Sunday, July 18, 2010

"The Rational State"

Your semi-annual Herbert "Homie" Marcuse update, Contingencies fans!

""""Hegel’s early political philosophy is reminiscent of the origins of political theory in modern society. Hobbes also founded his Leviathan State upon the otherwise unconquerable chaos, the bellum omnium contra omnes, of individualistic society. Between Hobbes and Hegel, however, lies the period in which the absolutist state had unleashed the economic forces of capitalism, and in which political economy had uncovered some of the mechanisms of the capitalist labour process. Hegel had indulged in a study of political economy. His analysis of civil society got to the root structure of modern society and presented elaborate critical analysis, whereas Hobbes got and used intuitive insight. And even more, Hegel discovered in the upsurge of the French Revolution principles that pointed beyond the given framework of individualist society. The ideas of reason and freedom, of a unity between the common and the particular interest, denoted, for him, values that could not be sacrificed to the state. He struggled all his life to render them consonant with the necessity of ‘controlling and curbing’. His attempts to solve the problem are manifold, and the final triumph goes not to the Leviathan, but to the rational state under the rule of law.

The second Jenenser Realphilosophie goes on to discuss the manner in which civil society is integrated with the state. Hegel discusses the political form of this society under the heading of ‘Constitution’. Law (Gesetz) changes the blind totality of exchange relations into the consciously regulated apparatus of the state. The picture of the anarchy and confusion of civil society is painted in even darker colours than before.

[The individual] is subject to the complete confusion and hazard of the whole. A mass of the population is condemned to the stupefying, unhealthy and insecure labour of factories, manufactories, mines, and so on. Whole branches of industry which supported a large bulk of the population suddenly fold up because the mode changes or because the values of their products fall on account of new inventions in other countries, or for other reasons. Whole masses are thus abandoned to helpless poverty. The conflict between vast wealth and vast poverty steps forth, a poverty unable to improve its condition. Wealth becomes ... a predominant power. Its accumulation takes place partly by chance, partly through the general mode of distribution ... Acquisition develops into a many-sided system which ramifies into fields from which smaller business cannot profit. The utmost abstractness of labour reaches into the most individual types of work and continues to widen its sphere. This inequality of wealth and poverty, this need and necessity turn into the utmost dismemberment of will, inner rebellion and hatred.""""

Though not one of our phavorite philosophical eggheads, Marcuse did know his Hegel.

But Hegel now stresses the positive aspect of this degrading reality. ‘This necessity which means complete hazard for the individual existence is at the same time the preservative. The State power intervenes; it must see to it that every particular sphere [of life] is sustained, it must search out new outlets, must open channels of trade in foreign lands, and so on ...’ The ‘hazard’ that prevails in society is not mere chance, but the very process by which the whole reproduces its own existence and that of each of its members. The exchange relations of the market provide the necessary integration without which isolated individuals would perish in the competitive conflict. The terrible struggles within the commodity-producing society are ‘better’ than those between wholly unrestricted individuals and groups – ‘better’, because they take place on a higher level of historical development and imply a mutual recognition of individual rights. The ‘contract’ (Vertrag) expresses this recognition as a social reality. Hegel views the contract as one of the foundations of modern society; the society is actually a framework of contracts between individuals. (We shall see, however, that he later takes great pains to restrict the validity of contracts to the sphere of civil society – that is, to the economic and social relations – and to exclude them as having a function between states.) The assurance that a relation or a performance is secured by a contract – and that the contract will be kept under all circumstances – alone makes the relations and performances in a commodity-producing society calculable and rational. ‘My word must be good not for moral reasons’, but because society presupposes that there are mutual obligations on the part of its members. I do my work under the condition that another does likewise. If I break my word, I break the very contract of society and not only hurt a particular person but the community; I place myself outside of the whole which can alone fulfil my right as an individual. Therefore, says Hegel, ‘the universal is the substance of the contract’. Contracts not only regulate individual performance, but the operation of the whole. The contract treats individuals as free and equal; at the same time it considers each not in his contingent particularity but in his ‘universality’, as a homogeneous part of the whole. This identity of the particular and the universal is, of course, not yet realised. The proper potentialities of individuals are, as Hegel has pointed out before, far from preserved in civil society. Consequently, force must stand behind every contract. The threatened application of force, and not his own voluntary recognition, binds the individual to his contract. The contract thus involves the possibility of breach of the contract and the revolt of the individual against the whole. Crime signifies the act of revolt, and punishment is the mechanism through which the whole restores its right over the rebellious individual. The recognition of the rule of law represents that stage of integration in which the individual reconciles himself with the whole. The rule of law differs from the rule of contracts in so far as it takes into account ‘the self of the individual in his existence as well as in his knowledge’. The individual knows that he can exist only by force of the law, not only because it protects him, but because he sees it to represent the common interest, which, in the last analysis, is the sole guarantee of his self-development. Individuals perfectly free and independent, yet united in a common interest – this is the proper notion of the law. The individual is ‘confident’ that he finds ‘himself, his essence’ in the law and that the law preserves and sustains his essential potentialities........""""

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