One of the most flagrant and offensive misconceptions about Hegel is that he was a conservative theoretician of the Prussian state. This is offensive not so much because it misrepresents Hegel, but because it misrepresents the thought of the Prussian conservatives who passionately fought ideas like his until the ultimate downfall of classical, Maikäferei Prussian conservatism come German unification. There were certainly some Hegelians on that front, such as if I recall correctly Heinrich Leo, Johann Eduard Erdmann and Hermann Wagener (the latter dramatically defecting to the Bismarck-worshipping Freikonservativen by the 1870s), but basically none of them ever conflated Hegelianism with Prussianism.
Some of you might remember a spat between Daniel Larison and Moldbug that happened a decade ago by now, regarding the legacy of Hegel. Was he a “moderate-liberal constitutional monarchist” (Larison) or a proto-totalitarian (Moldbug)?
The answer is both. But overall, Larison’s side holds up better.
Resuscitating old-school Prussian conservatism is one of this blog’s goals. So far I have done little on this (but as of now I still regard my essay on Friedrich von Gentz to be my best). This blog is meant to have a definite end at some point, but we are only at the beginning.
I suppose a brief anti-Hegelian conservative pamphlet is a good way to start: not only does it debunk a Hegel myth, it also serves to scrub out his name and emphasize the distinctness of Preußentum, properly speaking. Oh, and if that term ends up invoking Oswald Spengler in your mind, forget about him also.
The author is Karl Ernst Schubarth. He is kvlt enough that he lacks any Wikipedia article. He does, however, have an entry in the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie. Schubarth was no fan of romanticism; he did not take a liking to Schiller or Schlegel. He was a massive fan of Goethe, though. He personally visited and exchanged letters with him throughout the 1820s until Goethe’s death in 1832. In 1830, he published “Lectures on Goethe’s Faust.”
He is also cited in Friedrich Julius Stahl’s Die Philosophie des Rechts, which is how I found out about him.
The pamphlet that concerns us here is entitled Ueber die Unvereinbarkeit der Hegel’schen Staatslehre mit dem obersten Lebens- und Entwickelungsprincip des preußischen Staats [On the Incompatibility of Hegel’s Political Science with the Prussian State’s Principle of Life and Development] (1839).
Right from the opening, Schubarth speaks of the “anti-Prussian tendency of Hegel’s political theory,” [in the Philosophy of Right] and he dives in to the corrections (presented here in mixed order):
The basic conception of constitutional states is that they are not states formed and sustained by the power of the ruling lineage [Ed.’s note: “Geschlecht,” as in e.g. Adelsgeschlecht, a noble lineage] alone, whose power could not be thought away for a moment without abolishing the essence of the state, but that in addition to the power of the ruling lineage, they have their cause and origin in an external body, their true substance, while the existence and occurrence of a ruling princely lineage is only an accidental result. A constitutional state is a republic in a monarchical garment, nothing more or less, where the prince is left as the remnant of a preceding purely monarchical epoch, without just sending him away, by making use of him for some ceremonial functions of formal importance to carry out the state, which by its very nature is completely independent of him, with a certain momentous pomp.
The unfavorable direction of Hegelian philosophy, which ultimately leaves nothing to the personality in general, and its full manifestation, so that the personality ceases at the end by the abolition of its individual immortality, and the absolute substance in the form of absolute personality is absorbed in the life of the state by the restriction of the princely personality and its effectiveness to the least of its capabilities, namely, the mere capacity to say yes or to sign his name… What this means is that the monarch attains the final power only in formality and not in substance, What the monarch still has is only his ceremonial decision… In p.373, Hegel says: “In a well-ordered monarchy, the law alone has the objective side to which the monarch adds only the subjective ‘I want.'”
In Hegel’s sense, therefore, it can be argued that the monarch in a constitutionally modern state is the same thing that was with the ancients in their organic state: the vapor of the Pythia, the oracles — essentially, things which could be substituted for each other. Hegel quite rightly follows the concept of the constitutional state of restricting the prince to this mere formal role and to the function of the yes-man, since in a constitutional state the prince is not the substance of the state, but the epitome of the different individual spheres. In this case the prince has only an accidental significance. Hegel, however, again quite rightly proceeds in his own near sense not to recognize the peculiarity of the character as the most important thing in the Prince, since the State is not to him an embodiment of men.
…The substance of the Prussian state, as a pure monarchy, is essentially only its ruling lineage, which by virtue of its inherent, special ability has made the state alone what it is, so that the state’s existence is based on what Hegel calls the peculiarity of character. And so the organism of the entire state, and every single part of it, as a smaller organism in the Prussian state, is that of the personality, and especially of the person of the monarch, who must continually determine the state, if the state is to continue to be what it is. But this determination consists in far more, and in something quite different, than simply saying “yes,” or signing one’s name under what others consult and conclude as irrevocable. According to this, what Hegel sees as the most important, what he wants to be left out of the concept of the monarch, are self-determination and self-action, which are the soul, the very nerve of Prussian political life.
And so, without this particularity of the character of the Prussian monarchs, without the right to assert them, and without their continuity, the preconditions would not at all arise to have what we today call Prussia. Rather, Prussia would immediately cease to be a state, as soon as even the slightest change was made.
If, therefore, Hegel declares: “There may well be states in which this particularity alone occurs, but then the state is not yet fully developed, or not well constructed,” as his doctrine shows, Prussia’s character being of this type, the Prussian state necessarily becomes an unkind, hostile force… Yes, this is a call for indignation and rebellion, such a doctrine awakening a rebellious conviction.
It may be said that with the change of dynasty the former state dies and another one begins. The history of no state explains this so much as England’s with its frequent dynastic convulsions. The monarchical figure which England had under the Tudors did not at first change anything so radically, but prepared first the boisterous, then the moderate republic, or the constitutional monarchy, for which no event was more important than the accession of the Stuarts to the throne. England as a country and people, and its early development as a state thus begins, and as the Tudors dissolved the prior government through the Wars of the Roses, they then newly recreated all political relations, and made a new England, both ecclesiastical and political in character. The animating spirit soon escaped the Tudors, and the Stuarts, accustomed to another principle, seemed to appear as a mere external attachment [to Parliament]. The English State, stripped of its former ruling soul, thereby automatically fell to the masses, as did its basic constitution, and in the end became a republic, in which the occurrence of a ruling lineage in relation to the state had only a tangential significance.
Ultimately, this goes against Hegel’s assertion in §278 of the Philosophy of Right that “sovereignty depends on the fact that the particular functions and powers of the state are not self-subsistent or firmly grounded either on their own account or in the particular will of the individual functionaries, but have their roots ultimately in the unity of the state as their single self.”
But that’s just scratching the very surface — which is all I intend for the time being in this quick Hegel myth-related note.