Locke Vs. Hegel

I have been thinking a little about my post yesterday in which I described Barack Obama’s economic views as being essentially Marxist. I am not sure that is entirely correct. I don’t think that I was wrong, exactly, just that there seems to be a little more to the matter. Or, perhaps I was only thinking of his economic ideas without considering his political views.

What is a government? What image comes to mind when you hear that word? Perhaps a legislature or a president? Maybe buildings designed in a neo-classical style? Bureaucrats sitting at desks? All these examples are parts of government, but they are not government itself. What is government good for? Why do we have governments? No one really seems to like having them, so why do we bother with them?

Consider Thomas Jefferson’s famous words in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Thomas Jefferson seems to have gotten his political philosophy from the English philosopher John Locke who lived from 1632 to 1704. (Yes, the character in Lost was named after him.) The foundation of Locke’s political beliefs was the idea of the social contract. Basically, he believed that governments are formed when people come together and create a government to protect their rights and take action for the common good. In other words, a government is essentially a contract between the governed and the rulers in which each side has duties and obligations.

Not this John Locke


This one



This is not a very sentimental view of government. Government is seen as a tool, an institution for the purpose of preserving the rights of the governed. Government may be necessary, but such necessity is at best a necessary evil, an adaptation to an imperfect world full of imperfect people. If the government ceases to fulfill its side to the contract, than the governed can and should get rid of it and make a new contract.

Now consider the following statements.

The state in and by itself is the ethical whole, the actualization of freedom; and it is an absolute end of reason that freedom should be actual. The state is mind on earth and consciously realizing itself there.

The march of God in the world, that is what the state is. In considering the Idea of the state, we must not have our eyes on particular states or on particular institutions. Instead we must consider the Idea, the actual God by itself.

To hold that every single person should hold share in deliberation and deciding on political matters of general concern on the ground that all individuals are members of the state, and its concerns are their concerns, and that it is their right that what is done should be done with their knowledge and volition, is tantamount  to a proposal to put the democratic element without any rational form into the organism of the state, although it is only in virtue of the possession of such a form that the state is an organism at all.

Hence the single person attains his actual and living destiny for universality only when he becomes a member of a Corporation, a society.

These were all excerpts from a book titled Philosophy of Law by a German Philosopher named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

He never looks very happy.

Hegel lived from 1770 to 1831 and he has been enormously influential throughout the West, unfortunately. His writing is dense and hard to understand, even in English translation. I can hardly imagine what the original German must be like. I believe that he is saying that the government, or state, is more than an institution composed of individuals. The state is something somehow organic, an organism of sorts with its own existence. In fact, the state is a sort of idealization of human endeavor and it is only through the state that individuals can really attain to their full potential. Naturally, in Hegel’s view, the state does not require the consent of the governed and the governed do not really have any rights regarding the state. In other words, the state is kind of like the Village. We all live in it and through it and our individual lives and concerns are not important, only the State matters.

Hegel’s political philosophy has been, as I said, very influential especially on the European continent. Marx adapted them to his politics and it might be fair to say that every form of statism or totalitarianism owes some debt to Hegel. These same sorts of ideas have found a home in the Democratic Party and the Progressive movement generally. Every time Hilary Clinton says, “It takes a village”, or Barack Obama says, “You didn’t create your own business”, they are, most likely unconsciously, expressing Hegel’s ideas about the state and its relation to the individual. Seeing the matter this way explains quite a lot.

I need not add that this philosophy is a profoundly anti-American one, in the sense that it is diametrically opposed to the Lockean ideas that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are based upon. When Barack Obama says he wants to fundamentally transform America, he really, really means it.

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