1.1 BACKGROUND OF
HEGEL’S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
1.1.1. HISTORICAL SURVEY
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Reich 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.
Under this heteronomy of
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;
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL IMPLICATIONS
Hegel’s treatment of most
of the social issues can rightly be seen as a direct criticism and rejection of
some of Rousseau’s liberal opinions. Rousseau had put forward his idea that man
is born free but is everywhere in chains. For him man is naturally free. He
captures his freedom as soon as he gets the opportunity. This freedom of the
individual, ordained by nature, offers the general will. The general will is
the will that discrete individual, that appear to be more powerful than their
fellow individuals, and the less powerful individual falls the victim of surrendering
to more powerful individual and as a result pay their obeisance to them.
As it were, it was Rousseau who initiated the romantic cult of democracy. This
led him to formulate the contractualist theory of the state against which
hold as a contrary view, one that is strictly organic. More so, the
constitution of Germany
showed clearly that Hegel’s conception
of the dialectic was controlled by a moral rather than a scientific purpose.
Hegel explained that the object of the essay was to promote understanding of
things as they are, to exhibit political history not as arbitrary but as
necessary. The unhappiness of man is a frustration that arises from the
discrepancy between what is and what he is feigned to believe ought to be. It
occurs because he imagines that event is mere unrelated detail and not a
“system ruled by a spirit.”
Its remedy comes with reconciliation, the realization that what is must be and
the consciousness that what must be also ought to be. This is manifestly the
principle which Hegel later summarized in his aphorism, “the real is rational
and the rational is real” The authority that was fully conferred on
the civil society, with the elimination of the state government as it were upheld
by Rousseau was seen by Hegel as nothing but transitory means to and end and
not the end itself.
absolute democracy of Rousseau was rightly criticized by Hegel. And the
criticisms gave direction to Hegel’s philosophy of the organic state. This
absolute democracy gave individuals the right to agree and form government of
all citizens’ participation. This implies that there is no state outside the
civil society, because all are decision makers. This form, according to
Rousseau, accords well with individual inalienable freedom that should not be
surrendered to another. Hegel found serious faults against this liberalist
individualist absolute democracy. He saw its demolition and replacement as the
hope of a new socio-political order,
HEGEL’S AIM OF POLITICS
Hegel aimed at
introducing a substantial change in the entire socio-political structure but
with a special reference to Germany.
To achieve this he brought in his new logic, the dialectic which is the
underlying principle for validation of the historical necessity of a people’s
national mentality and spirit. Again
he wanted to present a view of the individual as an entity whose end is the
absolute spirit, and without the existence of the absolute spirit it automatically loses its
authenticity as a substantial individual.
the de facto German government which he says has not yet arrived at a national
unity requires a binding force to achieve its organic structure. This, in fact,
would elevate it to the level where it will be the teleology or the ‘entelechy’
of the individual. It would be the highest authority, the most moral being and
the superlative synthesis of all families and civil societies.
At such a stratum, it will dedicate itself to the
so-called Hegelian Nobel act of institutionalizing the common interest and
defending it against all external and internal conflicts. Thus the state will
not only embody or encapsulate its citizens but also pastures them like a
flock. This then gave Hegel more courage to hold that the state is far superior
to and qualitatively different from the civil society. That is why he said:
The state is the actuality of
concrete freedom. But concrete freedom consists in this, that personal
individuality and its particular interests not only achieve their complete
development and again explicit recognition for their right (as in the family
and civil society) …they also pass over of
their own accord into the interests of the universal,… they know and
will the universal. Even recognize it as their own substantive mind; they take
it as their end and aim and are active in its pursuit. The result is that the
universal does not prevail or achieve completion along with particular
interests and through the co-operation of particular knowing and willing…
The summary of his
political purpose could rightly be regarded as an effort to reconcile freedom
and authority which is accomplished when the state emerges and imposes its laws
(in the form of the constitution) upon the lesser associations in which the
individuals are involved. Sequel to this he upholds a standardized organic
system which is directly contrapuntal to Rousseau’s absolute democracy.
More over, his desire
includes portraying the state as an unrivalled and magnificent institution that
invests its government with standards of absolute reason and laws that are
universally valid. To this end he sets out to reconstruct political philosophy
in general. Little wonder then, the outcome of such an ambitious venture was
his elegant work “The Philosophy of Right”- a work that is difficult to
comprehend. It was as a result of this incomprehensibility of this material
that many people described him as a fellow that embraced an abstract
Hegel’s aim was to set
forth a philosophical system so comprehensive that it would encompass the ideas
of his predecessors and create a conceptual framework in terms of which both
the past and future could be understood philosophically. Such an aim would
require nothing short of a full account of reality itself. Thus, Hegel
conceived the subject matter of philosophy to be reality as a whole. This
reality, or the total developmental process of everything that is, he referred
to as the Absolute.
According to Hegel, the
task of philosophy is to chart the development of the Absolute. This involves
first, making clear the internal rational structure of the Absolute; second,
demonstrating the manner in which the Absolute manifests itself in nature and
human history; and, third, explicating the teleological nature of the Absolute,
that is, showing the end or purpose towards which the Absolute is directed.
Right, trans.by T.M. Knox,(London:
 Reich is a noun meaning; German state or empire(esp.
formally):example: the third Reich (i.e. Germany under
Hitler’s rule (1933-1945)
 H.Marcus, Reason and
Britain Brothers Limited.1969). p.13
 G.H.Sabine,A History of
Political Theories,4th ed. London:
 M.I. Nwoko, Basic World
Political Theories, Nigeria:
Claverianum press, 1988. p.154
 G.W.F Hegel, The Philosophy
of Right, p.10
 Entelechy is that that has potentials; especially future prospect.
The Aristotelian “entelechy” was a form of vital force that converted all
possibilities (teleological propensities) into actualities. It was the guiding
spirit that accounted not only for the maintenance of life, but for its
development, as in progression from egg to adult organism.
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 G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of