Thursday, July 23, 2015

Where did Hegel get his ideas from?

Plato's Republic with its ideal of a polity ruled by "philosopher kings" has always had a lot of appeal to Leftists -- who mentally elect themselves as the philosopher kings concerned -- so it should be no surprise that Hegel liked Plato too. I am indebted to a commentator here for drawing my attention to some excellent quotes from a Marxist site which spell that all out: The quotes are from an article on Hegel by  Z. A. Pelczynski . We start with an excerpt from Pelczynski and then go on to a quote from Hegel himself: 

In Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy (the Haldane-Simson translation in three volumes published 1892-6) Hegel gives Plato’s Republic twenty-six pages of print, compared with the less than four that he gives to Aristotle’s Politics. He regarded Aristotle’s main political work as a common-sense but pedantic and largely empirical treatise, while the Republic seemed to him a work of true genius and a most profound theory expressing the essence of Greek society and culture (PhR, Preface). The fundamental presupposition of the Republic and ancient Greek political life generally (Hegel argues) was the absolute priority of the community over the individual. Hegel refers to it usually as the ‘substantiality’ of the polis or ‘the substantial character of ethical life’ in Greece. The ancient Greek thought of himself as a political animal by nature. He saw himself as a son of his city, a member of an ongoing and historical community and not as an independent individual, facing other similar individuals in an atomistic state of nature or some rather loosely structured society which they had voluntarily established. A Greek citizen was so wholly immersed in the politics and ethos of his city that he cared little for himself. He guided his actions not by his self-interest or some private conception of happiness and virtue, but by the traditional ideals of his city, which he accepted without questioning.’ One could say that he had no individuality in the full sense of the word; he was merely an instrument, a member of an organism, which acted through him in pursuit of its own universal ends. 
We are accustomed to take our start from the fiction of a condition of nature, which is truly no condition of mind, of rational will, but of animals among themselves: wherefore Hobbes has justly remarked that the true state of nature is a war of every man against his neighbour . . . The fiction of a state of nature starts from the individuality of the person, his free will, and his relation to other persons according to this free will. What has been called natural law is law in and for the individual, and the condition of society and the state has been looked upon as the means of the individual person, who is the fundamental end. Plato, in direct contrast with this lays as his foundation the substantial, the universal, and he does this in such a way that the individual as such has this very universal as his end, and the subject has his will, activity, life and enjoyment in the state, so that it becomes his second nature, his habits and his customs. This ethical substance which constitutes the spirit, life and being of individuality, and which is its foundation, systematises itself into a living, organic whole, and at the same time it differentiates itself into its members, whose activity brings the whole into existence. 
I am not of course going to argue with Hegel's reasoning and analysis here. The whole idea of a "state of nature" or an "original state" of mankind is a theoretical invention much beloved of all sorts of Leftists from Rousseau to Rawls but rests entirely on unsubstantiated assertions. If you could get a libertarian to venture into such speculations he would probably counter-assert that the state of nature is voluntary co-operation between free, happy and autonomous individuals. And conservatives, of course, are concerned only about what has developed so far, rather than any high-flown theories that reduce the vast complexity of humanity to simple generalizations. 

VIA: Marx & Friends in Their Own Words

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