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Law and Social Custom – the Rational Universality of Freedom Actualized – Remarks on #485 Encyclopedia

Basic Notes in the analysis of Enc. #485

Paragraph 485

1. This unity of the rational will with the single will (this being the peculiar and immediate medium in which the former is actualized) constitutes the simple actuality of liberty.
Even though the single will experiences the limitations on the exercise of his freedom, and even though it has to obey authorities that are set above it, it is truly free. It may be difficult to understand, that the single will is not an absolute given, but a result, a product of the Rational organization of Society. The first and most immediate form of Liberty, therefore, is the connection between the free will of an individual, and the whole of the institutions that govern it. Liberty without limitations has no actuality, it is merely a phantasm. But this state of affairs is not a mystery. This is precisely the way the rationality of freedom appears. Universal an absolute constraint would be as irrational, as the notion of unlimited freedom.
2. As it (and its content) belongs to thought, and is the virtual universal, the content has its right and true character only in the form of universality.
The Liberty that we are talking about, as Hegel explained before,” belongs to thought”, i.e. is thoroughly rational. Freedom is not exercised within our needs, urges, drives or in general our search for happiness. (In this context Hegel speaks about the “mixedness and fortuitousness attaching to it in practical feeling and in impulse”) True freedom rests on our understanding of the truth of freedom. Precisely for that reason, it becomes important that we take freedom as a universal. Every human being is free in principle, the actuality of freedom must allow for the universality of freedom.
3. When invested with this character for the intelligent consciousness, or instituted as an authoritative power, it is a Law.
The limitations of freedom do not appear as random obstacles, but they are themselves expressions of rationality. The obedience required by free subjects – and notice in passing that only free subjects can obey – is obedience to the universality of freedom expressed as law. Certainly, the law also has this side of “authoritative power” when it is enforced against our will. When our will acts against the universal freedom of others, it is the law that demands compliance with the Universal. The question can then be raised, whether a will that opposes universal freedom is itself rational. By forcing the irrational will into compliance with the rational and universal freedom of everyone, freedom is actualized.
4. When, on the other hand, the content is freed from the mixedness and fortuitousness, attaching to it in the practical feeling and in impulse, and is set and grafted in the individual will, not in the form of impulse, but in its universality, so as to become its habit, temper, and character, it exists as manner and custom, or Usage.
A free individual, however, also experiences this universal rationality of freedom in the form of habit, temper, and character. The principles of freedom do not appear only as an external authority, but also as an internal habit, as self-evident and natural ways of doing things. Hegel is thinking of the way we are raised and grow up in the natural habitat of the family, in which our character and instinctive behaviors are formed. This immediate social morality is experienced as custom, or in Hegel’s German “Sitte”. That is also the original meaning of the Greek word ήθος, ethos, from which the modern English word “ethics” is derived.

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