Hegel Philosophy

As discussed in Part 2 of this article series, the State is the objectivity of individual freedom, in Hegel’s view. The State’s power is absolute and supreme in all regards. This objectivity of individual freedom is simultaneously the purpose of the State, because as Hegel puts it, the individual’s destiny is fulfilled by being subject to the State. There is no defined “purpose” of the State as it relates to natural law, constitution, logic, or reason. Rather, to Hegel, the real question is not for what purpose was the State created; but rather, what is the “concept of the State”. It matters not why a State is formed; it only matters that it exist. Once it exists, its purpose is accomplished by whatever actions it executes. The State’s purpose and power are thus coterminous.

Upon this supposition, Hegel rejects sentiments that the State is not “doing its job” or is “violating the social compact” to which it must adhere to be considered legitimate authority. To Hegel, the State’s authority exists independent of any purposes of formation whether in natural or constitutional law. “The people” as the creator of society and government is not even a factor in determining government power (a subject to be addressed in detail in a subsequent article series). The State’s subjects only need to consider what the State determines to be law at that time and obey. As Hegel puts it, this is the individual’s universal duty to the State (see, Part 2).

Hegel rejects the Enlightenment philosophy that society and government are formed on principles of social compact. Hegel states, “the notion of a contractual relation between him [i.e. government] and his people…stands opposed to the Idea of ethical life” (Georg Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Ed. University of Chicago, Trnsl. T.M. Knox, [Encyclopedia Britannica, Oxford University Press, 1952], 95). This term “Idea of ethical life” means, to Hegel, the absolute power of the State as supreme over the individuals in society; so, the idea of a social compact stands opposed to the power of the State. Natural and constitutional limitations upon the State do not exist. By definition, there is no such thing as the “purpose” for forming society and government. There is only the “Idea of ethical life”—that is, the State’s absolute power.

When considering the position held by Enlightenment philosophers, as used for the foundation of the United States of America, one sees that Hegel’s views of the formation and purpose of government stands in sharp contrast and contradiction to original American ideals. It certainly plays a significant role in how politicians see their powers relative to the constitution and citizens of the State, all the while claiming we are “free”. Let us consider now the Enlightenment view of the purpose of the State.

Enlightenment Philosophy

Throughout Enlightenment philosophy, there was a consistent theme regarding the formation of society and government. This theme was, there is a defined purpose for forming a State and that purpose is a lens through which to judge government actions. This purpose is found in both nature and constitution. The rationale and basis rest on this: (1) God created man with inherit, inalienable rights and the authority to enforce and protect those rights, and (2) an oath is implicitly or expressly imposed upon every person serving in public capacity for the good of the people (See, Ezekiel 17:16; Ecclesiastes 8:2-5; Psalm 55:20; Amos 1:9).

Since being in a state of nature poses problems with individuals being able to protect their God-given freedom and rights, people form government to serve as their common will and force of protecting those rights from within and without. The people’s rights are original, and government’s power is fiduciary. Locke explains that in a state of nature, since men have a right to judge their own cause without control or appeal, it may be that justice will not be served systematically given our nature of self-preference. Complete individual sovereignty (as in a state of nature) would render each person capable of defining when he is “hurt” and thus is entitled to enforce his right absolutely. Not much speculation is needed to see how such a state of complete individual sovereignty would render that society chaotic.

Ironically, complete, unfettered individual freedom would render that society at constant war, ultimately to be controlled by those with enough power and resources to buy the loyalty of those less capable. Eventually, tribal wars overcome those people, and a dictatorship results, as history shows. For this cause, “civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniences of the state of Nature” (John Locke, Concerning Civil Government, Ed. Alexander Campbell Fraser, [Oxford University Press, 1952], 28). Concepts such as damage,hurtobligationdutyliability, etc. are thus defined in law so the people may know how to conduct their behavior and may enforce their rights through civil, peaceful means.

Neither complete individual sovereignty nor complete state sovereignty complies with the state of human nature and experience, according to Enlightenment philosophy. Government is needed; but it needs be limited by constitution and purpose. Individual freedom is a right, but the absolute and indiscriminate exercise of it is (partially) surrendered in exchange for the common will through the State. Thus, government regulates the people of that society by the constitution they create and through laws passed pursuant thereto; but the people watch and check the government for violations of that constitution created to protect their rights and enjoy the utility of their common will. This is an Enlightenment principle of the State.

Locke declares the State’s general purpose as “the preservation of property” (43), which he describes as one’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness as well as lands, houses, &c. The importance and preeminence of private property is the pillar of freedom: to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor; to supply income and sustenance; to provide for one’s family; and to promote industry and improvement of lifestyle—this being done not in state of nature form, but rather in state of society, constitutional form. In like vein, Emer de Vattel explains that the State is formed “to protect and defend” the citizen, and it must “lay[] the foundation of its own preservation, safety, perfection, and happiness” (Law of Nations, [Indianapolis, IN, Liberty Fund, 2008], 86). Thus, the State’s constitution empowers government to protect private property through passing and enforcing laws.

The State cannot violate these purposes and still be considered legitimate. The people have a right to hold the State accountable to their natural and constitutional purposes. Just as an individual has a right to protect his freedom against an individual in a state of nature, he also has a right to be free from the force of laws to which he has not consented in a state of society. Locke explains that men possess natural liberty “to be free from any superior power on earth…[and] to be under no other legislative power but that established by consent in a commonwealth, nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact according to the trust put in it.” (Concerning Civil Government, 29, emphasis added).

One’s consent relates directly to the “trust” (i.e. fiduciary) purpose of the State and its natural and constitutional limitations. Government force creating submission of individuals can never equate to consent. Thus, Hegel’s notion of “the concept of the State” equating to absolute power over its subjects contradicts the Enlightenment understanding that legitimate authority comes by way of the State fulfilling its purpose and not usurping the authority individuals possess.

The Declaration of Independence mirrors these Enlightenment sentiments. Namely, it reiterates: “all men are created equal, [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.  Upon this foundation, the colonies seceded from Great Britain because each Colony determined for itself that being political, constitutionally, and legally connected to their government (of hundreds of years) no longer satisfied the purpose for which Great Britain was established and for which the Colonies were formed; namely, to preserve and protect property (i.e. life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, &c). Ultimately, this is the question each society (i.e. county, state, or region) of each generation must answer for itself.

Observations and Conclusion

The consequences of these two philosophies should be obvious and indeed are significant in all regards of one’s daily life. Where Hegel presents no purpose of the State but only its “concept” and thus absolute power, those subjects are destined for either slavery or to fight their way to positions of political power so they can escape the chains placed upon subject status. Insider favors and corruption are rampant in that State. Loving one’s neighbor as himself is hardly a “Golden Rule”. Autocratic control, police and military force are the “rule of law”. Education is propaganda, controlled, and centralized; it indoctrinates all students to be good State patriots. The State has little to no incentive to limit its actions to standards of justice and decency. It seeks to expand itself and limit or destroy competition against its power. It only commands and expects obedience. When a subject invokes individual rights over the laws of the State, that subject is ignored or trampled by the State—and to Hegel, rightfully so.

In contrast, where a society understands the natural and expressed purpose of forming the State and its education develops the notions of natural and constitutional law, as did the Enlightenment, the people quite willingly serve as the watchman and overseers of government. The people hold the power of the State and its direction. They are intent to ensure that the laws comply with the constitution of the State to meet its purposes and to ensure their happiness and protection of individual rights and property. The people are ever vigilant in demanding their rights be not usurped by government power. Education emphasizes individual responsibility, character, honesty, and authority. The Golden Rule is happily followed for each knows that if a neighbor’s rights can be usurped by government, so can his. The State has much incentive to limit its actions to the standards of justice and decency, knowing the people will not accept corruption and tyranny. Government regulates in good faith compliance with the natural and expressed purposes of that State. Politicians are students of political philosophy and protectors of individual freedom; they are not seekers of personal gain and aggrandizement.

When the Enlightenment philosophy is abandoned, the vacuum is quickly filled with Hegelian concepts, like what happened in the United States soon after its formation. Understanding the formation and purpose of the State is crucial to understanding the next article series, which is “Interpreting and Applying the Constitution”. As will be seen, not defining the purpose of the State translates into the lack of constitutional limitations and actually creates a disdain for constitutional limitations as originally created by the people of the State.

From this Hegelian notion of no purpose comes the notion of the “living constitution” we have heard in the United States for over 100 years. Some have attempted to make the “living constitution” an American constitutional principle. In truth, it is a Hegelian principle. It is this Hegelian “concept of the State” (i.e. absolute power of the State) that has equipped less-than-honorable politicians and others with intent of subterfuge to convince the people that their actions are “constitutional” while at the same time they accomplish their goals as a Hegelian.

Timothy Baldwin
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