Characteristics of the Present Age/Lecture 10


LECTURE X.
THE ABSOLUTE FORM OF THE STATE.


To show at what point of its development the State has arrived in our own Age, is our next business as announced in the last lecture. The intelligibility of the demonstration which we have to make must evidently depend upon our starting from a strictly defined conception of the State in its Absolute Form.

There is nothing, especially in the Epoch in which we live, about which more has been written, read, and spoken, than about the State: therefore in all cultivated, even if not exactly scientific society, we can reckon, almost with certainty, upon a greater amount of existing knowledge and opinion concerning the State than concerning any other subject. We must first of all declare, especially with regard to what we intend to say here upon this question, that we partly coincide with certain well-known authors but upon other and profounder principles than theirs; while we differ from them again in many important matters: and that the view of the State most prevalent among German Philosophers is not unknown to us, according to which the State ought to be almost nothing more than a juridical institution;—a view which we oppose with deliberate and well-considered determination. It is to be remembered, then, that we are compelled to begin with some apparently uninteresting principles, concerning which, all I can ask of you at first is only to keep them in mind:—but I trust that before the end of this lecture these principles shall have become quite clear, by means of farther definitions and applications.

The Absolute State is in its form, according to our opinion, an artistic institution, intended to direct all individual powers towards the Life of the Race and to transfuse them therein; and thus to realize and manifest in individual life the general form of the Idea, as we have already sufficiently described it. Since the State cannot calculate upon the inward life and the original activity of the Idea in the minds of men,—all life in Idea being of this latter kind, as we have seen in our former lectures,—and since it rather operates outwardly upon individuals who feel no desire, but on the contrary a reluctance, to offer up their individual life for the Race, it follows that this institution must be one of constraint. For those individuals in whom the Idea has assumed a real inward life, and whose wish and desire is nothing else than to offer up their lives for the Race, no constraint is necessary and for them it disappears;—the State remains, with respect to them, only that comprehensive Unity which continually watches over the Whole, which points out and explains at all times the first and nearest purpose of the Race, and arranges the willing powers of man in their appropriate sphere of action. It is an artistic institution, we have said: but it is so, in the strictest sense of this word as an institution of free and self-intelligent Art, only after it has scientifically penetrated to its complete and perfect purpose in the Age of Reason as Knowledge, and to the means for the attainment of that purpose, when the Fifth Age of Reason as Art has begun. But there is also an order in Nature, that is, in the destiny of the Human Race, through which it is led towards its true end without its own knowledge or will; which order might be called the Art of Nature: and in this sense alone I call the State, in the first Ages of the Human Race, an artistic institution. What we have already set forth as the dedication of all individual powers to the purpose of the Race, is the Absolute State according to its form; i.e. the existence of a State at all depends simply on the dedication of the individual powers to a purpose of the Race whatever that purpose of the Race may be. It remains, however, quite undecided by this definition of the State, how many purposes of the Race to the attainment of which the individual power is to be dedicated can be prosecuted in particular States;—and it remains just as undecided by this definition what is the absolute purpose of the Race, by the disclosure of which the material of the State,—the true meaning and purpose of it,—might be described.

And now, after these preliminary definitions, to examine more closely the Idea which we have announced: In the first place, the State which has to direct a necessarily finite sum of individual powers towards the common purpose, must regard itself as a completed whole; and, as its common purpose is identical with that of the Human Race, it must regard the aggregate of its citizens as the Human Race itself. It is not irreconcilable with this view that it may also entertain purposes connected with others who are not numbered among its Citizens: for these purposes will still be its own, undertaken merely on its own account,—those, namely, to the attainment of which it directs the individual powers of its own Citizens;—and in every case, therefore, it devotes these powers to itself, considered as the Highest, as the Race. It is therefore the same thing whether we say, as above, that the State directs all individual powers towards the life of the Race; or, as here, that it directs them towards its own life as the State: only that this latter expression first acquires its true meaning through the former, as we shall soon see.

Once more:—the nature of the Absolute State consists herein,—that all individual powers be directed towards the Life of the Race,—in place of which Race the State puts the aggregate of its own Citizens. It therefore becomes necessary, first, that all Individuals, without exception, should be embraced and taken into equal account by the State; and second, that every Individual with all his individual powers, without exception or reserve, should be likewise taken into account. In a State so constituted, where all as Individuals are dedicated to the Race, it follows at the same time, that all the Rights which belong to them as component parts of the Race are dedicated to all the other individual members of the State. For, to what are the powers of all directed?—to the Race. But what does the State hold as the representative of the Race?—all its Citizens, without a single exception. Were there some Individuals either not taken into account at all in the common purpose, or not taken into account with all their powers, while the rest were included,—then the former would enjoy all the advantages of the union without bearing all the attendant burdens, and there would thus be inequality. Only where all without exception are taken into account, is equality the result. Consequently, in this constitution, the individuality of each absolutely disappears in the community of all; and each one receives back his contribution to the common power, strengthened by the united powers of all the rest. The purpose of the isolated Individual is his own enjoyment, and he uses his power as the means of its attainment;—the purpose of the Race is Culture, and the honourable subsistence which is the condition of Culture: in the State, each Individual employs his powers, not for his own immediate enjoyment, but for the purpose of the Race, and he receives in return the whole united Culture of the Race, and therewith his own honourable subsistence. We must guard ourselves, however, against regarding the State as if it were dependent on this or that Individual, or on Individuals generally, and were composed of them:—almost the only way in which ordinary philosophers are able to conceive of a Whole. The State, in itself, is an unseen Idea; just as the Race has been described in our former lectures: it is—not single Individuals, but their continuous relation to each other, the living and ever-changing production of which is the work of Individuals as they exist in space. To make my idea clear by an example:—The Rulers are by no means the State, but merely Citizens like all the rest; and there is absolutely no individual character in the State but that of Citizen. The Rulers, as well as all other Individuals, with all their individual powers, are taken into account in order to direct the powers of the governed,—who no more than they constitute the State,—towards the common purpose, so far as they understand it, and to enforce this purpose on all who are opposed to it. Only that result which arises from their guidance and the directed power of the governed taken together, do we call the State in the strictest sense of the word.

Only one objection is here to be anticipated; which I meet directly. It may be said: Why then are all the powers of Individuals to be taken into account in the purpose of the State? If this purpose might be attained at less cost, would it not, in that case, be sufficient to secure the desired equality that the necessary expenditure of power should be equally divided among All; and the free use of the superfluous power be left to the free will of each Individual? To which we reply:—First of all, the supposed case, that the united power of all Individuals might not be necessary for the purpose of the State, can never occur, and is impossible. Such powers of the Individual as are perhaps unknown to himself, and also such as may be known to him but are unknown or unavailable to the State, are indeed not to be taken into account in the purpose of the State; but all individual power which is known and accessible to the State is necessary to it for the furtherance of its purpose:—its purpose is Culture, and in order to maintain the position to which a State has already attained, and to advance still further, it requires at all times the exertion of every available power;—for only through the united power of All has it attained this position. Should it not take the whole into account, it must recede instead of advancing, and lose its position in the ranks of Culture: and what would further arise out of this we shall see at another time. Secondly, I ask,—What would the Citizens do with the remaining power which should in that case be left for their free use?—Shall they remain idle and leave this power unemployed? This is contrary to every form of Culture and is in itself Barbarism; the cultivated man cannot be inactive or unemployed beyond the necessary period of rest required by his sensuous nature, and this period of rest the State in any case would have left to him. Or shall they apply this power for the advancement of their individual purposes? In a Perfect State no just individual purpose can exist which is not included in the purposes of the Community, and for the attainment of which the Community does not provide. Should it finally be said,—This power may be applied by the Individual for the purpose of his own private and undisturbed Culture;—then my answer would be,—There is no kind of Culture which does not proceed from society, that is from the State, in the strictest sense of the word; and none on which it is not incumbent to strive to return to the State again: this Culture is therefore itself a purpose of the State, and its advancement in each Individual according to his degree must have already been taken into account in the Perfect State. We shall afterwards take care that this shall not be misunderstood in its application to the Actual State: here we speak only of the Perfect State, and to it the principle which we have laid down is applicable without any limitation.

To raise themselves with freedom to this Absolute State, as one of the conditions imposed by Reason on the Human Race, is the vocation of Mankind. This gradual elevation could take place neither in the state of Innocence among the Normal People, nor in the state of original Barbarism among the Savages.

Not among the former:—there men found themselves in the most perfect social relations, without need of any restraint or superintendence: every one acted justly and for the common advantage, spontaneously and without reflection on his own part, or on the part of any one else for him; and without this condition being first brought about either by his own skill or by any process of nature:—we have here no trace of a new genesis. Neither could this occur among the latter:—there each individual cared only for himself; and indeed only for his lower, merely animal, wants; and no one rose to the conception of any higher enjoyment. Consequently it was only in the commingling of the two original tribes of our Race, as the Actual Human Race of History, that the development of the State could begin and be carried out.

The first condition of a State, and the first essential characteristic of our idea of it, as stated above, is this: That Freemen must at first become subject to the will and superintendence of other Freemen. Freemen, I say, in opposition to Slaves: and by Freemen I mean those to whose own skill and judgment it is left to provide the means of subsistence for themselves and their families; who are accordingly sovereign heads of families, and even continue to be so after their submission to a foreign will which has other purposes in view. A Slave, on the contrary, is he to whom there is not left even the care for his own subsistence, but who is maintained by another, and in return becomes subject with his whole powers to the arbitrary will of his master; who therefore cannot be the head of a family, but is a member of a foreign family, and a bondsman for life; his master having no other reason for maintaining him but that his maintenance is more profitable than his destruction. Freemen, I said, as such, and on the supposition that they still remain free, must subject themselves to a foreign will;—and I said so for this reason:—It belongs to the Idea of a State, that the subjected may at least themselves become a purpose; and this can only occur when in their subjection they still remain free within a certain sphere, and this sphere of their liberty afterwards comes within the purpose of the State when the State advances to higher Culture;—but the Slave as such, and in the case of his never attaining freedom, cannot himself become a purpose; he is at best, like every other animal, a mere instrument of his master’s purpose; but by no means a purpose himself. In this subjection of Freemen to the oversight and rule of other Freemen, there are then two, or, if we reckon otherwise, three cases possible: and,—as this subjection is the origin of the State,—there are just as many possible fundamental forms of the State, through which it must pass towards its accomplishment; and I entreat you to observe well, and even to commit to memory, these fundamental forms, as the foundation upon which we intend to rest all our subsequent disquisitions upon this subject.

Namely,—by this subjection the general mass of individuals who have thereby come into combination, considered as a completed Whole, are either All without exception subjected to the Whole, that is, to the common purpose of All,—as it should be in the Perfect State; or they are not All subjected to the Whole. The latter case, where All are not subjected to the Whole, can only be supposed possible in this way,—as the subjected at least are All subjected,—that the subjectors have not, on their part, subjected themselves reciprocally to the others and to the necessary purposes which are common to the others and to themselves. The subjectors have consequently subjected the others to their own particular purpose; which,—as it cannot be, or at least cannot be wholly, one of sensuous enjoyment—for in that case they would at once have reduced the subjected to slavery and destroyed their freedom altogether,—must necessarily be the purpose of ruling for the sake of ruling. This would be our first case, as it is the first form which the State assumes in Time;—namely, the absolute inequality of the members of the State, who are divided into the classes of Rulers and Ruled, which can never exchange their relative positions so long as this arrangement endures. It is evident here, in passing, that such a State cannot subdue its vassals with all their powers to its purpose, as the State can certainly do when it has a better purpose in view:—for, in so doing, it would make them perfect Slaves, and would thereby cease to deserve the name even of a nascent State. Our other case was this:—That all the individual members of the State, without exception, are subjected to the purpose of the Whole. This, again, is possible in two ways:—First, all the individual members may be only negatively subjected to the Whole; that is, a purpose may be secured to every one without exception, in the prosecution of which no one else dares to hinder him. Such a purpose, secured by the constitution against interference on the part of any one else, is called a Right: in such a constitution, therefore, every one has a Right to which all other men without exception are subjected. Equality of Right for all men as Right; but by no means identical Rights;—for the purposes secured to different individuals may be very different in extent, and the existing state of such relations was generally taken for the measure of Right when the dominion of Laws began. It is evident that the State which occupies this position, since it confers Rights upon some of its Citizens which exceed the Rights of others who are nevertheless able to keep their ground, is far from subjecting all the powers of these favourites to its purpose: nay, since by these Privileges of its favourites it hinders the others in the free use of their powers, that it even wastes these powers for the purposes of Individuals; and therefore, with all its Equality of Right, is far removed from the Absolute form of the State. The case we have now described would be the second fundamental form of the State, and the second stage upon which our Race would find itself in its progress towards the perfect form of the State. Lastly,—that all the individual members of the State are subjected to the purpose of the Whole, may also mean, that they are not merely subjected negatively thereto, but also positively; so that absolutely no Individual can propose any purpose to himself, and devote himself to its furtherance, which is his own merely and not at the same time the purpose of the whole Community. It is obvious that in such a constitution all the powers of all men are taken into account for the common purpose,—this common purpose being no other than the purpose of all men without exception considered as a Race; and that therefore this constitution manifests the Absolute form of the State, and a true equality of Rights and Powers begins. This equality does not by any means exclude the distinction of Classes in society; that is, the different modes in which human power may be applied, which are left to the exclusive cultivation of Individuals, who again leave the other modes of this application of power to the exclusive cultivation of other men. But no Class, and no exclusive application of power, must be permitted, which is not dedicated to the purpose of the Whole, and which is not absolutely necessary for the Whole;—the produce of which is not actually partaken of by all other classes, and by all the Individuals who compose these classes, according to their ability to enjoy it. This would be the third stage of the development of the State;—in which it would be perfected, at least according to its Form.

It will be found, and perhaps it may be understood at once by the more attentive and prepared auditor, that by means of this perfection of its Form, the State for the first time obtains possession of its true Material,—that is, the genuine purpose of the Human Race which has associated itself within it; and that it has still to go through many stages of its progress before its end shall be attained. We speak here in the meantime only of the Form of the State.

I have undertaken these preliminary inquiries in order that we may be enabled to show what point of its development the State has attained in our own Age,—in those countries, of course, where it is farthest advanced. In the meantime I may declare, that in my opinion the State, still occupied with the completion of its Form, has now firmly established itself on what we have described as the second stage, and endeavours to attain the third;—which latter it has even attained in part, and in part has not yet attained. Hence, that in our own Age more than at any previous time, every Citizen, with all his powers, is subjected to the purpose of the State, is thoroughly penetrated by it, and so has become its instrument; and that the State endeavours to make this subjection universal and complete:—this constitutes, in our opinion, the fundamental character of the Age in its Civil Relations. What we precisely mean by this assertion, and that it is actually the case, will be most easily shown by depicting Times when it was not so; and by setting forth historically how, and by what course, it has gradually become as it now is. We reserve this inquiry, as well as some other investigations, which must precede it, for the following lectures.

Let us, however, discuss one not unimportant point of this Material to-day:—that of Political Freedom. Even in the first form of the State the Subject remained personally free: he did not become a Slave. Had all been made Slaves, then the nature of the whole institution would have been lost. In this condition, however, not even the personal freedom of the Subject was guaranteed: he might be reduced to slavery by one of the Rulers; he had therefore no Civil Freedom,—that is, as we have explained it above, he had no Right secured to him by the constitution: he was in fact not a Citizen but only a Subject; a Subject, however, only to a certain extent,—not being a Slave; and beyond the limits of his subjection he was free,—not through Law, but through Nature and Accident. In the second form of the State, each Individual, without exception, received back through the constitution a portion of freedom,—not exactly of arbitrary power, but of independence,—by which he compelled all other men to respect a certain purpose or Right which belonged peculiarly to him;—and every one had thus his own degree, not of mere personal liberty, but of secured and therefore Civil Freedom; while beyond this he was a Subject; and if the Privileges of others, by which he was restrained, were more extensive than his own,—he was more a Subject than a Citizen. In the Absolute form of the State, where all the powers of all men are called into activity for the necessary purpose of the whole community, each Individual binds all others just in so far as he is bound by them: all have equal Civil Rights or Civil Freedom; and each Individual is thus at once a complete Citizen and a complete Subject;—and, for the same reason, all are Citizens and Subjects in like manner. If we call that the Sovereign power which in reality gives its purpose to the State, then, in this last-mentioned form of the State, every Citizen will be a part of the Sovereign power in the same manner and in the same degree;—and if in this respect we bestow the title Sovereign upon Individuals, then the principle just laid down may also be expressed thus:—Each Individual is entirely a Sovereign in respect of his necessary purpose as a member of the Race, and entirely a Subject in respect of the application of his individual powers:—and all are therefore both Sovereign and Subject in the same manner.

Such is the case in reference to the State, when taken in its strictest sense, as we have described it above,—i.e. as an Idea. It is a wholly different question, possessing nothing in common with the former one,—Who then shall understand and measure this purpose of the State given to it in reality, although not openly, by the Community as a whole, and, by means of this estimate, guide the power of the Citizens, and compel such as may oppose themselves thereto?—in one word, Who shall govern? Since it is impossible that any higher estimate of the purpose which has been given to the State by the Community as a whole can find a place in the State itself,—all other powers and capacities in the State being subjected to this supreme estimate and guided thereby;—it follows that this estimate is associated with external independence and freedom; and indeed with Political Freedom, if the Greek word from which this expression is derived may be applied to the active and efficient administration of a State. The former question would regard the Constitution of the State, which is and ought to be absolutely determined by Reason alone: the question now raised is directed to the Form of Government.

It is evident, that with respect to the latter, only two cases are possible: either all individuals without exception take part by right, and in a perfectly equal degree, in this estimate, and, by means of it, in the direction of all the powers of the State; and then All are partakers of Political Freedom, and are so in an equal degree:—or this estimate, and the direction consequent upon it, is given over exclusively to a certain number of individuals:—which latter case, according to our previous investigations, amounts to nothing more than this,—that a particular Class in society is established by Art, or is met with in Nature and History, to which is committed, as its exclusive branch of the general application of power, the estimate of the purpose of the State, and the task of governing according to this estimate; while the other Classes direct their powers to something else; and all of them, in their common character as the governed, stand opposed to the Rulers. Here Political Freedom is possessed only by the Rulers; the governed are altogether without it, and, in reference to the Government, they are merely Subjects.

In the first place, the Constitution of the State, as it should be according to Reason, is not necessarily altered or abridged in any respect by such a form of Government as we have now described. The governing Class remains subject to the common purpose of the State, which is determined by the general wants of the Community; and it must apply all its powers, without exception or reserve, directly to the attainment of this purpose; just as the other Classes have to dedicate their labour indirectly to the attainment of the same purpose: hence, in regard to this purpose, it is as much subjected as the others. This Class itself, as a constituent element of the Race, is a part of the purpose of the State; and the attainment of its wants, as an element of the Race, but not as a governing Class, must likewise be secured; and the Ruler is therefore a Citizen, just as much as all the others but in no higher degree.

It is thus only the form of the State which is determined, and its realization absolutely required, by Reason; but by no means the form of Government. If the purpose of the State be understood, as clearly as is possible at the time, and all existing power be directed towards the realization of this highest conception, then is the Government right and good, whether it be in the hands of All, or in the hands of a few Individuals, or finally in those of a single Individual:—it being understood, in this last case, that this single Individual chooses his assistants according to his own judgment, who remain subject and responsible to him. Civil Freedom, and that to an equal degree, is absolutely required for all men; but Political Freedom is, at most, only necessary for one. All the inquiries which have ever been set on foot concerning the best Government, particularly in later times, have had finally in view to find a means of restraining the all-restraining power of Government:—first of all, in order that, as an absolutely correct insight cannot be obtained by force, there may at least be the best possible insight actually applied to the Government; and, in that case, that this best possible insight shall be actually realized. How useful soever this inquiry may be in itself, and however possible the theoretical solution of the problem, which indeed may actually have been solved somewhere; yet thousands of years may pass over our Race before this solution can belong to a philosophical characterization of any Present Age. It is a fortunate and satisfactory thing for us, that in the actual position of all cultivated States, and in the whole present Stage of Culture, there are numerous urgent and constraining reasons for every Government striving to attain the clearest possible insight into the true purpose of the State, and acting at all times with all its powers, according to the best insight which it has attained.

In the pursuance of our inquiries, we shall have opportunities to refer to these reasons. Could such indications on our part, and the whole range of inquiries which we have begun to-day, contribute anything especially towards making the particular Constitution under which we live more intelligible, and thereby dearer and more valuable, to us, then would one end be attained which belongs to the purpose of these lectures.