Wealth and State from Hegel’s Point of View

Within the context of my present topic, it then only needs to be said, that I assume that State, wealth and the individual seeking self-enjoyment do not form a perfect dialectical figure that speculative logic can resolve into a higher unity. Reality is exceeding the logic with which it is described. Its excess does not fully escape description and logic, especially dialectics, is necessary to understand it. But that in itself does not amount to a negation of the negation in which the opposites are rendered purely illusory with respect to another reality -in a process that ultimately resolves itself into the concept of absolute Spirit. In short, the opposition Hegel analyzes may remain real and unresolved, producing the desire for resolution into a higher unity, even rhetorically being grounded on the notion of their higher unity, but without – metaphysically – being just the immediate form of that unity as the “higher” reality. The opposition and moral distinction between the State and wealth, the individual’s duality in clinging to both without resolving their opposition, might just be the real reality as it is.

Having said too much already by way of introduction – and at the same time too little – it is time to turn to some basic notions. Within his Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel has analysed a form of consciousness – by which he means a specific approach to the world, a way of understanding oneself and the world beyond – that is aware both of this role of the state and the notion of wealth.

With the understanding that our natural lives are not sustained by the direct use of natural means but imply an organized society with distribution of labour, a market, a system of mutually fulfilling basic needs, comes the understanding that the system that controls and directs all of this, the State, must be necessary for survival itself. We know that our survival depends on being citizens within a State. Our reality in a way is a suspension of the merely natural. In paradoxical fashion we can say, that our natural life now depends on a social reality that goes beyond the natural. What we need to eat and drink is not given in its raw state, but is available only as “consumer product”, in its very being characterized by a complex system of activities and exchanges that requires a social organization.

Though the State can therefore be understood as good thing, in our immediate experience, in our consciousness as individual freedom, the same State and all of its structures is experienced as its very opposite. In taxation and regulation we encounter the state as a limiting power that robs us from our individuality by treating us as citizens, i.e. as equal in an abstract sense. It prevents us from acting on our own self-interests, it requires us to accept a specific position within the activities of and labour of all people, i.e. in particular to participate in production, market and consumption according to rules we have not freely accepted. Paradoxically, my individuality as a citizen is something of a general nature. Though I am a single citizen, my being as such is equal to that of any other citizen. The State, that makes my individual existence possible, robs me of that same individuality, when I look at it from the perspective of my self-consciousness. I am “just” a citizen, “a” consumer, “a” resident, voter, member of the public etc. My individuality, to use a category introduced by Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek, is not real, but symbolic. The Power that is the State, being itself a power of the universal, defines me as an individual, which at the same time denies my ability to define and express myself. That is paradoxical precisely because we assume that individuality must be, somehow, self-defining.

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9 responses to “Wealth and State from Hegel’s Point of View

  1. João V

    Dear Robbert,
    “The opposition and moral distinction between the State and wealth, the individual’s duality in clinging to both without resolving their opposition, might just be the real reality as it is.”

    Yes, but can’t this tension fundamentally be just another word for negativity, which, then, posites negativity as an essential feature of reallity – so that one of the questions might be how come, if negativity is an essential quality of reallity, self-consciousness doesn’t simply go under and vanishes?

    Regards,
    João.

  2. Maybe we need to look upon ‘individuality’ not as something substantial – some kind of ‘being’ – but an aspect of human existence that is produced, functions, and exists only as a modification of our (social) being. Descartes’ idea that the ego is a ‘res’, an existing ‘thing’, is contradicted by Lacan who states that the ego does not exist. Individualization and socialization seem to denote the extremes of a process in which my existence exerts its reality.
    The tension between my social being within the State – even though I withdraw from it into my ‘self’ – and as somehow opposed and distinguished from the State – even though I depend on it – might describe modern citizenship.

  3. WYate

    Robbert says:

    “Maybe we need to look upon ‘individuality’ not as something substantial – some kind of ‘being’ – but an aspect of human existence that is produced, functions, and exists only as a modification of our (social) being. ”

    Does Lacan argue this on the same grounds as Hegel? Knowing nothing of Lacan and little of Hegel, my guess would be that the psychologist argues that individuality is something like a “social construct” along the lines of, e.g., gender roles, whereas the philosopher makes an ontological argument about some intersubjective being like Geist being the condition of the possibility of individuality. These aren’t necessarily the same. I ask this simply in the pursuit of the novel sensation of knowing something concrete about Lacan, and have no hidden polemical intent.

    That being said, I have two questions about this idea. One is that this prioritization of the state seems to have at the very least the potential for developing into blind obedience to authority, nationalism, a cult of the Volk, etc. I tend to dismiss these sorts of qualms about Heidegger’s philosophy and so feel a little silly mentioning them in relation to Hegel, but the question should at least be raised.

    My other concern with this idea is simply that it is so counterintuitive. This of course is no argument against its veracity; after all, the most tangible, intimate evidence would suggest that the sun goes around the earth. But the counterintuitiveness of the idea does mean that some powerful arguments must be made to overcome our native intransigence, and mine is so far from being overcome that I’m not even sure what the opposing argument is. But perhaps this just means I need to finish the Phenomenology.

  4. João V

    Good comment William. Nice to hear from you.

    As to some of what you rose regarding the nationalist State:

    I would say that the nation is a moment of the State in its fullest development, and as such it mustn’t take hold of all of the State’s determinateness. I see the nation, roughly, as the immediate appearance of a determinate people as a whole, where the differences amongst its subjects are abstracted and the only explicit differentiation is of other nations or people – hence, maybe, the latent state of war, because it is in opposition with other nations that the nation asserts itself of its difference.

    The State, in its concept, whitholds within itself the moment of these differences within the subjects of a nation, i mean, as modern State, or as democratic State, but only in as much as the State has institutions which preserve the expression of these differences, so that on one side it witholds the subjective difference and on the other side the objective unity within and of a people. This to say that a nationalist State, in face of what we know today about the reach of possibilities which the State witholds is – this nationalist State – an underdeveloped concept of the State.

    If the subjective freedom is an inner necessity of self-consciousness the nationalistic State eventually will go under or subsist only through fear and violence.

    Regards,
    João.

  5. WYate

    Hi João,

    Good to hear from you too! First, I’m not sure if you’re saying a state is an underdeveloped nation or vice versa; but for the following it doesn’t matter.

    What worried me was the formulation that some sort of intersubjective being was ontologically prior to individuality. This, reasonably enough I think, triggers in any twenty-first century head visions of goose-stepping and five-year plans and an implacable, faceless Volk. I am certainly not convinced that Hegel meant anything of the sort, nor even that it would lead to such dire results, however unintentionally, if implemented; I just thought the question should be raised.

    Your response takes issue with my use of the words “state” and “nation.” I was merely following Robbert’s usage, and don’t think anything was implied in my use of the concepts. We could as well substitute the symbol “x.” So I think I could agree (or disagree) with your claim — “the nation is a moment of the State in its fullest development, and as such it mustn’t take hold of all of the State’s determinateness” — without it affecting one way or the other my quibble about the political implications (if any) of this ontological claim about individuality’s derivation from some intersubjective Geist. Your notion of “state” and/or “nation” would need somehow to preclude the contingency I mentioned.

    Best,
    Will

  6. João V

    Hi William,

    “First, I’m not sure if you’re saying a state is an underdeveloped nation or vice versa; but for the following it doesn’t matter.”

    I was saying that a State who focusses only in the nation tends to repress inner differentiation, subjective freedom, and thus, so i think, it is an underdevelop State given the possibilities of differentiation within unity and unity within differentiation we know today.

    “What worried me was the formulation that some sort of intersubjective being was ontologically prior to individuality.”

    This is an important question. Depends on what we think individuality is. If we remain in the sphere of desire, in the sphere of the relation to objects of desire, man, i think, can reflect into itself as it struggles and works to fulfill is cravings and natural needs. But if we expand this individuality, let’s say, to turn man into a individual entitled with rights – as it stands for instance in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – then, i think, only within an intersubjective sphere, i mean, from this sphere reflecting back into the individual and from the individual back to the intersubjective sphere.
    All others must recognize me as entitled with those rights as well as i must recognize all others the same way – other than that i don’t see how an individual entitled with rights and guarantees can emerge.

    Regards,
    João

  7. WYate

    Hi João,

    I don’t wish to speak for Robbert, but I don’t think the individuality that emerges as “a modification of our (social) being” is primarily a political individuality. Rather, it is essentially a metaphysical point, so that the question is not whether man has, e.g., some or other inalienable rights prior to or independently of the society he is born into; but rather whether self-consciousness (or whatever we want to call it) is possible independently of Geist. It seems to me much easier to deny the former claim than the latter, and it was the latter I took Robbert to mean.

    As to your first point, I tend to agree that a strongly nationalistic state is more likely to suppress independent behavior and foster uniformity; however, I still don’t see how this affects one way or the other the question of whether a metaphysical claim (namely that individuality is an epiphenomenon of Geist) necessarily leads to unsavory political positions.

    Best,
    Will

  8. João V

    “Rather, it is essentially a metaphysical point, so that the question is not whether man has, e.g., some or other inalienable rights prior to or independently of the society he is born into; but rather whether self-consciousness (or whatever we want to call it) is possible independently of Geist.”

    Hi Will,

    The thing is whatever determinate answers we come up with are effected politically, i mean, within the sphere of relations between self-consciousness and it is from whatever results which emerge from these relations that our metaphysical positions become for us, because other than that they remain abstractions or acting behind our backs.

    Regards,
    João.

  9. WYate

    Hi João,

    I’m curious what you mean by “acting behind our backs.” On the yahoo forum, Alan uses this term a lot, but that is the only other place I’ve seen it in relation to Hegel and don’t understand his usage either. Does it mean something like a Freudian unconscious? Is it a good thing or bad that a philosophical position “acts behind our back”? I’m suspicious of this way of talking if only because I can’t locate a counterpart in Hegel. And I certainly don’t like the idea of anything in philosophy going on “behind our backs,” since philosophy is precisely the venue for everything whatsoever to come under examination.

    I’m copy and pasting this question in the “General Hegel Discussion” section of the forum so as not to clutter Robbert’s post with a tangent, as we have in the past 🙂

    Best,
    Will

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