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State - Metaphysical Theory, Nelson.docx

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Western University
Political Science
Political Science 1020E
Bruce Morrison

CHAPTER 6 - THE METAPHYSICAL THEORY OF THE STATE  The state is the actuality of the ethical Idea  Hegel’s idealism was a response to the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant, who in turn, was attempting to resolve the profoundly disturbing issues raised by David Hume  Kant attempts to demonstrate the autonomy of the moral will such that reason is required to obey certain ethical obligations imposed by the will: the famous categorical imperative, the essence of which is to treat others from the point of view of ends never means  While initially it had seemed that Kant’s transcendental idealism had saved both theoretical and practical reasons from Hume’s critique, subsequent thinkers began to have doubts  The world, both empirically and morally, is not something out there that is either not comprehensible, as in Hume or divided into distinct realms of theoretical and practical knowing, as in Kant, but knowable precisely because it is embedded and interconnected in our very existence as natural and ethical beings  This Hegel the absolute idea constitutes the ultimate rational organization of the universe that, the dialectic is progressively unfolding to human consciousness  Consciousness now knows itself to be the true reality because it recognizes its own reality as the universal rationality of all things  Kant had argued that freedom can only be defined as the exercise of the rationally moral will  Hegel argues that earlier forms of civilization either had failed to develop those institutions necessary for consciousness to become autonomous  Freedom in its fullest sense, realized only in the modern state according to Hegel, requires that the subjective will of the individual be granted a wide latitude; that is willing of the universal not obscure its particularity  Hegel for in the age of empire, class conflict reduced the polity to insatiable self will  For the state in its modern sense is unquestionably a European institution  Hegel understood that the sociological foundations of the modern state of necessity would be constituted by a new class system premised upon the dominance of the bourgeoisie  Locke’s political theory legitimized the impersonal state on the basis of the protection of rights, but rights defined in economic terms as property  When applied to the community as a whole that is, to the political domain, the function f the state becomes, in Bentham’s famous formulation, to insure the greatest happiness of the greatest number  While this might seem to justify an interventionist theory of the state (as in fact initially it did for Bentham) in fact the early utilitarians were powerful advocates of the laissez-faire system and the negative state, asserting that the free market was the surest guarantee of the greatest happiness principle  In real human terms this new science of politics was utterly lacking as an ideology of state legitimation  The principle of utility is the state’s authority must be rest on something more ethnically substantive than this  Nationalism never did attain a significant theoretical status  Hegel certainly accepted nationalism as a political useful sentiment when linked to some actual territorial state; he clearly did not accept it as a valid legitimation of the state  Nationalism was based on the notion of the people as the repository of political authority, an idea that had its roots in the liberal doctrine of popular sovereignty developed in its most radical form in rousseau’s concept of the general will  Hegel, what was important to him at any rate, was not the ideology of liberal-nationalism as such but the underlying economic and sociological conditions that had generated this ideology  Hegel’s critique of liberalism for confusing state and civil society rests upon a more profound epistemological critique: its failure to grasp the difference between reason and understanding  Though can become something more than empty abstractions only when it is connected to the concrete expression of the underlying universal rationality of things  Unlike the mere abstract universal posited by the understanding, reason reveals the concrete universal  Liberalism reflected a static, mechanistic, and linear rather than a dynamic organic and dialectical grasp of reality  What is lacking in the liberal view according to Hegel is the recognition that rights, duties or any other ethico-poltical category do not exist abstractly but concretely in the institutions of the state that alone give them reality  The state exists to actualize these rights and duties not just in sense of objectifying them outwardly in the constitutional structure of the state but inwardly in individual consciousness  Hegel’s conception of freedom is radically different from that of the liberals of this day  This view of human freedom, premised though it is upon conformity to the authority of the state, does not abolish individual subjectivity  In Hobbes for example, the will is defined as nothing more than the last appetite in deliberating, a definition that in its essentials was adopted by the early utilitarians  Rousseau’s general will is purely conventional standard derived from contract, an idea that, for reasons that should be at least partly apparent by now, Hegel clearly rejects  Hegel conflates will with reason such that will becomes a moral category rather than a set of appetitive drives  Hegel that the modern state is premised upon will rather than force is to say that the state constitutes by definition an ethical construct  At the same time, the modern state did evolve out of earlier and more basic social elements, moments in Hegel’s terminology, that remains crucial to its
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