Monday, September 10, 2012

Hegel & the big state

The Democrats in America ran a video at their convention claiming that government is the only thing we all belong to.

That reminded me of an earlier philosophy in which the state was the supreme focus, namely that of the German philosopher Hegel.

According to Stephen Hicks, Hegel believed that God worked through His purposes through the state. Therefore "the State is the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth." So freedom for man was achieving unity with ultimate reality by furthering the purposes of the state.

Hence the following four quotes from Hegel:
It must further be understood that all the worth which the human being possesses—all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State.

...this final end [of the state] has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the state.

One must worship the state as a terrestrial divinity.

But though we might tolerate the idea that individuals, their desires and the gratification of them, are thus 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 to an ulterior end.

Hicks also provides some evidence for the influence of this kind of thinking on later generations of Germans:
Otto Braun, age 19, a volunteer who died in WW I, wrote in a letter to his parents: “My inmost yearning, my purest, though most secret flame, my deepest faith and my highest hope—they are still the same as ever, and they all bear one name: the State. One day to build the state like a temple, rising up pure and strong, resting in its own weight, severe and sublime, but also serene like the gods and with bright halls glistening in the dancing brilliance of the sun—this, at bottom, is the end and goal of my aspirations”.

I don't know how fair a summary of Hegel's thought is provided here by Hicks. But it does seem to explain some things.

If Hegel ran this kind of argument in opposition to the Anglo liberalism of his times, then we can see why Anglo liberals stress some of the things they do.

For instance, my own father believes fervently that there is no such thing as duty. It has always struck me as an odd thing to believe, particularly considering that he is a conscientious man. But if the political tradition he identifies with is aimed against German Hegelianism, and this Hegelianism holds that we have a supreme duty to worship and sacrifice for the state, then perhaps this helped to make the concept of duty suspect.

Similarly, Anglo liberals talk all the time about individuals being ends in themselves. Again, in the Christian and traditionalist views they are also ends in themselves, so I've wondered at times why Anglo liberals focus on this. But if a German Hegelianism held that human freedom was served by a subordination of the individual to the state, and that the purposes of the state justified sacrificing individuals, then you can  understand perhaps why a marker of belief for Anglo liberals was the idea of individuals being ends in themselves.

In other words, it might be possible that Anglo liberals got stuck in a political identity formed in opposition to German Hegelianism. If true, this is another sad reminder of how marginalised traditionalism has been in Western intellectual debates. Of the two sides to choose from, neither appears to be anywhere near to what a traditionalist would argue.


  1. Always a pleasure to read you; you have a real talent for clarity. One could maybe sum up the problem you are addressing by saying that a traditionalist believes the state, as a principle which ultimately defines our duties, lacks depth, is inauthentic or fabricated, unnatural so to speak, and therefore forces man away from himself, from what he really is. What I would call culture, in contrast, has been part of man since the mists of time, and as such can be recognized as a transcendent order without impairing man’s freedom, dignity or even identity. Of course culture is classically opposed to nature, which for a liberal-minded person means that it is a superficial set of arbitrary rules and distinctions; but from a traditionalist point of view, culture is opposed to the modern-day social contract, and from that perspective can be said to be almost as deeply rooted as nature.

  2. Yannick, thank you. I won't respond directly to your formulation until I've had time to consider it better, but put very simply a traditionalist sees the existence of a particular people as being more significant in terms of identity and belonging than that of the state. We don't belong to or identify with the state, but with an historic people. A Frenchman isn't French because he happens to pays taxes to, and come under the jurisdiction of, the French state. He is French because he is part of an historic French people, defined by history, kinship, language, culture, mores and so on. Nor is it ultimately the state we make sacrifices for; our duties are to our family, our community, our nation, our church and so on.

  3. The state is the political apparatus of the nation. Or at least it used to be. Now the state has taken on a life of its own and become the enemy of the nation.

    In Australia and other Western countries, the state has launched a war against the nation. By opening our borders to mass immigration from all over the world and redefining Australia as a "multicultural society", the self-legitimating, managerial state has undermined the cultural and demographic foundations of the historic Australian nation. As a result, Australia is becoming a state without a nation.

    As Andrew Fraser wrote:

    "Today, Australia's still predominantly Anglo-Celtic political class also rejects as "racist" any suggestion that the nation possesses a core, British ethnocultural identity. Contemporary Australian citizenship is grounded not in ethnicity but in bureaucratic paperwork. Our rulers are dissolving the old Anglo-Australian nation to put a newly disaggregated, polyethnic and multi-racial people in its place."

  4. As rd puts it, the problem is that the modern state has not only distinguished itself from the nation, but defined itself against it, as it's ennemy. This is the result of a process that began at least the 1960s, and seems to be based on the genereal assumption that culture is unimportant, superficial, and basically false; what is held to be true is some universal, abstract conception of man as an individual above all else. It seems to me that multiculturalism, paradoxically, is based on the idea that culture does not matter at all; in essence, it is not favorable to the diversity of cultures, since it implies that "deep down inside, we are all alike".

  5. I like what everyone has said in this thread so far, especially this comment and statement:

    Mark Richardson Tuesday, 11 September 2012 7:18:00 AM AEST: "Nor is it ultimately the state we make sacrifices for; our duties are to our family, our community, our nation, our church and so on."

    I emphasize race, because the White race is under a genocidal attack, and where a walled city is breached in a siege, that is where you have to fight or lose everything. But for a really correct understanding of where our loyalties lie "it's all about race" is a distortion. A true understanding of where our loyalties should lie, and why loyalty, rootedness and the right sort of obligation are good things must emphasize the mix of things that rightly have claims on us, and not just say "this is it".

    This is only possible if one interprets these woven-together obligations as mutually supporting to a considerable extent.

    I think there's basically two other ways to go, and one of them leads to the kind of over-reaction we've seen in the past, where one vital good is seriously threatened, and people make that all-important, sacrificing goods that ought not to have been sacrificed and leading to a further reaction.

    The other way is, we don't fight hard or wisely enough for what is under threat now, or we are not lucky enough, and that's all for us. There is no natural, inevitable back-and forth; since the Hittites were destroyed by mass immigration, if not before, lots of interesting, worthy peoples have just been destroyed. There was no higher synthesis, just no more Hittites. And in the same way there can be no more Australians, no more Americans, or even no more Whites. (And with no more of us, no more of what we do. Survey your book-shelves and subtract everything that Whites had a hand in creating, in art, in technology and science, in music, in community and the understanding of justice, and in more things than anyone could say. That could be the future, a world in which that uniquely creative White light has gone out.)

    It's important to win with a more balanced, civilized, comprehensive understanding of what is to be preserved. But win.

  6. It is easy to grow misty-eyed when viewing the foundation of the U.S.A., but the Federal Constitution certainly exhibits the founder's deep distrust of the Federal Government. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed as an iron cage to confine the beast. Not strong enough, as it happens, but it does show that fear of the overweening state predates Hegel.

    But the modern, liberal individualist you describe, Mark, does not fear the state. He or she has been conditioned to fear other people--especially conservatives who would like to take away their "rights" to live as they please. In their mind the state is the guarantor of liberty. When they think of the state and its laws, they think of restrictions that prevent other people from interfering with their, the liberal individualist's, life. They think of the state as a big brother who will protect them from bullies, not as an entity that can bully like no other.

    The result of all this is that the modern liberal individualist is not independent or free in the classical sense, but rather stands in a sort of feudal relation to the state. The state is his protector and patron, and without the steady succor of the state, his precious "autonomy" would not exist.


  7. Yes JMSmith, what you say regarding liberals not being suspicious about the state is true, and ironic to say the least. I don't know if it's the case with your father, Mark; but my own parents belong to the very visible and noisy generation born just after WW II who effectively tore down the old world to replace it with what we see today. When the tearing down was taking place, it was all about individual desires and sexual freedom and pleasures and rock & roll and freeing oneself from the old cultural order. But once that old cultural order was actually destroyed and there was nothing left, the state replaced it, of course, and has been perceived by the noisy countercultural movement as an ally or a protector. The young pot-smokers of yesterday are now retired and don't see the contradiction; they embrace the state with fervor as long as it stays culturally "empty", shows no sign of loyalty to the distant past, encourages the ongoing festivities and finances false liberal subversion designed to make everyone believe that the old order still oppresses us.

  8. JMSmith,

    Yes, you're correct that most liberals nowadays, particularly in the US sense of the term (what we would could left-liberals in Australia) see things in terms of the individual and the state. You described very well the typical modern liberal attitude to the state.

    I guess what I was trying to flesh out was an idea that there was a classical Anglo variety of liberalism that held together, in part, in opposition to a continental Hegelian influenced one.

    I'm not suggesting that the lines of demarcation were entirely distinct. J.S.Mill was influenced by and seemed to have been tempted by a continental approach, but never seemed to entirely embrace it and by the late 1800s there were "new liberals" in England who went on to develop into a modern left-liberalism.

    I just wonder if after a couple of major wars against Germany that in my father's formative years in the 1950s that the right-liberalism of the time wasn't still focused on being against a Hegelian type of thinking.

  9. An idea I first encountered in Eric Voegelin is that Liberalism was just a phase in a larger process of cultural transformation. It was the critical, negative, destructive phase that destroyed traditional religion, morality, and politics. Once the demolition is accomplished, a second, positive phase began establishing a new religion, morality, and politics.

    Voegelin talks about it this way in From Enlightenment to Revolution . He says that Comte’s liberal supporters were shocked by the Systéme de Politique Positive (1848) because they were happy with the purely negative demolition he had accomplished in the Cours de Philosophie, and were “ready to settle down in the ruins.” Men like Mill and Littré were “liberals who feel comfortable precisely in the fragmentary civilization,” and did not see, as Comte did, that new objects of allegiance must rise up to satisfy man’s religious instinct. This is why classical liberals become conservatives as the process of cultural transformation proceeds.