The State As A Community Of Persons In Hegel; A Critique

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy


Abstract


This study was carried out to critique the state as a community of persons in Hegel. One of the objectives of the study was to evaluate how the Hegelian conception of the state fails to account for the specific state forms and process. The researcher adopted the doctrinal research method for the data analysis of the empirical literature. From the study it was concluded that Marx’s community of freedom is a transformed social world in which people are treated not as rights-bearing citizen consumers as ‘freely associated producers’ but in contrast, Hegel’s ‘community of freedom is the rational state, a political and juridical order whose members encounter one another primarily as citizens and bearers of rights’.


Table Of Content


Preliminary Page(s)

  • Title page
  • Certification page
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Abstract
  • Table of content

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

  • 1.1 Background Of The Study
  • 1.2 Statement Of The Problem
  • 1.3 Objective Of The Study
  • 1.4 Significance Of The Study
  • 1.5 Methodology

Chapter Two

2.0 Literature Review

  • 2.1 Conceptual Review
  • 2.2 Hegel’s Aim Of Politics
  • 2.3 The State As Abstraction
  • 2.4 True Democracy

Chapter Three

3.0 Hegel’s Conception Of The ‘State’

  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 The Separation Of The State From Civil Society

Chapter Four

4.0 Critique Of The State As A Community Of Persons In Hegel

  • 4.1 Critiques Against The Hegelian Conception Of The State
  • 4.2 On The Question Of The Rationality And Partiality Of The State
  • 4.3 On The Question Of Universal Subjectivity And Citizenship

Chapter Five

5.0 Summary And Conclusion

  • 5.1 Summary
  • 5.2 Conclusion
  • References

Chapter One


1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background Of The Study

Every individual is a child of his time. It is not easy for one to escape the influence of his epoch or contemporary world. Hegel himself is not innocent of this. His historical judgments and moral evaluations were in fact as much conditioned by time, place and personality, as those of other philosophers.

However, in virtue of the nature and scope of our topic, this portion will rather concentrate more on the de facto German political condition which presented itself glaringly before Hegel and to which his political thought was nothing but a reaction.

Hegel made a comprehensive and scholarly case study of his native German state and discovered the multiple ills that overwhelmed it. He lamented that people considered private property and interest to be indeed common to all society so as to justify their selfish ends[1].

He also saw the pseudo-democratic spirit that shrouded the state which he thought would engender more threat to freedom than ever. In effect, he wished to eradicate all these. He wanted to substitute them with a magnificent theory of power vested upon the state and the monarch.

From his experiences of the French Revolution, Hegel deplored the consequences of the Revolution. He even tagged it a ‘glorious dawn,’ but he also meant that at the inception of the revolutionary wars, Germany was not free from the revolutionary armies’ invasion. The invasion came up when Hegel was twenty-one.

On another note, Germany was infested with a myriad of petty despotisms that were loosely linked together as the Holy Roman Empire under the leadership of Francis I of Austria. Marcus enumerating this noted that:
The Reich[2] consisted of Austria and Prussia, the prince Electors, 94 ecclesiastical and secular princes, 103 barons, 40 prelates, and 51 Reich towns, in sum it consisted of nearly 300 territories.[3]

Under this heteronomy of despotisms, Germany found it extremely hard to subsume their personal whims under a united national spirit. There was rather an evidence of porosity, individualism and weakness. In view of this Hegel as one of the contributors to the development of the German state made this elegant remark;

Without law and justice, without protection from arbitrary taxation, uncertain of the lives of our sons and our freedom and our rights, the existence of the despotic power, our existence lacking unity and a national spirit… This is the status quo of our nation.[4]

Therefore, this was a period when people believed strongly in the divine right of kings even though they could not reach out for laws and justice. This means that rationality was conspicuously lacking and this manifested itself in the introduction of arbitrary taxations and insecurity. However, everyone yearned for the German reunification, which has for long eluded her even after the revolutionary wars during which Austria and Prussia were vanquished.
At this time when the French power was incumbent, Germany experienced much reformation. In Prussia, for instance, Von Stein, a liberal, was appointed chief adviser to the king, and he immediately abolished serfdom and reorganized the system of government. Following him was Von Hardenberg, who promised to give Prussia a representative constitution; but these hopes were obliterated completely after Napoleon’s defeat.

On his own part, Frederick William III, the Prussian king lost interest in reform, and after years of delay, in 1823 he set up only provincial ‘estates’ which engaged only in advice, and in any case were completely dominated by land owners.

Moreover, in 1819, at a meeting at Carlsbad, all the German states agreed to censor repressive measures against those who advocated revolutionary ideas. After observing all these, Hegel viewed that Germany has had a real genetically political cankerworm. He instantly detected these national defects of German character as ‘provincialism’ and ‘particularism,’ which, he said, are the causes of the empire’s weakness.

He also observed that Germany, viewed from the cultural point of view, was a nation but it had not understood what it meant to subjugate parts to whole which was essential to (the) a national government. The central government, he noted, was weak because its power flowed from its parts. Even the existing constitution reflected nothing but an explicit subterfuge for weakness.

Thus, there was total individualism among the people and sheer sectionalism among corporations, estates, guilds and even religious sects. For this reason then Hegel identified this German particularism with an anarchical love of freedom which misconceived liberty as an absence of discipline and authority[5]. And this he contrasted with “true freedom”, which is to be found only within the bounds of a national state. Freedom as Hegel understood it had nothing to do with the individualism of English and French political thought but it was rather a quality reflected upon the individual by the national power of self-determination.

In effect, Hegel saw Germany as revolving around what he termed the’ civil society’ with no greater aim than collective protection of its industrial property. He aimed at elevating Germany from its political and social trash to an organic natural state, the divine idea in the universe. Following his diagnosis of Germany’s weakness Hegel defined the state as a group which collectively protects its property. Its only essential powers are civil and military establishment sufficient to this end.[6]


1.2 Statement Of The Problem

One of the caricatured presentations of Africa in Western thought is the Hegelian metaphysics, which aims to give a philosophical foundation of a universal history of mankind. Despite the fact that Hegelian thought has a social and epistemological root in European history and Western philosophy, his conceptualization has claimed a universal validity to finally result in a racially motivated and wrongly interpreted image of Africa.

This paper is formulated with the assumption that in addition to critically challenging the Afro- pessimism which the Hegelian thought directly propounds there is also a need, as an African researcher, to raise the question of methodology and representation of one’s specific history and social process. In this sense, this paper has a philosophical significance in problematizing issues related to ontology and epistemology in social sciences, particularly in the analysis of the state, ethnicity and ethnic politics as historical as well as contingent dynamics.


1.3 Objective Of The Study

The specific objective is to show, from an anthropological perspective, how the Hegelian conception of the state, which is an integral part of his metaphysics, fails to account for the specific state forms and process and therefore finally lead to a Eurocentric (Kebede 2003) perspective, which is consistent with Hegel’s own imagining of Africa. Obviously, this is not a novel enterprise.


1.4 Significance Of The Study

For this reason, the primary significance of the paper is more to show how, until recently the very idea of the state has been conceptualized, by both local historians as well as foreign interpreters, in terms of a Eurocentric notion of the state, which can best be exemplified by Hegel’s thought. By exploring the specific case through Hegel’s idea of the state, the aim is therefore to argue that state forms and process cannot be understood well by conceiving the state as an independent institutional category, with its own coherence, logic and organic unity beyond and above society – concepts central to Hegelian philosophy.


1.5 Methodology

This study will be qualitative in nature making use of secondary data. The study will adopt the doctrinal research methodology which involves the review of scholars, and works of previous authors on the subject matter while identifying the gaps and proffering solutions where necessary. This is the best fit for a critique of this nature in order to identify the weak nesses and amplify the strengths for better revision and policy implications.


Chapter Five


5.0 Summary And Conclusion

5.1 Summary

The separation of the state from civil society entails the separation of the electors from their deputies. The state can only achieve an abstract system of representation. Marx shows the contradictory character of the representative system. The deputies are elected by the demos and this means acknowledging that sovereignty is popular and that the power of the state derives from the people. The deputies derive their authority from the electors and hence are supposed to represent the people. Yet the deputies are separated from rather than bound to the electors. The parliament elected by the representative principle cannot be the emanation of society but, rather, comes to constitute a society in itself.

Marx himself opposes a functional representation to the abstract representation available within the state. In this passage Marx confronts Hegel’s criticism that either one accepts the system of deputies i.e. the system of abstract representation within the state that Marx rejects, or one has to argue for the participation of ‘all as individuals’ in the affairs of the state. Hegel, however, has given alternatives which presume the continued separation of the state from civil society. Marx widens the alternatives by challenging this separation.

In Marx’s terms communism is democratic by definition, resting upon an active as well as passive suffrage, achieving the universality of the classless society. It opposes self- or functional representation through active civil society raising itself to the abstraction of itself in politics to the abstract and indirect representation of the political state. And it substitutes the self- or organic mediation of the producers themselves as against the alien mediation of capital. All these features of the mature conception of communism in its political aspects are present in the conception of true democracy.

Thus Marx embraces a conception of democracy that is beyond a political realm abstracted from the real lives of individuals. The dualism of state and civil society, entailing the alienation of political subjectivity, is abolished on the side of the social, breaking its restriction to what Marx calls ‘abstract state citizenship’ (CHDS EW 1975:195).
Marx’s community of freedom is a transformed social world in which people are treated not as rights-bearing citizen consumers as ‘freely associated producers’. The producers retain a public power and public authority for certain collective purposes. But these are not, as in Hegel, the uniquely appropriate focus of emancipated social life.
In contrast, Hegel’s ‘community of freedom is the rational state, a political and juridical order whose members encounter one another primarily as citizens and bearers of rights’. Hegel’s social order is liberal and ‘coexists with the familiar arrangements of civil society: that is, of market capitalism, curbing their excesses and reconciling their contradictions’ (J McCarney 1991:33).

McCarney acknowledges that the experience of Communism reinforces Hegel’s insight ‘that freedom has to be embodied as justice, and, hence, as a constitutional system incorporating explicit and effective guarantees of rights’. Yet he notes that these rights are violated by Hegel’s support of private property and wage labour (1991:33 35). What is interesting about this view of ‘Hegelian unfreedom’ is the extent to which it makes clear that no legal apparatus safeguarding constitutional rights can be effective in protecting freedom in conditions of substantive unfreedom. Hegel himself is aware of the extent to which the system of needs turns upon individuals as an external force through the mediations of labour, tools, machinery and money (Fraser 1998:62). The Soviet Union boasted perhaps the greatest constitution in the world in terms of the rights it claimed (Della Volpe). There is greater scope for exploring Marx’s notion of democratization as empowerment beyond rights-based citizenship at the level of the state.


5.2 Conclusion

Indeed, it is possible to conclude that the very idea of the state in Ethiopia is a site of conflicting narratives. On the one hand, we have the unitarists’ narrative, which construct the state as symbol for nationalism as well as icon of black resistance at wider global level. From this perspective, what is emphasized is continuity, unity, and identity at different levels. This discourse, through the state, proposes a particular version of history in which the boundaries of the sovereignty and cultural legitimacy of state is projected back into a distant historical period characterized by African grandeur, liberty, civilization and human dignity.

On the other hand, we have a narrative, which questions the foundation of the state and its identity. According to this position, ‘Ethiopia’ is understood as a historical fiction based on and maintained by power, just as Said discusses ‘the Orient’ as an imaginary construction. But the image of the state is constructed on the basis of an already existing discourse of domination, that of civilization or culture.

While the view which defines the state as colonial8 can be challenged on different grounds, and there is also ethnocentrism, bias and demonic construction of the other, the argument rightly implies the view that rather than being universal and natural consciousness and natural right, subject positions (identities, subjectivities and citizenship) are determined by different factors. In this regard, one can argue that although the notion of citizenship is largely related to the nation-state, human beings are also members of other political and cultural communities and “thus citizens experience multiple levels of citizenship nested with each other” (Johnston, 1995:134).

What can be inferred from the above discussion is that unlike the Weberian view, “states are not simply functional bureaucratic apparatuses, but powerful sites of symbolic and cultural production that are themselves always culturally represented and understood in particular ways” (Ferguson and Gupta, 2002:981). From an anthropological perspective when one speaks of states, one is referring to constructed entities not to actual (natural) beings as if they have independent existence.


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