Reason & Revolution
THE Jenenser system, as it is called, is Hegel’s first complete system, consisting of a logic, a metaphysic, philosophy of nature, and philosophy of mind. Hegel formulated it in his lectures at the University of Jena from 1802 to 1806. These lectures have only recently been edited from Hegel’s original manuscripts and published in three volumes, each of them representing a different stage of elaboration. The Logic and the Metaphysics exist in but one draft each, the Philosophy of Nature and the Philosophy of Mind in two. The considerable variations between these will be neglected here, since they have no bearing on the structure of the whole.
We have chosen to deal only with the general trend and organisation of the whole, and with the principles that guide the development of the concepts. The content of the particular concepts will be discussed when we reach the different sections of the final system.
Hegel’s Logic expounds the structure of being-as-such, that is, the most general forms of being. The philosophical tradition since Aristotle designated as categories the concepts that embrace these most general forms: substance, affirmation, negation, limitation; quantity, quality; unity, plurality, and so on. Hegel’s Logic is an ontology in so far as it deals with such categories. But his Logic also deals with the general forms of thought, with the notion, the judgment, and the syllogism, and is in this respect ‘formal logic’.
We can understand the reason for this seeming heterogeneity of content when we remember that Kant, too, treated ontology as well as formal logic in his Transcendental Logic, taking up the categories of substantiality, causality, community (reciprocity), together with the theory of judgment. The traditional distinction between formal logic and general Metaphysics (ontology) is meaningless to transcendental idealism, which conceives the forms of being as the results of the activity of human understanding. The principles of thought thus also become principles of the objects of thought (of the phenomena).
Hegel, too, believed in a unity of thought and being, but, as we have already seen, his conception of the unity differed from Kant’s. He rejected Kant’s idealism on the ground that it assumed the existence of ‘things-in-themselves’ apart from ‘phenomena’, and left these ‘things’ untouched by the human mind and therefore untouched by reason. The Kantian philosophy left a gulf between thought and being, or between subject and object, which the Hegelian philosophy sought to bridge. The bridge was to be made by positing one universal structure of all being. Being was to be a process wherein a thing ‘comprehends’ or ‘grasps’ the various states of its existence and draws them into the more or less enduring unity of its ‘self’, thus actively constituting itself as ‘the same’ throughout all change. Everything, in other words, exists more or less as a ‘subject’. The identical structure of movement that thus runs through the entire realm of being unites the objective and subjective worlds.
With this point in mind, we can readily see why logic and metaphysics are one in the Hegelian system. The Logic, it has often been said, presupposes an identity of thought and existence. The statement has meaning only in so far as it declares that the movement of thought reproduces the movement of being and brings it to its true form. It has also been maintained that Hegel’s philosophy puts notions in an independent realm, as if they were real things, and makes them move around and turn into each other. It must be said in reply that Hegel’s Logic deals primarily with the forms and types of being as comprehended by thought. When, for example, Hegel discusses the passage of quantity into quality, or of ‘being’ into ‘essence’ he intends to show how, when actually comprehended, quantitative entities turn into qualitative ones, and how a contingent existence turns into an essential one. He means to be dealing with real things. The interplay and motility of the notions reproduces the concrete process of reality.
There is, however, yet another intrinsic relation between the notion and the object it comprehends. The correct notion makes the nature of an object clear to us. It tells us what the thing is in itself. But while the truth becomes evident to us, it also becomes evident that the things ‘do not exist in’ their truth. Their potentialities are limited by the determinate conditions in which the things exist. Things attain their truth only if they negate their determinate conditions. The negation is again a determination, produced by the unfolding of previous conditions. For example, the bud of the plant is the determinate negation of the seed, and the blossom the determinate negation of the bud. In its growth, the plant, the ‘subject’ of this process, does not act on knowledge and fulfil its potentialities on the basis of its own comprehending power. It rather endures the process of fulfilment passively. Our notion of the plant, on the other hand, comprehends that the plant’s existence is an intrinsic process of development; our notion sees the seed as potentially the bud and the bud as potentially the blossom. The notion thus represents, in Hegel’s view, the real form of the object, for the notion gives us the truth about the process, which, in the objective world, is blind and contingent. In the inorganic, plant, and animal worlds, beings differ essentially from their notions. The difference is overcome only in the case of the thinking subject, which is capable of realising its notion in its existence. The various modes of being may thus be ordered according to their essential difference from their notions.
This conclusion is the source of the basic divisions of Hegel’s Logic. It starts with the concepts that grasp reality as a multitude of objective things, simply ‘being’, free from any subjectivity. They are qualitatively and quantitatively connected with each other, and the analysis of these connections hits upon relations that can no longer be interpreted in terms of objective qualities and quantities but requires principles and forms of thought that negate the traditional concepts of being and reveal the subject to be the very substance of reality. The whole construction can be understood only in the mature form Hegel gave it in the Science of Logic; we shall limit ourselves here to a brief description of the basic scheme.
Every particular existent is essentially different from what it could be if its potentialities were realised. The potentialities are given in its notion. The existent would have true being if its potentialities were fulfilled and if there were, therefore, an identity between its existence and its notion. The difference between the reality and the potentiality is the starting point of the dialectical process that applies to every concept in Hegel’s Logic. Finite things are ‘negative’ – and this is a defining characteristic of them; they never are what they can and ought to be. They always exist in a state that does not fully express their potentialities as realised. The finite thing has as its essence ‘this absolute unrest’, this striving ‘not to be what it is’.
Even in the abstract formulations of the Logic we can see the concrete critical impulses that underlie this conception. Hegel’s dialectic is permeated with the profound conviction that all immediate forms of existence – in nature and history – are ‘bad’, because they do not permit things to be what they can be. True existence begins only when the immediate state is recognised as negative, when beings become ‘subjects’ and strive to adapt their outward state to their potentialities.
The full significance of the conception just outlined lies in its assertion that negativity is constitutive of all finite things and is the ‘genuine dialectical’ moment [Science of Logic, p. 66] of them all. It is ‘the innermost source of all activity, of living and spiritual self-movement’. [Science of Logic, p. 477] The negativity everything possesses is the necessary prelude to its reality. It is a state of privation that forces the subject to seek remedy. As such, it has a positive character.
The dialectical process receives its motive power from the pressure to overcome the negativity. Dialectics is a process in a world where the mode of existence of men and things is made up of contradictory relations, so that any particular content can be unfolded only through passing into its opposite. The latter is an integral part of the former, and the whole content is the totality of all contradictory relations implied in it. Logically, the dialectic has its beginning when human understanding finds itself unable to grasp something adequately from its given qualitative or quantitative forms. The given quality or quantity seems to be a ‘negation’ of the thing that possesses this quality or quantity. We shall have to follow Hegel’s explanation of this point in some detail.
He begins with the world as common sense views it. It consists of an innumerable multitude of things – Hegel calls them ‘somethings’ (Etwas), each of them with its specific qualities. The qualities the thing has distinguish it from other things, so that if we want to separate it off from other things we simply enumerate its qualities. The table here in this room is being used as a desk; it is finished in walnut, heavy, wooden, and so on. Being a desk, brown, wooden, heavy, and so on, is not the same as just being a table. The table is not any of these qualities, nor is it the sum total of them. The particular qualities are, according to Hegel, at the same time the ‘negation’ of the table-as-such. The propositions in which the table’s qualities are predicated of it would indicate this fact. They have the formal logical structure A is B (that is, not A).
‘The table is brown’ expresses also that the table is other than itself. This is the first abstract form in which the negativity of all finite things is expressed. The very being of something appears as other than itself. It exists, as Hegel puts it, in its ‘otherness’ (Anderssein).
The attempt to define something by its qualities, however, does not end in negativity, but is pushed a step further. A thing cannot be understood through its qualities without reference to other qualities that are actually excluded by the ones it possesses. ‘Wooden’, for example, is meaningful only through the relation to some other, non-wooden material. The meaning of ‘brown’ requires that the meaning of other colours that are contraries of brown be known, and so on. ‘The quality is related to what it excludes; for it does not exist as an absolute, for itself, but exists in such a way that it is for itself only in so far as some other [quality] does not exist. We are at every point led beyond the qualities that should delimit the thing and differentiate it from some other thing. Its seeming stability and clarity thus dissolve into an endless chain of ‘relations’ (Beziehungen).
The opening chapters of Hegel’s Logic thus show that when human understanding ventures to follow out its conceptions, it encounters the dissolution of its clearly delimited objects. First, it finds it completely impossible to identify any thing with the state in which it actually exists. The effort to uncover a concept that truly identifies the thing for what it is plunges the mind into an infinite sea of relations. Everything has to be understood in relation to other things, so that these relations become the very being of that thing. This infinitude of relations, which seems to portend the failure of any attempt to capture the thing’s character, becomes for Hegel, quite to the contrary, the first step in true knowledge of the thing. That is, it is the first step if properly taken.
The process is discussed by Hegel through an analysis of ‘infinity’. This is differentiated into two kinds, ‘bad’ and ‘real’ infinity. The bad or spurious infinite is, so to speak, the wrong road to the truth. It is the activity of trying to overcome the inadequacy of a definition by going to more and more of the related qualities entailed, in the hope of reaching an end. The understanding simply follows out the relations, as each is entailed, adding one to the next in the vain effort to exhaust and delimit the object. The procedure has a rational core, but only inasmuch as it presupposes that the essence of the object is made up of its relations to other objects. The relations cannot, however, be grasped by the ‘spurious infinity’ of mere ‘added connections’ (Und-Beziehungen) by which common sense links one object with another.
The relations must be apprehended in another way. They must be seen as created by the object’s own movement. The object must be understood as one that itself establishes and ‘itself puts forth the necessary relation of itself to its opposite’. This would presuppose that the object has a definite power over its own development so that it can remain itself in spite of the fact that every concrete stage of its existence is a ‘negation’ of itself, an ‘otherness’. The object, in other words, must be comprehended as a ‘subject’ in its relations to its ‘otherness’.
As an ontological category, the ‘subject’ is the power of an entity to ‘be itself in its otherness’ (Bei-sich-selbst-sein im Anderssein). Only such a mode of existence can incorporate the negative into the positive. Negative and positive cease to be opposed to each other when the driving power of the subject makes negativity a part of the subject’s own unity. Hegel says the subject ‘mediates’ (vermittelt) and ‘sublates’ (aufhebt) the negativity. In the process the object does not dissolve into its various qualitative or quantitative determinations, but is substantially held together throughout its relations with other objects.
This is the mode of being or existence that Hegel describes as ‘real infinity’. Infinity is not something behind or beyond finite things, but is their true reality. The infinite is the mode of existence in which all potentialities are realised and in which all being reaches its ultimate form.
The goal of the Logic is herewith set. It consists on the one hand in demonstrating the true form of such a final reality and, on the other, in showing how the concepts that try to grasp that reality are led to the conclusion that it is the absolute truth. Hegel announced in his criticism of the Kantian philosophy that the task of logic was ‘to develop’ the categories and not merely ‘to assemble’ them. Such an endeavour would be possible of fruition only if the objects of thought have a systematic order. That order, Hegel says, is derived from the fact that all modes of being attain their truth through the free subject that comprehends them in relation to its own rationality. The arrangement of the Logic reflects this systematic comprehension. It starts with the categories of immediate experience, which apprehend only the most abstract forms of objective being (of material things, that is), namely, Quantity, Quality, and Measure. These are the most abstract, since they view every object as externally determined by other objects. Simple connection prevails in this case because the various modes of being are here externally connected with each other and no being is comprehended as having an intrinsic relation to itself and to the other things with which it interacts. For example, an object is taken as constituting itself in the processes of attraction and repulsion. According to Hegel, this is an abstract and external interpretation of objectivity since the dynamic unity of a being is here conceived as the product of some blind natural forces over which it exercises no power. The categories of simple connection are thus farthest from any recognition of the substance as subject.
The categories Hegel treats in the second section of the Logic under the general title of Relation (Verhältnis) come one step closer to the goal. Substantiality, Causality, and Reciprocity do not denote abstract and incomplete entities (as did the categories of the first section), but real relations. A substance is what it is only in relation to its accidents. Likewise, a cause exists only in relation to its effects, and two interdependent substances only in their relation to each other. The connection is intrinsic. The substance – the all-embracing category of this group – denotes a movement much more intrinsic than the blind force of attraction and repulsion. It possesses a definite power over its accidents and effects, and through its own power it establishes its relation to other things, thus having the ability to unfold its own potentialities. It does not, however, possess knowledge of these potentialities and therefore does not possess the freedom of self-realisation. Substantiality still denotes a relation of objects, of material things, or, as Hegel says, a relation of being. To grasp the world in its veritable being we must grasp it with the categories of freedom, which are to be found only in the realm of the thinking subject. A transition is necessary from the relation of being to the relation of thought.
The latter relation refers to that between the particular and the universal in the notion, the judgment, and the syllogism. To Hegel, it is not a relation of formal logic, but an ontological relation, and the true relation of all reality. The substance of nature as well as history is a universal that unfolds itself through the particular. The universal is the natural process of the genus, realising itself through the species and individuals. In history, the universal is the substance of all development. The Greek city-state, modern industry, a social class – all these universalities are actual historical forces that cannot be dissolved into their components. On the contrary, the individual facts and factors obtain their meaning only through the universal to which they belong. The individual is determined not by his particular but by his universal qualities, for instance, by his being a Greek citizen, or a modern factory worker, or a bourgeois.
Universality, on the other hand, is no ‘relation of being’ since all being – as we have seen – is determinate and particular. It can be understood only as a ‘relation of thought’, that is, as the self-development of a comprehensive and comprehending subject.
In traditional philosophy, the category of universality has been treated as a part of logic, dealt with in the doctrine of the notion, the judgment and the syllogism. To Hegel, however, these logical forms and processes reflect and comprise the actual forms and processes of reality. We have already hinted at Hegel’s ontological interpretation of the notion and the judgment. Fundamental in this context is his treatment of the definition. Within the logical tradition, the definition is the relation of thought that grasps the universal nature of an object in its essential distinction from other objects. According to Hegel, the definition can do this only because it reproduces (mirrors) the actual process in which the object differentiates itself from other objects to which it is related. The definition must express, then, the movement in which a being maintains its identity through the negation of its conditions. In short, a real definition cannot be given in one isolated proposition, but must elaborate the real history of the object, for its history alone explains its reality. The real definition of a plant, for instance, must show the plant constituting itself through the destruction of the seed by the bud and of the bud by the blossom. It must tell how the plant perpetuates itself in its interaction and struggle with its environment. Hegel calls the definition ‘the self-preservation’ and explains this usage: ‘In defining living things their characteristics must be derived from the weapons of attack and defence with which these things preserve themselves from other particular things’.
In all these cases, thought seizes the real relations of the objective world and presents us with the knowledge of what the things are ‘in themselves’. These real relations thought has to ferret out because they are hidden by the appearance of things. For this reason, thought is more ‘real’ than its objects. Moreover, thought is the existential attribute of a being that ‘comprehends’ all objects, in the twofold sense that it understands and comprises them. The objective world comes to its true form n the world of the free subject, and the objective logic terminates in the subjective logic. In the jenenser system, the latter is treated in the section on Metaphysics. It expounds the categories and principles that comprehend all objectivity as the arena of the developing subject, that is, as the arena of reason.
The rough outlines we have provided of Hegel’s main ideas will be more clearly elaborated when we discuss the final system of logic. Hegel’s first logic already manifests the endeavour to break through the false fixity of our concepts and to show the driving contradictions that lurk in all modes of existence and call for a higher mode of thought. The Logic presents only the general form of the dialectic, in its application to the general forms of being. The more concrete applications appear in Hegel’s Realphilosophie, particularly in his social philosophy. We shall not dwell now on the difficult transition from the Logic and Metaphysics to the Philosophy of Nature (which will be discussed with the final logic), but shall pass directly to the jenenser Philosophy of Mind, which deals with the historical realisation of the free subject, man.
The history of the human world does not begin with the struggle between the individual and nature, since the individual is really a later product in human history. The community (Allgemeinheit) comes first, although in a ready-made, ‘immediate’ form. It is as yet not a rational community and does not have freedom as its quality. Consequently, it soon splits up into numerous antagonisms. Hegel calls this original unity in the historical world ‘consciousness’, thus re-emphasising that we have entered a realm in which everything has the character of the subject.
The first form consciousness assumes in history is not that of an individual but of a universal consciousness, perhaps best represented as the consciousness of a primitive group with all individuality submerged in the community. Feelings, sensations, and concepts are not properly the individual’s but are shared among all, so that the common and not the particular determines the consciousness. But even this unity contains opposition; consciousness is what it is only through its opposition to its objects. To be sure, these, as objects of consciousness, are ‘comprehended objects’ (begriffene Objekte), or objects that cannot be divorced from the subject. Their ‘being comprehended’ is part of their character as objects. Either side of the opposition, consciousness or its objects, thus has the form of subjectivity, as do all the other types of opposition in the realm of mind. The integration of the opposing elements can only be an integration within subjectivity.
The world of man develops, Hegel says, in a series of integrations of opposites. In the first stage, the subject and its object take the form of consciousness and its concepts; in the second stage, they appear as the individual in conflict with other individuals; and in the final stage they appear as the nation. The last stage alone represents the attainment of a lasting integration between subject and object; the nation has its object in itself; its effort is directed solely towards reproducing itself. Corresponding to the three stages are three different ‘media’ of integration: language, labour, and property.
Language is the medium in which the first integration between subject and object takes place. It is also the first actual community (Allgemeinheit), in the sense that it is objective and shared by all individuals. On the other hand, language is the first medium of individuation, for through it the individual obtains mastery over the objects he knows and names. A man is able to stake out his sphere of influence and keep others from it only when he knows his world, is conscious of his needs and powers, and communicates this knowledge to others. Language is thus also the first lever of appropriation.
Language, then, makes it possible for an individual to take a conscious position against his fellows and to assert his needs and desires against those of the other individuals. The resulting antagonisms are integrated through the process of labour, which also becomes the decisive force for the development of culture. The labour process is responsible for various types of integration, conditioning all the subsequent forms of community that correspond to these types: the family, civil society, and the state (the latter two terms appear only later in Hegel’s philosophy). Labour first unites individuals into the family, which appropriates as ‘family property’ – the objects that provide for its subsistence. The family, however, finds itself and its property among other property-owning families. The conflict that develops here is not between the individual and the objects of his desire, but between one group of individuals (a family) and other similar groups. The objects are already ‘appropriated’; they are the (actual or potential) property of individuals. The institutionalisation of private property signifies, to Hegel, that the ‘objects’ have finally been incorporated into the subjective world: the objects are no longer ‘dead things’, but belong, in their totality, to the sphere of the self-realisation of the subject. Man has toiled and organised them, and has thus made them part and parcel of his personality. Nature thus takes its place in the history of man, and history becomes essentially human history. All historical struggles become struggles between groups of property-owning individuals. This far-reaching conception completely influences the subsequent construction of the realm of mind.
With the advent of the various property-owning family units there begins a ‘struggle for mutual recognition’ of their rights. Since property is looked upon as an essential and constitutive element of individuality, the individual has to preserve and defend his property in order to maintain himself as an individual. The consequent life-and-death struggle, Hegel says, can come to an end only if the opposed individuals are integrated into the community of the nation (Volk).
This transition from family to nation corresponds roughly to the transition from ‘a state of nature’ to a state of civil society, as the political theories of the eighteenth century conceived it. Hegel’s interpretation of the ‘struggle for mutual recognition’ will be explained in our discussion of the Phenomenology of Mind, in which it becomes the entering wedge for freedom. The consequence of the struggle for mutual recognition is a first real integration that gives the groups or individuals in conflict an objective common interest. The consciousness that achieves this integration is again a universal (the Volksgeist), but its unity is no longer a primitive and ‘immediate’ one. It is rather a product of self-conscious efforts to make the existing antagonisms work in the interest of the whole. Hegel calls it a mediated (vermittelte) unity. The term mediation here manifests its concrete significance. The activity of mediation is no other than the activity of labour. Through his labour, man overcomes the estrangement between the objective world and the subjective world; he transforms nature into an appropriate medium for his self-development. When objects are taken and shaped by labour, they become part of the subject who is able to recognise his needs and desires in them. Through labour, moreover, man loses that atomic existence wherein he is, as an individual, opposed to all other individuals; he becomes a member of a community. The individual, by virtue of his labour, turns into a universal; for labour is of its very nature a universal activity: its product is exchangeable among all individuals.
In his further remarks on the concept of labour, Hegel actually describes the mode of labour characteristic of modern commodity production. Indeed, he comes close to the Marxian doctrine of abstract and universal labour. We encounter the first illustration of the fact that Hegel’s ontological notions are saturated with a social content expressive of a particular order of society.
Hegel states, ‘the individual satisfies his needs by his labour, but not by the particular product of his labour; the latter, to fill his needs, has to become something other than it is’. The particular object becomes a universal one in the process of labour – it becomes a commodity. The universality also transforms the subject of labour, the labourer, and his individual activity. He is forced to set aside his particular faculties and desires. Nothing counts in the distribution of the product of labour but ‘abstract and universal labour’. ‘The labour of each is, with regard to its content, universal for the needs of all’. Labour has ‘value’ only as such a ‘universal activity’ (allgemeine Tätigkeit): its value is determined by ‘what labour is for all, and not what it is for the individual’.
This abstract and universal labour is connected with concrete individual need through the ‘exchange relationships’ of the market. By virtue of the exchange, the products of labour are distributed among individuals according to the value of abstract labour. Hegel, therefore, calls exchange ‘the return to concreteness’; through it the concrete needs of men in society are fulfilled.
Hegel is obviously striving for an exact understanding of the function of labour in integrating the various individual activities into a totality of exchange relationships. He touches the sphere in which Marx later resumed the analysis of modern society. The concept of labour is not peripheral in Hegel’s system, but is the central notion through which he conceives the development of society. Driven by the insight that opened this dimension to him, Hegel describes the mode of integration prevailing in a commodity-producing society in terms that clearly foreshadow Marx’s critical approach.
He emphasises two points: the complete subordination of the individual to the demon of abstract labour, and the blind and anarchic character of a society perpetuated by exchange relationships. Abstract labour cannot develop the individual’s true faculties. Mechanisation, the very means that should liberate man from toil, makes him a slave of his labour. ‘The more he subjugates his labour, the more powerless he himself becomes’. The machine reduces the necessity of toil only for the whole, not for the individual. ‘The more mechanised labour becomes, the less value it has, and the more the individual must toil’. ‘The value of labour decreases in the same proportion as the productivity of labour increases ... The faculties of the individual are infinitely restricted, and the consciousness of the factory worker is degraded to the lowest level of dullness’. While labour thus changes from the self-realisation of the individual into his self-negation, the relation between the particular needs and labour, and between the needs and the labour of the whole, takes the form of ‘an incalculable, blind interdependence’. The integration of conflicting individuals through abstract labour and exchange thus establishes ‘a vast system of commonality and mutual interdependence, a moving life of the dead. This system moves hither and yon in a blind and elementary way, and like a wild animal calls for strong permanent control and curbing’.
The tone and pathos of the descriptions point strikingly to Marx’s Capital. It is not surprising to note that Hegel’s manuscript breaks off with this picture, as if he was terrified by what his analysis of the commodity-producing society disclosed. The last sentence, however, finds him formulating a possible way out. He elaborates this in the Realphilosophie of 1804-5. The wild animal must be curbed, and such a process requires the organisation of a strong state.
Hegel’s early political philosophy is reminiscent of the origins of political theory in modern society. Hobbes also founded his Leviathan State upon the otherwise unconquerable chaos, the bellum omnium contra omnes, of individualistic society. Between Hobbes and Hegel, however, lies the period in which the absolutist state had unleashed the economic forces of capitalism, and in which political economy had uncovered some of the mechanisms of the capitalist labour process. Hegel had indulged in a study of political economy. His analysis of civil society got to the root structure of modern society and presented elaborate critical analysis, whereas Hobbes got and used intuitive insight. And even more, Hegel discovered in the upsurge of the French Revolution principles that pointed beyond the given framework of individualist society. The ideas of reason and freedom, of a unity between the common and the particular interest, denoted, for him, values that could not be sacrificed to the state. He struggled all his life to render them consonant with the necessity of ‘controlling and curbing’. His attempts to solve the problem are manifold, and the final triumph goes not to the Leviathan, but to the rational state under the rule of law.
The second Jenenser Realphilosophie goes on to discuss the manner in which civil society is integrated with the state. Hegel discusses the political form of this society under the heading of ‘Constitution’. Law (Gesetz) changes the blind totality of exchange relations into the consciously regulated apparatus of the state. The picture of the anarchy and confusion of civil society is painted in even darker colours than before.
[The individual] is subject to the complete confusion and hazard of the whole. A mass of the population is condemned to the stupefying, unhealthy and insecure labour of factories, manufactories, mines, and so on. Whole branches of industry which supported a large bulk of the population suddenly fold up because the mode changes or because the values of their products fall on account of new inventions in other countries, or for other reasons. Whole masses are thus abandoned to helpless poverty. The conflict between vast wealth and vast poverty steps forth, a poverty unable to improve its condition. Wealth becomes ... a predominant power. Its accumulation takes place partly by chance, partly through the general mode of distribution ... Acquisition develops into a many-sided system which ramifies into fields from which smaller business cannot profit. The utmost abstractness of labour reaches into the most individual types of work and continues to widen its sphere. This inequality of wealth and poverty, this need and necessity turn into the utmost dismemberment of will, inner rebellion and hatred.
But Hegel now stresses the positive aspect of this degrading reality. ‘This necessity which means complete hazard for the individual existence is at the same time the preservative. The State power intervenes; it must see to it that every particular sphere [of life] is sustained, it must search out new outlets, must open channels of trade in foreign lands, and so on ...’ The ‘hazard’ that prevails in society is not mere chance, but the very process by which the whole reproduces its own existence and that of each of its members. The exchange relations of the market provide the necessary integration without which isolated individuals would perish in the competitive conflict. The terrible struggles within the commodity-producing society are ‘better’ than those between wholly unrestricted individuals and groups – ‘better’, because they take place on a higher level of historical development and imply a mutual recognition of individual rights. The ‘contract’ (Vertrag) expresses this recognition as a social reality. Hegel views the contract as one of the foundations of modern society; the society is actually a framework of contracts between individuals. (We shall see, however, that he later takes great pains to restrict the validity of contracts to the sphere of civil society – that is, to the economic and social relations – and to exclude them as having a function between states.) The assurance that a relation or a performance is secured by a contract – and that the contract will be kept under all circumstances – alone makes the relations and performances in a commodity-producing society calculable and rational. ‘My word must be good not for moral reasons’, but because society presupposes that there are mutual obligations on the part of its members. I do my work under the condition that another does likewise. If I break my word, I break the very contract of society and not only hurt a particular person but the community; I place myself outside of the whole which can alone fulfil my right as an individual. Therefore, says Hegel, ‘the universal is the substance of the contract’. Contracts not only regulate individual performance, but the operation of the whole. The contract treats individuals as free and equal; at the same time it considers each not in his contingent particularity but in his ‘universality’, as a homogeneous part of the whole. This identity of the particular and the universal is, of course, not yet realised. The proper potentialities of individuals are, as Hegel has pointed out before, far from preserved in civil society. Consequently, force must stand behind every contract. The threatened application of force, and not his own voluntary recognition, binds the individual to his contract. The contract thus involves the possibility of breach of the contract and the revolt of the individual against the whole. Crime signifies the act of revolt, and punishment is the mechanism through which the whole restores its right over the rebellious individual. The recognition of the rule of law represents that stage of integration in which the individual reconciles himself with the whole. The rule of law differs from the rule of contracts in so far as it takes into account ‘the self of the individual in his existence as well as in his knowledge’. The individual knows that he can exist only by force of the law, not only because it protects him, but because he sees it to represent the common interest, which, in the last analysis, is the sole guarantee of his self-development. Individuals perfectly free and independent, yet united in a common interest – this is the proper notion of the law. The individual is ‘confident’ that he finds ‘himself, his essence’ in the law and that the law preserves and sustains his essential potentialities.
Such a conception presupposes a state whose laws really manifest the free will of associated individuals, as if they had assembled and decided upon the best legislation for their common interest. The law could not otherwise express the will of each and at the same time ‘the general will’. Given that common decision, the law would be a true identity between the individual and the whole. Hegel’s conception of law envisages such a society; he is describing a goal to be attained and not a prevailing condition.
The gap between ideal and reality, however, narrows slowly. The more realistic Hegel’s attitude towards history becomes, the more he endows the present with the greatness of the future ideal. But whatever the outcome of Hegel’s struggle between philosophical idealism and political realism, his philosophy will not accept any state that does not operate by the rule of law. He can accept a ‘power state’, but only in so far as the freedom of the individuals prevails therein and the state’s power enhances their proper power.
The individual can be free only as a political being. Hegel thus resumes the classical Greek conception that the Polis represents the true reality of human existence. Accordingly, the final unification of the social antagonisms is achieved not by the reign of law, but by the political institutions that embody the law: by the state proper. What is the form of government that best safeguards this embodiment and is therefore the highest form of unity between the part and the whole?
Preliminary to his answer of this question, Hegel sketches the origin of the state and the historical roles of tyranny, democracy, and monarchy. He repudiates the theory of the social contract on the ground that it assumes that ‘the general will’ is operative in the isolated individuals prior to their entry into the state. As against the social contract theory he stresses that ‘the general will’ can arise only out of a long process, which culminates in the final regulation of the social antagonisms. The general will is the result and not the origin of the state; the state originates through an ‘outside force’ that impels the individuals against their will. Thus, ‘all states are founded through the illustrious power of great men’. And Hegel adds, ‘not by physical force’. The great founders of the state had in their personality something of the historic power that coerces mankind to follow out its own course and to progress thereby; these personalities reflect and bear the higher knowledge and the higher morality of history even if they as individuals are not conscious of it, or even if they are driven by quite other motives. The idea which Hegel is here introducing appears later to be the Weltgeist.
The earliest state is of necessity a tyranny. The state forms Hegel now describes have both a historical and a normative order: tyranny is the earliest and the lowest, hereditary monarchy the latest and highest form. Again, the standard by which the state is evaluated is the success it has in producing a proper integration of individuals into the whole. Tyranny integrates individuals by negating them. But it does have one positive result: it disciplines them, teaches them to obey. Obeying the person of the ruler is preparatory to obeying the law. The people overthrow tyranny because it is abject, detestable, and so on; in reality, however, because it has become superfluous. Tyranny ceases to be historically necessary once the discipline has been accomplished. It is then succeeded by the rule of law, that is, by democracy.
Democracy represents a real identity between the individual and the whole; the government is one with all the individuals, and their will expresses the interest of the whole. The individual pursues his own particular interest, hence he is the ‘bourgeois’; but he also occupies himself with the needs and tasks of the whole, hence he is the citoyen .
Hegel illustrates democracy by reference to the Greek city-state. There, the unity between the individual and the general will was still fortuitous; the individual had to yield to the majority, which was accidental in its turn. Such a democracy therefore could not represent the ultimate unity between the individual and the whole. ‘The beautiful and happy freedom of the Greeks’ integrated individuals into an ‘immediate’ unity only, founded on nature and feeling rather than on the conscious intellectual and moral organisation of society. Mankind had to advance to a higher form of the state beyond this one, to a form in which the individual unites himself freely and consciously with others into a community that in turn preserves his real essence.
The best guardian of such a unity, in Hegel’s opinion, is hereditary monarchy. The person of the monarch represents the whole elevated above all special interests; monarch by birth, he rules, as it were, ‘by nature’, untouched by the antagonisms of society. He is, therefore, the most stable and enduring ‘point’ in the movement of the whole. ‘Public opinion’ is the tie that binds the spheres of life and controls their course. The state is neither an enforced nor a natural Unity, but a rational organisation of society through its various ‘estates’. In each estate the individual indulges his own specific activity and yet serves the community. Each estate has its particular place, its consciousness, and its morality, but the estates terminate in the ‘universal’ estate, that is, in the state functionaries who attend to nothing except the general interest. The functionaries are elected and each ‘sphere [town, guild, and so on] administers its own affairs’.
More important than these details are the questions, What qualities does hereditary monarchy possess that justify its place of honour in the philosophy of mind? How does this state form fulfil the principles that guided the construction of that philosophy? Hegel looked upon hereditary monarchy as the Christian state par excellence, or, more strictly, as the Christian state that came into being with the German Reformation. To him this state was the embodiment of the principle of Christian liberty, which proclaimed the freedom of man’s inner conscience and his equality before God. Hegel thought that without this inner freedom the outer freedom democracy was supposed to institute and protect was of no avail. The German Reformation represented to his mind the great turning point in history that came with the pronouncement that the individual was really free only when he had become self-conscious of his inalienable autonomy. – Protestantism had established this self-consciousness, and shown that Christian liberty implied, in the sphere of the social reality, submission and obedience to the divine hierarchy of the state. We shall deal further with this matter when we reach the Philosophy of Right.
One question still to be answered affects the whole structure of Hegel’s system. The historical world, in so far as it is built, organised, and shaped by the conscious activity of thinking subjects, is a realm of mind. But the mind is fully realised and exists in its true form only when it indulges in its proper activity, namely, in art, religion, and philosophy. These domains of culture are, then, the final reality, the province of ultimate truth. And this is precisely Hegel’s conviction: the absolute mind lives only in art, religion, and philosophy. All three have the same content in a different form: Art apprehends the truth by mere intuition (Anschauung), in a tangible and therefore limited form; Religion perceives it free of such limitation, but only as mere ‘assertion’ and belief; Philosophy comprehends it through knowledge and possesses it as its inalienable property. On the other hand, these spheres of culture exist only in the historical development of mankind, and the state is the final stage of this development. What, then, is the relation between the state and the realm of absolute mind? Does the rule of the state extend over art, religion, and philosophy, or is it rather limited by them?
The problem has been frequently discussed. It has been pointed out that Hegel’s attitude underwent several changes, that he was first inclined to elevate the state above the cultural spheres, that he then coordinated it with or even subordinated it to them, and that he then returned to the original position, the predominance of the state. There are apparent contradictions in Hegel’s statements on this point even within the same philosophical period. In the second Jenenser Realphilosophie he declares that the absolute mind ‘is at first the life of a nation in general; however, the Mind has to free itself from this life’, and he says, moreover, ‘that with art, religion, and philosophy, the absolute free Mind ... produces a different world, one in which it has its proper form, where its work is accomplished, and where the Mind attains the intuition of its own as its own’. Contrary to these statements, Hegel says in his discussion of the relation between religion and the state that ‘the government stands above all; it is the Mind which knows itself as the universal essence and reality ...’ Furthermore, he calls the state ‘the reality of the kingdom of heaven ... The State is the spirit of reality, whatever appears within the State must conform to it’. The meaning of these contradictions and their possible solution can be made clear only through an understanding of the constitutive role of history in Hegel’s system. Here, we shall attempt but a preliminary explanation.
Hegel’s first system already reveals the outstanding traits of his philosophy, especially its emphasis on the universal as the true being. We indicated in our introduction the socio-historical roots of this ‘universalism’, showing that its base was the lack of a ‘community’ in individualist society. Hegel remained faithful to the heritage of the eighteenth century and incorporated its ideals into the very structure of his philosophy. He insisted that the ‘truly universal’ was a community that preserved and fulfilled the demands of the individual. One might interpret his dialectic as the philosophic attempt to reconcile his ideals with an antagonistic social reality. Hegel recognised the great forward surges that must be generated by the prevailing order of society – the development of material as well as cultural productivity; the destruction of obsolete power relations that hampered the advance of mankind; and the emancipation of the individual so that he might be the free subject of his life. When he stated that every ‘immediate unity’ (which does not imply an opposition between its component parts) is, with regard to the possibilities of human development, inferior to a unity produced by integrating real antagonisms, he was thinking of the society of his own time. The reconciliation of the individual and the universal seemed impossible without the full unfolding of those antagonisms which push the prevailing forms of life to a point where they openly contradict their content. Hegel has described this process in his picture of modern society.
The actual conditions of modern society are the strongest instance of dialectic in history. There is no doubt that these conditions, however they might be justified on tire ground of economic necessity, contradict the ideal of freedom. The highest potentialities of mankind lie in the rational union of free individuals, that is, in the universal and not in fixed particularities. The individual can hope to fulfil himself only if he is a free member of a real community.
The enduring quest for such a community amidst the haunting terror of an anarchic society is at the back of Hegel’s insistence upon the intrinsic connection between truth and universality. He was thinking of the fulfilment of that quest when he designated the true universality as the end of the dialectical process and as the final reality. Time and again, the concrete social implications of the concept of universality break through his philosophic formulations, and the picture of an association of free individuals united in a common interest comes clearly to light. We quote the famous passage in the Aesthetics:
True independence consists alone in the unity and in the interpenetration of both the individuality and the universality with each other. The universal acquires through the individual its concrete existence, and the subjectivity of the individual and particular discovers in the universal the unassailable basis and the most genuine form of its reality ...
In the Ideal [state], it is precisely the particular individuality which ought to persist in inseparable harmony with the substantive totality, and to the full extent that freedom and independence of the subjectivity may attach to the Ideal the world-environment of conditions and relations should possess no essential objectivity apart from the subject and the individual.
The Philosophy of Mind, and in fact the whole of the Hegelian system, is a portrayal of the process whereby ‘the individual becomes universal’ and whereby ‘the construction of universality’ takes place.