Man in Völker and States

  • Christopher J. Berry
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 103)


The previous chapter outlined the theoretical underpinning of Hegel’s contextualist theory of human nature. This chapter will examine the agents by which human nature is ‘contextualised’. The ‘agents’ in question are the individual’s people (Volk) and State. It must be emphasised at the outset that these agents can only be distinguished analytically because it is important, in Hegel’s eyes, to realise that they act in concert. By so doing they constitute a whole or totality (the context) to which the nearest approximation is perhaps ‘Culture’, understood in its wide anthropological sense as “that complex which includes knowledge, art, belief, morals, laws, custom and any other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society”,1


Civil Society Human Nature Social Contract Social Contract Theory Historical School 
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  1. 1.
    E.B. Tylor, Primitive Culture (1871), p. 1. Tylor is credited with the introduction of this meaning of ‘culture’ into English and, in fact, he took it from the German, with Herder usually cited as the locus classicusGoogle Scholar
  2. 1a.
    see W.H. Bruford, Culture and Society in Classical Weimar 1775–1806, p. 6f.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Cf. elsewhere in the same work — the particular Volksgeist “is the common denominator of its [the Volk’s] religion, its political constitution, its ethical life, its system of justice, its manners, its learning, art and technical skill and the whole direction of its industry” (PGN, 138: WL VIII, 149). E. Gombrich regards this passage as definitive of the enterprise of cultural history, In Search of Cultural History, p. 9.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    These passages are quoted by F. Rosenzweig, Hegel und der Staat, Vol. 1, p. 23Google Scholar
  5. 3a.
    H. Jendreiek, Hegel und Jacob Grimm, p. 155Google Scholar
  6. 3b.
    H. Kantorowicz, ‘Volksgeist und Historische Rechtsschule’, Historische Zeitschrift (1912) 296.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Cf. G. Planty-Bonjour, ‘L’esprit général d’une nation selon Montesquieu et le Volksgeist hégélien’, in Hegel et le siècle des Lumières, ed. J. d’Hondt, pp. 7 – 24, though the case is somewhat overstated. In 1802 Hegel referred to Montesquieu’s “immortal work”, Über die wissenschaftlichen Behandlungsarten des Natur rechts (WL VII, 406).Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    S. Avineri, ‘Hegel and Nationalism’, in Hegel’s Political Philosophy, ed. W. Kaufmann, p. 116, though Avineri’s argument is that Hegel is freeing himself from Herder’s preoccupations — see infra. J. Shklar argues that the undoubted political dimension (see text infra) to Hegel’s theory of the Volksgeist witnesses the Montesquieuian rather than Herderian provenance of this concept in Hegel, Freedom and Independence: A study of the political ideas of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, p. 142. E. de Seade sees Rousseau as the source, ‘State and History in Hegel’s concept of People’, JHI (1979) 369.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Cosmopolitanism and the National State, p. 159n.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    The examples at the end are a possible gibe at Herder and his followers and also at F. Schlegel who was one of the leading expounders of Indian Mythology as well as being a leading exponent of the ‘return’ to the Middle Ages — see his Philosophie der Geschichte (1828), Lecture XIV.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Cf. L.J. Goldstein, “The Meaning of ‘State’, in Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of History’”, Philosophical Quarterly (1962) 60 – 72, who stresses the parallels between Hegel’s theory of the State and ‘configurationist’ anthropology (e.g. Ruth Benedict) to the extent of stating that Hegel’s theory “is not particularly different from that of recent authors who think of a culture as expressing or embodying patterns or ideals” (p. 66). In his endeavour to defend Hegel against crude misrepresentation Goldstein is too eager to extract Hegel’s theory from the wider philosophical context of his thought.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    See his Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (1813), Bk. II, Chap. 1.Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    Cf. G. Steiner, After Babel, p. 94Google Scholar
  14. 10a.
    S. Lukes, ‘On the Social Determination of Truth’, in Modes of Thought, ed. R. Horton & R. Finnegan, pp. 230–248.Google Scholar
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    The point is well made by D.J. Cook, Language in the Philosophy of Hegel, p. 157–8 & p. 49–50.Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    Cf. J. Habermas, ‘Labour and Interaction: Remarks on Hegel’s Jena “Philosophy of Mind”’, in his Theory and Practice, pp. 142 – 169. Habermas links Hegel’s speculations on language here with those of Herder (p. 153), as does G. Planty-Bonjour in his Introduction to Hegel’s La Première Philosophie de l’Esprit, p. 27 – 8.Google Scholar
  17. 13.
    Hegel does on a number of occasions refer to habit as second nature. This is generally in the context of Anthropology (subjective Geist). Habit is a useful and necessary process which enables the individual to ‘escape’ from the immediacy of feelings and fancies and it thereby prepares the ground for thinking. It thus has an important part to play in education. It is, however, only preparatory because by itself habit is enslaving and devitalising since, with nothing to oppose to it, the mind becomes inactive or stagnant and may be said to die (EG, 63, 144: WG VII, 101, 233f; PGN, 59; WL VIII, 46; PR, 108, 260, 282: WL VI, 138, 327, 353).Google Scholar
  18. 14.
    Cf. Shklar, Freedom and Independence, p. 69 et seq. Also her earlier piece, ‘Hegel’s “Phenomenology”: an elegy for Hellas’, in Hegel’s Political Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives, ed. Z.A. Pelczynski, pp. 73–89.Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    Knox’s translation here is misleading as S. Avineri points out in Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State, p. 200: the text reads Das Volk als Staat ist der Geist in seiner substantiellen Vernunftigkeit and unmittelbaren Wirklichkeit.Google Scholar
  20. 16.
    Hegel und der Staat, Vol. 1, p. 133.Google Scholar
  21. 17.
    Hegel und der Staat, Vol. 1, p, 243.Google Scholar
  22. 18.
    Nationalism, p. 63.Google Scholar
  23. 19.
    Cf. H. Paolucci who regards Hegel’s system (omitting the Phänomenologie) as “essentially Aristotelian” and who sees this division of Ethical Life as an updating of the Politics, ‘Hegel: Truth in the Philosophical Sciences of Society, Politics and History’, in Beyond Epistemology: New Studies in the Philosophy of Hegel, ed. F.G. Weiss, pp. 98–128.Google Scholar
  24. 20.
    On the various translations of this sentence see Avineri, Hegel’s Theory, p. 177.Google Scholar
  25. 21.
    This is the theme of Avineri’s Hegel’s Theory — see Preface — “Hegel can be seen as the first major political philosopher of modern society” (p. x). Similarly, T.M. Knox — “Hegel’s rational State, then, is a description of the essence of modern political life”, ‘Hegel and Prussianism’, in Kaufmann, Hegel’s Pol. Phil., p. 22.Google Scholar
  26. 22.
    Commentators who studiously ignore Hegel’s organicism simultaneously ignore an important and informative aspect of his thought, for, as we have seen, his espousal of organicism is directly related to his metaphysic — see E. Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s Thought, p. 47; G.D. O’Brien, Hegel on Reason and History, p. 132.Google Scholar
  27. 23.
    Cf. Hegel’s fuller treatment of Rousseau in GP III, 462: WL XIX, 528.Google Scholar
  28. 24.
    For an informative discussion see G. Heiman, The Sources and Significance of Hegel’s Corporate Doctrine’, in Pelczynski, Hegel: Problems and Perspective, pp. 111–135.Google Scholar
  29. 25.
    The need that Hegel saw for such mediation is stressed by C. Taylor and it forms a persistent theme in his interpretation of Hegel and his contemporary significance; thus “This [alienation and ecological disaster] puts us in a dilemma not unlike that of Hegel and the Romantic age”, Hegel, p. 461; also see the long concluding chapter.Google Scholar
  30. 26.
    Theorie und Praxis, tr. H. Nisbet, in Kant’s Political Writings, ed. H. Reiss, p. 79: Werke VIII, 297.Google Scholar
  31. 27.
    The criticism of Fichte is the same as of Rousseau and Kant, because he, like they, talks of freedom in the shape of an “isolated individual” and does not apprehend accordingly the true essence of the State (GP III, 503–4: WJ XIX, 638–9).Google Scholar
  32. 28.
    Cf. M. Riedel, ‘Nature and freedom in Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right”’, in Pelczynski, Hegel: Problems & Perspective, who quotes from a manuscript version of Hegel’s lectures — “The impulse toward sociability which philosophy formerly accepted as the basis of the state is something indefinite and abstract which can only furnish some of the necessary conditions for the vast and highly structured state, and which appears excessively thin beside the phenomenon it is meant to explain”, p. 148.Google Scholar
  33. 29.
    Cf. JR II, 245–6, where Hegel rejects the original contract and sees the origin of all states in the actions of Grosser Menschen. They establish their position as leaders not through their strength for (as Hume had also pointed out) the many are always stronger than the individual but through something in their character of personality (Zügen) which extracts obedience. In fact, by expressing the absolute will these men constitute and uphold the State’s unity as absolute Geist. Similarly, though the State may originate in violence it does not rest on it for in the State the individual obeys a universal — he recognises others as free persons like himself (EG, 172: WG VII, 277).Google Scholar
  34. 30.
    In Political Thought of the German Romantics, tr. A. Hayward, ed. H. Reiss, p. 157: Elemente, ed. J. Baxa, Vol. 1, p. 51.Google Scholar
  35. 31.
    Reiss edition, p. 150: Baxa edition, Vol. 1, p. 37. For the impact of Burke on Müller see Meinecke, Cosmopolitanism, p. 100ff.Google Scholar
  36. 32.
    Baxa edition, Vol. 1, p. 283.Google Scholar
  37. 33.
    Reiss edition, p. 145: Baxa edition, Vol. 1, p. 31Google Scholar
  38. 33a.
    For a discussion of Müller’s economic theory see G.A. Briefs The Economic Philosophy of Romanticism’, JHI (1941) 279–300.Google Scholar
  39. 34.
    Heiman, ‘Sources and Significance’, is thus in error when he remarks that Hegel’s theory of the State is “not too far removed” from Müller’s, p. 113n. G.A. Kelly is clear that the differences between Hegel and Müller are “striking”, Hegel’s Retreat from Eleusis, p. 123.Google Scholar
  40. 35.
    Hegel cites Smith in his Jena writings (at JR II, 239 — for example he quotes the famous example of the pin-making process) and in 1799 he wrote a commentary (now lost) on Steuart’s Political Economy. The debt of Hegel to Steuart has been stressed by P. Chamley (see ‘Les Origins de la Pensée Economique de Hegel’, Hegel-Studien (1965) 225–261) and he is followed by R. Plant (Hegel, p. 64ff.). Much, though not all, of Steuart’s doctrine is, however, stock eighteenth-century theorising which Hegel could have got from Rousseau, Herder, Ferguson etc. In addition, though Plant regards Steuart’s notion of the ‘Statesman’ as “having an enormous influence upon Hegel”(p. 68, cf. p. 168) and, though, to Chamley (p. 251 – 5), Hegel found in Steuart, rather than in Adam Smith, more insights into the dialectics of economics, nevertheless, much of Hegel’s discussion in the Philosophie des Rechts can be seen to have Smithian roots. For example, the ‘other side’ of the division of labour manifest in the distress of those restricted to particular tasks and in their inability to enjoy the mental (geistigen) benefits of Civil Society (PR, 150: WL VI, 188) is found in Smith’s discussion of the division of labour in Book 5 of the Wealth of Nations as producing “torpor of the mind” (Everyman Edit., Vol. II, p. 264). Again, Smith’s remedy for this in education provided by government acton (II, 265 – 6) can be seen in Hegel’s demand that society must furnish public education (PR, 148: WL VI, 187). Further, the actions that Hegel sees public authority performing (street-lighting bridge building, pricing of necessities, public health) (PR, 276: WL VI, 346) are those that Smith advocated (II, 211ff) and for the similar reason that they are ‘public goods’, that is, socially advantageous but not such that it would repay any one individual the cost of establishing them. Finally, there is considerable literature on Adam Smith’s theory of ‘alienation’, based on the above passages from Book 5, which compares this theory with that of Marx. Marx, indeed, obtained his conception of alienation from Hegel (see Chapter 11 infra) but it should be stressed that Smith’s discussion and Hegel’s are not identical. Smith’s is rather to be seen in its admittedly complex relationship to the classical question of ‘virtue’ whilst Hegel’s theory presupposes a theory of human nature far removed from Smith’s basically Humean account.Google Scholar
  41. 36.
    Heget und der Staat, Vol. II, p. 118.Google Scholar
  42. 37.
    The following account is gleaned from Savigny’s Vom Beruf unserer Zeit für Gesetzgebung und Rechtswissenschaft, tr. in Reiss, Pol. Thought German Romantics, & from Vol. 1 of Savigny’s Geschichte des Römischen Rechts im Mittelalter, 2nd Edit. (1834).Google Scholar
  43. 38.
    Cf. H. Kantorowicz, ‘Savigny and the Historical School of Law’, Law Quarterly Review (1937) 310f. who sees the influence of J. Grimm as here decisive.Google Scholar
  44. 39.
    Cf. H. Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the rise of social theory, 2nd Edit., p. 237. Avineri in Kaufmann, Hegel’s Pol. Phil, comments “in Hegel’s thought the Volksgeist underwent a profound process of rationalisation”, p. 123, and for comparison with Savigny see p. 124 but when Avineri says (p. 126) that the analogue between language and law is rejected by Hegel, since, whilst one legal system can be superior to another, “it would be nonsense to say anything like this about languages”, he is in error because Hegel does say this about the inferiority of Chinese to European languages, see EG, 216: WG VII, 399.Google Scholar
  45. 40.
    The distinction between the strictly political state and State as the highest Moment of Ethical Life is emphasised by Pelczynski, The Hegelian Conception of the State’, in Pelczynski, Hegel: Problems and Perspective, pp. 1–29.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague 1952

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