Montreal, November 15, 2005 No 160




Dr. Edward W. Younkins is a Professor of Accountancy and Business Administration at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. He is the author of Capitalism and Commerce.




by Edward W. Younkins


          Immanuel Kant's (1724-1804) ideas largely constitute the starting point of G.W.F. Hegel's (1770-1831) thinking, which, in turn, provides a metaphysical framework for Marxian thought. It is in Hegel's philosophy that we find the full expression of the concept of the state as superior to the individual.


          Kant brought about a rebirth of the importance of dialectics by working out the antinomies of reason. According to Kant, serious thought about one general description of the world often leads us to a contemplation of its opposite. Kant thus proposed the paradox that the world consists of antinomies contradictions that cannot be resolved. Hegel built on the idea of Fichte that the antinomies could perhaps be overcome through a synthesis that would transcend the contradiction. Hegel went on to suppose that the two concepts so held in opposition can always be united by a shift to some higher level of thought. According to Hegel, contradictions are inherent in reality and everything is made of opposites. He believed that it is the interplay between opposites that leads to all observable phenomena and our interactions with the world.

          Hegel declares that reality is a systematic progression of clashing contradictions thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. An idealist in metaphysics, he maintains the underlying reality of the universe is the nonmaterial, divine, dynamic, cosmic mind (God, the Spirit, Idea, World Reason, the Absolute, etc.) whose nature it is to evolve constantly, thereby unfolding itself in a series of stages. In one of these stages, the Spirit externalizes itself in the form of the material world, taking on the appearance of numerous seemingly distinct and autonomous individuals. The finite is real only in the sense that it is a phase in the self-development of the Absolute. Nature is thus conceived as a coherent whole and external manifestation of World Reason that is progressively revealed in time and space. Individual minds and actions are all phases or parts of the Divine Mind-they constitute steps in its self-actualization. Not a transcendent being, Hegel's God is an Absolute that is immanent in reality.

          According to Hegel, God as mind, is everything but is unaware of his own identity. God, for Hegel, is not omniscient. This God is driven by need to discover his identity. Unknowledgeable of his own infinitude, God creates the apparent objective world in his search for his own nature. God thus struggles to get past this illusion of otherness. The Absolute (i.e., the primacy of consciousness cosmic spirit) creates the objective world that is in fact a surface appearance. Tensions occur and a dialectical process follows through which truth (i.e., the oneness of all apparent things) is sought.

          Where did Hegel get the notion that God is not omniscient and therefore is unaware of his own identity? Ayn Rand has observed that for Kant one's knowledge lacks validity because to truly know involves relating to reality directly without depending on one's conceptual mechanism. Kant said that to know reality requires a consciousness not limited to specific means of cognition. Perhaps Hegel built on this idea by observing that God has identity and is (or has) consciousness and therefore is likely to be unaware of his own limitlessness.

          The Spirit must progressively actualize itself until it reaches its full development - the key to which is the interplay between opposites. The Absolute finds expression in nature through a process of contradiction. All ideas contain their own contradictions, which, rather than being obstacles to truth, are in fact the very means for achieving truth. These contradictions exist for the imperfectly reflecting human mind. Hegel explains that both the assertion and negation of a statement may be viewed as true if they are understood as imperfect expressions of a higher proposition (synthesis) that contains all that is essential in both of these, embodying it in a fuller entity. This is an ongoing process. The final truth about reality will contain no distinctions of any kind. Everything will be one.

"For Hegel, the State is the highest embodiment of the Divine Idea on earth and the chief means used by the Absolute in manifesting itself as it unfolds towards its perfect fulfillment."

          Hegel understood the world as process rather than as made up of entities. He believed that we need to get below the appearance of things (i.e., to get to the essence) in order to really know them. The essence negates the appearance. The key is to look for tensions and the contradictions that are apparent and inherent to each stage of the process.

          For Hegel, the State is the highest embodiment of the Divine Idea on earth and the chief means used by the Absolute in manifesting itself as it unfolds towards its perfect fulfillment. Hegel argued that the State is the highest form of social existence and the end product of the development of mankind, from family to civil society to lower forms of political groupings.

          The State is a superorganic whole made up of individuals grouped into local communities, voluntary associations, etc. These parts have no meaning except in relation to the State, which is an end in itself. The State can demand that its parts be sacrificed to its interests. Each man is subordinate to the ethical whole if the State claims one's life then the individual must surrender it. Because everything is ultimately one, the collective has primacy over the individual. Hegel's State has no room for the idea of individual rights or a liberal theory of the State; instead it provides an ethical underpinning for totalitarianism. The State is an independent, self-sustaining, superorganism made up of men and having a purpose and will of its own.

          Because men across different groupings (nations) disagree in their moral feelings, each State rightly legislates its own moral code true morality is expressed in and through the laws of the State that must be obeyed by the citizens of that State but not by the members of other States. The State expresses the universal will and therefore the true will of every individual within it. Obedience to the will of the State is the only way for a man to be true to his rational self, because the State is the true self of the individual. Freedom, the right to act rationally, consists in acting in conformity with the orders of the government. The State has supreme right against the individual whose highest duty is to submerge himself into the State. Hegel calls for an antidemocratic authoritarian State that has absolute right over its component members precisely in order to attain maximal freedom.

          In any particular era, one State may become the preferred vehicle of the Absolute. This favored State can be recognized by its dominant position in the world arena. That nation has absolute right over all the others, including the right to launch wars. For Hegel, wars among nations are unavoidable and healthy representations of the evolution of the Absolute. The nation that wins the wars during a particular period is the one preferred by God. This position is not a permanent one. Each victorious, conquering nation comes closer to the ideal State than the one defeated-each represents a more perfect incarnation of World Reason.

          The form of Hegel's collectivism is nationalism rather than the majority or mankind as a whole (i.e., a World State). Pitting one nation against another makes possible the even more perfect realization of the Universal Idea. Hegel argues that a World State would not have a contradiction and thus a resulting synthesis would be impossible. However, perhaps it could be argued that a World State would have a contradiction in anarchy with a potential resulting synthesis of freely chosen voluntary communities and associations.