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Hegel versus reason or, should we abolish the Monarchy?

Do you ever wake up screaming and think maybe I’m a social democrat after all?

I do.

When I read Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and find myself, not just disagreeing (that’s fine, many Marxists read it, disagree, but still pursue politics in Hegel’s name), but being unable to make a Left case for what he has said, I start to worry that all those people were right when I was younger, telling me that when I grew up I’d stop being so politically radical.

In Hegel’s text he notes that a constitutional Monarchy should be seen as a radically modern form of governance. For him, a stale sovereign will overcome the problems attached to governance based upon arbitrary wills of individuals in civil society. 

In short it resisted the Cartesian-Kantian notion that human reason is the sum of human consciousness, which consequently is self-consciousness – and a system based upon self-consciousness, though based on reason, breeds division not unity.

However this didn’t stop Hegel from appealing to the true radical core of the French Revolution – quite the opposite in fact. As Eli Diamond in his paper Hegel’s Defence of Constitutional Monarchy and its Relevance within the Post-National State (pdf) notes:

Hegel believed that a restored monarchy, as constitutional, would not compromise the principles of the Revolution, but stabilize their true realization. (p. 112-113)

So in submitting the will of divided individuals to a sitting Monarch, the pursuit of radical interventions could take place in a way that didn’t destabalise a constitution based upon union.

Is this anti-democratic?

At the heart of what Hegel is saying, there is a layer of our governance that should not be touched by individuals in a civil society; this by definition makes this layer of government undemocratic, but according to Hegel we should suppress accountability for the good of unity.

Does it dismiss elected heads of states out of hand?

Since Hegel is making a distinction between constitutions “based on nature and those based on freedom of the will,” then it is fair to say that he is dismissing elected heads of states out of hand since an elected head of state will be voted for via the freedom of the will.

Does Hegel’s belief deny out of hand a Monarch receiving, say, minimum wage?

It does not, interestingly, which is something to consider for our Royal Family today – if indeed they are needed to provide a government based upon unity, then why doesn’t the state manage all their staff, as opposed to the Royals including them on their Civil List, all transportation be considered for expenses claims and for those (unlike Charles) without jobs in the private sector, the minimum wage be granted?

Isn’t the state itself a kind of guarantor for which divisions and particular interests are maintained?

The penultimate question is whether the state itself doesn’t guarantee divisions are curbed, so as not to jeopardise unity. The answer to that is yes, it does. For me, the point of the state is to harness the pursuit of the Good, and Truth, but not be so arrogant as to pretend it knows what those things are (thus elections). If the Royal Family today symbolise anything (and we know they don’t do anything for trade and tourism – that excuse is bollocks) then it is the unity of the state in a civil society, while we the public elect Prime Ministers through our wills. But if we removed the Royal Family today, the fact that our state would remain in tact, without a symbolic head of it, would mean that unity stays in tact too.

Hegel’s shortfall was in failing to see that the modern state, by itself, symbolises the unity he once attributed to a sitting Monarch. Therefore it is my contention we remove the Monarchy.

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  1. May 1, 2011 at 11:16 pm

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