What is the source of political power and how it is executed? It is the question many people are asking today given the type of governance many are very dissatisfied with in the United States today. The answer to the question reveals much about how government treats citizens and how citizens respond to government; and how the constitution of the state is applied in society. Knowledge on the matter is crucial to the political student and observer of government and societal actions. Let us consider Enlightenment philosophy first, and then Hegel’s philosophy.
Charles Montesquieu goes into detail concerning the nature of States. He starts his Spirit of Laws by describing the types of government. “When the body of the people is possessed of the supreme power, it is called a democracy”, he says; “[t]here can be no exercise of sovereignty but by their suffrage” (Charles Montesquieu,Spirit of Laws, Trnsl. Thomas Nugent, [Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952)] 4). Given the political power each individual holds in the exercise of the State’s sovereignty, “[a] free agent”, he says, “ought to be his own government; the legislative power should reside in the whole body of the people” (Spirit of Laws, 71). Thus, a pure democracy is a State where the people hold all sovereignty of the State and directly pass all the laws of that State. Each citizen is his own legislator.
In discussing the disadvantages of a pure democracy, Montesquieu observes, “since [direct participation in passing laws of the State] is impossible in large states, and in small ones is subject to many inconveniences, it is fit the people should transact by their representatives what they cannot transact by themselves…The great advantage of representatives is, their capacity of discussing public affairs. For this the people collectively are extremely unfit, which is one of the chief inconveniences of a democracy” (Ibid., 71). This disadvantage is observed as well by Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, who says, “[democracy] is too weak, leaves the people too much to themselves, and tends to confusion and licentiousness” (Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, The Principles of Politic Law, [Liberty Fund, Inc., Indianapolis, IN, 2006], 341). The solution to the Enlightenment philosopher is a republic, as explained by Burlamaqui:
“There are two ways of finding this temperament [between an absolute monarchy and popular democracy]: The first consists in lodging the sovereignty in a council so composed, both as to the number and choice of persons, that there shall be a moral certainty of their having no other interests than those of the community, and of their being always ready to give a faithful account of their conduct. This is what we see happily practised in most republics. The second is, to limit the sovereignty of the prince…by fundamental laws” (Ibid., 345).
This is the character and nature of a republic: a State where sovereignty originates in the people and its administration is delegated in trust to representatives bound by constitutional limitations and accountable to the people for their conduct.
We need not get into further details of how a democracy or republican government operates and under what conditions they naturally thrive and maintain liberty, though they are very relevant to fully understand this subject. The highlighted observation regarding a democracy and republic is the fundamental basis on which they rest—that is, the origins and execution of sovereignty.
So, what is the common feature shared by a democracy and a republic? Answer: the people (1) possess all political sovereignty; (2) delegate it to their choosing and on their conditions; and (3) reserve the right to recall it at any time to secure their happiness and rights. Democracies and republics diverge when considering the constitutional ways of passing and executing the State’s laws.
The basis for a we-the-people State is found in natural law as discussed by Enlightenment philosophers and adopted by America’s founding fathers. The power of the people as a sovereign body politic derives from “the intention or will of God with respect to man, [which] consequently acquaints us with the law of nature” (Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, The Principles of Natural and Politic Law, 147). In exposition of these natural laws, Burlamaqui says, “sovereignty resides originally in the people” (Ibid., 302).
The consequence of the democracy and republic foundation is that the people determine the State’s direction according to the constitution established by them. As Burlamaqui says, “[t]he only just foundation of all acquisition of sovereignty, is the consent, or the will of the people” (Burlamaqui, Principles of Politic Law, 349). Thus, in a democracy and republic, the citizens are to respect and obey those who have been delegated the power of government, “as long as he uses his power with equity and moderation, and does not exceed the limits of his authority” (Burlamaqui, Principles of Politic Law, 369).
The focus of this type of government is that the people ultimately and continually make the determination of correctness for the State and the people’s representatives. Where correction is to be made, the people ensure it. Where change is to be made, the people make it. Where abolition is to be made, the people make it. Where direction is given, the people give it. The sense of this kind of State is one of activism, knowledge, control, education, and responsibility. According to Enlightenment philosophy, this creates the freest States as most compatible with God’s creation and man’s constitution, and its natural conditions and limitations must be observed to maintain its true form. The American Declaration of Independence simply reiterates these principles.
Let us compare these fundamental concepts with Georg Hegel’s philosophy.
Throughout Hegel’s work, a common theme is present: the people do not possess natural and political qualities to govern themselves. They need “leaders” to tell them what is best for them. The people do not possess real sovereignty, even though individuals may have formed a State historically in time; or as Hegel says, “forms [of government] must be discussed historically or not at all” (Georg Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Ed. University of Chicago, Trnsl. T.M. Knox, [Encyclopedia Britannica, Oxford University Press], 91). Hegel demeans democracies and republics as an “immature” kind of State; and also undermines the Enlightenment regarding self-government as revealed by God’s creation and man’s constitution.
To Hegel, the best form of government is a heredity monarchy. Hegel says, “[t]he rights of birth and inheritance constitute the basis of legitimacy, [as] contained in the Idea [of the State]” (Ibid., 95). He dogmatically rejects even a popular elective monarchy, saying that it “stands opposed to the Idea of ethical life [and] is the worst of institutions” (Ibid). Hegel finds that a hereditary monarchy is “something not deduced but purely self-originating” as it complies with the “Idea of the State” (See, Part 2) (Ibid, 93). Hegel finds, “[heredity monarchy is] grounded in the authority of God” (Ibid. 93). The unconditional rule of a monarch comports to Hegel’s notion of the limitless power of the State itself.
Even more absurd to Hegel are the concepts of the democracy and republic as forms of government where “the people” possess sovereign political power. Hegel first observes, “[w]e may speak of sovereignty in home affairs residing in the people, provided that we are speaking generally about the whole state…, namely that it is to the state that sovereignty belongs” (Ibid., 93-94, emphasis added). Hegel redefines sovereignty as being an original possession of the State, not the people. There is no delegation by the people to government, but only that sovereignty exists in the State by its nature. Hegel finds that the Enlightenment understanding of sovereignty in the people “is something opposed to the sovereignty existent in the monarch”—the “best” form of government (Ibid., 94).
In a word, Hegel believes the “Idea of the State” as executed by an absolute, hereditary monarch must never be interfered with by people who would claim to hold the sovereign power of the State. More than the concept of “we the people” interfering with the “Idea of the State”, Hegel thinks it is altogether confusing and irrational. Hegel says, “the sovereignty of the people is one of the confused notions based on the wild idea of the ‘people’” (Ibid., 94). Without a monarchy, “the people is a formless mass and no longer a state”, Hegel says (Ibid., 94). Self-government as described in our Declaration of Independence, thus, is an absurd notion to Hegel.
Hegel also mocks the Enlightenment foundations of a democracy and republic. He says, “[i]f by ‘sovereignty of the people’ is understood a republic form of government…then all that is needed in reply has been said already [and] such a notion cannot be further discussed in face of the Idea of the state in its full development” (Ibid., 94). First, Hegel finds that a democracy and republic are incompatible with the “idea of the State in its full development” (See, Part 3). Second, Hegel finds that the “sovereignty of the people” in a democracy or republic is meaningless to the “idea of the State” (See, Part 4). As Hegel says, “‘Who is to frame the constitution?’ This question…is meaningless, for it presupposes that there is no constitution there, but only an agglomeration of atomic individuals” (Ibid., 91). Essentially speaking, Hegel finds no merit in the concept that the people hold sovereign political power and that a democracy or republic is a good form of government as it relates to the purpose of the State.
So, what is Hegel’s concept of sovereignty? “[S]overeignty is there as the personality of the whole [State], and this personality is there…as the person of the monarch” (Ibid., 94). In a word, sovereignty only exists as the State exists, and this sovereignty realizes in the “person of the monarch”—not because the people delegated their original power to him as their representative; but rather, it exists in him by divine ordination or by the “Judge of the World”: history.
How does one become a monarch, legislator, or potentate in such a State? To Hegel, it is based in chance and opportunity—in history—not principle, reasoning, or the will of the people. After discussing his ideas regarding sovereignty, democracies, and republics, Hegel says,
“[E]ven in those comparatively immature constitutional forms [i.e. democracy and republic], there must always be individuals at the head. Leaders must either be available already, as they are in monarchies of that type, or…they may rise to the top, as statesmen or generals, by chance and in accordance with the particular needs of the hour. This must happen, since everything done and everything actual is inaugurated and brought to completion by the single decisive act of a leader” (Ibid., 94).
To Hegel, there is only one way to realize and execute the sovereignty of the State: through the power of a leader–who is at the right place at the right time. Moreover, Hegel finds that “mature” forms of government are hereditary monarchs, and “immature” forms of government are those based upon the concept of “sovereignty in the people”. He says, “[t]he development of the state to constitutional monarchy is the achievement of the modern world, a world in which the substantial Idea has won the infinite form [of subjectivity]” (Ibid., 90).
Observations and Conclusions
It is no wonder one sees a tremendous concentration of political power throughout the 1800 and 1900s throughout the world with Hegel’s philosophy being advocated by educators, philosophers, and politicians—they being the most likely to become the “leaders” of a Hegelian State. When one considers the formulas which make a democracy and republic successful in the maintenance of liberty compared to the ingredients of Hegel’s “Ideal of the State”, a good argument could be made that more of Hegel’s ingredients make up the character of the United States than the Enlightenment philosophy.
Much could be said about this, but suffice it to say, there is one requirement universally accepted for a democracy and republic to maintain liberty. That State must comprise a small territory and population where the people know and are able to execute their interests. In truth, where society becomes complex, societiesmust stay relatively small to maintain control of their own destiny. Hegel admitted this as well, but rejects it as opposed to “the Idea of the State”.
To get around the inconveniences having a small territory and population poses, republics form federations with limited authority. In such a federal union, the small republics must and by right retain all sovereignty not expressly delegated to the larger republic. Both the Articles of Confederation and United States Constitution hold this federal character. It is this retention of inviolable state sovereignty which enables the small republics forming the union to stay appropriately sized and maintain the pure form of a republic to prevent developing into Hegel’s notions of a “mature” state.
Under such a federation of smaller States, democracies are naturally at disadvantage and are destined to lose all qualities which make a democracy pure in form and practice. For this reason alone, the United States of America is anything but a democracy; for it hardly meets, if any, elements of a pure democracy. Of all people who should oppose the nationalization of reserved state powers, Democrats should. Ironically, most of them today prefer big government, nationalization, and the destruction of state sovereignty. Obviously, they have not studied philosophy or history on this subject; or like many politicians, are Hegelians in disguise.
As Hegel points out concerning the State being led not by the people but by “leaders” who happen to be in the right place at the right time, the United States seems only to be led by superrich and super-powerful people who control federal politics from Washington D.C, New York City, London, and other world-power-brokerages. Even a statesman as proven, provocative, and principled as Congressman Ron Paul gets the boot by most media and by D.C, despite the success and soundness of his seasoned political and professional career. The people are only left with whoever the mega-wealthy people chose for our buffet menu; and state and federal laws ensure that it remains that way. The elitist-control of politics was attempted to be eliminated (supposedly) by replacing the Electoral College with popular vote; only to be supplanted by the national two-party system where only the “chosen” are given for the people’s choice.
A truly competitive political process or outcome is not reality. Short of the most draconian circumstances, federal and state laws are passed without even the people’s knowledge or concern. Competition of political ideas are thwarted or belittled at the first sign of growth. Yet, we are told today that power rests in the people and we live in a “free democracy”. The facts do not comport to the rhetoric.
How does a Hegelian turn a once Enlightenment society, constitution, and government into a Hegel-style State?
Simply stated, (1) the territories, population, and actions of the people must be vastly expanded and put under centralized control; (2) the smaller republics must lose their sovereignty at the expense of the larger “republic” as a development of the “idea of the State”; (3) local self-determination must be replaced with national power; (4) national power commingle with a “league of nations” agenda (as Hegel advocated); (5) fixed and original principles of constitutional government must be replaced with a living organism of state development; and (6) politics and government must be tightly controlled by a cabal of “leaders” which Hegel explains are the only ones God-ordained to rule the people in their ignorance and ineptness.
These factors naturally cause a dilution of the natural characteristics that keep a society truly democratic or republican. The effect is, people have exponentially less power, influence, and oversight over government. Each vote becomes less meaningful and important. The view of the constitution becomes more and more diverse and conflicting. The State’s direction becomes more confused and misguided. The chances of redirection, restoration, or control are increasingly diminished. The people become disenfranchised and indifferent. The struggle for political power becomes concentrated into the hands of those who have the power and money to buy or “buddy” their way to the top; all the while, the concerned common person tries to figure a way to catch up with those with literally billions of dollars at their disposal to ensure power stays put.
If we are going to return to original constitution principles and operate under pure democratic and republic principles, then we must recognize what it means to be a republic and what kind of characteristics must exist to maintain those forms of government. Perhaps constitutional amendments should be proposed and advocated to bring our original sovereignty into our hands once again. Otherwise, we are simply a fulfillment of the Hegelian dialectic State in the process of becoming what he claims happens to all “maturing” governments.