An Essay Featured in The Absolute Choice

Hegel’s Justification of Hegel (Part III)

O.G. Rose
31 min readApr 3, 2023

Sections IX-XIII



What is “right” in abstraction, “The Abstract Right,” is a state of pure, limitless, and total freedom. ‘[P]ossibility is being,’ Hegel tells us, ‘which also has the significance of not being,’ which is to say that it is only in being that we have the possibility of actualizing “Abstract Right,” but by definition being, defined by “determinations,” is where “Abstract Right” is impossible and cannot “be”; hence, being is a paradoxical mixture of “being” and “not being” — it is precisely where “limitless freedom” can be actualized that we find it unable to be actualized.⁴⁶ Our lives reflect how we come to terms with this tragedy: ‘since personality within itself is infinite and universal, the limitation of being merely subjective is in contradiction with it and is null and void.’⁴⁷ We are “void” because we feel something, “total freedom” (“abstract freedom”), which is not possible, and thus we feel something which cannot be real. And this easily makes us feel void as well, unless that is we come to integrate ourselves with this “lack” and accept its centrality (like a circle that “totally relates,” and yet in accomplishes this relation leaves its middle open). This means there is a “void” which is part of ourselves that could always cause us effacement, especially if we fail to “want” Determination, such as the very Determination that we are a subjectivity which experiences itself as infinite within limits. But if we accept our “determinations,” they can come to be “necessities” for our definition (as the closed-ness of a circle is “necessary” for a circle to be a circle).

‘The will is Idea or actually free only in so far as it has existence, and the existence in which it has embodied itself is the being of freedom.’⁴⁸ “The being of freedom” is a phrase that for me seems interchangeable with “the determinations of freedom,” which is paradoxical and suggests again the Necessity of freedom willing its limits, thus making those limits “practically” not limits at all, but “necessitates.” Freedom must “be-come” itself, suggesting both a movement from “abstract freedom” into actuality, where freedom must then come to will actuality, thus gaining “actual freedom” (a “journey,” if you will, reminiscent of “The Phenomenological Journey” Cadell Last describes). Personally, I see Hegel working to describe a fundamental premise of his thinking, which is based on a metaphysical and psychological speculation, mainly that we (feel like we) emerged from an abstract and limitless freedom into a world where the “limitlessness” that we subjectively feel we should have access to is denied to us. This means we are all born and “thrown” into this world primed for disillusionment and pathology, and a role of the State is to help us come to terms with this lot by helping us “want our determinations” (thus making them “necessities”). We could say that we all find ourselves confronted with a “contradiction of ourselves” (to allude to Dr. McGowan’s work and suggest consistency throughout Hegel), a tension that easily gets the best of us as we do our best to live our lives.

Audio Summary

Our only hope for avoiding this paradoxical mixture leading us into pathology and dysfunction is to “want our determinations,” but this is very hard to do if our life is defined by poverty and violence. This is where the State is important, and please note that the more people there are who “want their determinations” (and thus gain “actual freedom” for themselves), the more effective, creative, and innovative the State and “collective consciousness” can become. As the State helps “the collective consciousness” want “determinations,” “the collective consciousness” in turn becomes more brilliant and thus grants us more “good reason to think” that the State reflects “rightness.” In this way, the successes of the State can feed and inspire further successes.

To further justify the State, Hegel explores “wrongness” in Elements of the Philosophy of Right to argue the State does not align with greater “wrongness” through time, but rather aligns with greater “rightness.” “Wrongness” lacks substance, we could say, and thus it is possible for “wrongness” to vanish and cease to be, while “rightness” is substantive and hence not something which can “vanish into thin air,” per se. Yes, “rightness” can be avoided through self-deception, mistake, and the like, but at least none of these errors can essentially change “rightness” or make it vanish. To allude to Wittgenstein, “whatever is the case” will always be such, even if we never figure it out.

‘Semblance is therefore the untruth which disappears because it seeks to exist for itself, and in this disappearance, essence has shown itself as essence, that is, as the power over semblance.’⁴⁹

I take this to mean that “what appears truth” is naturally “toward” trying to “actually be true,” which must ultimately and ironically be the act which unveils semblance to indeed just be semblance. In this way, “semblance” ultimately has an orientation to unveil itself as “not actual,” while at the same time humanity is “toward” realizing increasingly “what is actual” (not a given individual, but collectively). Together, this means there are two overlapping forces which increase “rightness” through time: the natural tendency of semblance to unveil itself as “wrong” and the natural tendency of humanity to realize what is right.

Now, again, Hegel is not suggesting that “a given individual” wills the right, but rather Hegel wants to suggest that emergence and presence of “wrongness” in the world is mostly due to individuals versus “the collective consciousness” of the State (simply due to probability plus time). ‘Each person wills what is right, and each is supposed to receive only what is right,’ Hegel says, ‘their wrong consists solely in considering that what they will is right.’⁵⁰ It is impossible for us to will what we think is wrong or bad to us (a point echoed by St. Augustine), but that doesn’t mean we don’t will the wrong or bad: the world is full of error, but all error is a result of efforts which couldn’t have viewed the mistake as “an error” at the time.⁵¹ The more we move from the individual to “the collective consciousness” though, the more efforts to “realize the right” will probably approach “the actual,” though not necessarily or deterministically — just probabilistically. This point should be focused on: Hegel does not need to prove the movement of the State through history necessarily increases “rightness,” only that the State is probably our “best bet” for founding our thinking on “rightness.” Hegel seeks justification for Philosophy (and himself) through the State, and to achieve that justification, he does not need to prove the State increases “rightness,” only prove strong “reason to think” the State is “our best bet.” If this case is made, we are then justified to found our thinking according to the State (of Nature), to trust it, and to grant it “the benefit of the doubt.”

Since humans naturally seek to realize “what is right,” it is probable that humans through time will make “more wrongness vanish” then they will “mistake rightness for wrongness,” and hence it is reasonable to suppose that “the collective consciousness” or “State” will be “more right than wrong” with time. Unfortunately, this is not an easy undertaking, because both truth and falsity “appear to us” as similar, as “semblances.” ‘Right,’ Hegel writes, ‘as something particular and therefore complex in contrast to the universality and simplicity of its being in itself, acquires the form of a semblance.’⁵² We cannot necessarily “on the face” of a falsity identify it as a falsity (and perhaps we as individuals won’t be so able to tell for the entirety of our lives), as we cannot necessarily tell that something true is true. If both “rightness” and “wrongness” were equally substantive, this could prove very problematic, because there would be no given hope of history and time gradually “wearing away” falsity to unveil it as “only semblance.” Fortunately, Hegel stresses that “wrongness” lacks essence, and so though it might “appear true” for a thousand years, “wrongness” ultimately entails an expiration date (which doesn’t mean it necessary will “expire,” but at least there is “reason to think” it will, which is all Hegel needs for his justification project). Sure, we might deny this and claim something “wrong” can “appear true” for a million years, meaning it “practically” doesn’t entail an expiration date, but this valid critique would not undermine Hegel’s main point, which is justification to assume “good reason” to trust “The State of Things.”


Once we accept that we must “will” determinations, Hegel can set out to make the case that the particular determinations (into “necessities”) we should will are those presented to us by the State, mainly Family, Property, Community, and the like. Just because it is proven to us that we must accept determinations, it is another move for us to accept the particular determinations we find ourselves amid, thus why Hegel is still obligated to make a case justifying the State. Sure, we must accept certain levels of Determination, but why should we accept the determinations into which we are “thrown?” Why not create our own? It is considering this valid inquiry that Hegel writes, trying to walk a fine line between making space for “reformation” and “critique” but not “total revolutionary overturn,” which can easily end us up in nihilism.

We have mentioned that it is difficult to desire our determinations in poverty. Indeed, I might be assumptive, but I think the Phenomenology of Spirit is easier to read and put into practice from within a nation that is not always at war. In this way, the State contributes to the process of us coming to terms with ourselves as subjects and “the problem” of this life in general, for the State helps us access food, then shelter, then community, and then the State contributes to our security and safety, and eventually the State provides the conditions in which a quiet room is possible in which we can ask ourselves, “Who am I?” Hegel is not, in my view, suggesting a “progressive hierarchy” here where we today are necessarily “better” than people in the past: sure, that might be true, but only to the degree we manage to face and overcome our current and unique challenge (like “the problem of the subject” itself, perhaps). Where food and shelter were our priorities, existential problems were much less a problem: it was perhaps easier to enjoy the simple things in life, but it was also easier to be eaten by a lion. Today, in America, we aren’t at risk of starvation so much, but we seem to be more at risk of depression, mental illness, and hopeless suicide. Is this progress? I’m not sure (it seems difficult ), though I don’t deny in Hegel that there is indeed a “progressive movement” — it’s just not a “progress” which suggests we today are superior to people in the past. We are different, and actually our present world will prove worse if we fail to practice Philosophy (as the State through history has manifest to us). Progress in Hegel, whatever it might be, is deeply contingent: determinism is not Hegelian. Even if the future will be better than the past, there is no guarantee there will be a future (and it is not even clear when the future might start).

After “Abstract Right” and descriptions of our paradoxical situation of “limit(less)ness,” Elements of the Philosophy of Right will gradually and systematically describe the development of “Morality” into “Ethical Life.” Why? Well, if we are stuck in determinations and must learn to love those determinations to be free, then it is imperative that we learn to live with others and that others learn to live with us (otherwise, the State will fail). “Otherness” is basically “limitation” (for we are naturally “limitless” and free to ourselves), and so our relation to “otherness” is central in the question of if we can come to “will our limits.” But what we see in Hegel is that once we start discussing “Morality,” we end up having to discuss a lot: simple matters turn out to be simple only within complex webs. Simplicity is a result.

‘The moral point of view is the point of view of the will in so far as the latter is infinite not only in itself but also for itself’ — to live morally is to move from “abstract freedom” in the subject to the “actual freedom” found in the world for the subject.⁵³ Ah, but the world consists of others, and so realizing “the freedom of actuality” (which is “for us”) requires living with others. ‘Only in the will as subjective will can freedom, or the will which has being in itself, be actual,’ but that means the individual will of a subject must come to encounter the individual will of other subjects, and that presents complexities and possible problems.⁵⁴ Thus, if “actual freedom” is to be possible for ourselves and others, “Morality” will have to be discussed and considered, and action “toward” others, we should note, is Philosophical.

Many politicians and thinkers have written on how a citizenry can be unified by a common enemy or problem, and indeed I think we have numerous examples of that being the case. This point brings to mind thinkers from René Girard to Carl Schmidt, and though different, I think generally the “common need to eat” and “common need to feel stable” are similar in their capacity to “hold a people together.” Whether I need my neighbor for a successful hunt, to fight off an invader, or to target a scapegoat, all of these examples of unity generally thanks to external and/or non-existential problems. Yes, war can cause existential and psychological trauma, but the war itself is external and rather “black and white”: the overall objective is clear, even if it is unclear how that objective might be obtained (the same applies to food, scapegoats, etc.). What’s more unique today, in 2022, is that we need to figure out how to unify diversity more internally, for we lack the same possibilities for “external unification.” We generally have access to food, war would be too apocalyptic to happen, and scapegoating is tearing society apart. Yes, of course, we can still go to war and enjoy scapegoating, but the costs for doing so are very high (and escalating, as René Girard understood), and arguably these are no longer as effective at unifying diverse people. We need new grounds of unity, and for Hegel this is where Philosophy is necessary and critical, for today we need to figure out “Communities of Absolute Knowing.” Today we require the “Unity of Absolute Knowing,” a movement which requires both Philosophy and Morality. This strikes me as the next stage required of “The Social Phenomenological Journey,” we could say, the difficulty of which I think Girard admonished on, thus Girard’s stress on how we now live forever on the edge of the Apocalypse. Again, the future improves for Hegel, but there is no guarantee we will have a future.

My point is that, in the past, there was not as much need for Morality and Ethics, because collaboration and community could result thanks to “external sources”: we could “practically” end up Moral and unified even if we didn’t have a robust Moral Philosophy, simply because we were forced to corporate together thanks to “external challenges” like food, conflict, and the like. Today though, our sociological situation is very different (as hopefully has been described well in Belonging Again), and now today we require Philosophy. It could be argued that Religion was an earlier form of Philosophy, and by this I don’t mean to say Philosophy is “evolved Religion,” only that today a more “Philosophical Theology” might be required, which I think is reasonable to consider, seeing as interpretations of the Gospel (for example) which make “space for otherness” require intellectual engagement. It is not “self-evident” how the Christian should relate to the Atheist in 2022 or nuclear war, hence the need for thinking and interpretation. Hence, Philosophy is needed.

Elements of the Philosophy of Right attempts to justify the development of Morality in terms of personal responsibility, ‘[t]he will’s self-determination […] a moment of its concept, and subjectivity [as] not just the aspect of its existence […] but its own determination,’ of which must always be ‘a restless activity which cannot […] arrive at something that is,’ until it is ‘in the ethical realm’ and comes to will its “determinations”(into “necessities”).⁵⁵ ⁵⁶ Hegel describes purpose, and ultimately it seems to me that Hegel wants to argue that “being moral is rational,” which strikes me as a move similar to Kant’s. But even if Hegel succeeds at establishing “the internal rationality of Morality,” Hegel needs to transition Morality into “lived experience,” and that brings Hegel into Ethics. ‘For the good as the substantial universal of freedom […] determinations of some kind are therefore required.’⁵⁷ It means little if we are internally convinced to ourselves that “Morality is rational” if we don’t then manifest Morality (‘through self-conscious action’) to and with “others,” but that presents us with the Ethical challenges of “determinations” and all this entails (please note that I find Hegel’s use of the phrase “self-conscious” interesting, for it suggests Self-Consciousness requires action to become Reason).⁵⁸

Ethics gets us into the family, property — a slew of issues, all of which Hegel presents as following from the last (a growing realization of the State as itself). Hegel alludes to Antigone at the starts of “Ethics,” noting that ‘Antigone proclaims that no one knows where laws come from: they are eternal. That is, their determination has being in and for itself and issues from the nature of the thing.’⁵⁹ I find this an interesting note of Hegel, for it suggests the gradual develop and realization of Ethics in the State is grounded in something beyond subjective and contingent conditionality, whether Divine or “emergent.” This is further reason to suspect that Hegel wants us to see in the State a “noncontingent development,” something which suggests a horizon beyond what is possible for individuals — that which a “collective consciousness” makes possible.

For Hegel, the “contradiction of our being,” caught between a desire for “abstract freedom” and actuality, leads into Morality and Ethics: everything is contained in everything else. ‘Thus the Idea, in its determination as the family, presupposes those determinations of the concept from which, in a later section of this work, [the Idea] will be shown to result […] Thus, we cannot say, for example, that property existed before the family, although property is nevertheless dealt with first.’⁶⁰ The beginning is in the end and the end in the beginning: it is also a “whole” which follows one another, justified and entire. To quote Hegel extensively:

‘The Idea must continually determine itself further within itself, for it is initially no more than an abstract concept. But this initial abstract concept is never abandoned. On the contrary, it merely becomes continually richer in itself, so that the last determination is also the richest. Those determinations which previously existed only in themselves thereby attain their free self-sufficiency, but in such a way that the concept remains the soul which holds everything together and which arrives at its own differentiation only through an immanent process. One cannot therefore say that the concept arrives at anything new; on the contrary, the last determination coincides in unity with the first.’⁶¹

At this point, I will withdraw from further elaborations on Morality and Ethics in Hegel, for I don’t believe there is anything I could add to the discussion which Hegel hasn’t already said himself. Furthermore, A Spirit of Trust by Robert Brandom covers well the ethical and practical implications found in Hegel (mostly in Phenomenology of Spirit), and I cannot write anything here which adds to what Brandom has written. Furthermore, I’m not sure if we can follow Hegel into his particular Moral and Ethical prescriptions, even if he has indeed successfully justified some Morality and Ethics. Hegel has given us an ontological and metaphysical foundation for trusting the State and hence seeing Philosophy as “justified,” and I think that is enough: whether he succeeds at systematically proving that our “paradoxical situation” leads into family, property, and contract as he describes is something I will let readers decide on their own.

Again, I don’t think we need to follow Hegel in his particular conclusions regarding “rational Morals and Ethics” to accept his arguments legitimizing the State and Philosophy more generally. Right or wrong on Morality and Ethics, I think Hegel has justified Hegel, meaning we are justified to step into the “clearing” he has provided us with and engage in Philosophy, as I agree we must if we are to have any hope of establishing “The Absolute Communities” I indeed believe are necessary today. Perhaps Hegel “overreaches” here (and in his Philosophy of History) and tries to establish a uniquely rational manifestation of the State in Europe and “The Germanic Realm,” as he discusses at the very end of Elements of the Philosophy of Right, but even so I do not think that the efforts undermine Hegel’s general justification of the State and Philosophy. Furthermore, I agree that the State can help us want our limits and determinations so that our determinations become expressions of our freedom (“necessities”), which entails the State improving our social, economic, government, familiar, etc. situation and conditions. If it is true that a hope of Nietzsche is for us to love our imperfections and embrace finitude versus try to escape it, we can see a similar dynamic occurring for Hegel in the State: as Nietzsche shows in Zarathustra a guide by which we can make our imperfection better, so the State helps us embrace our determinations. Both Nietzsche and Hegel seem to be in the business of inspiring us to love our limits, to embrace what we have found ourselves confronted with, bravely and joyfully.


If Hegel has indeed succeeded in his process of justification laid out in Elements of the Philosophy of Right, both for the “now” of history and the manifestation of Philosophy, then there are implications:

1. The State is reliable and justified.
2. Philosophy is reliable and justified.
3. “The Phenomenology Journey” is reliable and justified (to allude to Cadell Last).
4. The ever-effort for Absolute Knowing is reliable and justified.

Funny enough, in the place of “Absolute Knowing,” we accept “fundamental (in)completeness,” which means the State brings us to a place where we can feel justified to accept that “ultimate justification” is impossible. Comical, but it also makes sense: if we did not feel justified to accept that reality was “fundamentally (in)complete,” we would never have to accept that conclusion (and likely wouldn’t). In this way, Hegel seems to make a case for the reliability of the State so that we cannot escape when we realize that “an ultimate ground” (“Ultimate Being”) is impossible: Hegel wants us to have “no exit” when we arrive at the place where we realize essential “lack.” Is this because Hegel hopes to trick us? No, it’s because this is our actual “lot in life,” and Hegel wants us to learn to “will” and “love” our determinations (into “necessities”) along the way (after all, if “The Impossibility of Fulfilling Desire Is the Possibility of Intrinsic Motivation” by O.G. Rose is correct, without “lack,” “intrinsic motivation” would be impossible). Then, though we will find ourselves with “no exit,” we will not feel contained.

Traditionally, we have read Hegel as describing the marching of “Geist” in terms of some “limitless evolution,” but something more ironic and paradoxical seems to be at play: Hegel would have the State “progress” to the place where it realized it has “limits” and “lacks” (precisely in its experience of itself as “limitless”), and where the State has “reason to believe” that this “Absolute Knowing” is reliable and justified. It would not be enough for Hegel to make us realize “Absolute Knowing” if we could turn around and doubt that very realized “Absolute Knowing,” and so hence Hegel has given us Elements of the Philosophy of the Right so that we understand “the method” as reliable which brought us to “Absolute Knowing” (in this moment of History, “Now”). Hegel wants us to believe that something akin to “the scientific method” generated “Absolute Knowing,” which means we cannot readily dismiss it. Philosophy, as presented by Hegel, is a reliable and justified method that we cannot dismiss simply because we do not like it. Hence, for good and for bad, we find and “ought” to hold “Absolute Knowing.”


Does Hegel see and articulate a growing unity occurring in history? Does Hegel argue that the nations of the world increasingly come together? This is what most of us have been taught about Hegel, and indeed, I do believe there is truth to this interpretation. However, I think we have erred in conflating “unity” with “better,” which doesn’t necessarily follow and is perhaps a hangover of our bias for democracy (which is not necessarily a bad thing, please note). Hegel seems to describe a world where different ethnicities and nations increasingly come to exist “under the same umbrella,” which is to say under the same government and according to the same economy, and it’s natural for us to then see in this a “utopian vision” which Hegel is supporting. And indeed, perhaps this might be glorious, but even if Hegel intended for this to be utopian, I’m not sure if this is necessarily how Hegel thought things would unfold (only “perhaps”). The closer “difference” comes together through similarity (say in everyone becoming more globalized), the more conflict that tends to emerge (an insight which suggests Girard again).

Dr. Filip Niklas pointed out that the family is always a collection of difference, and so “the implicit logic” of gathering difference is present from the very first act of reproduction. No, animals do not form families like humans, and early humans didn’t form families like we do today, but the point is that “the implicit logic of gathering difference under the same umbrella” is always with us. For Hegel, this “implicit logic of relating difference” (as I’ll put it) naturally complexifies and “figures itself out by making itself explicit” through time and history (I greatly appreciate how Dr. Niklas highlights “the movement of the implicit into the explicit” in Hegel). Family leads to Community, which leads to Law and Private Property — on and on — all of which is a movement of “the implicit logic of relating difference” gradually making itself explicit and “working itself out to itself.” We find ourselves “thrown” into a world in which “difference relates” (“always already”), and from there must work this logic out dialectically. The movement of an “implicit logic” into “the explicit” is part of the very conditionality we are “always already in” (History), which leaves us with the question though if this “implicit logic” must arise and be made explicit? Well, for Hegel, if we’re still around, it must have to some degree, for otherwise we wouldn’t still be around. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make things harder for ourselves than necessary, which for me suggests why cultivating “intrinsic motivation” could help “the implicit become explicit” and help us cultivate the future “emergently” without forcefully engineering it — but all that is another topic for another time.

We do not naturally like difference, for it makes us existentially reflect on ourselves, and yet at the same time we also do not like similarity, for we do not like seeing ourselves in others and/or encountering someone who wants what we want. This is a threat, and we do not like threats. When difference is “unified,” difference does not go away: the differences come out, and now the unity has made the difference “similar enough” where it can relate to one another “as difference.” When entities are different but far apart, there is little conflict, for the entities cannot understand one another enough to fight. But when difference isn’t “too different,” then conflict can emerge, and efforts to establish unity can be precisely why difference becomes “too similar.” Unity doesn’t necessitate peace, but this is what we have often assumed, perhaps out of bias. The characters in No Exit by Sartre are “unified” by the same space.

Even if there is indeed a “growing unity” in Hegel, we must be careful to conflate “unity” with “progress” and/or “better”: unity can bring out the worst in us, even if “the best we are capable of” might only emerge after this purgatory. I think Hegel himself might have understood that “unity” and “peace” were not similes, that conflict would likely result from “the coming together.” However, I do think it’s fair to say Hegel thought all this conflict would eventually “work itself out” and bring about a greater unity which did mean we were in a better world. Hegel understood unity resulted in conflict, but he also could not imagine a conflict which annihilated humanity. Now though, we exist in the age of the nuclear weapon, and that has changed things. Can we blame Hegel for never imagining nukes? Who ever imagines the unimaginable?

Hegel’s progress is contingent, but before the nuclear weapon, it was not possible to imagine a failure which “ended the game,” per se. It is only recently that humanity developed the ability to totally annihilate itself, and so it was not readily possible when Hegel wrote to imagine humanity’s failure to “meet a contingency” as causing the Apocalypse. For most of history, only God could end the world. Assuming God didn’t (as he promised with Noah he wouldn’t), then there was no reason to think history wouldn’t continue to develop like history had, which was a story of “growing unity” and “growing rationality.” Even if there was a thousand years of war and violence, eventually the fighting would end, and even if not for a million years, eventually “A Unified and Global State” would likely emerge. This was all very reasonable for Hegel to assume, and so there was no reason to think that the contingency in Hegel could suggest the possibility of “historic progress” coming to an abrupt end in nuclear hellfire. But we know this is now possible, and so our reading of Hegel must adjust accordingly.

Before the nuke, it was practically the case that “global unity” would eventually lead to a “Global State,” precisely because globalization is difficult to reverse and eventually people would likely grow tired of killing one another and the advantages of conflict would trail off. At this point, the world would realize that it was “irrational” to fight, and so would put its mind to figuring out how to live together with radical difference. In this way, I think Hegel envisioned it merely being a matter of probability that the conflict “unity” caused would eventually transform into “peaceful unity,” and in this Global State humanity would be at its best. History was a story of growing unity, of greater difference encountering one another, and there was evidence that greater unity brought about better technology and better economies: it was not irrational to believe that “Global Unity” would eventually come and bring about “the best of all possible worlds.” Sure, there would be conflict, even devastating conflict, but eventually that conflict would end and the world would improve. That, or Jesus would return, so either way, Paradise awaited.

Though Hegel is indeed “historically progressive” and sees history bringing about greater unity, Hegel did not conflate “unity” and “peace,” even if ultimately “unified differences” worked themselves out. Even if Hegel was hopeful, he was not idealistic, but still I think it’s fair to see in Hegel a movement through history that is more optimistic than not. The invention of the nuke and “total war” changed everything, however, and it is curious to wonder what Hegel might have written had he lived to see World War I. Well, even WWI might not have deterred Hegel’s vision, for nukes did not exist until decades later. But I do wonder how Hegel’s thinking might have changed had he known about nukes, and indeed we ourselves must adjust our take on Hegel accordingly. For me, it means an emphasis on how “growing unity” is a great danger, even though I don’t deny that “growing unity” can make the world a better place. We simply must prove worthy and ready for “togetherness,” for if we aren’t, the consequence might be Apocalyptic.

Inspired by Cadell Last, after WWI, I think it would be wise to think of combining Hegel with “Thoughts on War and Death” by Sigmund Freud — this would give us a better balance between “contingency” and “progress” in Hegel. Before WWI, it is understandable that Hegel might place an emphasis on progress over contingency, and I hope I have made the case for why this was an understandable move (say in my discussion with Chetan Anand, O.G. Rose Conversation #71). Also, “emphasis” is what we should expect when dealing with dialectics, though “emphasis” does not necessitate “dichotomy.” For Hegel, “progress” is a negation/sublation of contingency into a contingency into a contingency — there is guarantee of continuation, only continuation if there is anything at all.

To stress, Hegel is not claiming that we become “smarter” or “more advanced consciously” through time, though indeed the “collective consciousness” might solve more problems, develop more technologies, etc., but critically these later accomplishments are more of a result of “trial and error” then they are of waking up one day and being smarter. When we say, “There is progress in history,” this easily means simply that more time has passed for more “trial and error” — we should not assume that this means a person today is “better” than a person yesterday.

Also of great importance, the points at which History undergoes paradigm shifts, makes significant and profound changes in its operations, and the like, are not because “consciousness evolves,” but more so because average people find themselves in a situation which they must respond to or else there will be negative consequences, or because their “material condition” begets new ways of thinking. If how the average person thinks changes, it is likely because highspeed internet (for example) has spread around the world (what I call “Cone Dynamics” in Belonging Again), not primarily because the average personality has evolved. Yes, there is a sense in which “consciousness has evolved,” but we must emphasis a change in the material condition (thanks to development of the State), lest we create the impression that it is “actions of the ego” or “actions of the subject” which have generated this change. “Material condition” is “the first mover.”

Today, there is a “Mental Health Crisis,” which means we have arrived at a moment in History in which a situation is unfolding that we must respond to or else suffer anxiety, depression, or worse. Why this crisis is occurring and spreading can be debated, but the point is in Hegel that History has arisen to a “now” in which a certain crisis is spreading, and it is up to us to decide if we will respond to this crisis and how. It the pressure of this crisis that primarily generates great historic changes, paradigm shifts, and the like in Hegel, not primarily some “enlightenment” of the individual subject. Please note also that it is not “destined” that we necessarily respond to this pressure in a way that leads to us “advancing”: Hegel is contingent, and it is possible that the pressure breaks us. However, the point is that History arises to situations which force us to adapt and respond to, or else the consequences could prove dire. Perhaps there is a very good chance we “rise to the occasion” of this pressure and thus advance thanks to it, but again Hegel is not a determinist and failure is possible — or at least now it is thanks to nuclear weapons.

The dire problem we might have today is that if indeed it is “pressure” which leads to progress in History, but today a “situation of pressure” which could change us is something Apocalyptic (say due to nukes), is it possible for History to “progress?” In other words, if we require “pressure” to advance (or to make “The Absolute Choice”), and the only “pressure” possible today is Apocalyptic, is History over? Is this checkmate? Time will tell — or show.


Is there “a growing rationality” in Hegel? Yes, collectively, assuming the future arrives, but I would note that this doesn’t mean Hegel supported what I call “autonomous rationality,” as Hume warned against. To cut to the chase and look ahead, the “growing rationality” of Hegel is a rationality that more so realizes that “autonomous rationality” is impossible, that rationality must be dialectical with “nonrationality” to avoid effacement, be itself, and thus prove A/B, which is to say “growing rationality” increasingly aligns with and realizes “Absolute Knowing.” We become better at “thinking Lacan,” per se, which is a very different notion of “rationality” than our notion colored by the Enlightenment, a notion which we problematically associate with Hegel even to this day.

Indeed, there is space for “nonrationality” in Hegel, but problematically once we incorporate “nonrationality” into our thinking, we experience it as “rational,” thus making it seem like we only ever deal with rationality. This is a problem expounded on throughout The True Isn’t the Rational trilogy by O.G. Rose; here, I only want to note that Hegel wasn’t a “Rational Idealist” either — he was more tragic and complex.

If I were to depict “Hegel’s Progressivism,” as I understand it, consider:

X = “The Absolute”
x = our take on “The Absolute”

History is the process of x, which we have reason to think maintains “likeness to X,” even though x cannot be said to equal X. Thus, when x arises to Philosophy, there is “reason to think” that Philosophy has something to do with X, and perhaps Philosophy is needed so that x can continue to be “like X,” for it is no longer an option for x to keep being “like X” without Philosophy (that phrase in History in which such was possible is no longer possible — it has been negated). And when x engages in Philosophy, it ends up in “The Phenomenological Journey” which leads us to “Absolute Knowing.” Thus, we have reason to think that x needs “Absolute Knowing” today (“Now”) in order to maintain “likeness with X.” When x fails to maintain “likeness with X,” then x will cease undergoing negation/sublation and instead be effaced.

For x to not be effaced, x must realize “lack” and “fundamental (in)completeness,” a radically difficult step for x to accept. But, as argued throughout Belonging Again, it seems absolutely necessary for x to accept “Absolute Knowing,” for now we have become directly conscious of “The Value Circle” and “The Conflict of Society” (as we’ve become conscious of “The Conflict of Mind” and our “A/B ontology”). And so, here is our question: “Will x accept Absolute Knowing and maintain ‘likeness with X?’ ” If we don’t even accept the legitimacy or value of Philosophy, then our answer must be, “No,” and so Hegel works to justify Hegel. If we cannot succeed in this, then we might only ever be able to say that the future should have been better than the past. Hard to say.

‘Right is something utterly sacred,’ Hegel tells us, ‘for the simple reason that it is the existence of the absolute concept of self-conscious freedom.’⁶² The more we align what we “want” with what is “right,” the more we want sacredness, and yet we are incapable of determining what is “the sacred” as individuals. It’s too transcendent and vast, and we too “fallen” and finite. If we are to have any hope of being “toward” the sacred, it is through a “collective consciousness” (I/other) manifest in the State, but this will prove of little use if we don’t trust the State or find it justified. Hence, Hegel works to establish that justification so that we have a chance of what could be “sacred freedom” — a “freedom in Necessity” which wills our “State.”

To be born is to lose “absolute freedom,” which we arguably never even had and yet still experience as a loss (a point discussed by Cadell Last in his magnificent series on Alenka Zupančič), and then it is up to us to decide if this loss will be an “effacement” or a “negation/sublation” into “actual freedom” (significant and real). We must love our limits, but we must also love them “rightly,” and how we do that is remarkably difficult, hence suggesting a way the State can play a role. The State, in improving our socioeconomic situation, can help us love life, and the State can help direct us. Yes, the State can also lead us astray, but Hegel’s effort is to provide us “reason to think” it is our best bet. That case is important to make, because without it we have little defense to keep us from falling into either “epistemic nihilism” or a state of mind where we have no concept of the direction our thinking should explore. We’re lost: if we cannot trust the State, we cannot trust our state of mind.

For me and to restate earlier points, Hegel’s State is “The State of Humanity,” which can be thought of as “The State of Nature,” is History itself. “The State” then is not an abstract hypothetical which no one has ever experienced, say in Rousseau and Hobbes, but concrete and observable. Both Rousseau and Hobbes hope to use their “State of Nature” to justify their philosophical projects, while Hegel seeks a justification that isn’t hypothetical but “now,” concrete, and observable. As Rousseau and Hobbes seek to use a “State of Nature” to justify a certain form of “The State of Government,” per se, Hegel does something similar, hence why the word “State” has a double function. And, to stress, I don’t deny that Hegel discusses the governmental apparatus when he discusses “The State”: it’s just that Hegel doesn’t just mean that; the categories blur, especially through time when “The State of Nature” arises to “The State of Government,” and hence the two are forever combined (assuming at least we never return to tribalism or anarchism). On this point, we are left with a decision: Do we emphasize the government part of “State” or the overall “humanity” (ergo, “collective consciousness”)?

For me, a lot of the totalizing and even “totalitarian” readings of Hegel emerge out of placing a stress on “the government” side of “The State,” which is certainly there, but I question if Hegel intends for “the government” to be thought about independently and over the people. What I mean by this is that the movement “the government” acts against the “rational interests” of the people, it loses legitimacy, so Hegel would not have the government exercise ultimate and absolute authority. However, perhaps this is where Hegel makes a mistake: Sure, perhaps the government can lose legitimacy when it violates rationality, but who is in an authoritative position to determine what is rational other than the State? Furthermore, can’t the State claim a certain group of people “aren’t rational” and hence come to exercise power over them? Worse yet, can’t the State use racism to define some people as “not human” and thus make it not a violation of “human rights” to oppress those people? These are some possible blind spots which might emerge in Hegel, though perhaps not (perhaps even those supposed “blind spots” are a result of misreading). I’m not sure: my point is only to suggest ways that Hegel might be defended against supporting “an all-powerful State” and ways Hegel may have unintentionally left open that possibility.

If the State is “the collective consciousness” more than the government (though it is certainly both), then the State is primarily others — flesh and blood people who are not us. This would mean that for us to benefit from the State and to use it as a foundation for our thinking, we will have to “consider others as significant,” which for me is the move from Self-Consciousness to Reason in Phenomenology of Spirit. Though it is another topic explored in “Deconstructing Common Life” and the end of (Re)constructing “A Is A,” this I think suggests the role of “common life” and making “a real choice” that commits us to others and “otherness” in general (a move from A/A to A/B). This suggests the work of David Hume, who I see as fitting nicely with Hegel (as readers of The Absolute Choice know).

Perhaps the fact we have interpreted “the State” as merely the government in Hegel suggests that we have failed to take “otherness” seriously, for perhaps we are biased to want to believe an impersonal bureaucracy naturally improves the human condition, simply thanks to the passage of time. If alternatively Hegel is suggesting progress is contingent and requires us to take “otherness” seriously — this is a much more difficult and demanding doctrine. How much better would it be if Hegel simply taught that the State marches us toward utopia? How much better if we simply could sit back and relax? But we cannot relax in Hegel, nor in Hume; in fact, Hegel seems to lead into Nietzsche, though why exactly is work I will leave to Cadell Last.





⁴⁶Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 69.

⁴⁷Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 70.

⁴⁸Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 120.

⁴⁹Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 115.

⁵⁰Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 118.

⁵¹This includes the actions of “The Underground Man” in Dostoevsky: if we think it’s right to rebel against rationality, it’s rational to rebel against rationality.

⁵²Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 116.

⁵³Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 135.

⁵⁴Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 135.

⁵⁵Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 136.

⁵⁶Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 137.

⁵⁷Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 185.

⁵⁸Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 189.

⁵⁹Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 189.

⁶⁰Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 61.

⁶¹Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 61.

⁶²Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 59.




For more, please visit O.G. Also, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram, Anchor, and Facebook.



O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart.