Reason and Revolution. Herbert Marcuse 1941
BEING, for dialectical logic, is a process through contradictions that determine the content and development of all reality. The Logic had elaborated the timeless structure of this process, but the intrinsic connection, between the Logic and the other parts of the system, and, above all, the implications of the dialectical method destroy the very idea of timelessness. The Logic had shown that the true being is the idea, but the idea unfolds itself ‘in space’ (as nature) and ‘in time’ (as mind).’ Mind is of its very essence affected by time, for it exists only in the temporal process of history. The forms of the mind manifest themselves in time, and the history of the world is an exposition of mind in time. The dialectic thus gets to view reality temporally, and the ‘negativity’ that, in the Logic, determined the process of thought appears in the Philosophy of History as the destructive power of time.
The Logic had demonstrated the structure of reason; the Philosophy of History expounds the historical content of reason. Or, we may say, the content of reason here is the same as the content of history, although by content we refer not to the miscellany of historical facts, but to what makes history a rational whole, the laws and tendencies to which the facts point and from which they receive their meaning.
‘Reason is the sovereign of the world,’ – this, according to Hegel, is a hypothesis, and the only hypothesis in the philosophy of history. This hypothesis, which distinguishes the philosophic method of treating history from any other method, does not imply that history has a definite end. The teleological character of history (if indeed history has such) can only be a conclusion from an empirical study of history and cannot be assumed a priori. Hegel states emphatically that ‘in history, thought must be subordinate to what is given, to the realities of fact; this is its basis and guide. Consequently, ‘we have to take history as it is. We must proceed historically – empirically,’ an odd approach for an idealistic philosophy of history.
The laws of history have to be demonstrated in and from the facts – thus far, Hegel’s is the empirical method. But these laws cannot be known unless the investigation first has the guidance of proper theory. Facts of themselves disclose nothing; they only answer adequate theoretical questions. True scientific objectivity requires the application of sound categories that organize data in their actual significance, and not a passive reception of given facts. ‘Even the ordinary, the “impartial” historiographer, who believes and professes that he maintains a simply receptive attitude, surrendering himself only to the data supplied him – is by no means passive as regards the exercise of his thinking powers. He brings his categories with him, and sees, the phenomena ... exclusively through these media.’
But how does one recognize the sound categories and the proper theory? Philosophy decides. It elaborates those general categories that direct investigation in all special fields. Their validity in these fields, however, must be verified by the facts, and the verification is had when the given facts are comprehended by the theory in such a way that they appear under definite laws and as moments of definite tendencies, which explain their sequence and interdependence.
The dictum that philosophy should provide the general categories for understanding history is not arbitrary, nor did it originate with Hegel. The great theories of the eighteenth century all took the philosophic view that history was progress. This concept of progress, soon to degenerate into a shallow complacency, originally pointed sharp condemnatory criticism on an obsolete social order. The rising middle class used the concept of progress as a means to interpret the past history of mankind as the prehistory of its own reign, a reign that was destined to bring the world to maturity. When, they said, the new middle class would get to shape the world in accordance with its interests, an unheard – of spurt in material and intellectual forces would make man master of nature and would initiate the true history of humanity. As long as all this had not yet materialized, history was still in a state of struggle for truth. The idea of progress, an integral element in the philosophy of the French Enlightenment, interpreted historical facts as signposts marking man’s path to reason. The truth still lay outside the realm of fact – in a state to come. Progress implied that the given state of affairs would be negated and not continued.
This pattern still prevails in Hegel’s Philosophy of History. Philosophy is the material as well as the logical a priori of history, so long as history has not yet won the level adequate to human potentialities. We know, however, that Hegel thought history had reached its goal and that idea and reality had found common ground. Hegel’s work thus marks the apogee and end of the critical philosophic historiography. He still looks to freedom’s interest in his dealing with historical facts, and still views the struggle for freedom as the only content of history. But this interest has lost its vigor and the struggle has come to an end.
The concept of freedom, as the Philosophy of Right has shown, follows the pattern of free ownership. As a result, the history of the world that Hegel looks out upon exalts and enshrines the history of the middle class, which based itself on this pattern. There is a stark truth in Hegel’s strangely certain announcement that history has reached its end. But it announces the funeral of a class, not of history. At the close of the book, Hegel writes, after a description of the Restoration, ‘This is the point which consciousness has attained.’ This hardly sounds like an end. Consciousness is historical consciousness, and when we read in the Philosophy of Right that ‘one form of life has grown old,’ it is one form, not all forms of life. The consciousness and the aims of his class were open to Hegel. He saw they contained no new principle to rejuvenate the world. If this consciousness was to be mind’s final form, then history had entered a realm beyond which there was no progress.
Philosophy gives historiography its general categories, and these are identical with the basic concepts of the dialectic. Hegel has summarized them in his introductory lectures. [Georg Lasson has published the various forms of this introduction in his edition of Hegel’s Philosophic der Weitgeschichte, 1920-22.] We shall get to them later. First, we must discuss the concepts he calls specific historical categories.
The hypothesis on which the Philosophy of History rests has already been verified by Hegel’s Logic: the true being is reason, manifest in nature and come to realization in man. The realization takes place in history, and since reason realized in history is mind, Hegel’s thesis implies that the actual subject or driving force of history is mind.
Of course, man is also part of nature and his natural drives and impulses play a material role in history. Hegel’s Philosophy of History does more justice to this role than do many empirical historiographies. Nature, in the form of the sum-total of natural conditions for human life, remains the primary basis of history throughout Hegel’s book.
As a natural being, man is confined to particular condidons – he is born in this or that place or time, a member of this or that nation, bound to share the fate of the particular whole to which he belongs. Yet, despite all this, man is essentially a thinking subject, and thought, we know, constitutes universality. Thought (1) lifts men beyond their particular determinations and (2) also makes the multitude of external things the medium for the subject’s development.
This double universality, subjective and objective, characterizes the historical world wherein man unfolds his life. History, as the history of the thinking subject, is of necessity universal history (Weitgeschichte) just because ‘it belongs to the realm of Mind.’ We apprehend the content of history through general concepts, such as nation, state; agrarian, feudal, civil society; despotism, democracy, monarchy; proletariat, middle class, nobility, and so on. Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon are for us Roman, English, French citizens; we understand them as members of their nation, responding to the society and the state of their time. The universal asserts itself in them. Our general concepts grasp this universal to be the actual subject of history, so that, for example, the history of mankind is not the life and battles of Alexander the Great, Caesar, the German emperors, the French kings, the Cromwells and Napoleons, but the life and battles of that universal which unfolds itself in different guises through the various cultural wholes.
The essence of this universal is mind, and ‘the essence of Mind is freedom ... Philosophy teaches that all the qualities of Mind exist only through freedom; that all are but means for attaining freedom; that all seek and produce this and this alone.’ We have discussed these qualities, and we have seen that freedom terminates in the self-assurance of complete appropriation; that the mind is free if it possesses and knows the world as its property. It is therefore quite understandable that the Philosophy of History should end with the consolidation of middle-class society and that the periods of history should appear as necessary stages in the realization of its form of freedom.
The true subject of history is the universal, not the individual; the true content is the realization of the self-consciousness of freedom, not the interests, needs, and actions of the individual. ‘The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.’ Yet, ‘the first glance at history convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents; and impresses us with the belief that such needs, passions and interests are the sole springs of action – the efficient agents in this scene of activity.’ To explain history thus means ‘to depict the passions of mankind, its genius, its active powers.’ How does Hegel resolve the apparent contradiction? There can be no question that the needs and interests of individuals are the levers of all historical action, and that in history it is the individual’s fulfillment that should come to pass. Something else asserts itself, however – historical reason. As they follow out their own interests, individuals promote the progress of mind, that is, perform a universal task that advances freedom. Hegel cites the example of Caesar’s struggle for power. In his overthrow of the traditional form of Roman state, Caesar was certainly driven by ambition; but, in satisfying his personal drives he fulfilled ‘a necessary destiny in the history of Rome and of the world'; through his actions, he achieved a higher, more rational form of political organization.
A universal principle is thus latent in the particular aims of individuals – universal because ‘a necessary phase in the development of truth.’ It is as if mind uses individuals for its unwitting tool. Let us take an example from Marxian theory that may elucidate the connection between Hegel’s Philosophy of History and the subsequent evolution of the dialectic. Marx held that during a developed industrial capitalism individual capitalists are compelled to adapt their enterprises to the rapid progress of technology in order to assure their profits and outdo their competitors. They thereby reduce the amount of labor-power they employ and thus, since their surplus value is produced only by labor-power, reduce the rate of profit at the disposal of their class. In this way they accelerate the disintegrating tendencies of the social system they want to maintain.
The process of reason working itself out through individuals, however, does not occur with natural necessity, nor does it have a continuous and unilinear course. ‘There are many considerable periods in history in which this development seems to have been intermitted; in which, we might rather say, the whole enormous gain of previous culture appears to have been entirely lost; after which, unhappily, a new commencement has been necessary.’ There are periods of ‘retrocession’ alternating with periods of steady advance. Regress, when it occurs, is not an ‘external contingency’ but, as we shall see, is part of the dialectic of historical change; an advance to a higher plane of history first requires that the negative forces inherent in all reality get the upper hand. The higher phase, however, is finally to be reached; every obstacle on the road to freedom is surmountable, given the efforts of a self-conscious mankind.
This is the universal principle of history. It is not a ‘law,’ in the scientific sense of the term, such, for example, as governs matter. Matter in its structure and motion has unchangeable laws that carry on and maintain it, but matter is nowhere the subject of its processes, nor has it any power over them. A being, on the other hand, that is the active and conscious subject of its existence stands under quite different laws. Self-conscious practice becomes part of the very content of the laws, so that the latter operate as laws only in so far as they are taken into the subject’s will and influence his acts. The universal law of history is, in Hegel’s formulation, not simply progress to freedom, but progress ‘in the self-consciousness of freedom.’ A set of historical tendencies becomes a law only if man comprehends and acts on them. Historical laws, in other words, originate and are actual only in man’s conscious practice, so that if, for instance, there is a law of progress to ever higher forms of freedom, it ceases to operate if man fails to recognize and execute it. Hegel’s philosophy of history might amount to a deterministic theory, but the determining factor is at least freedom. Progress depends on man’s ability to grasp the universal interest of reason and on his will and vigor in making it a reality.
But if the particular wants and interests of men are the sole springs of their action, how can self-consciousness of freedom ever motivate human practice? To answer this question we must again ask, Who is the actual subject of history? Whose practice is historical practice? Individuals it would seem, are merely agents of history. Their consciousness is conditioned by their personal interest; they make business, not history. There are some individuals, however, who rise above this level; their actions do not repeat old patterns but create new forms of life. Such men are men of history kat'exochen, welthistorische Individuen, like Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon. Their acts, too, spring from personal interests, but in their case these become identical with the universal interest and the latter far transcends the interest of any particular group: they forge and administer the progress of history. Their interest must necessarily clash with the particular interest of the prevailing system of life. Historical individuals are men of a time when ‘momentous collisions’ arise ‘between existing, acknowledged duties, laws, and rights, and those potentialities which are adverse to this fixed system; which assail and even destroy its foundations and existence. These potentialities appear to the historical individual as choices for his specific power, but they involve a ‘universal principle’ in so far as they are the choice of a higher form of life that has ripened within the existing system. Historical individuals thus anticipated ‘the necessary ... sequent step in progress which their world was to take.’ What they desired and struggled for was ‘the very truth for their age, for their world.’ Conscious of ‘the requirements of the time’ and of ‘what was ripe for development,’ they acted.
Even these men of history, however, are not yet the actual subjects of history. They are the executors of its will, the ‘agents of the World Mind,’ no more. They are victims of a higher necessity, which acts itself out in their lives; they are still mere instruments for historical progress.
The final subject of history Hegel calls the world mind (Weitgeist). Its reality lies in those actions, tendencies, efforts, and institutions that embody the interest of freedom and reason. It does not exist separate from these realities, and acts through these agents and agencies. The law of history, which the world mind represents, thus operates behind the backs and over the heads of individuals, in the form of an irresistible anonymous power. The transition from Oriental culture to that of the Greek world, the rise of feudalism, the establishment of bourgeois society – all these changes were not man’s free work, but the necessary results of objective historical forces. Hegel’s conception of the world mind emphasizes that in these previous periods of recorded history man was not the self-conscious master of his existence. The divine power of the world mind appeared then an objective force that rules over the actions of men.
The sovereignty of the world mind, as Hegel portrays it, exhibits the dark traits of a world that is controlled by the forces of history instead of controlling them. While these forces are as yet unknown in their true essence, they bring misery and destruction in their wake. History then appears as ‘the, slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of States, and the virtue of individuals have been victimized.’ Hegel at the same time extols the sacrifice of individual and general happiness that results. He calls it ‘the cunning of reason.’ Individuals lead unhappy lives, they toil and perish, but though they actually never win their goal, their distress and defeat are the very means by which truth and freedom proceed. A man never reaps the fruits of his labor; they always fall to future generations. His passions and interests, however, do not succumb; they are the devices that keep him working in the service of a superior power and a superior interest. ‘This may be called the cunning of reason – that it sets the passions to work for itself, while that which develops its existence through such impulsion pays the penalty, and suffers loss.’ Individuals fail and pass away; the idea triumphs and is eternal.
The idea triumphs precisely because individuals perish in defeat. It is not the ‘Idea that is implicated in opposition and combat, and that is exposed to danger. It remains in the background, untouched and uninjured’ while ‘individuals are sacrificed and abandoned. The Idea pays the penalty of existence and of transitoriness not from itself, but from the passions of individuals.’ But can this idea still be regarded as the incarnation of truth and freedom? Kant had emphatically insisted that it would contradict man’s nature to use him as a mere means. Only a few decades later Hegel declares himself in favor of ‘the idea that individuals, their desires and the gratification of them, are ... sacrificed, and their happiness given up to the empire of chance, to which it belongs; and that as a general rule, individuals come under the category of means.’ He confesses that where man is simply an object of superior historical processes he can be an end in himself only in the domain of morality and religion.
The world mind is the hypostatic subject of history; it is a metaphysical substitute for the real subject, the unfathomable God of a frustrated humanity, hidden and awful, like the God of the Calvinists; the mover of a world in which all that occurs does so despite the conscious actions of man and at the expense of his happiness. ‘History ... is not the theater of happiness. Periods of happiness are blank pages in it.’
This metaphysical subject, however, assumes concrete form as soon as Hegel raises the question of how the world mind materializes itself. ‘In what material is the idea of Reason wrought out?’ The world mind strives to realize freedom and can materialize itself only in the real realm of freedom, that is, in the state. Here, the world mind is, as it were, institutionalized; here it finds the self-consciousness through which the law of history operates.
The Philosophy of History does not discuss (as did the Philosophy of Right) the idea of the state; it discusses its various concrete historical forms. Hegel’s well-known schema distinguishes three main historical stages in the development of freedom: the Oriental, the Greco-Roman, and the German-Christian.
The Orientals have not attained the knowledge that Mind – man as such – is free; and because they do not know this, they are not free. They only know that one is free. But on this very account, the freedom of that one is only caprice ... That one is therefore only a Despot, not a free man. The consciousness of freedom first arose among the Greeks, and therefore they were free; but they, and the Romans likewise, knew only that some are free – not man as such ... The Greeks, therefore, had slaves; and their whole life and the maintenance of their splendid liberty, was implicated with the institution of slavery ... The German nations, under the influence of Christianity, were the first to attain the consciousness, that man, as man, is free: that it is the freedom of Mind which constitutes its essence.
Hegel distinguishes three typical state forms to correspond to the three main phases in the development of freedom: ‘The East knew and to the present day knows only that One is free; the Greek and Roman world, that some are free; the German world knows that all are free. The first political form, therefore, which we observe in history, is despotism, the second democracy and aristocracy, the third monarchy.’ At first, this is no more than the Aristotelian typology applied to universal history. The monarchic holds first rank as the perfectly free state form, by virtue of its rule of right and law under constitutional guarantees. ‘In monarchy, ... there is one lord and no serf, for servitude is abrogated by it; and in it Right and Law are recognized; it is the source of real freedom. Thus in monarchy, the caprice of individuals is kept under, and a common gubernatorial interest established.’ Hegel’s judgment here is based on the fact that he regards the modern absolutist state to be an advance over the feudal system. He has reference to the strongly centralized bourgeois state that overcame the revolutionary terror of 1793. Freedom, he has shown, begins with property, unfolds itself in the universal rule of law that acknowledges and secures the equal right to property, and terminates in the state, which is able to cope with the antagonisms that attend freedom of property. Consequently, the history of freedom comes to an end with the advent of *modern monarchy, which, in Hegel’s time, achieved this goal.
The Philosophy of Right had concluded with the statement that the right of the state is subordinate to the right of the world mind and to the judgment of universal history. Hegel now develops this point. He gives the various state forms their place in the course of history, first co-ordinating each with its representative historical period. Hegel does not mean to say that the Oriental world knew only despotism, the Greco-Roman only democracy, and the German only monarchy. His scheme rather implies that despotism is the political form most adequate to the material and intellectual culture of the Orient, and the other political forms respectively to the other historical periods. He then proceeds to assert that the unity of the state is conditioned by the prevailing national culture; that is, the state depends on such factors as the geographical location and the natural, racial, and social qualities of the nation.
This is the purport of his concept of national mind (Volksgeist). The latter is the manifestation of the world mind at a given stage of historical development; it is the subject of national history in the same sense as the world mind is the subject of universal history. National history must be understood in terms of universal history. ‘Each particular National genius is to be treated as only one individual in the process of Universal History.’ The history of a nation has to be judged according to its contribution to the progress of all mankind towards the self-consciousness of freedom. [The decisive difference between Hegel’s concept of the Volksgeist and the use made of the same concept by the Historische Schule consists in this: that the latter school conceived of the Volksgeist in term of a natural rather than a rational development and set it against the higher values posited in universal history. We shall ace later that the Historische Schule’s conception belongs to the positivist reaction against Hegelian rationalism.] The various nations do not contribute equally; some are active promoters of this progress. These are the world-historical nations (welthistorische Volksgeister). The decisive jumps to new and higher forms of life occur in their history, while other nations play more minor roles.
The question as to the relation of a particular state to the world mind may now be answered. Every form of state must be evaluated according to whether it is adequate to the stage of historical consciousness that mankind has reached. Freedom does not and cannot mean the same thing in the different periods of history, for in each period one type of freedom is the true one. The state must be built on the acknowledgment of this freedom. The German world, through the Reformation, produced in its course that kind of freedom which recognized the essential equality of men. Constitutional monarchy expresses and integrates this form of society. It is for Hegel the consummation of the realization of freedom.
Let us now consider the general structure of the historical dialectic. Since Aristotle, historical change has been contrasted with changes in nature. Hegel held to the same distinction. He says historical change is ‘an advance to something better, more perfect,’ whereas mutation in nature ‘exhibits only a perpetually self-repeating cycle.’ It is only in historical changes that something new arises. Historical change is therefore development. ‘Everything depends on apprehending the principle of this development.’ The principle implies first that there exists a latent ‘destiny,’ ‘a potentiality striving to realize itself.’ This is obvious in the case of the living being whose life is the unfolding of potentialities contained in the germ, and their constant actualization, but the highest form of development is reached only when self-consciousness exercises mastery over the whole process. The life of the thinking subject is the only one that may be called a self-realization, in the strict sense. The thinking subject ‘produces itself, expands itself actually to what it always was potentially.’ And it achieves this result in so far as every particular existential condition is dissolved by the potentialities that are inherent in it and transformed into a new condition, which fulfills these potentialities. How is this process manifested in history?
The thinking subject lives in history, and the state furnishes in large part the existential conditions of its historical life. The state exists as the universal interest amid individual actions and interests. Individuals experience this universal in various forms, each of which is an essential phase in the history of every state. The state appears first as an immediate, ‘natural’ unity. At this stage, social antagonisms have not yet intensified and individuals find satisfaction in the state without consciously opposing their individualities to the commonwealth. This is the golden youth of every nation, and the golden youth of universal history. Unconscious freedom prevails, but because it is unconscious, it is a stage of mere potential freedom; actual freedom comes only with the self-consciousness of freedom. The prevailing potentiality has to actualize itself; in doing so it shatters the unconscious stage of human organization.
Thought is the vehicle of this process. The individuals become conscious of their potentialities and organize their relations in accordance with their reason. A nation composed of such individuals has ‘apprehended the principle of its life and condition, the science of its laws, right and morality, and has consciously organized the state.’
This state, also, is subject to thought, the element that leads ultimately to its destruction, the same element that has given this state its form. Social and political reality cannot, for any length of time, conform to the demands of reason, for the state seeks to maintain the interest of that which is, and thus to fetter the forces that tend to a higher historical form. Sooner or later, the free rationality of thought must come into conflict with the rationalizations of the given order of life.
Hegel saw in this process a general law of history, as unalterable as time itself. No power whatsoever could, in the long run, stop the march of thought. Thinking was not a harmless activity but a dangerous one, which, as soon as it would flow among citizens and determine their practice, would drive them to question and even to subvert the traditional forms of culture. Hegel illustrated this destructive dynamics of thought by means of an ancient myth.
The god Kronos first ruled over the lives of men, and his rule signified a Golden Age during which men lived in immediate unity among themselves and with nature. But Kronos was the god of time, and time devoured its own children. Everything that man had accomplished was destroyed; nothing remained. Then, Kronos himself was devoured by Zeus, a power greater than time. Zeus was the god who brought forth reason and promoted the arts; he was the ‘political god’ who created the state and made it the work of self-conscious and moral individuals. This state was generated and maintained by reason and morality; it was something that could persist and endure,reason’s productive power seemed to bring time to a standstill. This moral and rational community, however, was dissolved by the same force that had created it. The principle of thought, of reasoning and knowledge destroyed the beautiful work of art that was the state, and Zeus, who had put an end to the devouring force of time, was himself swallowed up. The work of thought was destroyed by thought. Thought is thus drawn into the process of time, and the force that compelled knowledge in the Logic to negate every particular content is disclosed, in the Philosophy of History, as the negativity of time itself. Hegel says: ‘Time is the negative element in the sensuous world. Thought is the same negativity, but it is the deepest, the infinite form of it ...’
Hegel connected the destructive dynamics of thought with historical progress towards ‘universality.’ The dissolution of a given form of the state is, at the same time, the crossing to a higher form of state that is more ‘universal’ than the preceding form. Man’s self-conscious activity on the one hand ‘destroys the reality, the permanence of what is, but at the same time it pins, on the other side, the essence, the notion, the universal.’ According to Hegel, historical progress is preceded and guided by a progress of thought. As soon as thought is emancipated from its attachment to the prevailing state of affairs, it goes beyond the face value of things and tries for their notion. The notion, however, comprehends the essence of things as distinguished from their appearance – the prevailing conditions appear as limited particularities that do not exhaust the potentialities of things and men. Those who adhere to principles of reason, if they succeed in establishing new social and political conditions, will endeavor, through their higher conceptual knowledge, to incorporate more of these potentialities into the order of life. Hegel saw history progressing at least so much that the essential freedom and equality of men was being increasingly recognized, and the particular limitations on this freedom and equality were being increasingly removed.
When thought becomes the vehicle of practice it realizes the universal content of the given historical conditions by shattering its particular form. Hegel viewed the development of mankind as a process to real universality in state and society. ‘The history of the world is the discipline [Zucht] of the uncontrolled natural will to universality and to subjective freedom.’ In the Logic, Hegel had designated the notion as the unity of the universal and the particular, and as the realm of subjectivity and freedom. In the Philosophy of History, he applied these self-same categories to the final goal of historical development, that is, to a state in which the freedom of the subject is in conscious union with the whole. The progress of conceptual thinking, the comprehension of the notion, was here linked to the progress of freedom. The Philosophy of History thus gave a historical illustration of this essential connection between freedom and the notion, which had been explained in the Logic. Hegel elucidated this connection by analyzing the work of Socrates. Instead of surveying the content of Hegel’s Philosophy of History, we shall discuss his analysis of the Socratic contribution.
Hegel begins with a description of the early period of the Greek city-state during which ‘the subjectivity of will’ was not yet awake within the natural unity of the polis. Laws existed and the citizenry obeyed them, but they looked upon them as having ‘a necessity of nature.’ This period was the one of the great constitutions (Thales, Bias, Solon). The laws were held valid because they were laws; freedom and right existed only in the form of custom (Gewohnheit). The natural, continuous character of this state made ‘the democratic constitution ... here the only possible one; the citizens were still unconscious of particular interests, and therefore of a corrupting element ...’ The absence of conscious subjectivity was the condition for an undisturbed functioning of democracy. The interest of the community could be ‘intrusted to the will and resolve of the citizens’ because these citizens did not yet have an autonomous will that could at any moment turn against the community. Hegel makes this point general for all democracy. True democracy, he holds, expresses an early phase in human development, a phase prior to that in which the individual is emancipated, and one incompatible with emancipation. His evaluation is obviously based on the conviction that the progress of society will necessarily engender a conflict between the interest of the individual and that of the community. Society cannot free the individual without separating him from the community and opposing his wish for subjective liberty to the demands of the whole. The reason the Greek city-state could be a democracy, Hegel implies, is that it was made up of citizens who were not yet conscious of their essential individuality. Hegel held that a society of emancipated individuals conflicted with democratic homogeneity.
Any recognition of individual freedom consequently seemed to involve tearing down the ancient democracy. ‘That very subjective freedom which constitutes the principle and determines the peculiar form of freedom in our world – which forms the absolute basis of our political and religious life, could not manifest itself in Greece otherwise than as a destructive .’
This destructive element was brought into the Greek city-state by Socrates, who taught precisely the ‘subjectivity’ that Hegel calls the destructive element for the ancient democracy. ‘It was in Socrates that ... the principle of subjectivity [Innerlichkeit] – of the absolute independence of thought – attained free expression.’ Socrates taught that ‘man has to discover and recognize in himself that which is Right and Good, and that this Right and Good is in its nature universal.’ There are beautiful things in the state, good and brave deeds, true judgments, just judges – but something exists that is the beautiful, the good, the brave, etc.; it is more than all these particulars and common to all of them. Man has an idea of the beautiful, the good, etc., in his notion of beauty, goodness, etc. The notion comprises what is truly beautiful and good, and Socrates charged the thinking subject to discover this truth and to maintain it against all external authority. Socrates thus set the truth apart as a universal and attributed the knowledge of this universal to the autonomous thought of the individual. By so doing he ‘set the individual up as the subject of all final decisions. against the fatherland and customary morality.'&$ Socrates’s principles thus show ‘a revolutionary opposition to the Athenian State.’ He was condemned to death. This act was justified in so far as the Athenians were condemning their ‘absolute foe.’ On the other hand, the death sentence contained the ‘deeply tragical’ element that the Athenians thereby also condemned their society and their state. For, their sentence recognized that ‘what they reprobated in Socrates had already struck firm root among themselves.’
A decisive historical turn thus followed upon a turn in the development of thought. Philosophy began to elaborate universal concepts, and this was the prelude of a new phase in state history. Universal concepts, however, are abstract concepts, and ‘the construction of the State in the abstract’ struck at the very foundations of the existing state. The homogeneity of the city-state was achieved through the exclusion of slaves, other Greek citizens, and ‘barbarians.’ Though Socrates himself may not have developed this implication, abstract universal concepts of their very nature imply a crossing beyond every particularity and a championing of the free subject, of man as man.
The same process that made abstract thought into truth’s abode emancipated the individual as a real ‘subject.’ Socrates could not teach men to think in the abstract without. making them free from the traditional standards of thought and existence. The free subject – as the Logic had maintained – is indeed intrinsically connected with the notion. The free subject arises only when the individual no longer accepts the given order of things but stands up to it because he has learned the notion of things and learned that the truth does not lie in the current norms and opinions. He cannot know this unless he has ventured into abstract thought. It gives him the necessary ‘detachment’ from the prevailing standards, and, in the form of critical, oppositional thought, it constitutes the medium in which the free subject moves.
When the principle of subjectivity first appeared, with Socrates, it could not be concretized and made the foundation of the state and society. The principle made its real debut with Christianity and thus ‘arose first in religion.’
[Its introduction into] the various relations of the actual world involves a more extensive problem than its simple implantation; a problem whose solution and application require a severe and lengthened process of culture. In proof of this, we may note that slavery did not cease immediately on the reception of Christianity. Still less did liberty predominate in states; or governments and constitutions adopt a rational organization; or recognize freedom as their basis. That application of the principle of Christianity to political relations; the thorough moulding or interpenetration of society by it, is a process identical with history itself.
The German Reformation marks the first successful attempt to introduce the principle of subjectivity into changing social and political relations. It placed the sole responsibility for his deeds on the free subject and challenged the traditional system of authority and privilege in the name of !Christian freedom and human equality. ‘While, then, the individual knows that he is filled with the Divine Spirit, all [the hitherto prevailing external relations] ... are ipso facto abrogated; there is no longer a distinction between priests and laymen; we no longer find one class in possession of the substance of the truth, as of all spiritual and temporal treasures of the Church.’ The inmost subjectivity of man was recognized ‘as that which can and ought to come into possession of the truth; and this subjectivity is the common property of all mankind.’
Hegel’s picture of the Reformation is fully as erroneous as his description of the subsequent social development, confusing the ideas by which modern society glorified its rise for the reality of this society. He was thus led to a harmonistic interpretation of history, according to which the crossing to a new historical form is at the same time a progress to a higher historical form – a preposterous interpretation, because all the victims of oppression and injustice are witness against it, as are all the vain sufferings and sacrifices of history. The interpretation is the more preposterous because it denies the critical implications of the dialectic and establishes a harmony between the progress of thought and the process of reality.
Hegel did not, however, consider the historical realization of man to be an unswerving progress. The history of man was to him at the same time the history of man’s alienation (Entfremdung).
‘What Mind really strives for is the realization of its notion; but in doing so, it hides that goal from its own vision, and is proud and well satisfied in this alienation from its own essence.’ The institutions man founds and the culture he creates develop laws of their own, and man’s freedom has to comply with them. He is overpowered by the expanding wealth of his economic, social, and political surrounding and comes to forget that he himself, his free development, is the final goal of all these works; instead he surrenders to their sway. Men always strive to perpetuate an established culture, and in doing so perpetuate their own frustration. The history of man is the history of his estrangement from his true interest and, by the same token, the history of its realization. The concealment of man’s true interest in his societal world is part of the ‘cunning of reason’ and is one of those ‘negative elements’ without which there is no progress to higher forms. Marx was the first to explain the origin and significance of this estrangement; Hegel had little more than a general intuition of its meaning.
Hegel died in 1831. The preceding year had brought the first revolutionary concussion to the political system of the Restoration – the same system that Hegel thought signified the realization of reason in civil society. The state began to totter. The Bourbons in France were overthrown by the July revolution. British political life was rent with heated discussions of the Reform Bill, which provided for far-reaching changes in the English electoral system, changes that favored the city bourgeoisie, and for the strengthening of Parliament at the expense of the crown. The French and the English movements resulted merely in an adjustment of the state to the prevailing power relationships so that the process of democratization that went on in political forms nowhere crossed beyond the social system of civil society. Nevertheless, Hegel knew full well the dangers of even the small transformations that were going on. He knew that the dynamics inherent in civil society, once loosed from the protective mechanisms of the state, could, at any moment, release forces to shake the whole system.
One of Hegel’s latest writings, published the year of his death, was an extended paper on the English Reform Bill. It contained a severe criticism of the bill, claiming that it weakened the sovereignty of the monarch by setting up a Parliament that would place the ‘abstract principles’ of the French Revolution in opposition to the concrete hierarchy of the state. The strengthening of Parliament, he warns, will eventually unleash the terrifying power of the ‘people.’ Reform, in the given social situation, might suddenly turn into revolution. Were the bill to succeed, ... the struggle would threaten to become even more dangerous. There would no longer exist any higher power mediating between the interest of positive privilege and the demand for more real freedom, a higher power that might restrict and reconcile these. For, in England, the monarchic element does not have the power that other states have and through which they could effect transition from legislation based merely on positive rights to one based on the principles of real freedom. Other states have been able to effect transformations without upheaval, violence and robbery; in England, the transformation would have to be carried through by another force, by the people. An opposition building itself on a program hitherto foreign to Parliament and feeling itself unable to expand its influence among the other parties in Parliament might be induced to seek its strength among the people; then, instead of achieving a reform it would bring forth a revolution.
Rudolf Haym, who interpreted Hegel according to German liberalism, recognized that Hegel’s article was a document of fear and anxiety rather than of reactionary political philosophy, for ‘Hegel did not disapprove of the tendency and content of the Reform Bill, but feared the danger of reform as such.’ Hegel’s belief in the stability of the Restoration state was seriously shaken. Reform might be a good thing, but this state could not afford the liberty of reform without endangering the system of power on which it rested. Hegel’s article on the Reform Bill is not a document expressive of any faith or confidence that the existing form of the state will eternally endure, any more than is his Preface to the Philosophy of Right. Here, too, Hegel’s philosophy ends in doubt and resignation.