Rationality cannot be its own grounding, and so we must trust in something beyond our own rationality. For Hegel, the State provides grounding for Rationality and Philosophy: without trusting something (“nonrational”) like the State, Philosophical progress would prove impossible. The individual subject is confronted with an ‘infinite variety of opinions,’ and it is not immediately clear which of those “opinions” is right or best.⁸ If the individual could have reason to trust the “Now” though, the individual could compare a given opinion with “the State of things,” and that would at least begin a process of sorting out what has a chance of being true from what has little chance at all. No, not with certainty, but Hegel wants us to see that there is “reason to believe” that if the world has mostly become a place where alchemy is dismissed and the Greek gods denied, then we should start from a place where we assume alchemy is fake and the Greek gods nonexistent (that rationality has developed well). Now, perhaps alchemy isn’t false and perhaps there is truth to Greek mythology, but perhaps everything we’ve ever learned is false — how can thought ever begin, engaging in such radical doubt? Hegel understands the problems explored in “Ludwig” and “The Authority Circle,” both by O.G. Rose — we simply cannot investigate everything and we must accept authority. Fortunately, Hegel provides reason in Elements of the Philosophy of Right to assume that the “collective intelligence” of the State is likely more right than wrong.
It personally helps me to think about “Geist” and “The State” in terms of “collective intelligence,” which brings to mind the work of my friend Lorenzo Barberis Canonico, along with the topic of “emergence,” as discussed by thinkers like Alexander Bard and Alexander Elung. For me, it helps to understand Hegel as describing History as a long and gradual process of “a collective intelligence” fumbling around and gradually coming upon “The Now,” which we have “reason to think” is more right than wrong by virtue of the process itself (as it is the process of “the scientific method” which helps us understand a fact “as science” — the facticity is derived from the process, not from the thing). Hence, “the process of Now” is History, and History is a process that provides us reason to trust “Now” and to make it “the (nonrational) foundation” of our rationality. The “collective intelligence” of History gave rise to a “Now” in which Philosophy has emerged, and hence there is reason to think Philosophy is a legitimate enterprise. Even further, the arising of “The Meaning Crisis” gives us reason to think that Philosophy is necessary, which is to say that failure to excel in it will lead us into an effacement, while success in Philosophy could lead to negation/sublation.
Hegel tells us something very important toward the start of his book, mainly ‘that nature is rational within itself, and that it is this actual reason present within it which knowledge must investigate and grasp conceptually.’⁹ There is an intelligibility to the universe, and History is the process of the “collective consciousness” of the State coming to terms with that intelligibility, and because the State naturally attempts to “be rational” (for humans cannot be motivated by a desire to not be intelligible, a point which points to St. Augustine), there is therefore reason to trust the State as a foundation for our own personal efforts to gain and expand intelligibility.
Nature is intelligible and can be known, and thus the “collective consciousness” of the State is actually coming upon conclusions that “correspond” (“have something to do”) with reality. If nature wasn’t intelligible and didn’t entail truths which could be known, then it wouldn’t matter how effective, justified, or trustable the State was: whatever conclusions the State arose to could not be conclusions we could trust. Alluding to this idea, but also suggesting something important about error and “wrongness,” Hegel writes:
‘To know what the law of nature is we must familiarize ourselves with nature, for these laws are correct and it is only our notions concerning them which may be false.’¹⁰
Hegel can perhaps be thought alongside Wittgenstein’s famous line that ‘the world is everything that is the case.’ What is true is what composes the world, and the State (I will not always say “collective consciousness”) gradually comes to realize and recognize increasingly more of “The Case.” It is not a straight-forward realization though, because humans are capable of error, and thus the development is dialectical, a gradual movement between what we believe is true and what actually turns out to true through “processing” and testing. “The State realizes The Case,” we could say, and because we learn about “The Case” through the processing of “The State,” we have “reason to think” these conclusions about “The Case” are reliable (as conclusions produced by “the scientific method” are ones we have unique reason to trust in).
Anyway, Hegel suggests that nothing in nature is “wrong,” that “wrongness” doesn’t exist in nature and/or “The Case.” And so if “The State” becomes more like “The Case” with time, then “The State” will become more right. And that sums up a thrust of Hegel’s thought: “wrongness” is human, and so if “The State” becomes more like “The Case,” then “The State” will prove to be a human creation that reduces wrongness without reducing humanity. This is key: humanity creates wrongness, so if we escaped humanity we would escape wrongness, but we’d also cease to exist, so how do we “limit the wrongness” of humanity without “reducing away humanity?” This is where the advantages of “collective consciousness” become apparent: “collective consciousness” is a result of humanity and yet cannot be reduced to an individual. It is a human creation that is not reducible to a single human, and thus it is “human” without being “merely human” while also not prone to the same “errors of wrongness,” etc.
Hegel begins The Philosophy of Right describing how humanity is “thrown” into a tragedy, though it is a necessary tragedy, for otherwise we wouldn’t exist. ‘The will which is free in and for itself,’ Hegel tells us at the very start, ‘as it is in its abstract concept, is in the determinate condition of immediacy.’¹¹ We experience ourselves as free and limitless, as beings who “ought” to be free (it’s the most natural thing in the world), but we immediately find ourselves in a world which entails “necessities” and “determinations”: there is an immediate split between how we experience ourselves (and how we thus conclude we “ought” to be able to live), and the kind of world we find ourselves in the middle of experiencing. The will experiences itself in ‘reference to itself [as] purely abstract,’ which is as free and outside of determinations, but the will experiences itself as such with a ‘simultaneous encounter [with] an external world,’ and that world entails limits on the will.¹² What makes possible our experience, which feels as if we should be limitless, is what limits us: it is possible for us to feel we should be utterly free because of a conditionality which means we are not utterly free.
We are born with levels of freedom but are not “totally free,” and yet we experience ourselves as “supposed to be totally free.” ‘Thus a conflict may arise between what is and what ought to be, between the right which has being in and for itself, which remains unaltered, and the arbitrary determination of what is supposed to be accepted as right.’¹³ ¹⁴ How do we manage this tragedy? An “abstract freedom” that lacks any determination or necessity is meaningless, but the moment “abstract freedom” is confronted with necessity, it is no longer free, and worse yet we must live with the pathological and paradoxical feeling like it “ought” to be totally free and yet finding itself “necessarily” determined. How can we ever come to terms with this tension? Well, this is the role of the State: it is a “collective consciousness” that can gradually increase our freedom through History so that we learn to live with Determinations (a term I will capitalize in this paper in honor of Hegel) without losing our minds; additionally, whenever we encounter Determinations, we can remind ourselves that the State is out there, gradually improving our situation, and just knowing that can help us live with our paradoxical plight. In this way, the State can function therapeutically: we inevitably encounter Determinations and feel in our subjectivity that we shouldn’t feel Determined, but thanks to knowing about the State and trusting it (which Hegel has worked to justify), we can avoid falling into pathology.
Paradoxically, our very tension with Determinations today, in our modern world, seems more difficult to live with than in the past: again, referring to Freud, it is rich and “first world nations” which deal with mental illness more than poor nations. Perhaps when we had to spend all our time eating and surviving, we didn’t have time to really feel that we “ought” to be able to do so much more, but now that we are wealthier and have more time, we have more time to “reflect” on our Determinations, thus making Determinations more difficult to accept. Perhaps we could say that as humanity overcame basic needs (food, shelter, survival, etc.), the reality of Determination became more difficult to live with, perhaps because it feels like we ought not to have to live with it: after all, we’ve bested nature.
Thus, as nature is overcome, the reality of Determination becomes more vivid and difficult to ignore. As we gain more “free time,” we feel we should be more free, and yet what often just increases is a feeling of anxiety regarding how we should use our freedom (which doesn’t make us feel very free at all). Paradoxically, gaining freedom can make us feel like we’re not free, precisely because we feel like we must then decide how we use this freedom. This is a critical paradox and tension: gaining freedom from nature makes us less free to avoid dealing with the problem of freedom. And we in that problem find that we are Determined to face the tension of freedom: we cannot gain freedom from nature and not at the same time feel Determined to feel the anxiety of that freedom. And so freedom from nature does not mean we are free from Determination, either in the sense that we are still confronted with a “world” that entails limitations, and in the sense that the “world” indeed makes us free, and thus we are Determined in freedom to suffer the anxiety of freedom, a reality that becomes increasingly unavoidable and undeniable as nature’s challenge lessens (we say “the map is indestructible” in O.G. Rose, referring to ideology, so we can say “the territory is inescapable”).
And so we have the world today, ever confronting Determination, a state in which the “limitless experience” of ourselves as subjects feels dishonored and tricked, for we naturally believed that the reason we were limited was because of nature, and so as we have modernized and gained wealth, we naturally believed that the tension of our “abstract freedom” would finally be calmed and addressed. This has not been the case, and this is devastating, so how can we live with this devastation? This has been a concern of “The Philosophy of Lack” series with Dr. Cadell Last, Tim Adalin, Alex Ebert, and myself, but notice the term “Philosophy” in the title, which hints back at why Hegel’s justification of Philosophy is so critical. Philosophy is necessary for us to handle and live with the revelation that overcoming nature is not the same as overcoming Determination, and hence why Philosophy has “emerged” precisely now, as the State has moved through History to a place where limitation is increasingly overcome. The solving of nature leaves us exposed and vulnerable to the reality of Determination, and we will only learn to live with Determination if we are equipped and armed with Philosophy. And to Hegel’s horror, he saw people dismissing Philosophy as elitist and a waste of time. Yes, the emergence of Philosophy correlates with elitism, but that does not mean it is elitism, a mistake that leaves us completely exposed to being effaced by “elitist Determination.”
To elaborate on how “The Collective State of Now” works, consider how the chances of a given person knowing how to read Latin on a handwritten note is low, but the more people in the room, the higher the chance at least one person knows the language. If one person knows it, then everyone in the room can know what the note says, and then it is “practically” as if everyone “knows Latin.” In this way, the probability of a collective group “being right and moving forward” is higher than regarding a single individual, and keep in mind that if a single person invents a technology that solves a problem, thanks to interconnection and globalization, everyone can benefit from it. And since people are confronted by their very experience with problems, everyone will be positioned to try to solve those problems, and if one person does, everyone can benefit to the degree others share in the same experience. Since we are discussing “experience” though (not just an abstract notion), it is probable others share the problem, for people share degrees of facticity, determinations, and “world.”
People naturally experience problems as “things they want to make right,” a point which suggests Hegel is correct that we are compelled toward Rightness versus Wrongness, even though we might mistake Rightness with only a Semblance. However, the more interconnected the world, the more it is the case that if a single person realizes that difference between Rightness and Semblance in an instance, the more everyone can benefit from that solution and realization (the finding its isolated), which is to say there might be an incentive for the State to become interconnected and globalized precisely for this reason, to increase the probability of determining Rightness from Semblance (thanks to the dynamics of a “collective consciousness”). Since we generally share similar Determination as a humanity, if we are interconnected, the realizations of Rightness by one person can benefit many, as the realizations of Rightness in other areas by others can benefit everyone, and so on. In this way, we can see why the State might develop in a direction which increases interconnection, and also why the State is likely to gain in Rightness through history, seeing as it also “saves its progress” along the way, per se (once a way to treat water is discovered, that technique can be remembered and shared, and once the internet is invented, the internet cannot really be “un-invented,” per se). Unfortunately, now that nukes have been invented, it’s possible for progress to come to a sudden stop…
It is possible for an individual to oppose the collective and State, so we are not pressured to “think like everyone else,” but we are indeed tested by the phenomenological world and Determination: if we believe we know how to solve a problem in a way that no one else believes in, then we don’t have to bend our view to make everyone else happy, but we will ruthlessly be confirmed or corrected by the world and its facticity itself. Determination will not allow an idea to fix pipes work just because we want it to work, but Determination will also not keep an idea to fix pipes from working because everyone else on planet earth thanks we’re a fool. Determination is a truly impartial judge and “object-ive” in that it consists of “objects.” There is grace and yet harshness in things (like God, perhaps).
In this way, we can see in the State how there is room for individual difference yet also a mechanism for spreading and sharing innovations which help us overcome problems, as the State is orientated toward doing since it naturally seeks to increase Rightness and solve problems relative to the Determinations it finds itself experiencing. However, the cost of gaining this efficient “problem-solving collective” is us learning as subjects how to live with one another increasing difference, which is not easy, given all the anxiety this will require us to face. Ultimately, as will be elaborated on, this means history progresses to the degree humanity can learn to treat itself like “The Trinity” (a many with one essence) (which would be for us to engage in “The Phenomenological Journey” which we are justified Now to engage in). This engagement in Hegel’s day would have been “practically inevitable” over enough time, but today we have nukes (which though threatening Hegel’s progressivism, also increase the imperative to study in Hegel).
Moving on, even if we do not make the mistake of conflating Philosophy with elitism and viewing it as a waste of time, there is another mistake Hegel wants us to avoid: the temptation to view civilization and “the modern world” as a mistake as a whole (which we can conflate with a Freudian desire to “return to the womb” or the thoughts of Rousseau). In encountering Determination while abstractly feeling that “we ought to be totally free,” it is easy for humanity to believe that we “did something wrong,” and thus to change course, which brings us back to what we said at the beginning of the paper: where there is error, there must be humanity, for the world is simply “everything that is the case,” and since the world “is” right, it’s easy to think that we “just need to get back to the earth,” which is to say we need to get back to a Rousseauian Eden. If humanity causes “wrongness,” then the less humanity does, the better the world will be, right? Indeed, that seems to follow, but Hegel wants to argue that “the collective intelligence” of the State is different from the individual: indeed, there’s little reason to think “a given individual” won’t fall into error more often than not, but Hegel attempts to justify that humanity “as a whole” develops in a manner that lessens the very “wrongness” that is possible because humanity exists.
Humanity creates possibilities into being which otherwise wouldn’t be possible: humanity brings into existence a “creative freedom” which unbinds us from “causal determination,” but this Creative Freedom must always face and be challenged by Necessity and Determination, and that means Creative Freedom must by extension always have the possibility of “creating wrongness.” Since the world is “everything that is the case,” Wrongness must be created, and only humanity can create (humanity creates/causes, while the world just causes). Wherever there is Wrongness, humanity must have been involved, but so it also goes with Creation. Wrongness and Creation exist in the universe thanks to us, and Hegel would have us see in the State a movement of gradually more Creation. Yes, Wrongness will always be with us, but if we “rise to the occasion” of Creation and new developments in Creation, then Wrongness need not become an effacement.
If there was no Wrongness, there’d be no possibility of negation/sublation, because “negation” requires a difference in time and stages that “ultimately” could be “wrong” and yet nevertheless prove necessary. Error, contradiction, and paradox are necessary in the Creative Process of humanity, but that means Wrongness is always possible (though not necessarily as bad). However, it’s crucial to note that for Hegel Wrongness and Creation aren’t opposite, but parts of the same Humanity that must exist together so that development can exist. Wrongness makes possible change, and that makes possible negation/sublation, but Wrongness also makes possible effacement. How though can we trust that we’ll “advance ahead” into negation/sublation versus effacement? Well, that’s why Hegel passionately argues to defend and justify the State: Hegel gives us reason to trust that the State is heading us in the right direction (even if that advancement isn’t guaranteed). This suggests the multivariate move Hegel is trying to make (of which is critically generated “intersuppositionally” not “presuppositionally” between the people of the State):
1. We have reason to trust that moving forward is “good.”
2. We have reason to trust where we are “now.”
3. We have reason to trust that the “tools” the State has given us our valid and even necessary.
4. We have reason to think we need to use these “tools” “now” to keep advancing into the “good” future.
Thus, we have reason to trust that the State advances in a positive direction, that where the State has brought us to is where is best for us to be, and to trust that Philosophy is justified and valid to use to keep the State advancing.
Now, I will take a moment to focus more on 1 and 2 in the above list, for I think elaborations there would prove valuable. In The Philosophy of Right, Hegel needs to establish that the development of the State is a process of “increasing rightness,” for otherwise why should we believe our experiences of Determination aren’t evidence of “increasing wrongness?” If we do not accept the premise that the State is justified and “more right than wrong” with time, than we can easily believe that Determination is evidence we should “reverse history” or “go back to nature” — we can be tempted to abandon the entire modern world.
Hegel in The Philosophy of Right attempts to shut behind us all the doors we walked through to keep us moving forward (now, not in the future). He knows we will continue to encounter hardship and challenge, and it’s an open question for why we shouldn’t interpret that hardship as “evidence” that we are advancing in the wrong direction. Hegel’s project is to brush that interpretation off the table, to force us to keep facing the challenges now, and to at the same time see developments in the State (like the emergence of Philosophy) as tools which the State provides itself/us to handle these new challenges which arise. It does not seem we need Philosophy to go back to an agrigarian society (even if we could still enjoy Philosophy), but it does seem we need Philosophy to keep advancing (as evident by “The Mental Health Crisis” and responses to “The Meaning Crisis,” say Dugin on Ukraine). The State has arisen to Philosophy, and thus Philosophy is an example of a “tool” the State arises to as it advances so that it can keep advancing, but Hegel realizes that understanding this point is itself a Philosophical point, which means only those who accept Philosophy will “get the point.” That will not do for Hegel, thus why he searched for “justification of Philosophy” in Politics, Property, Family, and so on. Justification for Philosophy must come from an external source, or otherwise only philosophers will accept the need for Philosophy, a class of people who only ever gain prominence when it’s too late to change course (“the owl flies…”)
Philosophy cannot change the course of the State “now,” which again makes it tempting to ignore Philosophy and do something else. But Hegel is trying to accomplish many things at once: he doesn’t want us to judge the necessity of Philosophy in “empirical” terms, such as how well it can change the nation and fix the government, and thus he tell sus “the owl flies…,” but at the same time he also wants us to engage in Philosophy, because Philosophy is necessary for us to come to terms with Determination, so that we don’t turn pathological or undergo effacement. Hegel, I think, attempts to keep us Philosophical by framing Philosophy as moral, which is to say there is an ethical imperative for us to engage in Philosophy, precisely because Philosophy is needed for the State to advance, and the State moves according to both intellectual and moral “rightness.” The State is “Right(eous),” per se.
We cannot use Philosophy to change the State “now,” because what the State currently does is due to past thinking (but if we think today we can be the “past thinking” of tomorrow). I don’t take Hegel to be saying that thinking has absolutely no influence on the State, for of course how else does the State operate but according to the ideas and thoughts of those who rule and run it? Rather, I take Hegel to be saying that today’s Philosophy is not in a place to change the world “now,” only the world “to come.” Philosophy can “chart a path forward,” but it cannot change our path “now.” If we try, we could make the mistake Julien Benda worried against in The Treason of the Intellectuals, which is for intellectuals to become politically minded and thus sources of destruction (as elaborated on in “The Fire of Learners” by O.G. Rose, inspired by Joshua Hansen).
Dr. Todd McGowan offers similar thoughts on what Hegel means in suggesting Philosophy cannot change the world “now.” As discussed elsewhere in O.G. Rose, Dr. McGown riffs on Marx and tells us that ‘[f]or Hegel, the philosopher’s task [was] to interpret the world, not to change it.’¹⁵ As discussed in “The Fire of Learners,” Dr. McGowan writes:
‘For Hegel, attempts to change the world through philosophy will misfire. They will recapitulate what they struggle against […] Philosophers that give practical political advice almost inevitably express the hidden logic of the system they attempt to contest.’¹⁶
Hegel wants us to ‘accept the insubstantiality of whatever authority we worship,’ and rarely did that prove to be the case of philosophers who wanted to change the world “now.”¹⁷ The feeling we need to do something “now” is a hard feeling to resist and live with, but Hegel stresses that we must resist using Philosophy in service of changing the State “now,” both because it’s likely we’ll fall into doing such for the wrong motivations and out of anxiety, and because it literally is true that new ideas are unlikely to change the ideas which have become entrenched in the State “now.” Instead, we must settle on Philosophy “now” always operating on the future, and we must also understand that this is a necessary role if the State is to actually advance from any mistakes it makes versus endlessly repeating them. Also, what Dr. James Hunter writes on “faithful presence” in To Change the World seems to suggests that Hegel was right to warn us against thinking to fix the world “now” — Philosophy is inherently humble or else destructive.
Now, again, this doesn’t mean philosophers have absolutely nothing to do with politics, but to say that they best influence politics indirectly and “dialectically,” and dialectics work best when the different sides relate yet maintain their independence, differences, and uniqueness. If philosophers try to be practical, they will try to be political, and in that way they will become less useful politically, precisely because they will become worse philosophers. Philosophy for Hegel is a consideration of contradiction, and if no one considers contradiction deeply, it will not be possible for us to think dialectically in light of contradiction. Since it is natural for us to abandon contradiction, we need philosophers to “hold our feet to the fire,” per se, but they will fail in this if they are trying to be practical and political.
If we don’t survive our current path, then the work of Philosophy will prove vapid, but on the other hand if we do survive our current path and we lack Philosophical work, we’ll simply repeat the same mistakes as before. We need to have an idea of what we are going to do if “we get through this,” and that is why we need Philosophy — simply note all the legitimate and justified revolutions that have occurred in history that succeeded to overturn real corruption that nevertheless failed because the winning revolutionists didn’t “have an idea” of what they would do once they succeeded and came into power. Revolutions can succeed and still fail when it comes to ruling, and without Philosophy, they likely will. (We must never forget that Hegel cared deeply about the French Revolution.)
Faced with the reality that Philosophy cannot change the world “now,” it is easy to forsake Philosophy in favor of action and “revolution,” but then if we succeed in our revolution, having not engaged in Philosophy, we will lack the intellectual resources to know how we should rule. The State will have corrected Wrongness, but it will lack the resources needed to engage in Rightness. Thus, we must stay Philosophical even when it seems foolish, and to help us “see the task through,” I think Hegel moves to establish Philosophy as an ethical enterprise, as we’ll discuss in the next section. After all, if there is something we can do today to make the world a better place tomorrow, then it is arguably unethical that we don’t do that thing, for we contribute to the hardship of our children.
As a critical note, to draw a connection between Lacan and Hegel (like Žižek so famously has), we can see a role of the State as helping people handle and live with “The Real.” Life is hard, and no one can handle facing the Real all at once, but there are also significant problems if we use the Symbolic and the Imaginary to avoid and suppress the Real entirely. We need to increase our ability to gradually handle the Real, at a rate we can handle, and the State develops through History in a manner that helps us balance that process without breaking something. What the State “arises to” through History are tools part of the process: once Law arose (for example), Law became something we needed to meditate “The Real” instincts of people, whereas earlier Law might not have been needed so much, because humans were more hunters and gatherers who related to a smaller and less diverse group of people. Once Law arose though, it was necessary to live with the Real, or otherwise we’d experience too much of the Real too soon.
Global Economics arose when it was needed to help keep nations from always going to war as they underwent great proximity and levels of interactions; the field of Sociology grew in stature and prominence as Pluralism intensified and we needed greater awareness regarding cultural differences; and so on. Yes, it could be argued that I’m adding all of these functions and explanations retrospectively, and that I can only say Global Economics helped stop war “now,” but that’s exactly the point: Philosophy is in the business of interpreting the logic of History and its unfolding, precisely so that we might understand the reasons for what has arisen in History and how we might go about using and employing those things well in service of living with “The Real.” Perhaps a reason we need Philosophy today to help us meditate the Real is precisely in order to help us see and believe that history entails a mixture of contingency yet logical unfolding: History is not random even if its unfolding isn’t driven by “necessity.” If we do not believe this, as Philosophy can help us believe, then the consequences might be dire — or so there is “reason to think” because Philosophy has arisen “now.”
Again, all this reasoning could be considered circular and self-justifying, but that is why Hegel seeks justification for each field outside of each field, according to the movement and development of History in its emergent (and “intersuppositional”) efforts to help us handle and live with the Real. “The State” and “The Real” are deeply connected, and in a way we could see the State as “the collective conclusions and notions” we have generated for how to best go back living with “The Real” while at the same time not entirely avoiding it or entirely facing it. This problem brings to mind Beatrice’s smile in Dante and “the hiddenness of God” in general, but that will be elaborated on in “Absolute Knowing” by O.G. Rose.
Hegel in The Philosophy of Right works to establish a connection between Intellectual Rightness and Ethical Rightness. Section I of his book is an outline and analysis of “Abstract Right,” which for Hegel flows into Morality and then Ethical Life: it is critical for Hegel to establish that the “movement” of the Mind is simultaneously a movement into greater moral and intellectual “rightness.” If we wanted to say it differently, we could say that Hegel wants to make it clear that “Rightness” is always also “Righteousness.” No, that doesn’t mean the State is “always right,” but it does say that “the movement” of the State is “toward” greater “Right(eous)ness” (if I were to invent a term to signify “the double action” Hegel wants to accomplish). This suggests that what arises in History (Economics, Sociology, Philosophy…) is “right” to consider, that ignoring these developments is the “wrong” course of action.
Again, Hegel argues that there is “reason to believe” that the “collective consciousness” of the State gradually realizes more “rightness” and “ethical rightness” about the world, which is to say that the State develops “correctly” (in both senses of the world). In this way, there is always a simultaneous “moral and intellectual” imperative to honor the State, precisely because the State is always “morally and intellectually” motivated. Again, this doesn’t mean everything that happens in the State is ethical, but rather that there is reason to believe that what “emerges” thanks to the State is something which there is ethical and intellectual reason to consider. If Hegel can establish this, then Hegel might create an ethical imperative to accept and practice Philosophy. Philosophy has arisen at a particular Historic moment with the State precisely to aid the State ahead (we can’t “move ahead” until we get “our head” right, I suppose: moving “ahead” always involves “a head”). If Hegel can succeed in this move, then we might make it unethical to ignore Philosophy, which, indeed, if Philosophy can help us avoid “The Meaning Crisis” and effacement, then there is arguably a case to be made that Philosophy is an ethical undertaking. To ignore it is likely to disregard the health and wellbeing of others.
For Hegel the State manifests a “philosophy of rightness,” and the State does this even though it is composed of a “collective” of individuals who make possible “wrongness” in the world. Individuals all have many opinions about many different topics — ‘their very diversity draws attention to the fact that they are not absolute’ — but if we view the individuals “collectively,” we can see a movement toward Rightness, even if the movement is full of errors and mistakes, and in fact the errors and mistakes are realizations of necessary possibilities so that “a move toward Rightness” might occur at all.¹⁸ ¹⁹ And if Hegel succeeds at establishing ‘[the] rational is actual,’ which is to say that what is rational to us is that which is “significant” to us (following the points of Dr. Todd McGowan), and we can furthermore establish that ethics is rational, then we can establish that what stands out to us as “significant” is that which stands out to us as “right” (in both a moral and intellectual sense).²⁰ If this is true, then we have reason to think that the advancement of the State is justified and trustable on both ethical and intellectual grounds. Philosophy, then, is also ethical (which might mean there is a moral imperative to consider “contradiction,” if we take into consideration the thought of Dr. Todd McGowan). On this point, let us turn to Hegel’s own words:
‘For since the rational, which is synonymous with the Idea, becomes actual by entering into external existence [Exitenz], it emerges in an infinite wealth of forms, appearances, and shapes and surrounds its core with a brightly coloured covering in which consciousness at first resides, but which only the concept can penetrate in order to find the inner pulse, and detect its continued beat even within the external shapes.’²¹
We are stuck using thinking to determine essence, and thinking can be wrong, but Hegel has provided us reason to think that the more individuals arise to a “collective consciousness,” the more there will be reason to think that thinking “actualizes the actual,” which we will also have reason to think is “right” (morally and intellectually). There is reason to believe the State is intellectually and morally “right,” which means Philosophy is also “right,” “right to trust,” and hence “right to do,” which makes sense, seeing as our failure to engage in Philosophy seems to be contributing to “The Mental Health Crisis.” Hegel tells us that his ‘treatise […] in so far as it deals with political science, shall be nothing other than an attempt to comprehend and portray the [S]tate as an inherently rational entity,’ which would mean the manifestation of Philosophy is a “rational event” as opposed to “an elitist event.”²² ‘[As] true philosophy leads to God[, so] the same applies to philosophy and the [S]tate,’ perhaps because both are expressions of the other.²³
For Hegel, ‘the [S]tate emerges only at the third stage, that of ethical life and spirit, at which the momentous unification of self-sufficient individuality with universal substantiality takes place. The right of the [S]tate is therefore superior to the other stages: it is freedom in its more concrete shape, which is subordinate only to the supreme absolute truth of the world spirit.’²⁴ The idea that the State emerges as part “of ethical life” is critical to note, for it further stresses how the State is an ethical phenomenon. Thus, the unification of the individual with the universal into “a collective consciousness” is likewise an ethical development: it is “right” to occur (note that when I use the word “right,” I will almost always mean it in both senses of the term, ethically and intellectually). Hegel will not have us be Rousseauian, though at the same time he is not a future utopian, providing us with a model of political science where we can acknowledge “The Great Enrichment” discussed by Deirdre McCloskey while also accepting the problems of Corporatism which need reform. It’s also interesting to note how in Hegel I’m not sure if there is a hard line between “the government” and “the market” — the State seems to be both, the socioeconomic and sociopolitical “sum” of the humanity of “the collective consciousness,” the whole “State of Things.”
The States operates “rightly”: it is motivated to be right(eous). Thus, we can trust that “the space” we were provided in which to exercise Philosophy and “The Phenomenological Journey” is not “a space” we should question. We may trust our “space,” even though “individually grounding ourselves” is impossible. If any justified basis is “humanly possible,” it is a “collective ground” — no individual effort will do — and so Hegel works to establish that we can trust “the foundation provide by collective consciousness,” which is (intersuppositional and) the State. Once we have for ourselves a “justified ground,” then we can trust that we are ethical to work to realize ‘the subject-matter of the philosophical science of right,” which ‘is the Idea of right — the concept of right and its actualization.’²⁵ ‘Philosophy has to do with Ideas and therefore not with what are commonly described as mere concepts,’ Hegel tells us, which is to say Philosophy is in the business of moving beyond opinions to realizing “Rightness.”²⁶ If the State and/or “collective consciousness” is necessary for determining “Rightness,” this would mean Philosophy must necessarily base itself on and take into consideration the State, which sounds problematic until we understand the State is “The State of Things” and “the collective consciousness,” which means Hegel falls within what I call “Phenomenological Pragmaticism,” a point further brought out by his claim that thinking and existence ‘are two aspects [of the same thing], separate and united, like soul and body. The body is the same life as the soul, and yet the two can be said to lie outside one another.’²⁷ Hegel describes existence following thought like the body follows the soul, and yet also notes the soul is a pure and meaningless abstraction without a body, as thinking is “hardly even an idea” without concretion — but all that will have to be elaborated on elsewhere.
It is possible that Hegel suggests we shouldn’t try to judge the State according to ethical and moral standards, for it is our standard by which we determine the ethical and moral: we cannot judge our standard by our standard. This is perhaps a dangerous move Hegel makes, one that has been used in service of totalitarianism, but this is perhaps why Hegel wants to stress that there is very good “reason to think” that the development of the State is “right.” If Hegel can make this case, there would be reason to trust this standard (we cannot judge) and to “give it the benefit of the doubt,” but at the same time I don’t think Hegel wants us to think everything the State does is good (hence why he goes to great lengths to clarify his famous and problematic apriorism). We can certainly correct the State, but Hegel wants us to be careful to think we can replace the State. In fact, perhaps a reason Philosophy emerged from the State according to the State was precisely so that the State could be corrected when it wronged. Perhaps Philosophy is to play a role of dialectically “checking and balancing the State,” which the State needs “now,” in this period of development, because of the growth of complexity, diversity, and the like. In the past, the State did not need Philosophy as badly to “keep it from totalitarianism” but now it does (a point suggested in Belonging Again). Hence why the State manifest Philosophy, and hence why there is even more reason to understand Philosophy as “right to do” versus “elitist to do.”
Why should we assume the existence of the concept of Rightness though, either ethically or intellectually? Isn’t that assumption itself presuppositional? A great question, and first we should note that if we couldn’t assume Rightness, then we also couldn’t claim that it’s “right to believe there is no Rightness,” which is to say Rightness is required to meaningfully question the existence of Rightness. In this way, Rightness justifies itself as a concept, for it is the concept necessary to even talk about the concept (if there was no possibility of “correspondence” at all, then we couldn’t even talk about “coherence,” because how can we meaningfully talk about even “coherence” corresponding with itself?). That said, the main reason we can meaningfully discuss Rightness is because the State organizes itself according to Rightness relative to Determination, which is to say the phenomenological and “concrete” world. Rightness is not primarily an abstract concept (such as, “I think it is right to reduce poverty”), which would be more presuppositional, but rather Rightness is based on the intersuppositional experience between “I and other/world” in which I observe and experience someone in poverty (I experience how poverty shortens life-expectancy, causes unhappiness, how it leads to illness that cannot be treated, how unhappiness grows, and the like). This is concrete, not imagined, as is the experience of how the State provides ways for people to reduce poverty, increase life-expectancy, and the like, and though I could wonder if this “should” be what is happening, since Hegel has provided grounds for “assuming the State of Now,” then I have grounds to assume that reductions in poverty, increased life-expectancies, and the like, are good.
But isn’t it a value judgement to conclude that “a person ought not to be ill?” Yes, but thanks to the State developing to a place where life-expectancy can be increased thanks to technology which has emerged collectively “now,” there is “reason to think” the technology should be used versus not. If technologies arise to reduce illness, then that would mean the State has collectively and intersuppositionally concluded that “reducing illness” is likely more Right than wrong, and though this cannot be claimed with certainty, we do not need certainty: we only need “reason to assume” such is the case, as Hegel has provided us. Perhaps it’s best not to reduce illness for some reason, but our (justified) “starting position” errs on the side of using what has arisen “now” (which includes reducing poverty, increasing technological possibility, etc.).
Also, critically, the State arises to technologies (for example) which people can choose to use or not: the State expands a “horizon of possibilities” for individual citizens to consider. It is not the case that the State is justified to force people to use the internet, even if assuming the internet should be used is a justified orientation since the internet emerged in the State. This is critical to note, for it means that what the State emerges to is primarily more like “a tool” than an obligation, which then people can use and “test” to see if the tool (that’s very existence suggests it might be Right) actually is (more) Right. When the State arises to ways to increase life-expectancy, if many people begin using those methods, then there is “reason to think” those methods are beneficial. There is a “value judgment,” yes, but it is a “collective value judgment,” which is far more likely to be Right than an individual value judgment, especially since this judgment is intersuppositional and based on how it changes a concrete reality of Determination. Please note that everything argued so far suggests a reason why we need Determination is precisely in order to intersuppositionally organize Rightness — if we didn’t find ourselves “thrown” in Determination (and suffering a feeling of being denied an “Abstract Freedom), then Rightness couldn’t be determined, and thus we could feel Right in being freed. In this, we find another way in which Determination is needed for freedom, suggesting why the key for freedom is “choosing” Determination into Necessity.
We should note that a day might come when social pressure to use the internet are strong and citizens are even “practically forced” to use it, but this kind of pressure doesn’t tend to arise until years and years of the technology being tested and used — the “practical force” isn’t arbitrary and sudden (and if it is, it must be by the government and thus isn’t yet justified by the State — otherwise, the government wouldn’t have to be forcing it on people) (please note State pressure still isn’t “technically force,” which is an important distinction). I am “practically forced” to use electricity and cars, but few people feel oppressed by this “practical force,” because the technologies are so integrated into our everyday lives as part of our “backgrounds,” positions which the technologies have earned in proving so efficient (and likely more Right than wrong). What is part of our “background” and “practically forcing” us thus is experienced not as oppression but as a Determination which has become a Necessity — an enabler of freedom — all of which is a development only possible in history and through time.
We don’t need a judgment on “how to live” which doesn’t involve “a value judgment” at all (for we cannot assume that “a value judgment” is wrong without making “a value judgment,” please note), only “justified reason” to ascribe to “the value judgment,” which Hegel provides us with through “the intersuppositions of the State of Nature/Now” (which is critically not primarily presuppositional). This “nonrational foundation” aligns with Hume’s “common life,” which was argued in “Deconstructing Common Life” in The Conflict of Mind as necessarily so that rationality doesn’t devour itself (and the very fact we must “assume the Now” to keep rationality from devouring itself is in itself reason to believe the assumption is valid). If we cannot determine how we should act without values, then there is “reason to think” values are needed — the question is only “the basis” of those values (concrete or abstract, intersuppositional or presuppositional), hence why Hegel argues to justify the State (which ultimately is “us now”).
Fine, but for another counter: hasn’t the State today arisen to demographic crises in Japan, various addictions, “The Meaning Crisis,” nuclear weapons, and other problems? Should we assume that these are Right? An excellent question, but this is why the State “as the collective people” (versus government) is so important, because these are things people probably do not want, as we can assess intersuppositionally. The Japanese don’t want a demographic crisis, as people don’t want addictions, and so there is “reason to think” these have arisen as unavoidable byproducts of something which people do want (in seeing it as Right) and that thus the State helped arise to in a justified fashion. Perhaps a given government would like nuclear weapons and a reduction of family size, but if the people don’t want this, then there is “reason to think” that it would be better for the State to cease building nukes and to start supporting pregnancy. Perhaps not, but there is more reason to side with the State than the government, given that the State is naturally “toward” Rightness.
This all suggests why it is important to see the State as developing intersuppositionally according to a “sense of Rightness,” and why we are justified to assume we should think “what is collectively wanted” — the tricky part is simply that “what is wanted” tends to be what emerges through time and thus become what “is,” for the State naturally wants Rightness. This suggests why there is room in Hegel for Reformation and even Revolution, but only after we strongly “assume the Rightness of Now” — Reformation and Revolution must be hard earned. But even when these are earned, the work of Reform and Revolution must be primarily the work of the subject, which is to say a work on ourselves and how we carry ourselves in the world, more so than overthrowing the system. Yes, there are times to change the system, but that approach must come after or at least with “work on the subject.” This is what Hegel wants us to think and how Hegel wants us to organize ourselves.
Everything for Hegel is A/B and “tragic,” meaning we are always in the business of “tradeoffs” and competing goods. Considering this, it is impossible for Rightness to be sought without emerging to that which is “a mixture of the good and the bad” (A/B), and so the Now will always consist of both. But thanks to Hegel we are justified to assume that this “mixture of good and bad” now is the mixture we are supposed to think and face (not some past or future “mixture”), and we are primarily to focus on “the work of the subject” so that we are ready to separate the good from the bad or less good of whatever “mixture” we find ourselves faced with (“now”). Take the internet (today): it has spread and the majority of people use it regularly (which is more important than people “saying” they like it or dislike), which means the “value judgment” of an action based on experience (and “such-ness,” as I’ve discussed in “The ‘Such/Lack Solution’ to the ‘Is/Ought Problem’ ” by O.G. Rose). As a result of “this want-in-action,” there is “reason to think” that “the mixture of good/bad that is the internet” is justified to exist “Now” (as more Right than wrong), and thus that the internet should be something we think to live with versus “think away.” We could easily wonder if the internet should exist or not if our thinking was “unbound,” which is why it is important Hegel gives us “reason to think” we should “bind” our thinking to “thinking the Now” — otherwise Philosophy would devour itself and consequently fail to be used to condition the subject for our current State as it develops onward today (the future is always “today”).
It is precisely because the State can only ever emerge to “a mixture” (A/B) that work on the subject is primary, because every age must “sort the good from the bad” of whatever arises. If we are focused on a future where there is no such mixture, we will not be doing this work of the subject, and so we will not be ready to face whatever “mixture” constitutes today. Everything is A/B, but not all A/Bs are equal, and developed subjects are needed precisely to handle the reality of tense A/B (versus seek the stable and unreal A/A) and to determine which A/B is “more likely best.” Furthermore, since whatever the State arises to is A/B, we are never justified to demonize “otherness,” for that is always part of whatever the State generates — the question is only how we might live with/as “other-ness.”
Critically, if the justification of “Now” is intersuppositional, then thinking requires intersuppositions which requires “other-ness,” and “Now” that requires (diverse) “others.” Living with others requires “learning to live together” so that we might experience what emerges out of “the intersuppositional space” between us (which requires “conditioning”), and that means we need Ethics — and so we see why Philosophy requires Ethics as Ethics require Philosophy. We need others to justify Philosophy as we need Philosophy to act Ethically and manage difference: Rightness and Righteousness are linked. In the past, perhaps the more individualistic morality was enough (the prime “intersuppositional space” being between the individual and “other” world), but “Now” we require Ethics because our main “intersuppositional space” is other people. Ethics and Philosophy are “Now” indivisible (an A/B needed for A/B).
As a closing note, and as discussed earlier in The Absolute Choice, please note that if it is possible to perhaps “glimpse” what could be called “The Absolute” or “Meta-Question” of Samuel Barnes thanks to “intersuppositional spaces,” and if indeed the development of History is intersuppositional versus only presuppositional, then there would be reason to believe that what “emerges” in History has something to do with “The Absolute,” and that thus knowledge which has something to do with “The Absolute” is possible, saving us from nihilism and “the death of philosophy,” which otherwise seems inevitable. Given this possibility, there is further reason to trust the State as participating in (however incompletely) something Unknown.
In the Preface of Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel gives us an insight into how he views the historic significance of his moment:
‘Besides, it is not difficult to see that ours is a birth-time and a period of transition to a new era. Spirit has broken with the world it has hitherto inhabited and imagined, and is of a mind to submerge it in the past, and in the labour of its own transformation. Spirit is indeed never at rest but always engaged in moving forward. But just as the first breath drawn by a child after its long, quiet nourishment breaks the gradualness of merely quantitative growth — there is a qualitative leap, and the child is born — so likewise the Spirit in its formation matures slowly and quietly into its new shape, dissolving bit by bit the structure of its previous world, whose tottering state is only hinted at by isolated symptoms.’²⁸
‘But this new world is no more a complete actuality than is a new-born child; it is essential to bear this in mind […] When we wish to see an oak with its massive trunk and spreading branches and foliage, we are not content to be shown an acorn instead. So too, Science, the crown of a world of Spirit, is not complete in its beginnings. The onset of the new spirit is the product of a widespread upheaval in various forms of culture, the prize at the end of a complicated, tortuous path and of just as variegated and strenuous an effort. It is the whole which, having traversed its content in time and space, has returned into itself, and is the resultant simple Notion of the whole. But the actuality of this simple whole consists in those various shapes and forms which have become its moments, and which will develop and take shape afresh, this time in their new element, in their newly acquired meaning.’²⁹
The “State” in The Philosophy of Right has a very similar function to the “Spirit” in Phenomenology of Spirit, almost as if “The State of Things” is the physical manifestation of Spirit, both in terms of socioeconomics and everydayness. Every new age entails the old, and we cannot fully grasp the role of the State except from considering it from the end, history, and competition of its development. Unfortunately, the “ground” and “end” are not accessible to us, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there (the inability to access x is not proof that x doesn’t exist). Thus, Hegel seeks for us to be justified in thinking “there is reason to believe” the State expresses its “foundation” and “final end” in all of its present moments, for this would then give us reason to trust “The State of Things.” Without this trust, we lack reason to trust that Philosophy is worth doing, and so all of history and humanity can fall into arbitrariness and “epistemic nihilism.”
But how do we know “rightness” exists at all? If “rightness” doesn’t exist, then efforts to establish trust are foolish, and by extension Philosophy will prove finished, for we will be unable to establish meaningful differences between “right and “wrong,” a “Science of Philosophy” from a collection of opinions. For Hegel, ‘the concept of right, so far as its coming into being is concerned, falls outside the science of right; its deduction is presupposed here and is to be taken as given.’³⁰ We must assume “rightness” exists, for we certainly cannot arrive at a justification for “rightness” after we begin thinking (we might here run against Kurt Gödel and his “Incompletion Theorem”). Furthermore, if we assume “rightness doesn’t exist,” we cannot be right about “rightness not existing,” and so it’s simply impossible not to operate according to this assumption. It’s part of Determination, which means the inescapability of “assuming rightness” itself is one of the determinations we should “will” and “want.” We should “want” to live in a world where “rightness” exists, and hence the corresponding determinations be expressions of what we want. Hence, determinations contribute to freedom: something we must assume becomes something we want to assume. That said, there can indeed be temptations to not want “rightness” because people can use that to oppress others and assert dominance (in claiming to have truth while others don’t), to build hierarchy, and so on. Much of Postmodernism can be seen as a reaction against “rightness” — would Hegel have us regress?
Hegel would not deny that a notion of “rightness” could be used to control others, but he would also warn that if “rightness doesn’t exist,” it would not be possible for us to “want” our determinations and not feel as if this desire was ultimately “arbitrary,” removing from us existential stability. We want to will determinations which strike us as “actual,” and that requires a doctrine of “rightness” in which determinations can be rooted, but that means we require the “rightness” which can be used to oppress (though “rightness” can also be used to challenge that oppression). For Hegel, this presents a challenge we can use “The State of Things” to help address.
‘[I]t is only as thinking intelligence that the will is truly itself and free,’ Hegel tells us, but thinking is “practically meaningless” without doctrines of “rightness,” for the possibility of “rightness” is why there can be a meaningful distinction between “a stream of images in our head” and “ideas stringed together for a meaningful reason.”³¹ But again, where there is “rightness,” there could be oppression, which for me hints at why “The State” is not identical with the government but “the collective consciousness” of humanity moving through History. Yes, it seems as if the Governmental State can play a significant role in “the collective consciousness of humanity,” but again I do not see Hegel’s “State” as being reducible to a governmental enterprise. Anyway, if it is the “collective consciousness” which suggests the possibility of “rightness” and gives us good reason to assume “rightness,” then Hegel has based “rightness” on a source that cannot be located in a single individual, thanks to a single government, or thanks to a single nation, meaning Hegel establishes the possibility of “rightness” while reducing the likelihood of using that “rightness” for oppression by some against others or the whole. Yes, oppression is still possible, and Hegel does seem to think it is possible for certain individuals (say Napoleon) or nations to more so represent and align with the “rightness of collective consciousness,” inviting hierarchy, but we should at least note how Hegel also works against using “rightness” in that way.
Hegel must walk a very fine line between totalitarianism and epistemic nihilism, and I personally respect him for trying. We have to assume “rightness” exists, and we have “reason to think” that “The State of Things” expresses that “rightness,” though perhaps through “a glass dimly” (to riff off Paul). This “rightness” is universally right, and hence why Hegel talks about willingness as an act of joining universality:
‘When I will what is rational, I act not as a particular individual, but in accordance with the concepts of ethics in general: in an ethical act, I vindicate not myself but the thing. But a person who does something perverse gives the greatest prominence to his particularity.’³²
Hegel makes a fascinating distinction in Phenomenology of Spirit between “freedom” and “independence,” a distinction I think we see at work here. To lift a section from the paper “The Absolute Choice”:
In Hegel, “incompleteness” and “lack” (A/B) are good, for they are what make possible Reason and also freedom. On this point, I will quote an interesting section:
‘Just as Reason, in the role of observer, repeated, in the element of the category, the movement of consciousness, viz. sense-certainty, perception, and the Understanding, so will Reason again run through the double movement of self-consciousness, and pass over from independence into its freedom.’³³
Hegel discusses “independence” here as if an opposite of “freedom” — a split which flies in the face of our natural associations. We often associate “independence” with “freedom,” but Hegel seems to see them in conflict. Why exactly is because “independence” is where “I = I,” meaning we are in a Self-Consciousness that does not take “otherness” seriously, and that means we are stuck in A/A, a “closed system.”
For Hegel, “independence” is a state of Self-Consciousness which doesn’t take “otherness” seriously (to use language from his early book), and so it is a state in which we treat ourselves as “autonomous” and “independent” from everyone else. This is for us to treat ourselves as “complete,” and funny enough if we are complete then “everything is finished,” and so we are stuck with “what is the case’ (to allude to Wittgenstein). This is why for Hegel “independence,” which means “completeness,” is the opposite of “freedom”: to be “free,” we must remain “open,” which is existentially difficult and not what we tend to mean when we claim to desire freedom.
Hegel hopes to establish that gradual alignment with “rightness” will lead to a world where “otherness” is increasingly integrated into ourselves, and Hegel sees in the development of the State an ever-greater incorporation of “difference” and “otherness.” The emergence of Globalization and Pluralism suggests Hegel’s correctness, all of which can help us make sense of what Hegel means when he writes that ‘[t]he commandment of right is therefore: be a person and respect others as persons.’³⁴ For Hegel, a person is an “otherness,” and so “treating others as we want to be treated” is an act of treating everyone as “I/other.” This line of reasoning is argued in Phenomenology of Spirit, but Hegel seems to see the development of the State as a gradual realization of the necessity to accept “I/other” (A/B), a view I think Pluralism and Globalization validate. Now, it’s not guaranteed we’ll succeed at living according to I/other and A/B, for we might destroy ourselves first, but for Hegel it’s clear what we must do, though ultimately it will be up to us to decide if we ultimately do it. With time, it will increasingly become less tenable of an option to live as if “I = I” is the case (which is “A = A” and Self-Consciousness), which is to say we must adjust our way of life or we will undergo effacement. Until this moment in history, we could “get by” living according to “A = A,” but that is no longer the case, hence why Philosophy has manifest so that we might realize and live according to “A/B.” But again, the choice is ours.
‘The person must give himself an external sphere of freedom in order to have being as Idea,’ Hegel writes, which I take to mean that we must choose to move beyond Self-Consciousness (A/A) into “integrating with otherness” (A/B), for indeed the external world is “other” from us.³⁵ To use language from earlier, we need to want our determinations and the necessities we have been “thrown” into, which suddenly transforms the external world into expressions and manifestations of our freedom. But how do we desire and will what we have been “thrown” into, that which we seem naturally biased against in reality being what keeps us from returning to “abstract freedom” (like “Returning to the Womb” in Freud)? Well, not easily, but if the State makes possible higher qualities of life, better economic wellbeing, better social environments — it might be possible.
On this point, we can see a role of “the collective consciousness” as improving “the lot of humanity,” which can make us want this life into which we have been “thrown,” and a role of the State is indeed this function. This hints at why Hegel can be associated with Progressivism, for there seems to be an idea in Hegel that the State improves our quality of life, increasingly more through time, so that we “want” the world we find ourselves in and thus “want” our determinations, thus transforming them into expressions of freedom. Furthermore, if Hegel can convince us that there is “reason to think” the State is aligned with “rightness,” then the increase of our quality of life will be justified and not arbitrary (though that doesn’t mean it is necessarily something good — that will depend on us and how we act).
Please note Hegel is not saying that our reason for trusting the State is the increase of the quality of life, but that we have “reason to accept” the increase in our quality of life versus renounce it like an isolationist guru. Many people in history have been skeptical of material wellbeing, but Hegel is suggesting that material well-being might “suggests” a new phase of historic development (one which requires Philosophy). It is neither good nor bad, but it is “justified” to be what it is — the question is only how might respond. Hegel will not have us flee into the forest or long for the past: the present moment is legitimate and justified. We need to focus on it; after all, our fate is contingent.
As discussed in “The Absolute Choice” by O.G. Rose, when we desire all our determinations, then the “I” takes seriously that which is “other” from it, which announces the critical move from Self-Consciousness to Reason in Phenomenology of Spirit. ‘[P]reviously,’ Hegel tells us, before moving from A/A into A/B and Reason, the subject ‘did not understand the world, [but rather] withdrew from it’ (into A/A), which is to say that Self-Conscious subjects fail to consider the world as “actual” or significant.³⁶ “Otherness” in general was viewed in Self-Consciousness by the subject as ‘the negative of its essence’ and avoided, and in this state the subject indeed feels similarly about all determinations which the world “throws” at the subject (they are “negatives”).³⁷ As Self-Conscious and before Reason, for the subject “otherness” was ‘the negative of its essence,’ which is to say that acknowledging “otherness” was viewed as a violation of the subject.³⁸ It is only ‘as Reason [that we can come to be] at peace with [“otherness”],’ which by extension means that it is only in Reason that we can desire our determinations, thus granting ourselves the possibility of freedom.³⁹ When the subject cannot accept “otherness” as a positive, it will be difficult if not impossible for the subject to desire its determinations and so to achieve “actual freedom,” but if the subject can make this move, it will be ‘as if the world [has for us] only now come into being.’⁴⁰
Hegel has made the argument that “total freedom,” outside of any determinations, is impossible, so our only hope is to find “freedom in necessities,” which requires us to accept “otherness,” that which is not us and outside of our control. “Freedom in necessity” is inherently A/B, for “necessities” must be “other” and thus require “a self-relating subject” to “open up” to accept that “otherness” (thus making the subject an “incomplete system,” A/B). This in mind, we can see how Phenomenology of Spirit and Elements of Philosophy of Right overlap: both are efforts to argue on how we should relate to our limits, mainly in terms of accepting them, thus transforming the limits into expressions of “actual freedom” (both in the sense of “concretion” and in the sense of “significance”). A consistency runs through Hegel’s thinking, one that grasping can help us understand what Hegel means when he writes:
‘Only in this freedom is the will completely with itself, because it has reference to nothing but itself, so that every relationship of dependence on something other than itself is thereby eliminated.’⁴¹
This sounds strange, but basically if freedom wills the determinations freedom finds itself amid, then freedom is “with itself,” for everything manifests and “points to” this freedom. Nothing hinders freedom, for everything “hindering” freedom is desired (and thus “negated” as hindrance). When freedom wills all determinations, then freedom experiences references to itself: everything becomes an expression of freedom, which sounds A/A, but this is why the distinction between “freedom” and “independence” is important: “freedom” requires “otherness” (B) to indeed be free.
For Hegel, as described in “The Blank Canvas” by O.G. Rose, since determinations are unavoidable, the only possibility for “actual freedom” must be found in “harmony” with those determinations, and that possibility lies only with humans (those who have agency), but realizing that possibility will require overcoming our pathologies, idealisms, and the like. We must accept that we feel like we come from an “abstract freedom” of utter limitlessness to which we can never return, despite our subconscious longings and orientations, but why should we ever accept such limitation? Well, we probable won’t if the State fails us (suggesting the importance of a successful State), but even if the State is a success, it will never be perfect or grant us the “limitlessness” which our subjectivity makes us feel we should experience, and thus there will always be a feeling of discontent, a feeling that will easily drive us into pathology if we have not come to “love our lives” and “integrated with lack” — the topics and concerns of “Absolute Knowing,” described throughout O.G. Rose and in Phenomenology of Spirit (and also “The Real” in Lacan).
We can think of the State as ‘the system of right’ which is also ‘the realm of actualized freedom,’ which to say freedom we can practice versus unbound and limitless “abstract freedom.”⁴² Hegel describes us as coming into the world as a movement from an “abstract and boundless” freedom to instantly being determined and surrounded by determinations — or so that’s how it can feel. ‘Through this positing of itself as something determinate, ‘I’ steps into existence in general — the absolute moment of the finitude or particularization of the ‘I.’ ’⁴³
We aren’t, and then we are, a movement from “being totally unbound” to being actualized into determinations. If we weren’t actualized, we couldn’t “realize” our freedom, but being actualized is necessarily accompanied by a feeling of “losing total freedom.” We go through life with a feeling of “something being off,” per se, and a role of the State is to help us live with that “off-ness.” We could call it a “lack” (as discussed throughout O.G. Rose and in “The Philosophy of Lack” series), which is to say we call live with a feeling of “lack” that the State is in the business of helping us achieve “existential stability” regarding. This is described also throughout Belonging Again, and it’s a very difficult undertaking, partly because what is needed for the citizenry to gain “existential stability” changes through time. For Hegel, a historic age had emerged in which Philosophy was a necessary tool for maintaining “existential stability,” hence why it was so problematic that Philosophy was being treated like an “elitist waste of time.” The State exists to help us come to terms with “lack,” and because of historic development, Philosophy had “emerged” with the State as a necessary component of what we needed in order to live with “lack.” If we discounted Philosophy, we would not rise to the occasion of the historic moment and undergo effacement. The temptation will prove too great to discount the State as “not real” or “not fully actual,” precisely because it doesn’t feel like the “limitlessness” we feel we “should” experience. A role of Philosophy is therapeutic but not cheaply: the road to “Absolute Knowing” is hard, but it is the road on which we might not lose our minds.
Hegel wants to stress that thought we naturally want “limitless freedom” in finitude, this realized ideal of “abstract freedom” isn’t freedom at all: we desire an idea that gaining would unveil its failure to be the idea. ‘The common man thinks that he is free when he is allowed to act arbitrarily,’ Hegel writes, ‘but this very arbitrariness implies that he is not free.’⁴⁴ Freedom is not arbitrary but meaningful and “grounded,” but how in the world do we achieve “grounding?” Much philosophical work makes it clear that this is unachievable (say in Kurt Gödel), so is not Hegel suggesting that real freedom is impossible? Well, perhaps with certainty, but this suggests the role of the State, which provides us “reason to think” that it has something to do with what is best and “actual.” When we use freedom in a manner that aligns with the State, then we would be judged to think that we are engaged in “actual freedom,” which also suggests a critical role for the State to exist.
Isn’t this dangerous though? Doesn’t this mean that we are “free” by falling in line with the State? Couldn’t that invite in totalitarianism? Indeed, that has been an interpretation of Hegel’s work, but this doesn’t readily follow when we consider Hegel in light of Phenomenology of Spirit. The State provides “a clearing” in which we can engage in our own “Phenomenological Journey,” a “clearing” that if we spent all our time questioning, we would cease to prove able to keep advancing. What Hegel is saying is that we need to think, will, and act along the lines of what the State has manifested, or else we can stall or fall into “epistemic nihilism” where we don’t believe anything. Again, the State provides a foundation for our thinking, not a replacement of it, as is needed, for otherwise we can always doubt everything and end up nowhere. We need “givens,” or else nothing can develop.
Additionally, Hegel is saying that if Philosophy has manifest today with the State, then freedom requires engaging in Philosophy (a point that is certainly true if we today must become “Absolute Knowers,” Deleuzian Individuals, and the like in order to overcome our sociological situation, as described in Belonging Again by O.G. Rose). Philosophy in this stage of history is “part of our determination,” meaning it is part of our “given” world that has arisen at this moment in time and that thus, in accordance with the State, we have “reason to think” is something we “now” need. In this way, Hegel seems to mean two things in linking the State with freedom: first, we need it to avoid “epistemic nihilism,” and, second, to determine what we need to think on, employ, etc. in order to survive and thrive in this moment of historic development. This bring us again to Hegel’s critical claim:
‘Thus, freedom lies neither in indeterminacy nor in determinacy […] Freedom is to will something determinate, yet to be with oneself in this determinacy and to return once more to the universal.’⁴⁵
We gain freedom by willing something that we did not will. If we find ourselves born on a farm (for example), though we didn’t choose to be born on a farm, if we can learn to love the farm and desire to be on it, we can find freedom in farm life. It is impossible for us to not find ourselves confronted by some determination, and so if our idea and hope of freedom rests in escaping all determination (“givenness”), we will be doomed to failure and pathology. Thus, Hegel wants us to envision freedom not as “freedom from determination” but “freedom in necessity.”
As already mentioned, “The Blank Canvas” by O.G. Rose will elaborate on why what I call “total freedom” is a state in which “meaningful freedom” is impossible, for “total freedom” is nothingness. For me to use freedom in a meaningful way, I need there to be ground on which I can walk (for example), but at that point I am no longer free to swim; I need to have hands to pick up objects, but at that point I am no longer free to have tentacles; and so on. To do anything at all, potentials must be realized, which means I gain “meaningful freedom” by losing “total freedom.” In my view, Hegel is expressing this very dilemma in Elements of the Philosophy of Right, a dilemma that is very easy to miss and not even believe exists. But missing this dilemma is extremely consequential, because it’s easy to then believe that “meaningful freedom” is “total freedom,” which means we end up defining freedom in terms that make it impossible. As a result, we seek a freedom that causes pathology, and for Hegel there is no way to escape this effacement other than by seeking “freedom in necessity,” a readjustment in our aims. The State and its manifestations are the “grounds” for that “necessity,” but it will not succeed in this role if we do not trust it, hence why Hegel seeks to justify the State.
We can never totally escape “determinations,” for we are “thrown” into a world that consists of actualizations, and thus we can never return to “the abstract freedom” that comes before actualization and that we can subconsciously desire (like a Freudian “Return to the Womb” or “Return to Eden”). This sets us up to be pathological and existentially anxious, and nothing in our natural “subjective experience” suggests that we shouldn’t feel as if we were slighted of what we “ought” to experience. We experience our subjectivity as “limitless,” after all, come into the world taken care of by a mother who easily treats us like “the whole world,” might go through an education system that tells us “we can be anything” — and yet we’re supposed to think we need to “will limits?” This sounds like a conceit, a surrender. And so we end up rebelling against the “actualized world” and State we find ourselves in — a horrific problem, not because revolution and reform are always bad (they have necessary roles, in fact), but because revolutions against “the nature of reality” itself must fail. We must learn to live with “(in)completeness” — we must become “Absolute Knowers” in this life where we subjectively experience ourselves as having to accept no “limits” at all. If we can love finitude, it is “practically infinite,” for nothing is kept from us at all.
⁸Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 11.
⁹Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 12.
¹⁰Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 13.
¹¹Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 67.
¹²Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 67.
¹³Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 13.
¹⁴If “truth organizes values,” should we organize our values according to our “abstract freedom” or according to our encounter with Determination? This seems like a critical distinction between Conservative and Liberal thought.
¹⁵McGowan, Todd. Emancipation After Hegel. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2021: 209.
¹⁶McGowan, Todd. Emancipation After Hegel. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2021: 210.
¹⁷McGowan, Todd. Emancipation After Hegel. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2021: 211.
¹⁸Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 13.
¹⁹Does the State move toward “Absolute Knowing” like the individual? Is “The Absolute State” one in which the citizenry is full of “Absolute Knowers?” It should be noted that we all encounter the same limit at the point of “Absolute Knowing,” so there is something about that limit which isn’t diverse at all but rather “objective” and “concrete.” On terms of “Absolute Limitation,” it would seem we could establish an “Absolute Foundation,” one that would regular reconstitution. Is “reconstitution” an objective/objectivity we can all share?
²⁰Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 20.
²¹Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 20–21.
²²Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 21.
²³Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 22.
²⁴Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 64.
²⁵Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 25.
²⁶Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 25.
²⁷Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 25.
²⁸Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press, 1977: 6.
²⁹Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press, 1977: 7.
³⁰Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 26.
³¹Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 53.
³²Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 49.
³³Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 211.
³⁴Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 69.
³⁵Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 73.
³⁶Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press, 1977: 140.
³⁷Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press, 1977: 139.
³⁸Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press, 1977: 139.
³⁹Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press, 1977: 139.
⁴⁰Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press, 1977: 139–140.
⁴¹Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 54.
⁴²Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 35.
⁴³Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 39.
⁴⁴Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 49.
⁴⁵Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 42.