Tibor Machan has also been to a Philadelphia Society meeting. (See my reflections on the meeting I attended.) I think there were a lot more neocons there when I attended than when he did. In fact, he writes of one of the first neocons, Irving Kristol, presenting a novel idea to traditional conservatives: we need a war once in a while to promote national unity and loyalty among the American people, especially the young. Imagine that! Such a Hegelian notion!
I’ve written on Hegel’s notions of the State and war for one of my classes; here are some excerpts:
Hegel conceived of the state as a sovereign individual. States, being sovereign, will quite naturally come into conflict with each other and go to war. Hegel doesn’t merely see war as a necessary evil, however. Indeed, like Randolph Bourne, he sees war as the health of the State. Only, unlike Bourne, he is not concerned with the State growing in such power and centralization that it breaks the bounds of constitutional limits. Hegel sees war as a good thing. States are an ethical unity and go to war to protect that unity, not merely from other States but from internal forces. The State recognizes that the enforced unity brought about by war is needed to preserve itself from its own internal contradictions (or in Hegel’s mind, the stresses of civil society). “[W]ar is a ‘moment’ in the ethical life of the state.”1 In war, individual citizens are educated in the ethical Idea when they submerge and lose their individuality in the universal, in the common will pursuing the State’s goal of self-preservation.
States seemingly paradoxically have equally legitimate sets of conflicting rights and therefore have no rights against each other. Why States have no rights against each other when individuals do is not entirely clear. (Are rights are a purely political construction for Hegel?) Hegel imports the Hobbesian notion of states being in a state of nature vis-à-vis each other. In Hegel’s philosophy of history, States (which are good) are paradoxically founded by evil actions and the tyrants who found them are considered “great” men due to their place in the rational process of history. Good is created through evil. Likewise, the question of right in wars between States is decided by world history; the outcome itself is history’s judgment. “[W]ar makes them unequal so that they can be unified, and this happens when one gives way to the other.”2
For Hegel history is a rational process with the end of actualizing absolute freedom for humanity. The State is the embodiment of the ethical Idea, of absolute freedom, for its citizens. It stands to reason, following Hegel’s obsession with the Idea, the synthesis of concrete and universal, that the State that most embodies the ethical Idea vis-à-vis other States is superior. World history is the final arbiter in this matter, but world history is progressive and rational. This implies a growing rationality as history marches forward. Hegel thought that modern warfare with modern weapons would be more humane than previously. Though history has proven him wrong by the sheer inhumanity of modern total war, for Hegel history must lead to the “complete and total rationalization of human kind” and thus “to the homogenization or unification of humanity characterized by an increased agreement over all the fundamental aims of life. The triumph of reason will mean the elimination of the grounds of all war and conflict because there will be nothing left to fight about. It will represent the final triumph of bourgeois civil society with its pacific and commercial interests over the political state which seeks preeminence in struggle and combat. In the final analysis Hegel’s idea of an end of history undercuts his insistence on the necessity of war.”3
The State, then, would seem to be a “moment” in the rational historical process leading to the triumph of reason in absolute freedom for man. Is this where Hegel intends to go? I am not sure. Such a future may entail the emergence of a World-State, as Hegel’s philosophy of history would seem to necessitate. Alternatively, in light of Hegel’s claim that a State is no more an actual State without other States than an individual is an actual “person without rapport with other persons[,]” perhaps such a future will resemble a kind of Kantian international order of liberal republican States.4
Some neocons have some strikingly Hegelian notions about the family, civil society, the State, and war; Kristol’s notion that we need a good war once in a while, in particular.
What ever happened to Jefferson’s “Every generation needs a new revolution”?
(Thanks to Chris Matthew Sciabarra for the link to Tibor Machan’s article.)