Georg Hegel is hard to figure out. There is a lot of disagreement on his political philosophy as Walter Kaufmann admits in the Introduction to the book on Hegel he edited(1). Hegel had an influence on Karl Marx and his philosophy (that is, what I can gather) bore a resemblance to that of today’s neoconservatives. Hegel published four major works, which were added to by his students' lecture notes(2), the dependability of which is doubtful. Also, the authors of the essays in the book have differing points of view on Hegel.
My purpose was to find out how Hegel fits into the neoconservative-leftist picture. It was not easy because of the huge discrepancies among the various interpretations of him.
In the 1820s, Hegel lived in Prussia, a strict monarchy. What he called for in his Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Elements of the Philosophy of Right, usually called Philosophy of Right) was a liberalization(3). Specifically, he wanted a measure of press freedom, trial by jury, a parliament and restrictions on the monarch. Prussia had none of that at the time. However, in other places in the book he does seem to say the individual is a means to the state's ends (although that interpretation is in dispute), and he makes other anti-freedom statements. So, we may gather that, while he thought Prussia was too authoritarian, actual freedom was not an option either. Authority is good, but it must follow the law(4). Judging from what I see in the T.M. Knox chapter in the Kaufmann-edited book, Hegel was rather moderate. He is trying to reconcile individual liberty with a strong government.
Hegel was opposed to popular rule. Government, he believed, is not responsible to the people, but to the state. The state is an end in itself (reminiscent of Machiavelli). In fact, Sidney Hook, author of the chapter "Hegel and His Apologists," says Hegel's philosophy became the "house philosophy" of the Prussian regime, that Hegel's behavior represented a "betrayal of liberal principles"(5), and that Hegel praised Machiavelli extravagantly(6). Hook gives several reasons Hegel could not possibly be a (classical) liberal. In fact, he was quite the state devotee.
Possibly this is why Karl Marx was his follower. But, what, exactly did Georg Hegel have in common with today's neoconservatives?
There are some commonalities(7). He defended war as the health of the state (which it is, and this is one of the main reasons libertarians are opposed to war). He claimed the state has the right to require membership in some church. The chapter did not say if he cared which church. This looks as though Hegel wanted to use religion to keep the masses in line, as Strauss did. He also believed that the purpose of education is to "transform the soul" by reducing the individuality of students.
This reminds me that advocates of private education call our present-day school system "Prussian." In fact, Hegel did have a profound effect on our current public schools. He believed that children are property, not only that, but are the state's property(8). Sounds like "No Child Left Behind" to me.
I just happened to connect Hook's appraisal of Hegel on education with "Prussian," and decided to see if John Taylor Gatto refers to the present system as "Prussian" and I came across a real goldmine of Hegelian influence. I will resist the temptation to go off on a tangent on that now, since I fully intend to mightily flog the public school system on this blog next winter while showing that the government is destroying the family. However I will now point out that Gatto, on the same page, says that Hegel influenced Karl Marx and — I was surprised at first but no longer am — J. P. Morgan.
I do believe that – dare I suggest? – in Georg Hegel we have a connection between Marx and the neoconservatives. Tenuous it might be, but I think I see it! Well, to libertarian eyes, authoritarian philosophies all look pretty much the same.
Hook says(9), and I believe that he has shown, that Hegel has a wide conservative streak. He certainly was a pro-war, law-and-order man. Hook says that "Hegel will always be found to be the philosopher-laureate of the Establishment," a defender of the status quo(10). Change was okay, as long as it did not come from the masses(11).
Hegel was also compared by Hook to Nietzsche in his anti-Christianity(12).
Hegel had a belief that I would say is elitist, similar to that of the neoconservatives. Hook says he believes that if anything needs to be done, it should be done by "those whom the 'world spirit' has entrusted with the destinies of the people, either the officialdom or the great men, the Caesars of world history”(13). And, these "great men" and officials "must not be judged by ordinary principles of morality." In other words, like our present Bush administration officials, they are allegedly better.
Hook then asks if this philosophy bears any resemblance to that of Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, or others like them(14). Of course it doesn't! But it does bear a striking resemblance to both Marxism and neoconservatism.
The chapter goes on showing how Hegel subordinates the individual to society and the state. There really is no point in any further discussion here, as Hook has proven the point I was trying to make, that is, unless Hook has Hegel all wrong.
I could rest my case right here, but I will not. I am not through with the neoconservatives yet.
(1) Kaufmann, Walter, Ed., Hegel's Political Philosophy, Atherton
Press, New York 1970.
(2) Ibid. P. 2-3.
(3) Ibid. P. 22.
(4) Ibid. P. 23-25.
(5) Ibid. P. 93.
(6) Ibid. P.102.
(7) Ibid. P. 95.
(8) Gatto, John Taylor, The Underground History of American Education, the Oxford Village Press, New York 2003 P. 106-107.
(9) Kaufmann P. 96.
(10) Ibid. P.96-97.
(11) Ibid. P. 97.
(12) Ibid. P. 103-104.
(13) Ibid. P. 97.
(14) Ibid. P. 97.