Wednesday, March 24, 2004

(View over Caius college to Trinity Great Court and St John's Chapel)

That bastard Hegel: prising my fingers from the window-ledge of sanity

History and Theory of International Law has been fun, if mind-bending, to study. That does not mean the exam scares me any the less. Particularly when I am trying to revise Hegel for my little discussion group.

Hegel is now officially my new foe in the battle for sanity. (Three rounds in and he's still ahead on points, the wiley old codger.)

With quotes like these to decipher, who needs psychosis?

From my notes for circulation to my fellow-sufferers:

Hegel, G W F, Philosophy of Right (1821)

The state must be more than the mere coming together of individuals to protect their individual rights. The state is the “objective” (communal?) mind and personality of a society. As human beings long to become part of the universal, it is only within the state that they can exist as part of a “universal life”:
“If the state is confused with civil society, and if its specific end is laid down as the security and protection of property and personal freedom, then the interest of the individuals as such becomes the ultimate end of their association, and it follows that membership of the state is something optional … Since the state is mind objectified, it is only as one of its members that an individual himself has objectivity, genuine individuality, and an ethical life. Unification pure and simple is the true content and aim of the individual, and the individual’s destiny is the living of a universal life.”

The function of law is to universalise individual behaviour:
“Rationality, taken generally and in the abstract, consists in the thorough-going unity of the universal and the single [ie the particular]. Rationality, concrete in the state, consists (a) so far as its content is concerned, in the unity of objective freedom (ie freedom of the universal [rational] or substantial will) and subjective freedom (ie freedom of everyone in his knowing and in his volition of particular ends); and consequently, (b) so far as its form is concerned, in self-determining action on laws and principles which are thoughts and so universal. This Idea is the absolutely eternal and necessary being of mind.”

While, even for German philosophy, this may seem opaque, I think it boils down to this: law mediates the relationship between individual volition (in the sense of both desire and will) and the objective will of the state (being the rational mind of an entire community) – with the result that by being law-abiding the (otherwise selfish) actions and purposes of the individual citizen are harmonised with those of the state. To live lawfully is to give expression to the universal mind of the state and thus to be universalised.

Far be it from me to suggest it would take a nineteenth century Prussian to think that this is inherently a good thing.


Roll on Dublin I say, head-cold or no.

It’s a 4 am start tomorrow, and I’m betting on it being a cold walk to the train station … see you all next week.

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