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Modernity, Freedom, and the State: Hegel's Concept of Patriotism

  • Rupert H. Gordon


Hegel's concept of patriotism helps specify an account of the just association of collective identity and state power. This concept has three main features. First, as a distinctly modern virtue, patriotism is limited by Hegel's account of modernity and its link to “subjective freedom.” Second, patriotism forges an important connection between critical reflection and habitual practice, illuminated in a comparison of Hegel's thoughts on ethical education with Aristotelian practical philosophy. Third, these first two dimensions are brought together with a decision grounded in the acceptance of the irreducibly collective dimension of freedom— the will to war for one–s country. Hegel's account of war is also a “test case” for his internally limited patriotism, as a comparison with Kant's argument for “perpetual peace” reveals. In conclusion, this account connects traditional liberal institutions with a republican concern for self-rule in a framework that offers legitimate bounds to a “right to national self-determination”.



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1 Nussbaum, Martha, “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism” in For Love of Country, ed. Cohen, Joshua (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 9. For similar views see Ignatieff, Michael, “The Myth of Citizenship” in Theorizing Citizenship, ed. Beiner, Ronald (New York: SUNY Press, 1995), pp. 5379 and Ignatieff, Michael, Blood and Belonging (New York: Penguin, 1993).

2 Nussbaum, , “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism”, p. 17.

3 Maclntyre, Alisdair, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” in Theorizing Citizenship, p. 217.

4 ibid., pp. 215–16.

5 Surely MacIntyre wants to apply a critical standard to patriotic commitments (see ibid., pp. 223ff); however, he never clearly articulates what that critical standard is. Indeed, this is a broader problem in MacIntyre's political philosophy, for while he seems to suggest that there is something fundamentally critical and universal in his account of practical reason, it remains unspecified. See his exchange with Taylor, Charles over Sources of the Self from Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54, 1 (1994): 185213. The absence of this clearly articulated standard makes commentators both suspicious about the possibility of such a standard in MacIntyre's work, and conclude that his position slips into a kind of cultural relativism. Ian Shapiro's attack on After Virtue is connected to concerns about the vagaries of MacIntyre's critical standards (Shapiro, Ian, Political Criticism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 162–65). Also, Thomas Mertens's suggestion that Hegel's theory—“what MacIntyre would call a morality of patriotism” —is incapable of accounting for a universal critical standard without reference to philosophical ground outside itself, implies that MacIntyr0027;s “morality of patriotism” is similarly defective. See: Mertens, Thomas, “Hegel's Homage to Kant's Perpetual Peace, Review of Politics 57, no.4 (1995): 691.

6 In his “editor's headings” for the final volume of Hegel's lecture notes on the Philosophy of Right, Karl-Heinz Bring introduces one of Hegel's discussions of patriotism with the heading “Der moderne Patriotismus” or “Modern Patriotism”. See Hegel, G. W. F., Vorksungen über Rechtsphilosophie 1831–1831, 4 vols., ed. Ilting, K.H. (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1974), IV, §186, p. 482. Hereafter VPR, cited by volume number, section, and page number. All translations of this text are my own.

7 Hegel, G.W.F., Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Wood, Allen, trans. H.B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), §268. Hereafter PR, and is cited by section number with an R denoting the remark and an A the addition. For the German see Hegel, G.W.F., Werke, 7 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970). Section notations are consistent across languages. Hegel's writing on patriotism in §268 of VPR, II (1820) and III (1822–23) is identical to the published version of 1821. The addition to §268 comes principally from notes in VPR, III.

8 Hegel, G.W.F., The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. Baillie, J. B. (New York: Harper, 1967), pp. 93ff (Verstand) and pp. 272ff (Vernunft) (hereafter PM). For the German see Hegel, , Werke, 3, pp. 36ff and 178ff. Hereafter the page numbers from the German edition follow the English citation in square brackets.

9 Hegel, PR, Preface.

10 Hegel says explicitly that the actuality of the rational is the “pivot upon which the impending world revolution turned” (ibid.). See also Ritter, Joachim. Hegel and the French Revolution, trans. Winfield, Richard Dein (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982). This interpretation of the “rational is actual” dictum is supported by Hegel's own discussion of the term actuality in Hegel, G.W.F., The Encyclopedia Logic, trans. Geraets, T. F. et al. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991), §6. For the German see Hegel, . Werke, 8. Section numbers are consistent across languages.

11 Hegel, PR, §258.

12 ibid., §268.

13 See ibid., §124R for Hegel's account of subjective freedom as choice in relation to his critique of Plato's Republic, and also PR, §185R, §206R, and §299R. Also worthy of note are the passages around Ilting's title “modern patriotism” in VPR, IV. These emphasize the connection between patriotism and the idea that “in the state the individual finds satisfaction for his particularity” (VPR, IV, §186, p. 482). Moreover, Hegel, claims: “This is the deepest root of the modern state, that in the solidarity of the whole, each individual satisfies himself as a particular” (VPR, IV, §186, p. 481). These citations echo the sentiments from PR, §§265A and 289R.

14 On arbitrariness (Willkür) see PR, §§14–16. See also PR, §258R where Hegel indicates that volition (Wollen) is the subjective side of the “Idea of the rational will”. This interpretation is supported by Hegel's use of the term volition only in the section of PR dealing with ethical life (see PR, §§142, 166, 187, 258R, and 268) which suggests Wollen is an act of will that is connected to the reasoned objectivity of Sittlichkeit.

15 Hegel, PR, §268.

16 I would, however, conjecture that there is such a relationship here. For an indication, see Hegel's profoundly sympathetic reading of Aristotle's practical philosophy in Hegel, G. W.F., Lectures on the History of Philosophy, vol. II, trans. Haldane, E.S. and Simson, Frances H. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1995), 202210. For the German see Hegel, , Werke, 19, pp. 221–29.

17 Aristotle, , Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Ostwald, Martin (New York: Library of Liberal Arts, 1962), 1098b.

18 ibid., 1102a–1102b.

19 ibid., 1102b.

20 ibid., 1103a–1104b. Aristotle says: “and praiseworthy characteristics are what we call virtues” [ton hexion de tas epainetas aretas legomen] (1103a).

21 Burnyeat, M.F., “Aristotle on Learning to Be Good” in Essays on Aristotle's Ethics, ed. Rorty, Amélie Okensberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 71.

22 Aristotle's own discussion of habituation to virtue involves repeated, direct discussion of courage in Nichomachean Ethics 1103a–1104b. On the development of these kinds of consciously rational habits as the object of ethical education see Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 1105a–1105b.

23 Hegel, PR, §151A.

24 For a more textured appreciation of this process of reflection on habitual activity in Hegel's thought see PR, §147A.

25 In some sense, practical reason and reflection on practical knowledge is always contextual. Indeed this contextuality is what makes it possible to take this Hegelian framework which seems attached to a particular historical form of understanding of the state, and bring it into contact with contemporary circumstances. The central place accorded to practical knowledge here demands that this framework respond to and be situated within that knowledge.

26 ibid., §268.

27 ibid., §40 on freedom, property, and property rights; §66 on the inalienable dimensions of personality and rights to these; and §209 on the institutions of the administration of justice as a source of objective validity for rights claims.

28 ibid., §§182A, 253, 253R, 209, 209R, and 192.

29 ibid., §182ff and §198. Also PM, pp. 234–40 [150–53].

30 ibid., Hegel, PR, § §149 and 194R. Also PM, 238 [153–54].

31 Hegel, PR, §260.

32 To my knowledge, Hegel never uses the expression “the rule of law” (Rechtstaatlichkeit) in PR; however, one can easily take it to be implied in his characterization of the state, as I do here. There is also strong evidence for Hegel's commitment to the rule of law in Hegel, G. W. F., The Philosophy of Mind, trans. Wallace, William (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), §§ 537–539, hereafter PhM. For the German see Hegel, Werke, 10, section numbers are consistent across languages. For other views which also take the rule of law as a centrally implied dimension to Hegel's concept of the state see: Smith, Steven B., Hegel's Critique of Liberalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 145ff; Oakeshott, Michael, On Human Conduct (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), pp. 261–62; and Avineri, Shlomo, Hegel's Theory of the Modern State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), pp. 190ff. On Hegel's long-standing interest in “the rule of law” see Hance, Allen S., “The Rule of Law in The German Constitution,” Owl of Minerva, 22, no. 2 (1991): 159–74.

33 Hegel, PR, §265.

34 ibid., §265A.

35 ibid., §268.

36 There are strong affinities between Hegel's understanding of patriotism and the Habermasian conception of a “constitutional patriotism” (see Habermas, Jürgen, “Citizenship and National Identity” in Theorizing Citizenship, pp. 255–81). I think there are important contrasts too, but a full exploration of this relationship is beyond the scope of this article.

37 Hegel, PR, §267. As this passage suggests, Hegel understands the constitution as something more than only a written document enumerating powers—although the institutional organization of a political community is surely one dimension of the constitution; but one that builds on a basic sense of order in a community (see §§ 273R and 274). One of the best accounts of Hegel's ambivalence on the issue of a “constitution” can be found in Wood's note 9 to §273R of PR (at p. 462).

38 Hegel, G. W. F., The Philosophy of History, trans. Sibree, J. (New York: Dover, 1956), p. 85 (hereafter PH). For the German, see Hegel, , Werke, 12: 113. Hereafter pages from the German edition follow the English citation in square brackets.

39 See Kelly, George Armstrong, “Hegel's America”, Philosophy and Public Affairs 2, no. 1 (1972): 336.

40 Hegel, , PH, p. 85 [112].

41 ibid., p. 84 [112].

42 Hegel, PR, §260.

43 Surely Hegel also thinks of the state as the point of rational synthesis for practical oppositions and tensions, as a practical instrument of spirit or Geist (see note 45). This metaphysical confidence is implausible in contemporary circumstances. However, it is still possible and plausible, to view the state in the more general way I have stated here—as a potential source of irreducibly collective goods, and as an agent of freedom rather than an adversary of liberty. Key here are the freely accepted, habitually legitimate institutions and practices which make liberty real for all people in a political community. Indeed, Hegel's take on this issue is one which makes better sense of the way social order is conditioned, than those offered by classical liberals and Kant (as I argue below). In short, Hegel's metaphysical teachings have serious shortcomings from a contemporary point of view, and I do not think they should persuade us to reject liberal democratic practice. But Hegel's broader philosophical teachings are also illuminating with regard to the common ground of cosmopolitanism and patriotism and to the way in which we can adjudicate the relationship between collective identity and the state.

44 The contrast between Hegel's political liberalism and his philosophical ground is well explicated in Franco, PaulHegel and Liberalism”, Review of Politics 59, no. 4 (1997): 831–60. Of course, Hegel's “political liberalism” is not identical to contemporary liberal democracy.

45 Hegel, PR, §268. In other words, the “actuality” of concrete freedom—the state—has a further dimension. It represents a rational synthesis of the apparent contradiction between freedom associated with the individual—subjective freedom—and a “freedom” associated with the community—objective freedom.

46 Hegel, PR, §268.

47 ibid., §260.

48 Note the similarity between this discussion and Hegel's account of the “absolute Will” as “the volition to be free” in PH, p. 442 [524].

49 Hegel, PR, §268R.

50 ibid., §268A, emphasis added.

51 The best and most explicit formulation of this kind can be found in Weber, Max, Economy and Society, 2 vols, trans. Fisichoff, Ephiram et al. , ed. Guenther Ross and Claus Wittich (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), esp. 1: 314–15. I explore this characterization in relation to Hobbes, Locke, and Kantbelow.

52 Hegel, PR, §§209–249.

53 Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, ed. MacPherson, C.B. (New York: Penguin Books, 1969), 17, pp. 227–28.

54 ibid., pp. 223–27.

55 Locke, John, “Second Treatise of Government” in Two Treatises of Government, ed. Laslett, Peter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), §§6–13 on the law of nature and the right of retribution, and §§87–89 on the surrender of the power of retribution to the state in the formation of the “body politick.”

56 I fully acknowledge there are important arguments these thinkers (and Kant whom Idiscuss below) make in order to legitimate the use of force in the state; however, the issue at stake here is the position that these theoretical stances accord to the fear of force in assuring social order. For Hobbes, Locke, and Kant (legitimate) force has a central role to play as the ultimate guarantor of social order, that it simply does not have on Hegel's view. I am not arguing, then, that these classical liberal thinkers are pure legal positivists (on legal positivism in Hobbes and Kant, see Rosen, Allen D., Kant's Theory of Justice [Ithaca: Cornell, 1993], pp. 111–14); however, I am arguing that there are important “positivistic” elements to their teachings on the practical force of legal obedience, that Hegel simply does not share. This is why his interest in arguing for a legitimate ground for coercion is confined to his discussion of legal punishment (PR, §§90ff, see note 81 below for a more detailed discussion of this issue). His divergence from an outlook that gives prominence to institutions of social coercion is made all the more dramatic by comparing the language of his 1817–1818 Lectures on Natural Right and Political Science with the published version of PR from 1821. Extensive invocations of force as a guarantor of social order are dropped in favor of the view I have been explicating here. SeeHegel, G.W.F., Lectures on Natural Right and Political Science, ed. Pöggeler, Otto et al. , trans. J. Michael Stewart and Peter C. Hodgson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) (hereafter PR1). For the German see Hegel, G.W.F., Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft, ed. Pöggeler, Otto et al. (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1983), section notations are consistent across languages. Especially see PR1, §123R: “in order for [the good] to be, the state can employ coercion,” also §§43,43R, and 112. Compare these passages to Hegel, PR, §91: “the free will in and for itself cannot be coerced”; and §92: “coercion…is, therefore, contrary to right”; and to PR, §§ 257–259, which correspond to the passages at and around PR1, §123. Hegel substantially changes his outlook on the role of coercion in the state between his earlier writings and the 1821 Philosophy of Right. In this regard, see also PhM, §544. Outside the context of a modern state, force can play a different role for Hegel (see PR, §93R and §93A on the “right of heroes” which has bearing “in the absence of civilization” (also PR1, §124)), but within the state it is the freely accepted legitimacy of the state which grounds respect for the law. The issue is something like Otfried Höffe's contrast between “the idea of freedom from coercion, whereby such freedom from coercion is seen as a social principle and not, say, as a principle of legitimation” (Höffe, . “Even a Nation of Devils Needs the State” in Essays on Kant's Political Philosophy, ed. Williams, Howard [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992], p. 121). On the place of force in Kant's political philosophy see also Maletz, Donald J.. “The Problem of Modern IdealismIndependent Journal of Philosophy, 5/6 (1988): 39. For a comparison similar to mine on the role of force in Kant and Hegel see Williams, Howard, Kant's Political Philosophy (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), p. 58.

57 Hegel, , PH, p. 284 [345–6].

58 Avineri, Shlomo, Hegel's Theory of the Modern State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), p. 193.

59 Kelly, , “Hegel's America,” p. 21.

60 Hegel, PR, §268A, emphasis added.

61 ibid., §324R.

62 ibid.

63 I have here adopted Kant's language from Kant, Immanuel, “Idea for a Universal History” in Political Writings, 2nd ed., ed. Reiss, Hans, trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 49.

64 Hegel, , PM, p. 233 [143].

65 ibid.

66 ibid.

67 Hegel, PR, §323.

68 ibid., §324R.

69 See Smith, Steven B., “Hegel's Views on War, the State, and International Relations,” American Political Science Review 77, no. 3 (1983): 624–32 and Avineri, , Hegel's Theory of the Modern State, pp. 194207.

70 Locke, “Second Treatise,” §§203–208.

71 Hegel, PR, §324.

72 ibid., §258R.

73 Hegel, , PH, p. 21 [35].

74 For example, see Fichte, J. G., Addresses to the German Nation, trans. Jones, R.F. and Turnbull, G. H., ed. G.A. Kelly (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968).

75 Hegel, PR, §268R.

76 ibid., §324R.

77 ibid.

78 ibid., §324.

79 Indeed, Hegel suggests exactly this in his discussion of the Bonaparte regime in Spain. See PR §274A.

80 Kant, Immanuel, “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” in Political Writings, pp. 93130 and Kant, , “Idea for a Universal History,” p. 49.

81 See Hegel, PR, §324A, §151A and PH, pp. 74–75 [100–101] for a similar discussion of national vitality and its relationship to “grand objects” including war. While this account seems to suggest that Hegel's social order is also ultimately founded on the use of force, reflection on the nature of such force reveals an important contrast. For classical liberals and for Kant, the application of coercion is constant and internal. For Hegel, in contrast, the role force plays is incidental and external. That is to say, such force is used only in wars, and is only directed to those outside a particular political community. This “instrumental treatment” of “enemies” is only acceptable because Hegel gives an account which strictly limits such force. Tunick, Mark, Hegel's Political Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992) has rightly argued that another form of force—the practice of legal punishment—is central to Hegelian social order and ethical life. Acknowledging this does not upset the argument made here. For the liberals and Kant, force grounds the social order in a fundamental way, i.e. force is prior to, or foundational for, the order. For Hegel, it is precisely the other way around. Social ethos is primary, and force (in the practice of legal punishment) follows from it in the sense that punishment still requires particular institutions and practices that emerge in local Sittlichkeit to make it actual—even if this punishment is grounded on universal justice or “right”. In addition, punishment serves a highly cultural or symbolic function for Hegel. That is, its purpose is not retribution against the accused (as it is for Locke, for example), but rather the vindication of “right” and the communal ethos. So, if there is a deterrent effect to Hegelian punishment, it is derivative of the practical consequences of this principled vindication of right. In the other cases, however, the internal application of force has a “primary” deterrent or controlling effect, i.e., the threats of coercion are what makes for the order by deterring anti-social behavior.

82 Hegel, PR, §§339A, 338, 338A, and 326.

83 See Mertens, , “Hegel's Homage to Kant's Perpetual Peace,” p. 685.

84 ibid., p. 665.

85 Kant, , “Appendix I to Perpetual Peace,” in Political Writings, p. 125.

86 ibid., p. 117.

87 For an explicit Hegelian attack on the separation of morality and politics in this spirit see PR, §337R.

88 Hegel, PR, §§66,66A, and 326R.

89 Hegel routinely speaks of war and the role of the military in defensive language. See PR, §§324, 326, and 327.

90 Hegel, PR, §338.

91 ibid.

92 ibid., §339.

93 ibid., §339A.

94 ibid., §326. At first glance, it appears that this limit is also connected to Hegel's advocacy of a standing army. But this view is only partly correct. For Hegel, standing armies are a product of the division of labour which is central to modern ethical life and its realization of freedom (PR, 326R). In this light, it is imprudent not to have a standing army in place in case of a surprise attack. Further, the presence of a standing army does not diminish what Hegel calls the “universal duty” of “sacrifice for the individuality of the state” (PR, §325 also §326). Finally, Hegel also pays particular attention to the soldiers' disposition—“valor”—connecting it to patriotism in a very particular way. Indeed, the education to valour of soldiers is designed to make them consciously and constantly practice their patriotism as a vocation (PR, §327).

95 Hegel, PhM, §547.

96 Hegel, PR, §339A.

97 Russett, Bruce, Grasping the Democratic Peace (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993). For an even more “Hegelian” account see Wendt, Alexander, “Collective Identity Formation and the International State,” American Political Science Review 88, no. 2 (1994): 384–96.

98 Similarly, while a citizen might exhibit some form of loyalty to a community governed by “illiberal” institutions, such a citizen cannot be “patriotic” to that community (at least as Hegel understands this concept), because without institutions like the rule of law for the promotion and preservation of freedom, there is no basis for that citizen's free and rational devotion to the state.

99 For a history of the Canadian constitutional quagmire see Russell, Peter, Constitutional Odyssey, 2nd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); Webber, Jeremy, Reimagining Canada (Kingston: McGill-Queen's Press, 1994), Part I; Monahan, Patrick J., Meech Lake (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991).

100 See for example Trudeau, Pierre Elliot, “The Values of a Just Society” in Towards A Just Society, ed. Axworthy, Thomas S. and Trudeau, Pierre E. (Toronto: Viking, 1990), pp. 383–85; Coyne, Deborah, “Commentary” in After Meech Lake ed. Smith, David E., MacKinnon, Peter, and Courtney, John C. (Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1991), pp. 142–43 and Manning, Preston, The New Canada (Toronto: MacMillan, 1992).

101 Fierlbeck, Katherine, “The Ambivalent Potential of Cultural Identity,” Canadian Journal of Political Science 29, no. 1 (1996): 322.

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Modernity, Freedom, and the State: Hegel's Concept of Patriotism

  • Rupert H. Gordon


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