosophy will instead counsel that the state must be recognized as a moral universe. The task of philosophy becomes that of ‘reconciling men to the actual.’
A strange reconciliation, indeed. There is hardly another philosophical work that reveals more unsparingly the irreconcilable contradictions of modern society, or that seems more perversely to acquiesce in them. The very Preface in which Hegel renounces critical theory seems to be calling for it by stressing ‘the conflict between what is and what ought to be.’
The content to which reason pointed was within reach, Hegel said. The realization of reason could no longer be philosophy’s task, nor could it be allowed to dissipate itself in Utopian speculations. Society as actually constituted had brought to fruition the material conditions for its change, so that the truth that philosophy contained at its core might once for all be brought into being. Freedom and reason could now be seen as more than inner values. The given condition of the present was a ‘cross’ to be borne, a world of misery and injustice, but within it blossomed the potencies of free reason. The recognition of these potencies had been the function of philosophy, the attainment of the true order of society was now the function of practice. Hegel knew that ‘one form of life has become old’ and that it could never be rejuvenated by philosophy. The concluding passages of the Preface set the tone for the entire Philosophy of Right. They mark the resignation of a man who knows that the truth he represents has drawn to its close and that it can no longer invigorate the world.
Nor can it invigorate the social forces he understood and represented. The Philosophy of Right is the philosophy of middle-class society come to full self-consciousness. It holds up the positive and the negative elements of a society that has grown mature and that sees full well its insurmountable limitations. All the fundamental concepts of modern philosophy are reapplied in the Philosophy of Right to the social reality from which they sprang, and all reassume their concrete form. Their abstract and metaphysical character disappears; their actual historical content shows forth. The notion of the subject (the ego) now discloses that it has an intrinsic connection with the isolated economic man, the notion of freedom with property, the notion of reason with the lack of real universality or community in the competitive sphere; natural law now becomes the law of competitive society – and all this social content is not the product of a forced interpretation, or of an external application of these concepts, but the final unfolding of their original meaning. At its roots, the Philosophy of Right is materialist in approach. Hegel exposes in paragraph after paragraph the social and economic under-structure of his philosophic concepts. True, he derives all the social and economic realities from the idea, but the idea is conceived in terms of them and bears their marks in all its moments.
The Philosophy of Right does not expound a specific theory of the state. It is not only a philosophic deduction of right, state, and society, or an expression of Hegel’s personal opinions on their reality. What is essential in the work is the self-dissolution and self-negation of the basic concepts of modern philosophy. They share the fate of the society they explain. They lose their progressive character, their promising tone, their critical impact, and assume the form of defeat and frustration. It is this inner happening in the work rather than its systematic construction that we shall strive to develop.
In the Introduction, the general framework is set for an elaboration of right, civil society, and state. The realm of right is the realm of freedom. The thinking subject is the free being; freedom is an attribute of his will. It is the will that is free, so that freedom is its substance and essence. This assertion should not be taken to contradict the conclusion in the Logic that thought is the sole realm of freedom. For, the will is ‘a special way of thinking,’ namely, it is ‘thought translating itself into reality’ and becoming practice. Through his will, the individual can determine his acts in accord with his free reason. The entire sphere of right, the right of the individual, of the family, of society and of the state, derive from and must conform to the free will of the individual. To this extent, then, we are restating the conclusions of Hegel’s earlier writings, that state and society are to be constructed by the critical reason of the emancipated individual. But that point is soon brought into question. The emancipated individual of modern society is not capable of such a construction. His will, expressive of particular interests, does not contain that ‘universality’ which would give common ground to both the particular and the general interest. The individual will is not of itself part and parcel of the ‘general will.’ The philosophical basis for social contract must be denied for this reason.
The will is a unity of two different aspects or moments: first, the individual’s ability to abstract from every specific condition and, by negating it, to return to the absolute liberty of the pure ego; secondly, the individual’s act of freely adopting a concrete condition, freely affirming his existence as a particular, limited ego. The first of these Hegel calls the universal aspect of will, because through constant abstraction from and negation of every determinate condition the ego asserts its identity as against the diversity of its particular states. That is, the individual ego is a true universal in the sense that it can abstract from and transcend every particular condition and remain at one with itself in the process. The second sense recognizes that the individual cannot in fact negate every particular condition, but must choose some one in which he carries on his life. He is in this respect a particular ego.
The fixation on either mode of will results in a negative liberty. If the individual abstracts from every particular condition and retreats into the pure will of his ego, he will constantly be rejecting all established social and political forms and will get to something like the abstract liberty and equality exalted in the French Revolution. The same was done in Rousseau’s theory of the state and society, which predicated an original state of man where the living unit was the abstract individual possessing certain arbitrarily selected qualities such as good and evil, private owner or member of a community without private property, and so on. Rousseau, Hegel says, made ‘the will and the spirit of the particular individual in his peculiar caprice ... the substantive and primary basis’ in society.
Hegel’s notion of the will aims to demonstrate that the will is of a dual character, consisting of a – fundamental polarity between particular and universal elements. It aims, moreover, to show that this will is not adequate to give rise to a social and political order, but that the latter requires other factors that can be made harmonious with the will only through the long process of history. The individual’s free will of necessity asserts his private interest; it can therefore never of itself will the general or common interest. Hegel shows, for example, that the free man becomes the property owner who, as such, stands against other property owners. His will is ‘by nature’ determined by his immediate ‘impulses, appetites, and inclinations,’ and is directed to satisfying these. Satisfaction means that he has made the object of his will his own. He cannot fulfill his wants except by appropriating the objects he wants, thus excluding other individuals from the use and enjoyment of the same. His will necessarily takes ‘the form of individuality [Einzelheit].’ The object is to the ego something ‘which may or may not be mine.’ And the individual will has nothing in its nature that would overpass this mutual exclusion of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and unify the two in some common third. In its natural dimension, then, the free will is license, forever bound up with the arbitrary processes of appropriation.
We have here a first example of Hegel’s identifying a law of nature with the law of competitive society. The ‘nature’ of free will is conceived in such a way that it refers to a particular historical form of the will, that of the individual as private owner, with private property serving as the first realization of freedom.
How, then, can the individual will, expressing the divided claims of ‘mine’ and ‘thine,’ with no common ground between, ever become the will of ‘our’ and thus express a common interest? The social-contract hypothesis cannot serve, for no contract between individuals transcends the sphere of private law. The contractual basis that is presumed for the state and society would make the whole subject to the same arbitrariness that governs private interests. At the same time, the state cannot base itself on any principle that implies an annulment of the rights of the individual. Hegel stands firmly by this thesis, which was enunciated in all the political philosophy of the rising middle class. The time had passed when the absolutist state described in the Leviathan could be said best to preserve the interests of the new middle class. A long process of discipline had since borne fruit – the individual had become the decisive unit of the economic order and, what is more, now demanded his rights in the political scheme. Hegel sets forth that demand and is true to it in all his political theory.
We have stated that Hegel represented the ‘universality’ of the will as a universality of the ego, meaning thereby that the universality consists in the fact that the ego integrates all existential conditions into its self-identity. The result is paradoxical: the universal is set in the most individual element in man, in his ego. Socially, the process is quite understandable. Modern society does not unite individuals so that they can carry on autonomous yet concerted activities for the good of all. They do not reproduce their society consciously, by collective activity, that is. Given such a situation as prevails, the abstract equality of the individual ego becomes the sole refuge for freedom. The freedom it wills is negative, a constant negation of the whole. The attainment of a positive freedom requires that the individual leave the monadic sphere of his private interest and settle himself in the essence of the will, which aims not at some particular end but at freedom as such. The will of the individual must become a will to general freedom. It can become such, however, only if he has actually become free. Only the will of the man who is himself free aims at positive freedom. Hegel puts this conclusion into the cryptic formula that ‘freedom wills freedom,’ or, ‘the free will wills the free Will.’
The formula contains concrete historical life in what seems to be an abstract philosophical pattern. It is not any individual, but the free individual who ‘wishes freedom.’ Freedom in its true form can be recognized and willed only by an individual who is free. Man cannot know freedom without possessing it; he must be free in order to become free. Freedom is not simply a status he has, but an action he undertakes as a self-conscious subject. So long as he knows no freedom, he cannot attain it by himself; his lack of freedom is such that he might even voluntarily choose or acquiesce in his own bondage. In that case, he has no interest in freedom, and his liberation must come about against his will. In other words, the act of liberating is taken out of the hands of individuals who themselves, because of their fettered status, cannot choose it as their own course.
The notion of freedom in the Philosophy of Right refers back to the essential relation between freedom and thought set forth in the Logic. The root of that relation is now laid bare in the social structure, and with it the connection is revealed between idealism and the principle of ownership. In the working out of the analysis, Hegel’s conception loses its critical content and comes to serve as a metaphysical justification of private property. We shall attempt to follow out this turn of the discussion.
The process whereby the will ‘purifies’ itself to a point where it desires freedom is the laborious one of education through history. The education is an activity and product of thought. ‘The self-consciousness, which purifies its object, content or end, and exalts it to universality, is thought carrying itself through into will. It is at this point that it becomes clear that the will is true and free only as thinking intelligence.'” Freedom of the will depends on thought, upon knowledge of truth. Man can be free only when he knows his potentialities. The slave is not free for two reasons: first, because he is actually in bondage; secondly, because he has no experience or knowledge of freedom. Knowledge, or, in Hegel’s language, the self-consciousness of freedom, is ‘the principle of right, morality, and all forms of social ethics.’ The Logic had founded freedom on thought; the Philosophy of Right, recapitulating, gets at the socio-historical conditions for this conclusion. The will is free if it is ‘wholly by itself, because it refers to nothing but itself, and all dependence upon any other thing falls away.’
Of its very nature, the will aims at appropriating its object, making the latter part of its own being. This is a prerequisite for perfect freedom. But material objects offer a definite limit to such appropriation. Essentially, they are external to the appropriating subject, and their appropriation is hence necessarily imperfect. The only object that can become my property in toto is the mental object, for it has no autonomous reality apart from the thinking subject. ‘It is the Mind I can appropriate in the most complete manner.’ Mental appropriation is different from property in material objects because the comprehended object does not remain external to the subject. Property is thus consummated by the free will, which represents the fulfillment of freedom as well as of appropriation.
The Logic had concluded that freedom consists in the subject’s having complete power over its ‘other.’ The concrete form of such freedom is perfect and perennial ownership. The union of the principle of idealism with the principle of ownership is thus consummated. Hegel goes on to make the identification thoroughgoing for his philosophy. He states that ‘only the will is the unlimited and absolute, while all other things in contrast with the will are merely relative. To appropriate is at bottom only to manifest the majesty of my will towards things, by demonstrating that they are not self-complete and have no purpose of their own. This is brought about by my instilling into the object another end than that which it primarily had. When the living thing [Hegel is referring to the example of an animal as a potential object of will] becomes my property it gets another soul than it had. I give it my will.’ And, he concludes, ‘free will is thus the idealism which refuses to hold that things as they are can be self-complete.’
The principle of idealism, that objective being depends upon thought, is now interpreted as the basis for the potential property-character of things. At the same time, it is the most veritable being, mind, that idealism conceives as fulfilling the idea of ownership.
Hegel’s analysis of free will gives property a place in the very make-up of the individual, in his free will. The free will comes into existence as the pure will to freedom. This is ‘the idea of right’ and is identical with freedom as such. But it is only the idea of right and of freedom. The materialization of the idea begins when the emancipated individual asserts his will as a freedom to appropriate. ‘This first phase of freedom we shall know as property.’
The deduction of property from the essence of the free will is an analytical process in Hegel’s discussion; what he does is draw the consequences of his former conclusions about the will. At first, the free will is ‘the single will of a subject,’ replete with aims that are directed to the variety of objects of a world to which the subject is related as an exclusive individual. He becomes actually free in a process of testing his freedom by excluding others from the objects of his will and making the latter exclusively his. By virtue of his exclusive will, the subject is ‘a person.’ That is, personality begins when there is a self-conscious power to make the objects of one’s will one’s own.
Hegel has stressed that the individual is free only when he is recognized as free, and that such recognition is accorded him when he has proved his freedom. Such proof he can furnish by showing his power over the objects of his will, through appropriating them. The act of appropriation is completed when other individuals have assented to or ‘recognized’ it.
We have also seen that for Hegel the subject’s substance rests in an ‘absolute negativity’ in so far as the ego negates the independent existence of objects and turns them into media for its own fulfillment. The activity of the property owner is now the driving power of this negation. ‘A person has the right to direct his will upon any object, as his real and positive end. The object thus becomes his. As it has no end in itself, it receives its meaning and soul from his will. Man has the absolute right to appropriate all that is a thing.’
[Hegel’s concept of ‘mutual recognition’ of persons has three distinct elements in it:
a. the positivistic element – the mere acceptance of the fact of appropriation.
b. the dialectical element – the proprietor recognizes that the labor of those expropriated is the condition for the perpetuation and enjoyment of his property.
c. the historical element – the fact of ownership has to be confirmed by society.
The Jenenser system and the Phenomenology of Mind emphasized the first two elements; the Philosophy of Right is mainly constructed upon the first and third. The deduction of private property In the latter work gives distinct indication of all the factors peculiar to modern philosophy, notably its respect for the prime authority of facts together with its demand that the basis for those facts be rationally justified.
The withdrawal of the dialectical element in this discussion shows an Increasing influence of reification that sets in among Hegel’s concepts. The Jenenser system and the Phenomenology had treated property as a relationship among men; the Philosophy of Right treats it as a relationship between subject and the objects.]
Mere appropriation, however, results in mere possession (Besitz). But possession is property only if made objective for other individuals as well as for the owner. ‘The form of mere subjectivity must be removed from the objects'; they must be held and used as the generally recognized property of a definite person. That person must in turn recognize himself in the things he possesses, must know and handle them as the fulfillment of his free will. Then and then only does possession become an actual right. Free will is of necessity the ‘single will’ of a definite person, and property has ‘the quality of being private property.’
The institution of private property has rarely been so consistently developed from and founded in the isolated individual’s nature. Thus far, no universal order has entered Hegel’s deduction, nothing that bestows the sanction of a universal right upon individual appropriation. No God has been invoked to ordain and justify it, nor have men’s needs been cited as responsible for producing it. Property exists solely by virtue of the free subject’s power. It is derived from the free person’s essence. Hegel has removed the institution of property from any contingent connection and has hypostatized it as an ontological relation. He emphasizes over and over that it may not be justified as a means of satisfying human wants. ‘The rationale of property does not consist in its satisfaction of needs but rather in the fact that the institution overcomes the mere subjectivity of the person, and, at the same time, fulfills the determination of the latter. The person exists as Reason only in property.’ Property is prior to the contingent needs of society. It is ‘the first embodiment of freedom and therefore a substantial end in itself.’ ‘In man’s relation to external objects, the rational element consists in the possession of property.’ What and how much a person possesses, however, is a matter of chance and, from the standpoint of right, entirely contingent. Hegel explicitly admits that the prevailing distribution of property is the product of accidental circumstances, quite at odds with rational requirements. On the other hand, he absolves reason from the task of passing judgment on this distribution. He makes no effort to apply the philosophical principle of the equality of men to the inequalities of property, and in fact rejects this step. The only equality that might be derived from reason is ‘that everybody should possess property,’ but reason is entirely indifferent to the quality and quantity of ownership. It is in this connection that Hegel presents his striking definition, ‘Right is unconcerned about differences in individuals.’
The definition combines the progressive and regressive features of his philosophy of right. Unconcern about individual differences, as we shall see, is characteristic of the abstract universality of law, which sets a minimum of equality and rationality upon an order of irrationality and injustice. On the other hand, that same unconcern typifies a social practice wherein the preservation of the whole is reached only by disregarding the human essence of the individual. The object of the law is not the concrete individual, but the abstract subject of rights.
The process of transforming the relations between men into relations of things operates in Hegel’s formulation. The person is submerged in his property and is a person only by virtue of his property. Consequently, Hegel denotes all Law of Persons as Law of Property. ‘Clearly it is only personality that gives us a right to things, and therefore personal right is in essence real right [Sachenrecht].’ The process of reification continues to permeate Hegel’s analysis. He derives the entire Law of Contracts and Obligations from the Law of Property. Since the freedom of the person is exercised in the external sphere of things, the person can ‘externalize’ himself, that is, deal with himself as an external object. He can of his own free will ‘alienate’ himself and sell his performances and services. ‘Mental endowments, science, art, even such matters of religion as sermons, masses, prayers, blessings, also inventions and so forth become objects of a contract; they are recognized and treated in the same way as the objects for purchase, sale, and so on.’ The alienation of the person, however, must have a limit in time, so that something remains of the ‘totality and universality’ of the person. If I were to sell ‘the entire time of my concrete labor, and the totality of my produce, my personality would become the property of someone else; I would no longer be a person and would place myself outside of the realm of right.’ The principle of freedom, which was to demonstrate the absolute supremacy of the person over all things, has not only turned this person into a thing, but has also made him a function of time. Hegel struck upon the same fact that impelled Marx later to stipulate ‘the shortening of the labor day’ as the condition for man’s passing into the realm of freedom.’ Hegel’s conceptions carry far enough, also, to touch upon the hidden force of labor time and to reveal that the difference between the ancient slave and the ‘free’ worker can be expressed in terms of the quantity of time belonging to the ‘lord.’
The institution of private property has been derived from the free will of the person. This will, however, has a definite limit, the private property of other persons. I am and I remain proprietor only in so far as I willingly renounce my right to appropriate other people’s property. Private property thus leads beyond the isolated individual to his relations with other likewise isolated individuals. The instrument that makes the institution of property secure in this dimension is the Contract. Here again, the ontological idea of reason is adjusted to the commodity-producing society and given its concrete embodiment there. ‘It is just as much a necessity of reason that men make contracts, exchange, trade, as that they have property.’ Contracts constitute that ‘mutual recognition’ which is required to transform possession into private property. Hegel’s originally dialectical concept of ‘recognition’ now describes the state of affairs in the acquisitive society.
Contracts, however, merely regulate the particular interests of proprietors and nowhere transcend the domain of private law. Hegel once more repudiates the doctrine of a social contract, because, he holds, it is false to say that men have an arbitrary choice to secede from the state or not to do so; ‘rather is it absolutely necessary for everyone to be in a State.’ The ‘great progress’ of the modern state over the feudal one is due to the fact that the former is ‘an end in itself’ and no man may make private arrangements with regard to it.
The implications of private property drive Hegel ever deeper into the dark paths of the foundations of right. The Introduction had already announced that crime and punishment essentially pertain to the institution of private property,&, and therefore also to the institution of right. The rights of property owners must of necessity clash since each stands against the other, the subject of his own particular will. Each depends in his acts upon ‘the caprice and erratic choice’ dictated by his knowledge and volition, and the agreement of his private will with the general will is only an accident that bears the germs of new conflict. Private right is thus necessarily wrong, for the isolated individual must offend against the general right. Hegel declares that ‘fraud and crime’ are an ‘unpremeditated or civil wrong [unbefangenes oder bürgerliches Unrecht],’ denoting that they are a material part of civil society. The right in civil society originates from the fact that there is an abstract generalization of particular interests, If the individual, in pursuit of his interest, collides with the right, he can claim for himself the same authority that the others claim against him, namely, that he acts to preserve his own interest. The right, however, holds the higher authority because it also represents – though in an inadequate form – the interest of the whole.
The right of the whole and that of the individual do not have the same validity. The former codifies the demands of the society on which depend the maintenance and welfare of the individuals as well. If the latter do not recognize this right, they not only offend against the universal but also against themselves. They are wrong, and the punishment of their crime restores their actual right.
This formulation, which guides Hegel’s theory of punishment, entirely detaches the idea of wrong from all moral considerations. The Philosophy of Right does not place wrong in any moral category, but introduces it under the head of Abstract Right. Wrong is a necessary element in the relationship of individual owners to one another. Hegel’s exposition contains this strong mechanistic element, again a striking parallel with Hobbes’s materialist political philosophy. To be sure, Hegel holds that free reason governs the will and act of individuals, but this reason seems to behave in the manner of a natural law and not as an autonomous human activity. Reason rules over man instead of operating through his conscious power. When, therefore, Hegel identifies the Law of Reason (Vernunftrecht) with the Law of Nature (Naturrecht), this formula assumes a sinister significance, quite against Hegel’s intention. He meant it to emphasize that reason is the very ‘nature’ of society, but the ‘natural’ character of the Law of Reason comes much closer to being the blind necessity of nature than the self-conscious freedom of a rational society. We shall see that Hegel repeatedly stresses the ‘blind necessity’ of reason in civil society. The same blind necessity that Marx later denounced as the anarchy of capitalism thus was placed in the center of the Hegelian philosophy when it set out to demonstrate the free rationality of the prevailing order.
The free will, the actual motor of reason in society, necessarily creates wrong. The individual must clash with the social order that claims to represent his own will in its objective form. But the wrong and the ‘avenging justice’ that remedies it not only express a ‘higher logical necessity,’ but also prepare the transition to a higher social form of freedom, the transition from abstract right to morality. For, in committing a wrong, and in accepting punishment for his deed, the individual becomes conscious of the ‘infinite subjectivity’ of his freedom. He learns that he is free only as a private person. When he collides with the order of right, he finds that this mode of freedom he has practiced has reached insurmountable limits. Repelled in the external world, the will now turns inward, to seek absolute freedom there. The free will enters the second realm of its fulfillment: the subject who appropriates becomes the moral subject.
The transition from the first to the second part of Hegel’s work thus traces a decisive trend in modern society, that in which freedom is internalized (verinner licht). The dynamics of the will, which Hegel puts forward as an ontological process, correspond to a historical process that began with the German Reformation. We indicated this in our Introduction. Hegel cites one of the most important documents that set this message forth Luther’s paper On Christian Liberty, wherein Luther maintained that ‘the soul will not be touched nor affected if the body is maltreated, and the person subjected to another man’s power.’ Hegel terms this statement ‘sense less sophistic reasoning,’ but at the same time agrees that such a condition is possible, that man can be ‘free in fetters.’ This, he holds, is true only if it is the result of the man’s free will, and then only in regard to himself. With regard to an other, one is unfree if his body is enslave( and free only if he actually and concretely exists as free. Inner freedom, for Hegel, is only a transitory stage in the process of achieving outer freedom. The tendency to abolish the inner realm of freedom may be said to fore shadow that stage of society in which the process of internalizing values no longer proves efficient as a mean of restraining the individual’s demands. Inner freedom does at least reserve to the individual a sphere of unconditional privacy with which no authority may interfere and morality does place him under some universally valid obligations. But when society turns to totalitarian forms in accordance with the needs of monopolist imperialism the entirety of the person becomes a political object. Even his innermost morality is subjugated to the state and hi privacy abolished. The same conditions that previously called for the internalizing of values now demand that they be fully externalized.
Hegel’s Philosophy of Right still shows a balance between these two polar developments. Hegel maintains that the subjectivity of the will ‘remains the ground of the existence of freedom,’ and he lets freedom terminate in an all-powerful state. Morality, the realm of inner freedom, however, loses all its splendor and glory in Hegel’s work and becomes a mere joint between Private and Constitutional Law, between abstract right and societal life.
It has often been stressed that Hegel’s system contains no real ethics. His moral philosophy is absorbed in his political philosophy. But the submersion of ethics in politics conforms to his interpretation and valuation of civil society. It is not an accident that his section on Morality is the most brief and the least significant of any in his work.
We shall pass to the last portion of the Philosophy of Right, that treating social and political ethics (Sittlichkeit). This part of the work deals with the family, civil society, and the state, and we must first sketch the systematic connection that it has with the two preceding sections of the Philosophy of Right. The will here turns outward to the external realm of social reality. An individual who rejoices in the inner freedom and truth of his morality, we find, has not reached freedom and truth. The ‘abstract good’ is ‘devoid of power'; it is compatible with any given content. The Science of Logic had demonstrated that the idea is fulfilled only in actuality. Similarly, the free will must overcome the diremption between inner and outer world, between subjective and universal right, and the individual must achieve his will in objective social and political institutions, which in turn must accord with his will. The entire third part of the Philosophy of Right presupposes that no objective institution exists that is not based upon the free will of the subject, and no subjective freedom that is not visible in the objective social order.
The opening paragraphs state precisely this. Promise is given, moreover, that the ideal will be shown as an actual existent. Mankind has reached the stage of maturity and possesses all the means that render the realization of Reason possible. But these very means have been developed and employed by a society the organizing principle of which is the free play of private interests, and which is therefore unable to use them in the interest of the whole. The Philosophy of Right claims that private property is the material reality of the free subject and the realization of freedom. From his earliest writings, however, Hegel had seen that private property relations militate against a truly free social order. The anarchy of self-seeking property owners could not produce from its mechanism an integrated, rational, and universal social scheme. At the same time, a proper social order, Hegel maintained, could not be imposed with private property rights denied, for the free individual would be annulled thereby. The task of making the necessary integration devolved, therefore, upon an institution that would stand above the individual interests and their competing relationships, and yet would preserve their holdings and activities.
Hegel copes with the problem along the lines he followed when he raised the problem of natural law. The natural-law doctrine had struggled with the question of how a state of anarchic appropriation (the state of nature) could be transformed into one in which property is generally secure. Civil society was supposed to establish such a state of general security. Hegel now puts the same question, but takes one step beyond the traditional pattern in answering it. The two stages of development, that of the state of nature and that of civil society are overarched by a third, the state. Hegel holds the doctrine of natural law to be inadequate, because it makes civil society an end in itself. Even in Hobbes’s political philosophy, absolute sovereignty was made subordinate to the need of an adequate safeguard for the securities and properties of civil society, and the fulfillment of this latter condition was made the content of sovereignty. Hegel says that civil society cannot be an end in itself because it cannot, by virtue of its intrinsic contradictions, achieve true unity and freedom. The independence of civil society is therefore repudiated by Hegel and made subordinate to the autonomous state.
Hegel shifts the task of materializing the order of reason from civil society to the state. The latter, however, does not displace civil society, but simply keeps it moving, guarding its interests without changing its content. The step beyond civil society thus leads to an authoritarian political system, which preserves intact the material content of the society. The authoritarian trend that appears in Hegel’s political philosophy is made necessary by the antagonistic structure of civil society.
But it is not the only trend. The dialectic follows the structural transformation of civil society to the point of its final negation. The concepts that point to this negation are at the very root of the Hegelian system: Reason and freedom, conceived as genuine dialectical concepts, cannot be fulfilled in the prevailing system of civil society. Elements thus appear in Hegel’s notion of the state that are incompatible with the order of civil society and outline the picture of a future social organization for mankind. This applies particularly to Hegel’s basic requirement for a state, that it must preserve and satisfy the true interest of the individual and cannot be conceived except in terms of the perfect unity between the individual and the universal. The abstract determinations of the Logic once again show forth in their historical significance. The veritable being, the Logic had said, is the universal, which is in itself individual and contains the particular in itself. This veritable being, which the Logic called the notion, now returns as the state embodying reason and freedom. It is ‘the Universal which has unfolded its actual rationality,’ and represents ‘the identity of the general and particular will.’ The state is the ‘embodiment of concrete freedom, in which the person and his particular interests have their complete development, and receive adequate recognition of their rights.’ The particular interests of individuals are in no circumstances to be set aside or suppressed; ‘everything depends on the union of universality and particularity in the State.’
The true dialectical content of reason and freedom repeatedly shows through Hegel’s authoritarian formula for saving the given social scheme. The urge to preserve the prevailing system impels him to hypostatize the state as a domain in itself, situated above and even opposed to the rights of the individual. The state ‘has an absolute authority or force.’ – It is a matter of indifference to the state ‘whether the individual exists or not.’ On the other hand, Hegel insists that the family, civil society, and state ‘are not something foreign to the subject,’ but part and parcel ‘of his own essence.’ He calls the relation of the individual to these institutions a ‘duty and obligation,’ which necessarily restricts his liberty. But he maintains that it restricts only his ‘abstract freedom’ and therefore rather means the liberation of his ‘substantial freedom.’
The same dynamic that tears Hegel’s concepts from their ties with the structure of middle-class society and drives the dialectical analysis beyond this social system recurs in every portion of the last section of the Philosophy of Right. Family, civil society, and state are justified by a method that implies their negation. The discussion of the family that opens this section is entirely animated by this paradox. The family is a ‘natural’ foundation for the order of reason that culminates in the state, but at the same time it is such only in so far as it dissolves. The family has its ‘external reality’ in property, but property also destroys the family. Children grow up and establish property-holding families of their own. The ‘natural’ unit of the family thus breaks up into a multitude of competing groups of proprietors, who essentially aim at their particular egoistic advantage. These groups make for the entry of civil society, which comes on the scene when all ethics has been lost and negated.
Hegel bases his analysis of civil society on the two material principles of modern society: (1) The individual aims only at his private interests, in the pursuit of which he behaves as a ‘mixture of physical necessity and caprice'; (2) Individual interests are so interrelated that the assertion and satisfaction of the one depends upon the assertion and satisfaction of the other . This is so far simply the traditional eighteenth-century description of modern society as a ‘system of mutual dependence’ in which every individual, in pursuit of his own advantage, ‘naturally’ also promotes the interest of the whole. Hegel, however, follows the negative rather than the positive aspects of this system. The civil community appears, only to disappear at once in a ‘spectacle of excess, misery, and physical and social corruption.’ We know that from the beginning Hegel maintained that a true society, which is the free subject of its own progress and reproduction, can only be conceived as one that materializes conscious freedom. The complete lack of such within civil society at once denies to it the title of a final realization of reason., Like Marx, Hegel emphasizes the fact that the integration of the private interests in this society is the product of chance and not of free rational decision. The totality appears, therefore, not as liberty ‘but as necessity.’ 75 ‘In Civil Society universality is nothing but necessity.’ It gives an order to a process of production in which the individual finds his place not according to his needs and abilities, but according to his ‘capital.’ The term ‘capital’ here refers not only to the proper economic power of the individual, but also to that part of his physical power that he expends in the economic process, that is, to his labor-power. The specific wants of individuals are satisfied by means of abstract labor, which is the ‘general and permanent property’ of men. Because the possibility of sharing in the general wealth depends on capital, this system produces increasing inequalities. It is a short step from this point to the famous paragraphs that set forth the intrinsic connection between the accumulation of wealth on the one hand and the growing impoverishment of the working class on the other:
By generalizing the relations of men by way of their wants, and by generalizing the manner in which the means of meeting these wants are prepared and procured, large fortunes are amassed. On the other side, there occur a repartition and limitation of the work of the individual laborer and, consequently, dependence and distress in the artisan class.
When a large number of people sink below the standard of living regarded as essential for the members of society, and lose that sense of right, rectitude and honor which is derived from self-support, a pauper class arises, and wealth accumulates disproportionately in the hands of a few.
Hegel envisages the rise of a vast industrial army and sums up the irreconcilable contradictions of civil society in the statement that ‘this society, in the excess of its wealth, is not wealthy enough ... to stem excess of poverty and the creation of paupers.’ 82 The system of estates that Hegel outlines as the proper organization of civil society is not of itself able to resolve the contradiction. The external unity attempted among competing individuals through the three estates – the peasantry, the traders (including craftsmen, manufacturers, and merchants), and the bureaucracy – merely repeats Hegel’s earlier attempts in this direction; the idea sounds less convincing here than ever before. All the organizations and institutions of civil society are for ‘the protection of property,’ and the freedom of that society means only ‘the right of property.’ The estates must be regulated by external forces that are more powerful than the economic mechanisms. These prepare the transition to the political ordering of society. This transition occurs in the sections on the Administration of justice, the Police, and the Corporation.
The administration of justice makes abstract right into law and introduces a conscious universal order into the blind and contingent processes of civil society. We have said that the concept of law is central to the Philosophy of Right, so much so in fact that the title of the work might better be ‘Philosophy of Law.’ The entire discussion in it assumes that right actually exists as law, an assumption that follows from the ontological principles of Hegel’s philosophy. Right, as we have seen, is an attribute of the free subject, of the person. The person, in turn, is what he is only by virtue of thought, qua thinking subject. Thought establishes a true community for otherwise isolated individuals, gives them a universality. Right applies to individuals in so far as they are universal; it may not be possessed because of any particular accidental qualities. This means that he who possesses right does so as ‘the individual in the form of the universal, the ego qua universal person,’ and that the universality of right is essentially an abstract one. The idealist principle that thought is the true being is thus seen to imply that right is universal in the form of universal law, for the law abstracts from the individual and treats him as ‘universal person.’ ‘Man has his value in his being man, not in his being a Jew, Catholic, Protestant, German, or Italian.’ The rule of law pertains to the ‘universal person’ and not to the concrete individual, and it embodies freedom precisely in so far as it is universal.
Hegel’s legal theory is definitely aligned with the progressive trends in modern society. Anticipating later developments in jurisprudence, he rejects all doctrines bestowing the right on judicial decision rather than on the universality of the law, and he criticizes points of view that make judges ‘the permanent law-givers’ or leave to their discretion the ultimate decision as to right and wrong. In his time the social forces in power had not yet come to agree that the abstract universality of the law, like the other phenomena of liberalism, interferes with their designs, and that the need is for a more direct and effective ruling instrument. Hegel’s concept of law is adapted to an earlier phase of civil society, characterized by free competition among individuals more or less equally endowed materially, so that ‘everyone is an end in himself ...’ and ‘to each particular person others are a means to the attainment of his end.’ Within this system, Hegel says, even the common interest, the universal, ‘appears as a means.’
Such is the social scheme that produced civil society. The scheme cannot perpetuate itself unless it harmonizes the antagonistic interests, of which it is made up, into a form that is more rational and calculable than the operations of the commodity market that governs it. Unrestricted competition requires a minimum of equal protection for the competitors and a reliable guarantee for contracts and services. This minimum of harmony and integration, however, cannot be had except by abstracting from each one’s concrete existence and its variations. ‘The right does not deal with man’s specific determinations. Its purpose is not to advance and protect him’ in his ‘necessary wants and special aims and drives [such as his thirst for knowledge or his desire to maintain life, health, and so on].’ Man enters into contracts, exchange relations, and other obligations simply as the abstract subject of capital or of labor-power or of some other socially necessary possession or device. Accordingly, the law can be universal and treat individuals as equals only in so far as it remains abstract. Right is hence a form rather than a content. The justice dispensed by law gets its cue from the general form of transaction and interaction, while the concrete varieties of individual life enter only as a sum-total of attenuating or aggravating circumstances. The law as a universal thus has a negative aspect. It of necessity involves, an element of chance, and its application to a particular case will engender imperfection and cause injustice and hardship. These negative elements, however, cannot be eliminated by extending the discretionary powers of the judge. The law’s abstract universality is a far better guarantee of right, despite all the shortcomings, than is the individual’s concrete and specific self. In civil society all individuals have private interests by which they are set against the whole, and none of them can claim to be a source of right.
It is true at the same time that the abstract equality of men before the law does not eliminate their material inequalities or in any sense remove the general contingency that surrounds the social and economic status they possess. But by force of the fact that it disregards the contingent elements, the law is more just than the concrete social relations that produce inequalities, hazard, and other injustices. Law is at least based on a few essential factors common to all individuals. (We must bear in mind that private ownership is one of these ‘essential factors’ to Hegel, and that human equality means to him also an equal right of all to property.) In standing by its principle of fundamental equality, the law is able to rectify certain flagrant injustices without upsetting the social order that demands the continuance of injustice as a constitutive element of its existence.
This, at least, is the philosophical construction, valid only in so far as the rule of law gives greater security and protection to the weak than does the system that has since replaced it, the rule of authoritarian decree. Hegel’s doctrine is the product of the liberalistic era and embodies its traditional principles. For laws to be obeyed they must be known to all, he says, citing the fact that tyranny would ‘hang up the laws so high that no citizen could read them.’ By the same token, he excludes retroactive legislation. The judge’s power of decision, too, he states, must be restricted as far as possible through the calculable terms of the law itself. Public trial, for example, is essential as one such restrictive device, and is justified by the fact that the law requires the confidence of the citizenry and that the right, as essentially universal, belongs to all.
Hegel’s conception implies that the body of law is what free men would themselves establish of their own reason. He assumes, in line with the tradition of democratic political philosophy, that the free individual is the original legislator who gave the law to himself, but the assumption does not prevent Hegel from saying that law is materialized in the ‘protection of property through the administration of justice.’
[§ 208. See Locke, Of Civil Government, Book II, 9 134: Locke’s concept of property includes in its meaning the basic rights of the individuals, that is ‘their lives, liberties and estates'! This concept still operates in Hegel’s work. According to Hegel, everything that is other than and separable from the ‘free mind’ may be made property.]
This insight into the material connection between the rule of law and the rule of property compels Hegel, in contrast to Locke and his successors, to go beyond the liberalist doctrine. Because of this connection, the law cannot be the final point of integration for civil society, nor can it represent its real universality. The rule of law merely embodies the ‘abstract right’ of property. ‘The function of judicial administration is only to actualize into necessity the abstract side of personal liberty in Civil Society ... The blind necessity of the system of wants is not yet lifted up to consciousness of the universal, and worked from that Point of view.’ The law must therefore be supplemented and even supplanted by a much stronger and stricter force which will govern individuals more directly and more visibly. The Police emerge.
Hegel’s notion of the police adopts many features of the doctrine with which absolutism used to justify the regulations it practised upon social and economic life. The police not only interfered in the productive and distributive process, not only restricted freedom of trade and profit and watched over prices, poverty, and vagrancy, but also supervised the private life of the individual wherever
the public welfare could be affected. There is, however, an important difference between the police who did all this during the rise of modern absolutism, and the police of the Restoration. To a considerable extent, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right expresses the official theory of the latter. The police is supposed to represent the interest of the whole against social forces that are not too weak but too strong to guarantee an undisturbed functioning of the social and economic process. The police does not any longer have to organize the process of production for want of private power and knowledge to achieve this. The task of the police is a negative one, rather, to safeguard ‘the security of person and property’ in the contingent sphere that is not covered by the universal stipulations of the law.
Hegel’s statements about the function of the police show, however, that he goes beyond the doctrine held during the Restoration, especially in his emphasis that the growing antagonisms of civil society increasingly make the social organism a blind chaos of selfish interests and necessitate the establishment of a powerful institution to control the confusion. Significantly enough, it is in this discussion of the police that Hegel makes some of his most pointed and far-reaching remarks about the destructive course that civil society is bound to take. And he concludes with the statement that ‘by means of its own dialectic the civil society is driven beyond its own limits as a definite and self-complete society.’ It must seek to open new markets to absorb the products of an increasing over-production, and must pursue a policy of economic expansion and systematic colonization.
The difficulties in relating the police to the external policy of the state disappear if we take into consideration the fact that the police for Hegel is a product of the growing antagonisms of the civil order and is introduced to cope with these contradictions. Accordingly, the line between the police and the state (which fulfills what the police begins) is not sharp. Hegel envisages a final situation wherein ‘the labor of all will be subject to administrative regulation.’ This, he says, will ‘shorten and alleviate the dangerous upheavals’ to which civil society is prone. In other words, a totalitarian social organization will leave less time ‘for conflicts to adjust themselves merely by unconscious necessity.’
The police, however, is not the only remedy. The unruliness of civil society is to be bridled by yet another institution, the Corporation, which Hegel conceives along the lines of the old guild system, with some features added of the modern corporate state. The corporation is an economic as well as a political unit, with the following dual function: (1) to bring unity to the competing economic interests and activities within the estates, and (2) to champion the organized interests of civil society as against the state. The corporation is supervised by the state, but it aims to safeguard the material concerns of trade and industry. Capital and labor, producer and consumer, profit and general welfare meet in the corporation, where the special interests of economic subjects are purified of mere self-seeking so that they can fit into the universal order of the state.
Hegel does not explain how all this is possible. It seems that the corporation selects its members according to their actual qualifications and that it guarantees their business and their assets, but this appears to be all. The corporation remains an ideological agency above all, an entity that exhorts the individual to work for an ideal that doesn’t exist, ‘the unselfish end of the whole.’ Moreover, the corporation is to bestow upon him approbation as a recognized member of society. Actually, however, it is not the individual but the economic process that does the recognizing. The individual, therefore, obtains only an ideological good; his compensation is the ‘honor’ of belonging to the corporation.
The corporation leads from the section on civil society to that on the state. The state is essentially separate and distinct from society. The decisive feature of civil society is ‘the security and protection of property and personal freedom,’ ‘the interest of the individual’ its ultimate purpose. The state has a totally different function, and is related to the individual in another way. ‘Union as such is itself the true content and end’ for the state The integrating factor is the universal, not the particular. The individual may ‘pass a universal life’ in the state; his particular satisfactions, activities, and ways of life are here regulated by the common interest. The state is a subject in the strict sense of the word, namely, the actual carrier and end of all individual actions that now stand under ‘universal laws and principles.’
The laws and principles of the state guide the activities of free-thinking subjects, so that their element is not nature, but mind, the rational knowledge and will of associated individuals. This is the meaning of Hegel’s terming the state ‘Objective Mind.’ The state creates an order that does not depend, as civil society did, on the blind interrelation of particular needs and performances for its own perpetuation. The ‘system of wants’ becomes a conscious scheme of life controlled by man’s autonomous decisions in the common interest. The state therefore can be denoted as the ‘realization of freedom.’ We have mentioned that for Hegel the state’s fundamental task is to make the specific and the general interest coincide, so as to preserve the individual’s right and freedom. Yet such a demand presupposes the identification of state and society, not their separation. For, the wants and interests of the individual exist in society and, no matter how they may be modified by the demands of the common welfare, they arise in and remain bound up with the social processes governing individual life. The demand that freedom and happiness be fulfilled thus eventually falls back upon society, and not upon the state. According to Hegel, the state has no aim other than ‘association as such.’ In other words, it has no aim at all if the social and economic order constitutes a ‘true association.’ The process of bringing the individual into harmony with the universal would engender the ‘withering away’ of the state, rather than the opposite.
Hegel, however, separated the rational order of the state from the contingent interrelations of the society because he looked upon society as civil society, which is not a ‘true association.’ The critical character of his dialectic forced him to see society as he did. Dialectical method understands the existent in terms of the negativity it contains and views realities in the light of their change. Change is a historical category. The objective mind, with which the Philosophy of Right deals, unfolds itself in time, and the dialectical analysis of its content has to be guided by the forms that this content has taken in history. The truth thus appears as a historical achievement, so that the stage man has reached with civil society fulfills all preceding historical efforts. Some other form of association may come in the future, but philosophy, as the science of the actual, does not enter into speculations over it. The social reality, with its general competition, selfishness, and exploitation, with its excessive wealth and excessive poverty, is the foundation on which reason must build. Philosophy cannot jump ahead of history, for it is a son of its time, ‘its time apprehended in thought.’
The times are those of a civil society wherein has been prepared the material basis for realizing reason and freedom, but a reason distorted by the blind necessity of the economic process and a freedom perverted through competition of conflicting private interests. Yet this selfsame society has much that makes for a truly free and rational association: it upholds the inalienable right of the individual, increases human wants and the means for their satisfaction, organizes the division of labor, and advances the rule of law. These elements must be freed from private interests and submitted to a power that stands above the competitive system of civil society, in a specially exalted position. This power is the state. Hegel sees the state as ‘an independent and autonomous power’ in which ‘the individuals are mere moments,’ as ‘the march of God in the world.’ He thought this to be the very essence of the state, but, in reality, he was only describing the historical type of state that corresponded to civil society.
We reach this interpretation of Hegel’s state by placing his concept in the socio-historical setting that he himself implied in his description of civil society. Hegel’s idea of the state stems from a philosophy in which the liberalistic conception of state and society has all but collapsed. We have seen that Hegel’s analysis led to his denying any ‘natural’ harmony between the particular and the general interest, between civil society and the state. The liberalist idea of the state was thus demolished. In order that the framework of the given social order may not be broken, the common interest has to be vested in an autonomous agency, and the authority of the state set above the battleground of competing social groups. Hegel’s ‘deified’ state, however, by no means parallels the Fascist one. The latter represents the very level of social development that Hegel’s state is supposed to avoid, namely, the direct totalitarian rule of special interests over the whole. Civil society under Fascism rules the state; Hegel’s state rules civil society. And in whose name does it rule? According to Hegel, in the name of the free individual and in his true interest. ‘The essence of the modern state is the union of the universal with the full freedom of the particular, and with the welfare of individuals.’ The prime difference between the ancient and the modern world rests on the fact that in the latter the great questions of human life are to be decided not by some superior authority, but by the free ‘I will’ of man. ‘This I will ... must have its peculiar niche in the great building of State.’ The basic principle of this state is the full development of the individual. Its constitution and all its political institutions are to express ‘the knowledge and the will of its individuals.’
At this point, however, the historical contradiction inherent in Hegel’s political philosophy determines its fate. The individual who knows and wishes his true interest in the common interest – this individual simply doesn’t exist. Individuals exist only as private owners, subjects of the fierce processes of civil society, cut off from the common interest by selfishness and all it entails. As far as civil society reaches, none is free of its toils.
Outside of society, however, lies nature. If there could be found someone who possesses his individuality by virtue of his natural and not his social existence, and who is what he is simply by nature and not by the social mechanisms, he might be the stable point from which the state could be ruled. Hegel finds such a man in the monarch, a man chosen to his position ‘by natural birth.’ Ultimate freedom can rest with him, for he is outside a world of false and negative freedom and is ‘exalted above all that is particular and conditional.’ The ego of everyone else is corrupted by the social order that molds all; the monarch alone is not so influenced and is hence able to originate and decide all his acts by reference to his pure ego. He can cancel all particularity in the ‘simple certainty of his self.
We know what the ‘self-certainty of the pure ego’ means to Hegel’s system: it is the essential property of the ‘substance as subject,’ and thus characterizes the true being. The use of this principle historically to yield the monarch’s natural person again points up the frustration of idealism. Freedom becomes identical with the inexorable necessity of nature, and reason terminates in an accident of birth. The philosophy of freedom again turns into a philosophy of necessity.
Classical political economy described modern society as a ‘natural system’ whose laws appeared to have the necessity of physical laws. This point of view soon lost its magic. Marx showed how the anarchic forces of capitalism assume the quality of natural forces as long as they are not made subject to human reason, that the natural element in society is not a positive but a negative one. Hegel seems to have had some inkling of this. He sometimes seems to be smiling at his own idealization of the monarch, declaring that the decisions of the monarch are only formalities. He is ‘a man who says yes and so puts the dot upon the i.’ He notes that monarchs are not remarkable for intellectual or physical strength and that, despite this, millions permit themselves to be ruled by them. – , Nevertheless, the intellectual weakness of the monarch is preferable to the wisdom of civil society, Hegel feels.
The fault with Hegel lies much deeper than in his glorification of the Prussian monarchy. He is guilty not so much of being servile as of betraying his highest philosophical ideas. His political doctrine surrenders society to nature, freedom to necessity, reason to caprice. And in so doing, it mirrors the destiny of the social order that falls, while in pursuit of its freedom, into a state of nature far below reason. The dialectical analysis of civil society had concluded that society was not capable of establishing reason and freedom of its own accord. Hegel therefore put forward a strong state to achieve this end and tried to reconcile that state with the idea of freedom by giving a strong constitutional flavoring to monarchy.
The state exists only through the medium of law. ‘Laws express the content of objective freedom ... They are an absolute final end and a universal work.’ Hence the state is bound by laws that are the opposite of authoritarian decrees. The body of laws is ‘a universal work’ that incorporates the reason and the will of associated men. The constitution expresses the interests of all (now, of course, their true, ‘purified’ interests), and the executive, legislative and judiciary powers are but the organs of constitutional law. Hegel repudiates the traditional division of these powers, as detrimental to the state’s unity; the three functions of government are to work in permanent actual collaboration. The emphasis on the state’s unity – is so strong that it occasionally leads Hegel to formulations that come close to the organicist theory of the state. He declares, for instance, that the constitution, though ‘begotten in time, should not be contemplated as made’ by man, but rather as ‘divine and perpetual.’ Such utterances spring from the same motives that impelled the most far-seeing philosophers to set the state above any danger of criticism. They recognized that the tie that most effectively binds the conflicting groups of the ruling class is the fear of any subversion of the existing order.
We shall not spend time upon Hegel’s outline of the constitution, since it hardly adds essentially to his earlier writings on the same subject, although some important features of his system are worthy of brief notice. The traditional trinity of political powers is altered to consist of the monarchic, the administrative, and the legislative power. These overlap so that the executive power belongs to the first two and includes the judicial, while the legislative power is exercised by the government together with the estates. The entire political system again converges towards the idea of sovereignty, which, though now rooted in the ‘natural’ person of the monarch, still pervades the whole structure. Alongside the state’s sovereignty over the antagonisms of civil society, Hegel now stresses its sovereignty over the people (Volk). The people ‘is that part of the State which does not know what it wants,’ and whose ‘movement and action would be elemental, void of reason, violent, and terrible’ if not regulated. Here again, Hegel may have been thinking of the Volksbewegung of his time; the Prussian monarchy may well have seemed a paragon of reason compared to that Teutonic movement from ‘below.’ Yet, Hegel’s advocacy of a strong hand over the masses is part of a more general trend, which threatens the whole constitutional structure of his state.
The state provides a unity for the particular and the general interest. Hegel’s view of this unity differs from the liberalistic, inasmuch as his state is imposed upon the social and economic mechanisms of civil society and is vested in independent political powers and institutions. ‘The objective will is in itself rational in its very conception, whether or not it be known by the individuals or willed as an object of their caprice.’
Hegel’s exaltation of the state’s political power has, however, some clearly critical traits. Discussing the relation between religion and the state, he points out that religion is principally commended and resorted to in times of public distress, disturbance, and oppression; it is taught to furnish consolation against wrong and the hope of compensation in the case of loss. He notes the dangerous function of religion in its tendency to divert man from his search for actual freedom and to pay him fictitious damages for real wrongs. ‘It would surely be regarded. as a bitter jest if those who were oppressed by any despotism were referred to the consolations of religion; nor is it to be forgotten that religion may assume the form of a galling superstition, involving the most abject servitude, and the degradation of man below the level of the brute.’ Some force has to interfere to rescue the individual from religion in such a case. The state comes to champion ‘the rights of reason and self-consciousness.’ ‘It is not strength, but weakness which has in our times made religion a polemical kind of piety'; the struggle for man’s historical fulfillment is not a religious but a social and political struggle, and its transplantation to an inner sanctum of the soul, of belief and morality, means regression to a stage long since passed.
Nevertheless, these critical qualities are dwarfed by the oppressive trends inherent in all authoritarianism, which manifest their full force in Hegel’s doctrine of external sovereignty. We have already shown how Hegel elevated the national interests of the particular state to the place of highest and most indubitable authority in international relations. The state puts forward and asserts the interests of its members by welding them into a community, in this way fulfilling their freedom and their rights and transforming the destructive force of competition into a unified whole. Undisputed internal authority of the state is a prerequisite for successful competition, and the latter necessarily terminates in external sovereignty. The life and death struggle of individuals in civil society for mutual recognition has its counterpart among sovereign states in the form of war. War is the inevitable issue of any test of sovereignty. It is neither an absolute evil nor an accident, but an ‘ethical element,’ for war achieves that integration of interests that civil society cannot establish by itself. ‘Successful wars have prevented civil broils and strengthened the internal power of the State.’
Hegel was thus as cynical as Hobbes on the subject of the bourgeois state, ending in a complete rejection of International Law. The state, the final subject that perpetuates competitive society, cannot be bound by a higher law, for such a law would amount to an external restriction of sovereignty and destroy the life-element of civil society.
[Fascist ideology has made this intrinsic connection between sovereignty, war, and competition a decisive argument against liberal capitalism. ‘An entire community can practice competition in an orderly way only in war or in competition with an outside community. Thus, in wartime, each warring community operates internally on the bash of cooperation and externally on the basis of competition. In this way there is order within and anarchy without. It is obviously an inevitable condition of any society of sovereign nations that it be characterized by anarchy. Multiple sovereignties are merely a synonym for anarchy. International anarchy is a corollary of national sovereignty.’ This paragraph from Lawrence Dennis’s book The Dynamics of War and Revolution is an exact restatement of Hegel’s doctrine of sovereignty.]
No contract is valid among states. Sovereignty cannot be circumscribed by treaties that imply in their very nature a mutual dependence of the parties involved. Sovereign states stand outside the world of civil interdependence; they exist in a ‘state of nature.’
We note again that blind nature enters and elbows aside the self-conscious rationality of objective mind:
States find themselves in a natural more than a legal relation to each other. There is hence a continuous struggle between them. They conclude treaties and therewith establish a legal relation between themselves. On the other hand, however, they are autonomous and independent. Right, therefore, cannot be real as between them. They may break treaties arbitrarily, and they must constantly find themselves distrusting one another. Since they are in a state of nature, they act according to violence. They maintain and procure their rights through their own power and must as a matter of necessity plunge into war.
Hegel’s idealism comes to the same conclusion as did Hobbes’s materialism. The rights of sovereign states ‘have reality not in a general will which is constituted as a superior power, but in their particular wills.’ Accordingly, disputes among them can be settled only by war. International relations are an arena for ‘the wild play of particular passions, interests, aims, talents, virtues, force, wrong, vice, and external contingency’ – the moral end itself, ‘the State’s autonomy, is exposed to chance.’
But is this drama of chance and violence really final? Does reason terminate in the state and in that play of reckless natural forces in which the state must perforce engage? Hegel has repudiated such conclusions throughout the Philosophy of Right. The state right, though not bound by international law, is still not the final right, but must answer to ‘the right of the World Mind which is the unconditional absolute.’ The state has its real content in universal history (Weltgeschichte), the realm of the world mind, which holds ‘the supreme absolute truth.’ Furthermore, Hegel emphasizes that any relation between autonomous states ‘must be external. A third must therefore stand above and unite them.’ ‘This third is the Mind which materializes itself in world history, and constitutes itself absolute judge over States.’ The state, even laws and duties, are merely ‘a determinate reality'; they pass up into and rest upon a higher sphere.
What, then, is this final sphere of state and society? How are state and society related to the world mind? These questions can only be answered if we turn to an interpretation of Hegel’s Philosophy of History.