Individual Freedom and State Supremacy

One of the most fundamental issues concerning the formation of society, government, and federations is the lines of individual freedom verses government power. For the States and United States, there are no two philosophical schools of thought more influential on this matter than the philosophies of the Enlightenment period and Georg Hegel. As shown inPart 1, the United States was emphatically founded on Enlightenment philosophy; but in the late 1800s, Hegel’s philosophy greatly influenced and controlled the minds and actions of American law, politics, and education. However, the two philosophies are hardly compatible and form completely different structures of governance. When both are used by American politicians, collision is inevitable.

Hegel Philosophy

According to Hegel, the existence of “freedom” has its foundation in the “origin in the will” (Georg Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Ed. University of Chicago, Trnsl. T.M. Knox, [Encyclopedia Britannica, Oxford University Press, 1952], 12). The will goes through a process leading to self-consciousness; thus, to “posit any content in himself by his own effort” (13). Hegel calls the destination of this process “individuality” (14). From this individuality, the will creates specific determinations and seeks to realize them (15). In short, the individual attempts to accomplish in real life what his will desires.

Hegel claims that for the individual to objectify his will, his subjective determinations must be made “universal” through an objective forum (17-18), or else, his will remains in a non-rational condition—like an animal. Hegel says, “the absolute goal…of free mind is to make its freedom its object, i.e. to make freedom objective as much in the sense that freedom shall be the rational system of mind, as in the sense that this system shall be the world of immediate actuality” (18). In a word, subjective freedom must have a rational method through which to objectify or make real his freedom. Hegel calls this kind of freedom,Moral Freedom, Idea of Freedom, and Ethical Life.

Hegel determines that this individual realizes this moral freedom through the State. Hegel says, “[t]he State is the actuality of the ethical Idea.” (80). To Hegel, the State is the only means through which individual freedom has any objectivity. He reasons in this manner, “Whoever wills to act in this world of actuality has eo ipso [by the thing itself] submitted himself to its laws and recognized the right of objectivity…In this objective field, the right of [objective] insight is valid as insight into the legal or illegal” (46). Hegel further reasons, “the nature of man consists precisely in the fact that he is essentially something universal, not a being whose knowledge is an abstractly momentary and piecemeal affair” (Ibid). Hegel means, exercising objective Moral Freedom is only accomplished by complying with the laws of the State.

Hegel sets forth premises to justify his position regarding “objective freedom”, stating, “the origin of evil in general is to be found in the mystery of [individual] freedom” (48). In other words, evil arises out of the subjective will without the State’s laws to determine whether those actions comply with objective freedom (i.e. legal or illegal). All individual freedom without the State amounts to irrationality, absurdity, and contradiction. In particular, Hegel is extremely sensitive about people in society who might claim their actions comport to a higher law than man’s law (i.e. natural and divine law). In mocking these positions, Hegel touts, “You actually accept a law…and respect it as absolute. So do I, but I go further than you, because I am beyond this law and can make it to suit myself” (54). Of course, this higher law Hegel mocks is the same law upon which the Enlightenment philosophy is based—the foundation of American jurisprudence.

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