M. N. Roy Jawaharlal Nehru



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  1. Hegel's Doctrine of Change

  2. History is the process by which the spirit passes from knowing nothing to full knowledge of itself, and is the increasing revelation of the purposes of the Rational Mind. "The history of the world there­fore," says Hegel, "presents us with a rational process." The spirit on the way to its goal makes many experiments. Everything is, as it were, a mask which it tries on, which proves useful to it for the time being, and which it ultimately discards. "The universal mind at work in the world," he writes, "has had the patience to go through these forms in the long stretch of time's extent, and to take upon itself the prodigious labour of the world's history, where it bodied forth in each form the entire content of itself which each is capable of grasping, and by nothing less could that all-pervading mind ever manage to become conscious of what itself is." Throughout history the spirit is incessantly giving birth to itself, suffering, dying and rising to new glory. Thus Hegel's is a doctrine of change, and of change constantly for the better, a promise of assured progress. Change is, thus, as strongly marked a characteristic of his teaching as conservation. Indeed, if we had to find a heraldic device suitable for him, there would be a strong case for making it "the phoenix constantly reborn, rising anew from the flames, rather than the changeless, timeless owl settling at Minerva's ear."

  3. The Principle of Spirit and Dialectic

  4. Hegel not only tells us that history is the record of the march of the spirit through the world, he explains in detail the process by which the spirit changes from one being to another. In doing so, he introduces his famous principle of dialectic. He tells us that a 'dia­lectical movement' runs through everything. It is an old thought, of course, foreshadowed by Empedocles, and embodied in the 'golden mean' of Aristotle, who wrote that "the knowledge of opposites is one." The truth (like an electron) is an organic unity of opposed parts. The truth of conservatism and radicalism is liberalism—an open mind and a cautions band, an open hand and a cautious mind ; the formation of our opinions on large issues is a decreasing oscilla­tion between extremes ; and in all debatable questions Veritas in medio stat. The movement of evolution is a continuous development of oppositions, and their merging and reconciliation. Schelling was right—there is an underlying 'identity of opposites"; and Fichte was right—thesis, antithesis and synthesis constitute the formula and secret of all development and ail reality.

  5. For not only do thoughts develop and evolve according to this 'dialectical movement', but things do equally ; every condition of affairs contains a contradiction which evolution must resolve by a reconciling unity. So, no doubt, our present social system secretes a self-corroding contradiction ; the stimulating individualism required in a period of economic adolescence and unexploited resources,



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  1. arouses, in a later age, the aspiration for a co-operative common­wealth ; and the future will see neither the present reality nor the visioned ideal, but a synthesis in which something of both will come together to beget a higher life. And that higher stage too will divide into a productive contradiction, and rise to still loftier levels of orga­nization, complexity, and unity. The movement of thought, then, is the same as the movement of things ; in each there is a dialectical progression from unity through diversity to diversity-in-unity. Thought and being follow the same law ; and logic and metaphysics are one.

  2. Mind is the indispensable organ for the perception of this dia­lectical process, and this unity in difference. The function of the mind, ard the task of philosophy, is to discover the unity that lies potential in diversity ; the task of eithics is to unify character and conduct; and the task of politics is to unify individuals into a state. The task of religion is to reach and feel that Absolute in which all opposites are resolved into unity, that great sum of being in which matter aid mind, subject and object, good and evil, are one. God is the system of relationships in which all things move and have their being and their significance. In man the Absolute rises to self-consciousness, and becomes the Absolute Idea—that is, thought reali­zing itself as part cf the Absolute, transcending individual limitations and purposes, and catching, underneath the universal strife, the hidden harmony of all things. "Reason is the substance of the uni­verse ;.. . .the design of the world is absolutely rational."1


    1. Hegel : Philosophy of History, Bonned., pp. 9, 13.

    2. Ibid., p. 26.

    3. Ibid., p. 28.

    Not that strife and evil are mere negative imaginings ; they are real enough ; but they are, in wisdom's perspective, stages to fulfil­ment and the good. Struggle is the law of growth ; character is built in the storm and stress of the world ; and a man reaches his full height only through compulsions, responsibilities, and suffering. Even pain has its rationale : it is a sign of life and a stimulus to recons­truction. Passion also has a place in the reason of things : "nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion,"8 and even the egoistic ambitions of a Napoleon contribute unwittingly to the development of nations. Life is not made for happiness, but for achi­evement. "The history of the world is not the theatre of happiness ; periods of happiness are blank pages in it, for they are periods of harmony"8; and this dull content is unworthy of a man. History is made only in those periods in which the contradictions of reality are being resolved by growth, as the hesitations and awkwardness of youth pass into the ease and order of maturity. History is a dialecti­cal movement, almost a series of revolutions, in which people after people, and genius after genius, become the instrument of the Abso­lute. Great men are not so much begetters, as midwives, of the



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  1. future ; what they bring forth is mothered by the Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age. The genius merely places another stone on the pile, as others have done ; "somehow he has the good fortune to come last, and when he places his stone the arch stands self-supported." "Such individuals had no consciousness of the general Idea they were un­folding ;. . . .but they had an insight into the requirements of the time—what was ripe for development. This was the very Truth for their age, for their world ; the species next in order, so to speak, and which was already formed in the womb of time."4

  2. Such a philosophy of history seems to lead to revolutionary conclusions. The dialectical process makes change the cardinal principle of life ; no condition is permanent ; in every stage of things there is a contradiction which only the "stripe of opposites" can resolve. The deepest law of politics, therefore, is freedom—an open avenue to change ; history is the growth of freedom, and. the state is, or should be, freedom organized. On the other hand, the doctrine that "the real is rational" has a conservative colour : every condition, though destined to disappear, has the divine right that belongs to it as a necessary stage in evolution ; in a sense it is brutally true that "whatever is, is right." And as unity is the goal of development, order is the first requisite of liberty.

  3. His Philosophy of State

  4. Against this background of Hegel's doctrine of Spirit and Dia­lectic, we can now turn to his philosophy of the State. Hegel does not deny the existence of interests and passions of men who compose the state. On the contrary, he speaks of them very frankly. He writes : "We assert, then, that nothing has been accomplished with­out interest on the part of the actors, and if interest be called passion, we may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion." And Hegel's answer to an impor­tant question : "What is the state and why do men obey it ?" is an answer in terms, not only of the spirit seeking its goal, but of men seeking to satisfy themselves in activity. He tells that "two elements, therefore, enter into the object of our investigation, the first, the Idea, the second, the complex of human passion ;. the one the warp, the other the woof of the vast arras—web of Universal History." All things, according to Hegel, are forms assumed by the spirit on its way to self-knowledge. Through its multiple embodiments it progresses from the inorganic world to the organic world of plants and animals, until it eventually comes to an imperfect consciousness in Man. Man is the highest physical or animal embodiment it has ever attained, or ever will attain, Hegel adds. Beyond man there will be no further physical evolution.


    1. 4 Ibid., p. 31.

    But man is never an isolated individual. He lives with others,



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  1. and is dependent on them as they are on him. Hence, it is futile to consider him apart from the congeries of institutions which ser,ve his needs and which are themselves the embodiment of the spirit as it makes its way through the world. The earliest of these institutions which history reveals is the family, serving man's sensual needs, affording him necessary protection and providing a precarious provi­sion for his simple needs. It is a unity which is regarded by its members as being more real than themselves. The family, a unity incorporating the rational idea of mutual love, is thus the thesis from which Hegel begins his anai/sis of the state.

  2. But the family is too small for the adequate satisfaction of man's wants, and as children grow up they leave it for a wider world. That world is what Hegel calls the world of bourgeois society, and it is the antithesis which is called into being by the original thesis, the family. Unlike the family, the bourgeois society is a host of independent men and women held together by ties of contract and self-interest. It is characterized by universal competition. Its organization is more complex than that of the family. It evolves laws ; it creates a police force ; and it becomes more and more state-like in form. The thesis, the family, a unity held together by love, knowing no differences, is thus confronted by the antithesis, bourgeois society, an aggregate of individuals held apart by competition, knowing no unity, even though it is manifestly struggling towards a greater unity which it has never­theless not yet attained.

  3. And the synthesis, which preserves what is best in thesis and antithesis, which swallows up neither family nor bourgeois society, but which gives unity and harmony to them, is the state. It does this because it is a super-organism, which is both family and society rais­ed to a still higher power, and in which each, by consciously identi­fying himself with the whole, wills the interests of the whole, which he recognizes as his own. Hence in Hegel's peculiar language it can be said : "The essence of the modern state is that the universal is bound up with the full freedom of particularity and the welfare of individuals, that the interest of the family and of bourgeois society must connect itself with the state, but also that the universality of the state's purpose cannot advance without the specific knowledge and will of the particular, which must maintain its rights. The universal must be actively furthered, but on the other side subjectivity must be wholly and vitally developed. Only when both elements are there in all their strength can the state be regarded as articulated and truly organized."

  4. Characteristics of Hegel's State

  5. Hegel's state has several characteristics. It is regarded as essentially divine in origin, and hence it must be looked at with awe and reverence. In one sense, this idea is known as revival and reinter-pretation of the attitude, so common in the sixteenth century when the



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  1. dogma of Divine Right of Kings held almost universal sway. To the early Lutherans and Anglicans it seemed obvious that governments are not the work of men, but are instituted and ordained by God and hence have absolute and divine right to rule over the destinies of individuals. During the 17th and 18th centuries most civilized Europeans completely broke with this doctrine. It was task of Hegel to revive a doctrine which seemed long since dead. The fact that Hegel's God was impersonal rather than personal, that Hegel was exceedingly dubious about revelation in the ordinary sense of the word, and that he denied miracles or the direct intervention of God in human affairs, did not in the least prevent his undertaking the tasl". Hegel opposed the idea of 'consent', 'pre-political state' and 'social contract'. To Hegel, the notion that in a primitive state of nature men were free and equal, was ridiculous. Primitive life, or the state of nature, is "predominantly that of injustice and violence of untamed natural impulses, of inhuman deeds and feel­ings." In this state of savagery men live as groups rather than as individuals. Hence "however rude and simple their condition, they involve social arrangements which restrain freedom." The state, therefore, could not and did not originate in the voluntary union of free and equal individuals. To claim that it commenced with a social contract between its members, or between subjects and the ruler is historically absurd.

  2. (i) The State as a Natural Organism

  3. Hegel agrees with Aristotle in claiming that states arise because man is naturally and instinctively a social and political animal. But Hegel, unlike Aristotle, insists that man is innately a political animal because of a divine spirit (Universal Mind) moving within him, a divine spirit which can find adequate expression only in the formation of political units. The state was not the conscious creation of man at one time and place ; it is the product of a long process of evolution. Man, being a social animal, lived in groups even in a primitive state. Slowly but surely under the stimulus of divine wisdom man develop­ed more or less unconsciously from lower, less adequate group life to higher and more perfect institutional life. Out of the family develop­ed the tribe, out of the tribe the state, at first in a lower, than in a higher form.

  4. (ii) Subordination of the Individual

  5. The second outstanding characteristic of the Hegelian state is the idea that the individual must be completely subordinated to the state, and the wishes and the desires of the individual must be rejec­ted in favour of the will of the state. He warns us that in our poli­tical thinking "we must not take our departure from individuality or individual self-consciousness." The individual and individual self-consciousness has only an indirect and reflected experience. Ultimate reality is possessed only by the Universal Mind directly embodied in

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  1. the state. Hegel proclaimed to be as passionately attached to the principles of freedom as any liberal ; he said that freedom was the keystone of his whole political philosophy. "The essence of spirit is

  2. freedom The history of the world is none other than the progress

  3. of the consciousness of freedom. . . .The Orientals have not attained the knowledge that spirit—man as such—is free. . . .They only know that one is free. . . .The Greeks. . . .and the Romans. . . .knew only that some are free—not man as such. . . .the German nations. . .were the first to attain the consciousness that man, as man, is free." Kant and Hegel agree that man is essentially rational. The action in accor­dance with the fundamental laws of man's own nature means action in accordance with right reason. But here Kant and Hegel diverge. To Kant, rational action means action in accordance with man's indi­vidual reason. To Hegel, rational action is action in accordance with universal reason—universal reason both in abstract sense and also as embodied in rational institutions, such as the state, with its system of universal rational laws. To Hegel and Hegelians, freedom is largely a feeling or consciousness of freedom, an awareness of the fact that in obeying the laws of the state, the external embodiment of reason, one is really obeying the laws of one's own true rational self.

  4. (iii) Absolute Supremacy of the State

  5. The third characteristic of the Hegelian state is the notion that the dictates of the state are higher and more important than the dictates of natural law and of subjective morality. Throughout the Middle Ages, it was a common axiom of faith that civil law, the statutory law imposed by the state, must be based upon the eternal principles of natural law or rational law, and that any civil law which violently conflicted with natural law was ipso facto invalid. For the Hegelian doctrine of the absolute supremacy of the state over the individual to win acceptance it was essential for Hegel to attack the supremacy of natural law and natural rights and also the supremacy of the individual conscience in matters of morality. In order to prove his point Hegel brings, in the aid of his famed dialectic, the develop­ment of logical thought from thesis, through antithesis, to synthesis. The World Spirit in the process of self-unfolding passes at first through the stage (thesis) in which it concerns itself with abstract rights. This is the sphere of natural law and natural rights—rights for rights' sake. Eventually the World Spirit, the mind of mankind, evolves beyond this state and reaches the stage of (antithesis), subjective morality. This is the stage where man concerns himself with moral right and wrong, and convinces himself that there are some things which are right and some which are wrong. This is the sphere of duty for duty's sake—the sphere of the individual conscience, calling upon each man to perform what he feels he ought to perform. Finally the World Spirit passes to the third and last stage (the stage of synthesis), where man no longer concerns himself merely with abstract right and



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  1. abstract wrong, but is zealous of the concrete, social and ethical codes laid down by such institutions as the family, society and above all, the state. The Hegelians insist that ethical institutionalism—"my conscience is my only guide"—is contrary to the principle of progress and evolution.

  2. (iv) The State is Superior to Society

  3. The fourth characteristic of the Hegelian State is the doctrine that among the social institutions that must dominate mankind, society is higher and more important than the family, but the state is still higher and more important than society. It is the part of Hegel's philosophy that the very growth and development of the family is the procreation and nurture of children, but the nurture of children brings them to maturity, whereby they automatically leave the family circle and enter the world of society, in which the individual units are no longer bound together by ties of affection. To Hegel, society was characterized not by affection and friendship, but by the laws recently enunciated by such men as Adam Smith and Ricardo. Society is dominated by the principle of self-seeking, and individuals in society are private persons who pursue their own interests. Such an institution cannot surely be considered the goal and aim of evolu­tion. Hegel thought that a great forward step is taken when men depart from the pure individualism of society as a whole and group themselves together in the form of voluntary associations, which he calls corporations. By the word 'corporation' Hegel means not a business firm but such institutions as the guilds of the Middle Ages, or the employers' associations and the trade unions of the present day. To Hegel, the tendency of mankind to form such groups was an excellent sign—the sign not of social instinct but of its state instinct, a blind groping towards the perfect union of mankind in the form of the state.

  4. In short, it may be said that Hegel believed that the family must be transcended by society ; and society, in turn, must be curbed and regulated by the courts of justice and the police force, two agents of the state. But these two institutions are merely the external agents of the state. Behind these agents or organs stands the ultimate reality which they respresent, the state itself, which Hegel conceives as a mystic transcendental entity, the mysterious union of all with all, the great whole which embraces, but is greater than any or all of the individual selves. Compared with this supreme reality—the state, all other things, whether the individual, the family, the corporation, society as a whole, sink into insignificance. To Hegel, the World Spirit is embodied not in the form of a world state, but in the form of world history, which is the story of the rise and fall of various states. "Each state stands for and embodies an idea, or to be more exact, each state embodies a particular phase of the Universal Idea"— but for a single world state to try to embody the world idea in its

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  1. entirety would be ridiculous—it would be false as opposed to true universality. War to Hegel was not only necessary, it was also good. It was an invaluable instrument in aiding the moral advancement of mankind.

  2. Monarchy the Best Form of Government

  3. In tune with his above philosophy of the state, Hegel considered monarchy the best form of government. He regarded all other forms of government as necessarily imperfect. "In the government regarded as organic totality the sovereign power is. . . .the all sustain­ing, all decreeing will of the state." Some of the more advanced liberals of Hegel's own times argued that constitutional monarchy was only a passing phase, a half way stage between despotism and a republic. Hegel called in his dialectic to prove that such a view was false. The movement of history is not, he said, from despotism to a limited monarchy, to a republic, but from despotism (the thesis) to a republic (the antithesis), and from a republic to a constitutional monarchy (the synthesis). Constitutional monarchy, therefore, instead of being a provisional and temporary stage, is the final and perfected form of government, a form of government to which all states must come when they attain a certain degree of development.

  4. The Ideal State

  5. It is clear that Hegel, while writing thus of the state, is referring to no particular state. He is speaking of the ideal state—the state in idea as it exists nowhere in time and place. In such a state the spirit can contemplate itself with continual complacence, unable to discover in itself contradiction or flaw, all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal God at last entered into His heaven.

  6. But what is entirely true of the ideal state is always, to some extent, true of the actual state. Actual states, he insists, will always be more rational, will always be truer embodiments of the Spirit, than the individuals who compose them. Therefore, those individuals can never have the right to resist what they consider to be unjust, and the state here and uow possesses all those characteristics which we have seen to be those of the state in idea.

  7. Whatever may be the shortcomings of Hegel's philosophy of the state and of individual rights from the viewpoints of the individualists and the utilitarians, it can certainly be said of him that he made politics something more than a mere compromise of interests, and that he made law something more than mere command. The state, says Hegel, is "that form of reality in which the individual has and enjoys his freedom provided he recognizes, believes in and wills what is common to the whole." It is not an ignoble doctrine that the police state is inadequate and that the state must be viewed as part of man's moral end.

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