Interpreting and Applying the Constitution

Hegel Philosophy

Hegel’s philosophy on interpreting and applying the constitution of a State is perhaps the most tangible and evident as it relates to constitutional law and political direction in the United States. Hegel’s view of the constitution is similar to his view on the formation and purpose of the State as discussed in Part 3. As will be seen in this discussion, many politicians and office holders in the United States have, knowingly or not, adopted Hegel’s view of our federal and state constitutions. Consequently, it is destroying the very nature of the constitutions themselves and is accomplishing Hegel’s vision of the State.

Hegel determines that a State’s constitution need not be interpreted and applied in light of the framers’ intent and purposes. Hegel says, “Another question readily presents itself here: ‘Who is to frame the constitution?’ This question…is meaningless[.] [I]t is absolutely essential that the constitution should not be regarded as something made, even though it has come into being in time. It must be treated rather as something simply existent in and by itself” (Georg Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Ed. University of Chicago, Trnsl. T.M. Knox, [Encyclopedia Britannica, Oxford University Press, 1952], 91). Just as the purpose of the State is not to be considered when factoring the power of the State (see, Part 3), Hegel likewise determines the organic meaning of the constitution is not to be considered. To Hegel, there are no reference points or “first principles” in interpreting and applying the State’s constitution.

To Hegel, a constitution is a living organism—taking a life of its own—to change and develop as society changes and develops without the need for formal amendments or the people’s expressed consent. The change and development of society is not determined by the people, but by government. The constitution is the State’s method of objectifying through laws its subjective will. Hegel states, “the constitution…depends in general on the character and development of its self-consciousness. In its self-consciousness its subjective freedom is rooted and so, therefore, is the actuality of its constitution” (92, emphasis added).