Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Hobbes and Hegel

I've decided not to write a blog post on a topic about which I know little, and rather to write on a topic about which I know nothing. Consider this part of the dialectic of trolling.

Hence the question, what do Hobbes and Hegel have in common ? I admit I know a bit about Hobbes having read the first two books of Leviathan (and I bet Hobbes's mom was too bored to read the third and fourth). About Hegel I know almost exactly nothing (and more than I would like).

They are two seminal influential writers. The vibrant discussion and debate about the social contract began with Hegel largely transmitted through Locke's attempt to refute Hobbes in his second treatise on government (I have read it but not his first treatise on government).

In each case, most people addicted to the big H's do not share their conclusions or general orientation. Some phrases and words live on (social contract, dialectic, historical age) while the orginal main point is utterly rejected.

The interesting thing is that these two genuinely revolutionary writers were reactionary. Both advocated absolute monarchy. Hobbes explicitly rejected not only the British revolution, but also the ancien regime with power divided between the King and Parliament. He regretted the defeats at Naseby and Runnymeade, he contested both Cromwell and Polybius. He slashed at the division of power as sharply as Ockham.

Hegel was not so clear (the military situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage). He claimed to believe that Prussia should have a constitution, and that Prussia had a constitution.

I just had an idea. I think the extroirdinarily original thoughts are the result of attempting to defend the indefensible. There were a few obsolete arguments for absolute monarchy. The first was might makes right, which was challenged by facts on the ground. The second was the divine right of kings which was hampered by the contrast between God's stubborn silence and theologians' verbosity. Something new was needed and first the social contract then the dialectic were new. I think the radicalism of Hobbes was made necessary by his extremely reactionary factionalism. I think the extreme abstraction and vagueness of Hegel [should be discussed only by people who have actually read Hegel] was a new obscurantism needed because people had ceased to look to scripture for guidance on public policy (people starting with Hobbes).

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the painful and humiliating need to find some way to defend the pretenses of a royal patron was the mother of genius.

11 comments:

2slugbaits said...

While Hobbes certainly approved of an absolute monarch, Hegel did not. Hegel believed in a constitutional monarch. Hobbes did not accept any reality to the concept of an independent civil society because that would violate Hobbes' principle of sovereignty in the person of the absolute monarch. OTOH, Hegel insisted upon a distinction between the state as personified by the constitutional monarch and civil society. Hobbes believed in a unified sovereign; Hegel believed in a peculiar federal system composed of various estates representing different functional parts of civil society. The ghost of the dead Holy Roman Empire perhaps. The civil service (or as Republicans would call it today, the "deep state") was integral to Hegel's vision. Hobbes had a very concrete view of the role of the absolute monarch. Hegel's view of the state and the constitutional monarch at the apex was, to be polite, rather fuzzy. But then again, just about everything Hegel ever wrote seems kind of fuzzy to me. It just shows that you can't put a logical positivist wine into a dialectical cask.

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