Wednesday, August 01, 2007

GWF Hegel on the language of blogging.

Hi folks,

I'm apologize, gentle reader, for subjecting you to this material. Reading Hegel can make your eyes bleed. It's like trying to do calculus before you've had algebra.

I write it but to cause catharsis. Read on at your own peril.

Lately, I've been thinking about how people talk to each other about politics -- badly -- and what happens to people who try to impose some quiet reason on such discussions -- they're ignored or gored, and not for being right or wrong, but for even trying to be reasonable.

Being reasonable spoils the fun. :^)

The philosopher GWF Hegel wrote up his political philosophy in a text he entitled The Philosophy of Right. This translation (by Knox) is barely readable but here's the point:

People have come to believe that politics is something you have to feel, not think about.

People seem, moreover, to believe that in politics and ethics you can't really know anything at all -- that you can only have opinions. This assertion reduces human beings to howler monkeys flinging feces at one another. You may have seen examples on the Sunday morning political shows. The early 1800s saw a mob of political commentators, just as we have now, pontificating on the stupidity of anyone who thought they might actually think their way through tough political or ethical issues and come to reasonable conclusions. Anyone who tried was ridiculed, lambasted, and shouted down as an impious moron.

Since reasoning couldn't provide a basis for understanding the world then what?

Hmm. Some things never change.

Mr. Knox translates Hegel's already tortured German like this:

It is no surprise that the view just criticised [that reason was useless in politics] should appear in the form of piety. Where, indeed, has this whirlwind of impulse not sought to justify itself? In godliness and the Bible it has imagined itself able to find authority for despising order and law. And, in fact, it is piety of the sort which has reduced the whole organised system of truth to elementary intuition and feeling. But piety of the right kind leaves this obscure region, and comes out into the daylight, where the idea unfolds and reveals itself. Out of its sanctuary it brings a reverence for the law and truth which are absolute and exalted above all subjective feeling.

The particular kind of evil consciousness developed by the wishy-washy eloquence already alluded to, may be detected in the following way. It is most unspiritual, when it speaks most of the spirit. It is the most dead and leathern, when it talks of the scope of life. When it is exhibiting the greatest self-seeking and vanity it has most on its tongue the words “people” and “nation.” But its peculiar mark, found on its very forehead, is its hatred of law.

Right and ethical principle, the actual world of right and ethical life are apprehended in thought, and by thought are given definite, general, and rational form, and this reasoned right finds expression in law. But feeling, which seeks its own pleasure, and conscience, which finds right in private conviction, regard the law as their most bitter foe. The right, which takes the shape of law and duty, is by feeling looked upon as a shackle or dead cold letter. In this law it does not recognise itself and does not find itself free. Yet the law is the reason of the object, and refuses to feeling the privilege of warming itself at its private hearth. Hence the law, as we shall occasionally observe, is the Shibboleth, by me us of which are detected the false brethren and friends of the so-called people.

Inasmuch as the purest charlatanism has won the name of philosophy, and has succeeded in convincing the public that its practices are philosophy, it has now become almost a disgrace to speak in a philosophic way about the state. Nor can it be taken ill, if honest men become impatient, when the subject is broached. Still less is it a surprise that the government has at last turned its attention to this false philosophising.


We now return you to your regular programming.


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