Free «Hegel» Essay Sample

1. How does Hegel conceptualize the state as a separate independent Force: (1) Standing above particular interests engaged in competition; and (2) Defining the common good which all the separate interest in the civil society are to uphold/ Why does Marx see this conception of the state as a fiction? 

Hegel makes the distinction between civil society and state in his Philosophy of Right published in 1821. Civil society represents a stage in the dialectical development from the family to the society. While social life typical of civil society is radically different from the ethical world of family, and Hegel believed, equally different from the public life of state, it forms a ‘moment’ in Hegel’s word within the totality of rationally structured modern political community. State, according to Hegel is an instrument of the universal. State can rise above the conflicts of civil society inherent in the notions of private property and individualism. Therefore, while the notion of civil society is prominent in the work of Hegel, the development of the state, for Hegel, represents what was morally and socially purer than and superior to the development of civil society. For instance, the Prussian society of his day, according to him, represented a model for human relations and their governance. According to Hegel, the state represents and embodies a general and public interest and, for this reason, is the best model for the society to follow. A consequence of Hegelian distinction of civil society and state is the autonomy of the two spheres. The Hegelian distinction highlights the fundamental dualism of the modern state, that is, the dualism between individual at the level of civil society and social at the level of state.

Marx, on the other hand, saw the state as growing out of class oppositions that must be overcome if any progress toward Hegelian ideal was to be achieved. While state embodies general or public interest, according to Hegel, Marx saw such general interest as a fiction and saw the state instead as derivative from the class nature of society. He analyzed historical developments and struggles. Societies have been marked by the exploitation of one class by another, according to Marx, ever since they began to display divisions. In each form of class divided society, there exists a tension between the exploiter class and the exploited class. It is this kind of tension that is responsible for the development or the movement of history.

From the above discussion, it is evident that while for Hegel, state is the supreme political and social ideal, for Marx, on the other hand, state is essentially evil for its class contradiction and strife.

2. Explain this passage in Hobbes' Leviathan (chapter 30) concerning how matter-in-motion is subject to laws: The purpose is not to bind the people from all voluntary actions, but to direct and keep them in such a motion, as not to hurt themselves by their own impetuous desires, rashness or indiscretion; as hedges are set, not to stop travelers, but to keep them in their way. 

Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan perceives society in terms of a giant machine. This explains the title of his work. In Leviathan, Hobbes considers natural state of man as “nasty, short and brutish” and thus they are subjected to perpetual warfare. The notion of Leviathan rests on mechanics, or the motion of bodies. Hobbes holds selfish nature of man as primarily responsible for war among men. Men, however, in order to survive, agreed to surrender a part of their natural freedom to an absolute monarch through a compact. This step was taken in pure self interest. Once, men surrendered a part of their natural freedom, the state became supreme so as to determine right and wrong, just and unjust.

Hobbes seeks to explicate the mechanical model for the explanation of the existence of state, society and social order. Therefore, Hobbes comes to perceive existence of reality as a huge interconnected machine. Also, the perpetual motion explains the functioning of the machine. In other words, Hobbes’ mechanistic model is not a static but a dynamic model. It is in this background that we can see the statement made in Chapter 30 of Leviathan (where Hobbes discusses the notion of sovereign power) described above. The mechanical model of state posited by Hobbes is the dynamic model that describes the matter in motion.

As in physics, there are laws that explain motion, so in state there are laws or what Hobbes calls, the sovereign laws that are just and equally applicable to everyone. They are good laws only when they are good for the people and the sovereign. Therefore, the laws to which people are subject are good in so far as they help contain collision of men so as not to hurt them by their “impetuous desires, rashness, or indiscretion”. While inaction or “binding people from voluntary action” could possibly insulate them against war or mutual harm, but the purpose of the law is to guide them towards fruitful enterprises. Therefore, the laws have the purpose to direct and keep men in motion. The parallel that Hobbes gives here is the “hedges”, the purpose of which is to help travelers direct their way rather than hinder them. The same can be inferred in the case with laws. 

3. To what extent do Hobbes' and Locke' respective political theories defend individual rights? How do they present a concept of civil society associated with the conduct of "possessive individualism?" and to what extent do Rousseau and Marx challenge that concept of civil society as a consequence of individuation/Individualism

Both Hobbes and Locke posit the social contract theory for the emergence of civil society or state. However, Locke and Hobbes differ on their assumptions about the human nature. Locke presumes human nature to be essentially characterized by reason and tolerance, unlike Hobbes. However, like Hobbes, Locke believes that man’s nature allows him to be selfish. According to Locke, the state of nature offered opportunities for men to remain equal and independent. In the state of nature, according to Locke men enjoyed the natural right to defend their life, liberty, and freedom. It is contended that the phrase “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” in American Declaration of Independence owes its origin to Locke’s thesis on rights. Both Hobbes and Locke base their theories on natural rights. In other words, each individual has the natural right to preserve his life and pursue his welfare. In Hobbes’ state of nature, each man was free to pursue their self interest while they bore no duties or obligations towards others leading to a state of perpetual war. One implication of the state of nature was the partial surrender of unlimited freedom so as to enter into a compact leading to the emergence of civil society. For Locke, on the other hand, the individual liberty and freedom in the state of nature were subject to the ‘bounds of the law of nature’.

Rousseau rejects the thesis of Hobbes and Locke with too much focus on the rights of individuals. This, according to him, led to the emergence of laissez faire economy that promoted selfish individual interests at the expense of common good. It also led to the emergence of a powerful mercantile class, who tricked the poor class into believing that a civil society would be formed based on equality and freedom for all. Rousseau carries forward the idea of civil society based on common good further ahead. However, this entails the subjugation of the right to individual happiness in favor of collective happiness, while the emergence of civil society means the supremacy of the general will.

Karl Marx was concerned about the emergence of dominant class at the expense of the exploited class. According to Marx, the system of production and consumption in society alienated people. Like Rousseau, Marx too saw the emergence of private pursuit of wealth and happiness over the public interest. A true civil society, according to Marx, could only emerge with the dissolution of classes in society. 

4. Why does Rousseau diverge from Locke's notion of majority rule and reach and defend his own conclusion that the general will must be consensual, and that we may have to be forced to be free? 

Locke’s fundamental thesis in Second Treatise on Government is that all men are by nature free and equal (against the contemporary ideology that God had made all men subordinate to a monarch). Locke argues in favor of certain universal and inalienable rights following from his above thesis. These rights include the right to life, liberty, and property. Locke favors the majority rule, separation of executive and legislative powers, and the right of people to revolt against a government. The idea of consent plays a central role in Locke’s political philosophy. Locke begins by analyzing individuals in a state of nature. Since there is no central authority in such a state, there are neither laws governing them or addressing their disputes. From this position of freedom and independence available in state of nature, individual consent is crucial for the formation of political societies and for the individual to join them. For a person to be under government obligation, it is necessary according to Locke that voluntary and rational consent free from coercion is given by each person. While favoring the majority decision, Locke insists upon each person individually consenting in order to enter a contract with the government since the nature of contract is critical to mankind. It entails transferring to the government those rights that are crucial to people. How about those that do not consent to the Government? Those who do not consent are “left as they were in the liberty of the state of nature” (52). Besides, there are those who are born after the contract that is, born into a situation with a pre-existing government. For them, Locke holds the opinion that they must consent to the existing government on reaching the age of maturity or “reason”.Rousseau can be said to be among the earliest philosophers to have offered the ‘organic theory of state’. The state is compared to a living organism, and like the body of a living organism, the state is more than sum of its parts. The human part is useless in isolation from the body. The organization of parts brings together more than the sum of the parts, i.e. the living organism. Similarly, when people come together to form a society by entering into a social contract the state the participants come to attain a new moral spirit and will. It is through the general will that the individual becomes part of something greater than himself. The general will is an objective reality that makes it possible for the individual to become a social being. One might expect that individuals by entering into contract with the state and surrendering some of their liberties become less free as citizens. This is however, far from true as might be seen in Rousseau’s philosophy. In fact, Rousseau is acknowledged as a liberal philosopher. The very first sentence of Chapter 1 of his book reads, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains” (Rousseau 3). Social compact, at its barest minimum has been stated by Rousseau, as follows: “Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole” (7). This act of associations is a result of mutual agreement between the public and the individuals; and each individual in entering into such a contract is bound in a double capacity: “…as a member of the Sovereign he is bound to the individuals and as a member of the state to the Sovereign” (7).

5. Compare and Contrast Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau in each of the following areas: a. Conception of human nature b. The origins and conditions of Political obligation c. Respective social contracts d. Conception of Sovereignty 

Conception of Human Nature: Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau are the three major social contract philosophers but each of them has divergent notions on the human nature. Hobbes doesn’t inspire confidence in the nature of man. According to him, human traits are characterized by savagery, including selfishness, and self centeredness. In the state of nature they are perpetually at war with each other. Locke, on the other hand takes an enlightened view of human nature. He shows confidence in the nature of man and thinks they are intrinsically good and benevolent. They are determined to preserve their life, and what is worth and good about life. Although Locke, doesn’t deny conflict in the state of nature, but this war in his opinion is short and not an all out war. The individual liberty and freedom in state of nature, according to Locke were subjected to the bounds of the law of nature. Rousseau’s position on the nature of man is located somewhere between the two extremes of Hobbes and Locke. Rousseau rejects the contentious notion of Hobbes that man is intrinsically bad. He doesn’t think that the state of nature is the state of war. At the same time, Rousseau rejects Locke’s construct of man on morality. In his opinion man is neither moral nor immoral but amoral. Morality emerges only with the emergence of general will in civil society. Like Locke, however, Rousseau argues that in the state of nature, man is focused to self-preservation without meaning to harm others.  

(b)The origins and conditions of political obligation: The contract between people and sovereign in case of Hobbes is permanent and irrevocable. The sovereign is all powerful while the citizens are under absolute control of the sovereign, who demands their total commitment and loyalty. In return they enjoy complete protection against violators of law which is a good bargain in comparison to the state of perpetual war and violence. Since the sovereign is not a party to the contract, he cannot be called to question his conduct. Nevertheless, the sovereign is free to act in any manner except to take the life of citizens unlawfully because the contract was entered into for the very reason to preserve the life of people.

Locke’s contract too makes a binding, permanent and irrevocable relationship between the individual and the state. The legislative appointed by the society however, must act in public interest. Like Hobbes’ sovereign, Locke’s legislative is also absolute. However, while Hobbes’ sovereign can be a dictator with absolute powers and unquestioned loyalty from people, that is not the case with the government in Locke. The people have the power and obligation to resist against the government, in Locke’s contract, when they find that the government is not acting in their interest.  

Unlike Locke’s contract, as soon as Rousseau’s individual enters into the contract, he surrenders all his rights including the right to property to the community. In return, all he has to himself is the rights granted to him by the general will of the community. He is also expected to fulfill all the obligations imposed upon him by the general will. Unlike the contracts of Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau’s contract is neither permanent nor irrevocable although the general will is supreme. The general will expressed through the legislative capacity must make rules and laws for the common good of the citizens and must equally apply on each member of the state. If these conditions are violated, or the law does not meet these requirements, the contract is no longer valid. The individuals are then no longer under the obligation to accept the contract.    

(c) Respective social contracts: While the social contracts of Hobbes and Locke are binding, permanent and irrevocable, that is no the case with Rousseau. In Rousseau, the contract is neither permanent nor irrevocable.

(d) Conception of Sovereignty: For Hobbes, the sovereign is absolute, while for Locke, the natural rights of people – life, liberty, and property – limit the power of sovereign. While Hobbes favored a monarch, Locke favored a representative government. Rousseau agrees with Locke that an individual should never be forced to give up their inalienable rights or natural rights to a king. The sovereign, according to Rousseau, resided in the general will of the people. 


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