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.
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.
Hegel’s disdain for the Enlightenment philosophy is clear when he states in part, “this babble has made reasonable men just as sick of the words ‘reason,’ ‘enlightenment,’ and ‘right,’ &c., as of the words ‘constitution’ and ‘freedom’” (89). Hegel believes the Enlightenment philosophy is incredible because it is based upon reason and logic, and not upon the “concept of the State”. Hegel presupposes that since logic is based upon interpretations deduced by human mind, logic will interfere with the concept of the State, which is to objectify subjective freedom. Thus, Hegel believes the Enlightenment philosophy of America’s independence is not only unreasonable and contradictory, but evil because logic cannot and must not get in the way of the “concept of the State”.
To prevent this “evil” in society where people claim a higher law than man’s law, thus abusing their freedom, Hegel concludes, “the ethical order is freedom or the absolute willas what is objective, a circle of necessity whose moments are the ethical powers which regulate the life of individuals” (55, emphasis added). “Ethical freedom” is the STATE, to determine all objective freedom for the individual. Notice as well that Hegel equates “freedom” with the “absolute will” of the State. Thus, to a Hegelian, society is free where the State has absolute control over individuals. Hegel further states, the State’s power “is an absolute authority and power infinitely more firmly established than the being in nature” (55). Since the power of the State is absolute and its power is infinite, it follows that “these laws and institutions are duties binding on the will of the individual” regardless of logic, reason, and the purposes and ends of society and government (56). The STATE is the end unto itself because only it is reality.
Even more than the individual having a duty to submit to this absolute State authority, Hegel declares that the individual’s destiny “is fulfilled when they belong to an actual ethical order [i.e. State], because their conviction of their freedom finds its truth in such an objective order, and it is in an ethical order [i.e. State] that they are actually in possession of their own essence or their own inner universality” (57, emphasis added). Hegel means, an individual is destined to be a subject of a State and his essence as a human is fulfilled by being subject to the absolute will of the State. Upon these premises, Hegel ultimately finds that individual rights are found not in nature or God, but in the State. He says, “by being in the ethical order [i.e. State] a man has rights” (57).
Hegel finds that individuals are completely inferior to the State in all regards: in life, liberty, and property. A “patriot” of the State is one who sees his interests as subservient to the interests of the State; he must act in accordance with all state laws and institutions. Hegel says,
“[a]s the substance of the individual subject, it is his political sentiment [patriotism];…as the substance of the objective world, it is the organism of the state. The political sentiment, patriotism pure and simple, is assured conviction with truth as its basis…In this sense it is simply a product of the institutions subsisting in the state, since rationality is actuallypresent in the state, while action in conformity with these institutions gives rationality its practical proof.” (84, brackets not added).
Clearly stated, Hegel determines that patriotism equates to obedience to the State in all regards. More than a person being patriotic by recognizing his objective freedom through the State, the individual must sacrifice his life, liberty, and property to and for the State. Hegel determines, “[the individual’s] relation [to the State] and the recognition of it is therefore the individual’s substantive duty, the duty to maintain this substantive individuality, i.e. the independence and sovereignty of the state, at the risk and the sacrifice of property and life” (107). Hegel further states that “[s]acrifice on behalf of the individuality of the state is the substantial tie between the state and all its members and so is a universal duty.” (107). Were a person to invoke natural rights granted by God to protect his life, liberty, and property against the State, or were a person to even question the actions or authority of government, Hegel would find that person to be ipso facto unpatriotic.
Quite clearly, under Hegel’s philosophy, the State is absolutely and infinitely supreme; and the individual has a duty to sacrifice his life and property for the State because the individuals’ “objective freedom” cannot exist except by the State. The individual exists for the State; not the State for the individual. This duty to sacrifice one’s life, liberty, and property for the State is universal in time and conditions regardless of whether the State is in a state of war or peace and regardless of constitution. If the State requires the sacrifice, the individual must make the sacrifice; and the State is the sole determiner of its own needs. Put inversely, the State is the sole determiner of which individuals need to sacrifice for the State; and this determination has nothing to do with reason or logic, but only with the “concept of the State”.
By Hegel’s own admission, these ideas contrast sharply to the ones which founded and birthed the United States of America and its constitutions: the Enlightenment Period.
The American Declaration of Independence mirrors Enlightenment philosophy. Even someone who is only vaguely familiar with the Declaration would recognize its principles are incompatible with Hegel’s philosophy. The Declaration recognizes the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Hegel recognizes no such right. In the Declaration, the State is not the method of obtaining objectivity of freedom, but is the protector of freedom and is ultimately under the control of the people for whose benefit it was created.
These concepts were specifically advanced by Enlightenment philosophy and were described as immutable. Samuel Pufendorf says, “the fundamental laws of nature [are] truth and necessity aris[ing] directly from the very character of human nature; and [are]conclusions…deduced from these principles” (Pufendorf, Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence, Ed. Knud Haakonssen, [Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, IN, 2009], 218). Thus expressed in the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident”. For the American colonies, the belief that God judged the actions of mankind equipped them to secede from Great Britain, given the truth of individual freedom and limitations of State power.
To Hegel, there was no “immutable truths” of right and wrong relative to the State’s judgments and actions. There was only the power of the State. To Hegel, the ultimate judge is not God, as the Declaration declares (“the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions”). Rather, the “history of the world [is] the world’s court of judgement” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 110). As will be seen in this article’s subsequent parts, this Hegelian concept of “history” has a fundamental bearing on how those in political power control the State.
As a fundamental premise of understanding human nature, society, and government, John Locke explains that individual freedom is found in the laws of Nature created by God. Individual freedom is a natural, inherit right granted by the Creator of life and matter. He states that political power (i.e. the State) is founded not upon the “concept of the State” but rather upon this: “all men are naturally in…a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature” (Locke, Concerning Civil Government, 25). Civil liberty was substantively a matter of “life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things such as money, houses, furniture, and the like” (Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, Ed. Charles Sherman, [D. Appleton-Century Company, 1937], 3). It was a matter of individual freedom. Thus, “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions” (John Locke, Concerning Civil Government, Ed. Alexander Campbell Fraser, [Oxford University Press, 1952], 26). This law of nature restricts government as well, for at least “they are subject to the Divine sovereignty and the law of nature” (Samuel Pufendorf,Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence, 34).
Upon the recognition that God created man, individual freedom contains the right to use the grants of God for the individual’s benefit. Locke states, “for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not another’s pleasure.” (Locke,Concerning Civil Government, 26). By definition, the State is not the objective form of individual freedom. Enlightenment philosophers acknowledged that the individual, as a workmanship of God, is a moral being, answerable to God primarily and man secondarily. This philosophy acknowledges that God equips individuals with certain rights independent of society and government. The State is not the objectivity of rights, as Hegel proposes. God is.
With this individual freedom, God grants to him certain authority respective of his rights. Samuel Pufendorf recognizes that “[a]uthority over persons and actions which are one’s own is called liberty” (Two Books on the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence, 89). Where no individual authority exists, no individual liberty exists. Thus, were individual freedom to exist only through the power of the State, no liberty would exist at all; it would depend entirely on the State’s arbitrary control or otherwise. To the Enlightenment, individual liberty is a matter of individual ownership sanctioned by God and is not subject to arbitrary control of the State.
Individual freedom, or as referenced in philosophical terms, individual morality, is something imposed upon individuals by God, not the State as Hegel proposes. This individual morality and freedom exists independently of the State. Samuel Pufendorf puts it this way, “[morality] does not derive its origin from the arbitrary imposition of men [i.e. government], but only from the disposition of God himself, who has so formed the nature of man that particular actions of necessity are or are not congruent with this nature” (Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence, 24).
So, while government may unjustly interfere with individual freedom, we suffer only while evils are sufferable. At some point, individuals may invoke their right and command of freedom and may do as the Declaration states, “alter or  abolish it, and  institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” Without the concept of individual freedom and rights, there is hardly room for John Locke’s definition of tyranny: “tyranny is the exercising of power beyond right” (Concerning Civil Government, 71). Of course, Hegel does not recognize such a definition of tyranny because he does not recognize natural rights of the individual outside of the power of the State. How can the State exceed powers when it is the realization of the individual’s freedom?
This concept of unilaterally executing individual freedom was not new. John Locke stated it clearly in his works as noted in part 1 of this series. Samuel Pufendorf stated the same thing before Thomas Jefferson, saying, “since he to whom sovereignty is given possesses otherwise no right over me, and therefore holds by my mere free will whatever authority he has over me, it is assuredly patent that it rests with me how far I care to admit his sovereignty over me” (Two Books on the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence, 89). Were it not for the supremacy of individual freedom, this right to change, abolish, or secede from government would not be possible. Quite obviously, Enlightenment philosophy rejected what Hegel advocated and placed significant value on the individual as a creation of God with individual freedom.
Observations and Conclusion
Tragically, from the late 1800s until today in America, many in the highest levels of education and politics have adopted the principles advocated by Hegel. Many of them have openly admitted this; others not so bold hide their Hegelian beliefs in Enlightenment terminology. These Hegelians have largely influenced the direction of constitutional law and political direction of the United States. Even a shallow study would reveal this, and these subsequent articles will reveal more of this truth.
As a result, the United States has undergone a change in character to the point that it is unrecognizable as the same country. Instead of wanting individual freedom, many Americans prefer government intervention, management, and control—just as Hegel (and Marx) envisioned—in contradiction to foundational principles of constitutional republicanism and democracy.
To return to true American principles, citizens and their representatives must reject the Hegelian supposition of State power and authority relative to individual freedom, and once again place preeminence on the value of God’s creation of the individual, who has the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness independent of government.
Furthermore, we must question authority as it has been told to us. We must require our agents to reconcile their positions of constitutional law and politics with the fundamental notion of individual freedom. If their positions do not reconcile with this fundament tenet of American jurisprudence and philosophy, they may be a Hegelian in disguise.
Subsequent articles are forthcoming on the remaining topics, and will be designed to offer the political student with more tools to judge actions with philosophy.