Are anti-covid restrictions Hegelian?
"Freedom is the recognition of necessity". So declared, quoting G.W.F. Hegel, last January 26 in a speech to the Bundestag, the German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, in a heartfelt speech in favor of the imposition of compulsory vaccination to all German citizens of age.
A land of philosophers, Germany is accustomed to hearing their names mentioned in the political arena. To hear, in today's Germany, mention Hegel in support of a government action is, however, something quite unusual and is certainly a sign of changing times.
Hegel and Confucius: the rediscovery of the ancient masters
During the long years of denazification Hegel represented, in Germany, a bad teacher symbol of that uncritical Deutschtum and proneness to authority that had made possible the tragedy of the Shoah. The close relationship between Marxist thought, official doctrine in the former rival DDR, and Hegelian thought, did not help to popularize the most anti-liberal of all German philosophers, symbol par excellence of Prussian authoritarianism.
The fact that Hegel comes back out in the middle of a pandemic, celebrated by one of the highest authorities of the German state, is undoubtedly a symptom of the times: not only because this happens in the locomotive of Europe and not in the supposedly illiberal Hungary, but rather because the event seems to be in tune with a general global trend. China, for example, since about a decade has begun an increasingly massive rehabilitation of Confucius and the legist thought (first of all that of the philosopher Han Fei), whose mixture, already very popular during the reign of many Chinese imperial dynasties, has several points in common with the political vision of Hegel.
The spirit of pandemic age
The European rehabilitation of the latter, essentially banned because of his illiberalism, and the Chinese rehabilitation of Confucius, put on the Index by Mao Tse-Tung's Cultural Revolution, are not accidental in an era in which the State seems to be back in the limelight, revoking, at least in the Old Continent, decades of liberal conquests in the field of personal rights.
The famous Confucian doctrine that true freedom lies in the knowledge of the "will of heaven", that is, in the acceptance of the given reality and its rules, and that the soul's desires should be pursued within a framework of given rules, fits perfectly with the quote from Hegel quoted by Lauterbach.
The connection in question becomes even more significant if we consider that the Hegelian quotation is not taken literally from a work of the German philosopher, but from a paraphrase contained in Friedrich Engels' Anti-Dühring, a classic of Marxist political philosophy. There is enough to understand how the triangle Confucius-Hegel-Marx is not exactly the most reassuring possible for a Europe that would claim to be liberal or liberal-democratic.
Technological advancement, the need to protect an increasingly elderly population have made possible, in the West as well as in the Far East, the progressive affirmation of a surveillance society whose pervasiveness the European population and ruling classes hardly seem to quantify. The acephalous re-proposition of Hegelian thought, supported for a long time by organic elements of the right-wing cultural scene, qualifies as perfectly organic to the pandemic Zeitgeist.
The typically Hegelian idea of a subjective will that finds full meaning only in the universal dimension of a state that is, it and only it, "self-aware ethical substance", fits perfectly with the new pandemic and, perhaps, post-pandemic normality. In Hegel, man is a total and eternal debtor to the state entity; he owes it "every value, every spiritual reality" and, although the German philosopher theorized a rule of law and not an authoritarian technocracy, one really wonders whether today the thought of those who oppose, from the right, the pandemic state of emergency, really needs Hegel. On the contrary, we can bet that Hegel will be increasingly rediscovered, both in politics and in academia, as a prop for the new society of surveillance.
A new scientist and Hegelian state
Far from fossilizing on Fusaro's "monadic" individual, which instead would have been patronized by classical liberalism, modern politics seems to march with ever wider and faster strides towards a new collectivism of authoritarian matrix that sees in the State its lintel and in technology (in particular the internet) its supporting walls. The same Hegelian idea of historical necessity that uses politics, states and sciences to self-fulfillment is perfectly compatible with the contemporary scientist perspective, according to which politics would be nothing but the repeated implementation of forced decisions dictated by necessity.
In this, the Hegelian philosopher, the dialectical materialist and the ancient Confucian sage harmoniously join hands with the modern technocrat. The underlying leitmotif is the idea of an immanent nature, whose fabric is perfectly knowable by reason and on which man's political decisions must harmonize rationally. It matters little, in this perspective, which instrument is used for this purpose, whether the study of history or political economy, whether epidemiology or the ancient divinatory practice of the I Ching.
The idea, as much illiberal as utopian and constructivist, of the perfect society is nourished, in extreme synthesis, at the source of the rationalist perspective according to which everything that exists would be knowable, drawing from this knowability an ethical imperative to which man should conform, on pain of his unhappiness.
Can the individual realize himself outside of the state?
From this point of view, it is worth going back to the origins of liberal thought, to the concept of the person and the reflection on true happiness (and the right to achieve it) which did not escape the fathers of the American Revolution. If, as Hegel perhaps took too much for granted, a man can realize himself only within a State that identifies him fully both ethnically and religiously, it is also true that this is not possible with regard to the modern State stripped of all transcendence, nor is it in turn possible in a scenario in which philosophy has not yet fully answered countless questions about human life.
Beginning with the one who wonders if he is still a man who, now unable to decide even the most basic freedoms of his own body, has reduced himself to a condition of pathological dependence on the State.
Research fellow at the Machiavelli Center. A philosophy scholar, he has been working for years on the topic of the revaluation of nihilism and the great German Romantic philosophy.
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