Hegel Freedom and Authority

Hegel Freedom and Authority. Hegel’s critique of individualism was directed against two different conceptions. In the first place he identified individualism with the provincialism and particular-ism which had prevented Germany from achieving modern national statehood.

This national trait he attributed largely to the influence of Luther, who had made Christian liberty a mystical independence of the soul from all secular conditions. In the second place Hegel identified individualism with Jacobinism, the violence, fanaticism, terrorism, and atheism of the French Revolution.

This type of individualism he attributed to philosophical rationalism. The common fallacy in both types he found in the detachment of the human being from his position in and dependence upon an organized society in which he has a part to play, duties to perform and the status belonging to such a position.

Considered by himself the individual is merely capricious, an animal governed by brute instinct, as Rousseau had said, with no rule of action higher than his own impulses, appetites, and inclinations and with no rule of thought higher than his subjective fancies.

To be correctly understood the individual must be regarded as a member of society. But in the modern world he must be regarded also as a member of the state. For the national state, together with Protestant Christianity, is the unique achievement of modern civilization, which has learned to combine the highest authority with the highest degree and form of freedom for its citizens.

The essence of the modern state is that the universal be bound up with the complete freedom of its members and with private well-being.

Hegel identified this highest form of state not only as Protestant but also as “Germanic.”

Individualism in both its mystical and its rationalist form merely posits the individual, as soul or as rational being, without regard for the historical conditions which have produced him or the social and economic conditions without which his religious and moral and rational nature cannot support itself. It falsifies both the nature of the individual and the nature of society.

It falsifies the first because the individual’s spirituality and rationality are the creations of a social life Hegel accepted them as metaphysical beings, but not in the way that by theology or rationalism had imagined them; they are moments or phases of the World Spirit, which has created them in its immanent development.

But individualism falsifies the nature of social institutions, because it regards them as accidental and indifferent to the moral and spiritual development of personality, as merely utilitarian aids invented to satisfy men’s irrational desires. This is historically false, for language, government, law, and religion are not invented but grow. It is also ethically false because it sets freedom off again the restraints imposed upon the inclinations by custom, law, and government.

These are conceived as burdens which in the interest of liberty must be reduced to a minimum and which ideally might be reduced to no restraint at all in a Golden Age or state of nature which would permit everyone to do as he liked. But the Golden age is historically a fiction and morally and politically it would be simply anarchy, which is not freedom but despotism.

This critique of natural rights and of individualist liberalism was, of course, dialectical. Hegel knew as well as anyone that neither Locke nor any other serious exponent of the theory had believed civilization as such to be foreign to or repressive of individual freedom, however oppressive a given society might be.

The criticism developed what Hegel regarded as an implicit contradiction in Locke’s philosophy. In point of fact it is much more effective if it is understood as calling attention to a neglected aspect of social psychology and social ethics, It amounted to pointing out the important fact that the psychological structure of individual personality is intimately related to the structure of the society in which a person lives and to his position in that society, The laws, customs, institutions, and moral valuations of a people

reflect its mentality, but they also shape that mentality and continuously reshape it as they develop. The individual’s moral and even his intellectual outlook is inseparable from that of the society of which he is a unit and from the relationships within that society in which he participates through citizenship, social class, or religious affiliation. Thus, for example, in his account of civil society Hegel protested against identifying economic wants with biological needs.

Wants are really states of mind and are therefore dependent upon social interpretation, the economic system, the accepted mode of life in a social class, and moral valuations. The essence of pauperism, he said, consists in social rejection and loss of self-respect; poverty “does not of itself make a pauper. It depends upon the estimation in which the poor man is held and in which he holds himself.

In England, even the very poorest believe that they have rights; this is very different from what satisfies the poor in other countries. Once society is established, poverty immediately takes the form of a wrong done to one class by another.

Passages such as this obviously contain the germ of Marx’s theory that ideology depends on social position. Hegel’s argument suggested an economic interpretation of social position, though it did not imply an exclusively economic interpretation.

It did imply, however, that society, or perhaps more properly culture, is an indispensable category for explaining human behavior. The culmination of this idea is to be found not only in Marx but in all present-day social psychology and cultural anthropology.

Hegel; however, was less concerned with psychology and sociology than with ethical and political theories of individual freedom. Freedom, he believed, must be understood as a social phenomenon, a property of the social system which arises through the moral development of the community.

It is less an individual endowment than a status which is imparted to the individual through legal and ethical institutions that the community supports. In consequence it cannot be equated with self-will or the following of private inclinations. Freedom consists rather in the adjustment of inclination and individual capacity to the performance of socially significant work; or as F. H. Bradley put it, in finding my station and its duties.

It is these which impart moral worth to inclination, for no claim to liberty or happiness can be morally defended except as desire coincides with some phase of the general good and is supported by the general will. The individual’s rights and liberties are those which correspond to the duties imposed by his station in society. Even private happiness requires the dignity that attaches to social status and the consciousness of having a share in socially valuable work.

Hegel always believed that self-consciousness peruse is painful, a mark of frustration and futility. This conception of happiness, and of the rights and duties essential to it, clearly depended in part, as had Rousseau’s, upon the classical revival. Hegel’s theory of free citizenship, like that of Plato and Aristotle, ran not in terms of private rights but of social functions.

But as Hegel imagined, the development of Christian morals and of citizenship in the modern State made possible a more complete synthesis of personal right and public duty than had been possible in a society that depended on slavery. In the modern state all are free, and in their service to it they can find ideally the highest form of self-realization. In the state the negative freedom of self-will is supplanted by the real freedom of citizenship.

The dialectical form of Hegel’s argument was largely responsible for the paradoxical consequences that he drew from this contrast of freedom and real freedom. The theory becomes merely a play of logical abstractions. Thus Hegel characteristically equated individual choice with caprice, sentimentality, or fanaticism, thus obscuring the fact, which is fundamentally important both for psychology and ethics, that no actual human being ever regards his desires, however fleeting or however profound, as all on the same level of importance or allows them the same weight in affecting his behavior.

Corresponding to this undiscriminating estimate of individual motives, civil society wag described by Hegel as a realm of mechanical necessity, a resultant of the irrational forces of individual desire, which is governed by laws, particularly on its economic side, that he likened to the laws of planetary motion.

Thus society considered apart from the state was represented as governed by non-moral causal laws and hence as ethically anarchically. The result was, so to speak, a criticism of individualism by caricature the individual was pictured as controlled by self-seeking motives and social motives were denied to him, while society without the state was pictured as a mechanical balancing of these non-moral drives.

It easily followed, of course, that the state, which overrules the anarchy of civil society, was credited with being the only genuinely moral factor in the entire social process. It monopolized moral purposes simply by definition, because these had been excluded analytically from individual personality and from society. Obviously, therefore, the state ought to be absolute since it and it alone embodies ethical values. Obviously also the individual attains moral dignity and freedom only as he devotes himself to the service of the state.

Just what this logical tour de force would have meant if Hegel had translated it in to actual civil rights and liberties is difficult if not impossible to say. His statements about concrete political rights were vague to the last degree and were often flatly inconsistent with one another.

Starting as he did with the assumption that individual choice is merely capricious, he fell easily into the implication that private judgment, even conscience, is merely a superficial thing. From passages such as this it might be inferred that he regarded duty as simply obedience, or that good citizenship consisted for him in merely conforming to the existing state of affairs and the rules that governments lay down.

In the Preface to the Philosophy of Right he apparently denied to political philosophy even the right to criticize the state. Again, starting from the general proposition that individual good requires the finding of a significant station in society, he often spoke as if no genuine conflict of interest could ever arise between individuals and the society to which they belong.

Yet from another point of view Hegel’s whole social philosophy depended upon the personal frustration that he believe must result from a society that gives its members no significant work to do. In spite of his tendency to idealize the Prussian monarchy, Hegel was in fact a sharp or even a bitter critic of the actual state of German politics. As an historian he admired the successful iconoclast rather than the conformist.

Quite certainly Hegel believed that, in some way which he never made clear, modern constitutional government creates a higher kind of personal liberty and respects more highly the individual’s independence and right of self determination than any form of government in the past. Quite certainly also he believed that this implied respect for human rights rather than merely the safeguarding of a functioning unit of society.

A man counts as a man in virtue of his manhood alone, not because he is a. Jew, Catholic, Protestant, German, Italian, etc.

But the belief that man as a man has value is certainly incompatible with the belief that his moral judgments are merely capricious or that his value is derived from his station in a society whose moral end is supplied by a national state.

The same kind of uncertainty and confusion attends the meaning of Hegel’s belief that the state embodies the highest values. Even on metaphysical grounds, where he chose to place the question, it is not clear how any single state, which after all is only one manifestation of the World Spirit, could include all the values of art and religion, or account for the transference of these values from one national culture to another.

Hegel’s statements about art and religion were in fact notably inconsistent. Sometimes he regarded them as creations of the national spirit, yet he certainly did not consider Christianity to be the prerogative of any single nation, nor did he believe that art and literature are always exclusively national.

On the other hand there was, from his point of view, no general European or human society to which they could belong, since a modern culture without a state would be a contradiction in terms. This confusion probably accounted for the fact that, on a concrete political level, Hegel had nothing clear to say about the relation of churches to the state or about freedom of conscience, though he certainly did not believe in religious coercion.

His hostile estimate of Roman Catholicism and of German pietism and his admiration for Lutheran Protestantism were equally uncritical. No clear line of thought connected the metaphysical supremacy attributed to the state with the political functions of an actual government. Consequently Hegel’s theory of freedom implied nothing definite in the way of civil or political liberties. The idealization of the state and the low moral estimate of civil society, however, combined to make political authoritarianism inevitable.

More Read from Hegel: Dialectic and Nationalism:-

  1. The Historical Method of Dialectic & Nationalism
  2. Dialectic and Historical Necessity
  3. Individualism and the Theory of the State
  4. The State and Civil Society
  5. The Later Significance of Hegelianism