Reason and Revolution. II Towards the System of Philosophy. Herbert Marcuse 1941

Towards the System of Philosophy

1. The First Philosophical Writings

IN 1801Hegel began his academic career in Jena, then the philosophic center of Germany. Fichte had taught there until 1799, and Schelling was appointed professor in 1798. Kant’s social and legal philosophy, his Metaphysik der Sitten, had been published in 1799, and his revolutionizing of philosophy in his three Critiques of Reason still exerted a prime influence on intellectual life. Quite naturally, therefore, Hegel’s first philosophical articles centered about the doctrines of Kant, Fichte, and Schelling, and he formulated his problems in terms of the currents of discussion among the German idealists.

As we have seen, Hegel took the view that philosophy arises from the all-embracing contradictions into which human existence has been plunged. These have shaped the history of philosophy as the history of basic contradictions, those between ‘mind and matter, soul and body, belief and understanding, freedom and necessity,’ contradictions that had more recently appeared as those between ‘reason and sense’ (Sinnlichkeit), ‘intelligence and nature,’ and, in the most general form, ‘subjectivity and objectivity.’ These were the very concepts that lay at the root of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and the ones Hegel now dissolved in his dialectical analysis.

The first concept Hegel subjected to dialectical re-interpretation was that of reason. Kant had made the basic

distinction between reason (Vernunft) and understanding (Verstand). Hegel gave both concepts new meaning and made them the starting point of his method. For him, the distinction between understanding and reason is the same as that between common sense and speculative thinking, between undialectical reflection and dialectical knowledge. The operations of the understanding yield the usual type of thinking that prevails in everyday life as well as in science. The world is taken as a multitude of determinate things, each of which is demarcated from the other. Each thing is a distinct delimited entity related as such to other likewise delimited entities. The concepts that are developed from these beginnings, and the judgments composed of these concepts, denote and deal with isolated things and the fixed relations between such things. The individual determinations exclude one another as if they were atoms or monads. The one is not the other and can never become the other. To be sure, things change, and so do their properties, but when they do so, one property or determination disappears and another takes its place. An entity that is isolated and delimited in this way Hegel calls ‘finite’ (das Endliche).

Understanding, then, conceives a world of finite entities, governed by the principle of identity and opposition. Everything is identical with itself and with nothing else; it is, by virtue of its self-identity, opposed to all other things. It can be connected and combined with them in many ways, but it never loses its own identity and never becomes something other than itself. When red litmus paper turns blue or day changes to night, a here and now existent ceases to be here and now, and some other thing takes its place. When a child becomes a ‘man one set of properties, those of childhood, is replaced by another, those of manhood. Red and blue, light and dark, childhood and manhood, eternally remain irreconcilable oppositions. The operations of understanding thus divide the world into numberless polarities, and Hegel uses the expression ‘isolated reflection’ (isolierte Reflection) to characterize the manner in which understanding forms and connects its polar concepts.

The rise and spread of this kind of thinking Hegel connects with the origin and prevalence of certain relationships in human life. The antagonisms of ‘isolated reflection’ express real antagonisms. Thinking could come to understand the world as a fixed system of isolated things and indissoluble oppositions only when the world had become a reality removed from the true wants and needs of mankind.

Isolation and opposition are not, however, the final state of affairs. The world must not remain a complex of fixed disparates. The unity that underlies the antagonisms must be grasped and realized by reason, which has the task of reconciling the opposites and ‘sublating’ them in a true unity. The fulfillment of reason’s task would at the same time involve restoring the lost unity in the social relations of men.

As distinguished from the understanding, reason is motivated by the need ‘to restore the totality.’ How can this be done? First, says Hegel, by undermining the false security that the perceptions and manipulations of the understanding provide. The common-sense view is one of ‘indifference’ and ‘security,’ ‘the indifference of security.’ Satisfaction with the given state of reality and acceptance of its fixed and stable relations make men indifferent to the as yet unrealized potentialities that are not ‘given’ with the same certainty and stability as the objects of sense. Common sense mistakes the accidental appearance of things for their essence, and persists in believing that there is an immediate identity of essence and existence.

The identity of essence and existence, per contra, can only result from the enduring effort of reason to create it. It comes about only through a conscious putting into action of knowledge, the primary condition for which is the abandonment of common sense and mere understanding for ‘speculative thinking.’ Hegel insists that only this kind of thinking can get beyond the distorting mechanisms of the prevailing state of being. Speculative thinking compares the apparent or given form of things to the potentialities of those same things, and in so doing distinguishes their essence from their accidental state of existence. This result is achieved not through some process of mystical intuition, but by a method of conceptual cognition, which examines the process whereby each form has become what it is. Speculative thinking conceives ‘the intellectual and material world’ not as a totality of fixed and stable relations, but ‘as a becoming, and its being as a product and a producing.’

What Hegel calls speculative thinking is in effect his earliest presentation of dialectical method. The relation between dialectical thinking (reason) and isolating reflection (understanding) is clearly defined. The former criticizes and supersedes the fixed oppositions created by the latter. It undermines the ‘security’ of common sense and demonstrates that ‘what common sense regards as immediately certain does not have any reality for philosophy.’ The first criterion of reason, then, is a distrust of matter-of-fact authority. Such distrust is the real skepticism that Hegel designates as ‘the free portion’ of every true philosophy.

The form of reality that is immediately given is, then, no final reality. The system of isolated things in opposition, produced by the operations of the understanding, must be recognized for what it is: a ‘bad’ form of reality, a realm of limitation and bondage. The ‘realm of freedom,’ which is the inherent goal of reason, cannot be achieved, as Kant and Fichte thought, by playing off the subject against the objective world, attributing to the autonomous person all the freedom that is lacking in the external world, and leaving the latter a domain of blind necessity. (Hegel is here striking against the important mechanism of ‘internalizing’ or introversion, by which philosophy and literature generally have made liberty into an inner value to be realized within the soul alone.) In the final reality there can be no isolation of the free subject from the objective world; that antagonism must be resolved, together with all the others created by the understanding.

The final reality in which the antagonisms are resolved Hegel terms ‘the Absolute.’ At this stage of his philosophical development he can describe this absolute only negatively. Thus, it is quite the reverse of the reality apprehended by common sense and understanding; it ‘negates’ common-sense reality in every detail, so that the absolute reality has no single point of resemblance to the finite world.

Whereas common sense and the understanding had perceived isolated entities that stood opposed one to the other, reason apprehends ‘the identity of the opposites.’ It does not produce the identity by a process of connecting and combining the opposites, but transforms them so that they cease to exist as opposites, although their content is preserved in a higher and more ‘real’ form of being. The process of unifying opposites touches every part of reality and comes to an end only when reason has ‘organized’ the whole so that ‘every part exists only in relation to the whole,’ and ‘every individual entity has meaning and significance only in its relation to the totality.’

The totality of the concepts and cognitions of reason alone represents the absolute. Reason, therefore, is fully before us only in the form of an all-embracing ‘organization of propositions and intuitions,’ that is, as a ‘system.’ We shall explain the concrete import of these ideas in the next chapter. Here, in his first philosophical writings, Hegel intentionally emphasizes the negative function of reason: its destruction of the fixed and secure world of common sense and understanding. The absolute is referred to as ‘Night’ and ‘nothing,’ to contrast it to the clearly defined objects of everyday life. Reason signifies the ‘absolute annihilation’ of the common-sense world. For, as we have already said, the struggle against common sense is the beginning of speculative thinking, and the loss of everyday security is the origin of philosophy.

Hegel gives further clarification to his position in the article ‘Glauben und Wissen,’ in which he contrasts his conclusions to those of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. The empirical principle that Kant retained by making reason dependent on ‘given’ objects of experience is here rejected completely. In Kant, Hegel declares, reason is limited to an inner realm of the mind and is made powerless over ‘things-in-themselves.’ In other words, it is not really reason but the understanding that holds sway in the Kantian philosophy.

On the other hand, Hegel makes special mention of the fact that Kant did overcome this limitation at many points. For example, the notion of an ‘original synthetic unity of apperception’ recognizes Hegel’s own principles of the original identity of opposites,” for the ‘synthetic unity’ is properly an activity by which the antagonism between subject and object is produced and simultaneously overcome.

Kant’s philosophy therefore ‘contains the true form of thought’ as far as this concept is concerned, namely, the triad of subject, object, and their synthesis.

This is the first point at which Hegel makes the claim that the triad (Triplizitšt) is the true form of thought. He does not state it as an empty schema of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, but as the dynamic unity of opposites. It is the proper form of thought because it is the proper form of a reality in which every being is the synthetic unity of antagonistic conditions.

Traditional logic has recognized this fact in setting forth the form of the judgment as S is P. We have already hinted at Hegel’s interpretation of this form. To know what a thing really is, we have to get beyond its immediately given state (S is S) and follow out the process in which it turns into something other than itself (P). In the process of becoming P, however, S still remains S. Its reality is the entire dynamic of its turning into something else and unifying itself with its ‘other.’ The dialectical pattern represents, and is thus ‘the truth of,’ a world permeated by negativity, a world in which everything is something other than it really is, and in which opposition and contradiction constitute the laws of progress.

2. The First Political Writings

The critical interests of dialectical philosophy are clearly illustrated by Hegel’s important political pamphlets of this period. These show that the condition in which the German Reich found itself after its unsuccessful war with the French Republic had a place at the root of Hegel’s early works.

The universal contradictions that, according to Hegel, animate philosophy concretely exist in the antagonisms and disunity among the numerous German states and estates and between each of these and the Reich. The ‘isolation’ that Hegel had demonstrated in his philosophical articles is manifest in the stubborn way in which not only each estate but practically each individual pursues his own particular interest without any consideration for the whole. The consequent ‘loss of unity’ has reduced the Imperial power to complete impotence and left the Reich an easy prey to any aggressor.

Germany is no longer a state ... If Germany were still to be called a state, its present condition of decay could only be called anarchy, were it not for the fact that her component parts have constituted themselves as states. It is only the remembrance of a past tie and not any actual union that gives them the appearance of unity ... In her war with the French Republic Germany has come to realize that she is no longer a state ... The obvious results of this war are the loss of some of the most beautiful of the German lands, and of some millions of her population, a public debt (even larger in the south than in the north) which carries the agonies of the war into peace-time, and the result that besides those who have fallen under the power of conquerors and foreign laws and morals, many states will lose their highest good in the bargain, that is, their independence.

Hegel goes on to examine the basis for the disintegration. The German constitution, he finds, no longer corresponds to the actual social and economic state of the nation. The constitution is a vestige of an old feudal order that has long since been replaced by a different order, that of individualistic society.” The retention of the old form of constitution in the face of the radical change that has taken place in all social relations is tantamount to maintaining a given condition simply because it is given. Such a practice is opposed to every standard and dictate of reason. The prevailing ordering of life is in sharp conflict with the desires and needs of society; it has lost ‘all its power and all its dignity’ and has become ‘purely negative.’

And, Hegel continues, that which persists in this ‘merely empirical manner,’ without being ‘adapted to the idea of reason,’ cannot be regarded as ‘real.’ The political system has to be destroyed and transformed into a new rational order. Such a transformation cannot be made without violence.

The extreme realism of Hegel’s position shows through the idealistic framework and terminology. ‘The notion of and insight into necessity are much too weak to effect action. The notion and the insight are accompanied by so much distrust that they have to be justified by violence; only then does man submit to them. ‘ 20 The notion can be justified by violence only in so far as it expresses an actual historical force that has ripened in the lap of the existing order. The notion contradicts reality when the latter has become self-contradictory. Hegel says that a prevailing social form can be successfully attacked by thought only if this form has come into open contradiction with its own ‘truth ,’ 21 in other words, if it can no longer fulfill the demands of its own contents. This is the case with Germany, Hegel holds. There, the champions of the new order represent historical forces that have outgrown the old system. The state, which should perpetuate the common interest of its members in an appropriate rational form – for such alone would be its ‘truth’ – does not do this. For this reason, the rulers of the state speak falsely when they defend their position in the name of the common interest. Their foes, not they, represent the common interest, and their notion, the idea of the new order they uphold, is not merely an ideal but the expression of a reality that no longer endures in the prevailing order.

Hegel’s point is that the old order has to be replaced by a ‘true community’ (Allgemeinheit). Allgemeinheit means at one and the same time, first, a society in which all particular and individual interests are integrated into the whole, so that the actual social organism that results accords with the common interest (community), and, second, a totality in which all the different isolated concepts of knowledge are fused and integrated so that they receive their significance in their relation to the whole (universality). The second meaning is obviously the counterpart of the first. just as the conception of disintegration in the sphere of knowledge expresses the existing disintegration of human relations in society, so the philosophical integration corresponds to a social and political integration. The universality of reason, represented by the absolute, is the philosophical counterpart of the social community in which all particular interests are unified into the whole.

A real state, Hegel holds, institutionalizes the common interest and defends it in all external and internal conflicts. The German Reich, Hegel declares, does not have this character.

Political powers and rights are not public offices set up to accord with the organization of the whole, nor are the acts and duties of the individual determined by the needs of the whole. Each particular part of the political hierarchy, each princely house, each estate, town, corporation, and so on, in short, everyone who has rights in or duties toward the state has acquired them through his own power. The state, in view of the encroachment on its own power, can do no more than confirm that it has been deprived of its power ...

Hegel explains the breakdown of the German state by contrasting the feudal system with the new order of individualist society that succeeded it. The rise of the latter social order is explained in terms of the development of private property. The feudal system proper integrated the particular interests of the different estates into a true community. The freedom of the group or of the individual was not essentially opposed to the freedom of the whole.

In modern times, however, ‘exclusive property has completely isolated the particular needs from each other. People speak of the universality of private property as if it were common to all of society and therefore, perhaps, an integrating unity. But this universality, says Hegel, is only an abstract legal fiction; in reality, private property remains ‘something isolated’ that has no relation to the whole. The only unity that can be achieved among property owners is the artificial one of a universally applied legal system. Laws, however, stabilize and codify only the existing anarchic conditions of private owner ship and thus transform the state or the community into an institution that exists for the sake of particular interests. Possession existed prior to law and did not originate from law. That which had already been privately appropriated was made a legal right ... German constitutional law is therefore in the proper sense private law, and political rights are legalized forms of possession, property rights.’ A state wherein the antagonistic private interests are thus made pre-eminent in all fields may not be called a true community. Moreover, Hegel declares, ‘The struggle to make the state power into private property dissolves the state and brings about the destruction of its power.

The state, taken over by private interests, must nevertheless at least assume the appearance of a true community

in order to put down general warfare and to defend equally the property rights of all its members. The community thus becomes an independent power, elevated above the individuals. ‘Each individual wishes to live, through the state’s power, with his property secure. The power of the state appears to him ... as something alien that exists outside of him.’

Hegel in this period carried his criticism of the structure of modern society so far that he obtained an insight into the mechanism by which the state becomes an independent entity over and above the individuals. He reworked the pamphlet on the German Constitution several times, and its final form shows a distinct weakening of his critical attitude. Gradually, the ‘higher’ form of state that is to replace the outmoded one (exemplified by Germany) takes form as an absolute or power state. The reforms Hegel demands are the creation of an effective Reich army, wrested from the control of the estates and placed under the unified command of the Empire, and the centralization of all bureaus, finance, and law. The idea of a strong centralized state, we must note, was at that time a progressive one, which aimed to set free the available productive forces that were being hampered by the existing feudal forms. Four decades later, Marx emphasized in his critical history of the modern state that the centralized absolutistic state was a material advance over the feudal and semi-feudal state forms. Consequently, the proposal that such an absolute state be set up is not itself a sign that Hegel’s critical attitude was weakening. We note the weakening, rather, in the consequences Hegel draws from his conception of the absolute state. We shall develop these briefly.

In the article on the German Constitution, there appears, for the first time in Hegel’s formulations, a distinct subordination of right to might. Hegel was eager to free his centralized state from any and all limitations that might hinder its efficiency, and he therefore made the state interest superior to the validity of right. The fact is clearly shown in Hegel’s remarks on the foreign policy of his ideal state:

Right, he says, pertains to ‘the state’s interest,’ laid down for and granted to the state by contracts with other states. In the continuously changing constellations of power, one state’s interest must sooner or later clash with that of another. Right then confronts right. War, ‘or whatever it might be,’ must then decide not which right is true and just, ‘for both sides have a true right, but which right shall yield to the other.’ We shall find the same thesis, greatly elaborated, in the Philosophy of Right.

A further consequence drawn from the conception of the power state is a new interpretation of freedom. The basic idea is retained, that the ultimate freedom of the individual will not contradict the ultimate freedom of the whole, but will be fulfilled only within and through the whole. Hegel had placed great stress on this point in his article on the difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s systems, in which he said that the community that conforms to reason’s standard must be conceived ‘not as a limitation on the individual’s true freedom but as an expansion of it. The highest community is the highest freedom, in its power and in its exercise of it.’ 82 Now, however, in the study of the German Constitution, he states: ‘The stubbornness of the German character has not permitted the individuals to sacrifice their special interests to the society, or to unite in a common interest and find their freedom in fully submitting to the higher power of the state.’ 88

The new element of sacrifice and submission now overshadows the earlier idea that the individual’s interest is fully to be preserved in the whole. And, as we shall see, Hegel has here in effect taken the first step that leads to his identifying freedom with necessity, or submission to necessity, in his final system.

3. The System of Morality

At about the same time, Hegel wrote the first draft of that part of his system known as the Philosophy of Mind. This draft, the so-called System of Morality (System der Sittlichkeit), is one of the most difficult in German philosophy. We shall sketch its general structure and limit the interpretation to those parts that disclose the material tendencies of Hegel’s philosophy.

The system of morality, like all the other drafts of the Philosophy of Mind, deals with the development of ‘culture,’ by which is meant the totality of man’s conscious, purposive activities in society. Culture is a realm of mind. A social or political institution, a work of art, a religion, and a philosophical system exist and operate as part and parcel of man’s own being, products of a rational subject that continues to live in them. As products they constitute an objective realm; at the same time, they are subjective, created by human beings. They represent the possible unity of subject and object.

The development of culture shows distinct stages that denote different levels of relation between man and his world, that is, different ways of apprehending and mastering the world and of adapting it to human needs and potentialities. The process itself is conceived as ontological as well as historical; it is an actual historical development as well as a progression to higher and truer modes of being. In the gradual working out of Hegel’s philosophy, however, the ontological process gains greater and greater predominance over the historical, and to a large extent is eventually detached from its original historical roots.

The general scheme is as follows. The first stage is an immediate rapport between the isolated individual and given objects. The individual apprehends the objects of his environment as things he needs or desires; he uses them to fulfill his wants, consuming and ‘annihilating’ them as food, beverages, and so on. A higher level is reached in the cultural process when human labor molds and organizes the objective world, no longer simply annihilating things but preserving them as enduring means for the perpetuation of life. This stage presupposes a conscious association of individuals who have organized their activity on some plane of division of labor so that there is a constant production to replace what is used up. This is the first step towards a community in societal life and towards universality in the sphere of knowledge. To the extent that the individuals associate themselves as having a common interest, their conceptions and volitions become influenced and are guided by the notions they hold in common, and hence approach the universality of reason.

The forms of association differ according to the different degrees of integration that are achieved in them. The integrating agency is first the family, then the social institutions of labor, property, and law, and finally the state.

We shall not deal with the concrete social and economic concepts with which Hegel fills this scheme, since we shall encounter them again in the Jenenser drafts of the Philosophy of Mind. We only wish to emphasize here that Hegel describes the various social institutions and relations as a system of contradicting forces, originating from the mode of social labor. That mode of labor transforms the particular work of the individual, pursued for the gratification of his personal wants, into ‘general labor,’ which operates to produce commodities for the market. Hegel calls this last ‘abstract and quantitative’ labor and makes it responsible for the increasing inequality of men and wealth. Society is incapable of overcoming the antagonisms growing out of this inequality; consequently, the ‘system of government’ has to concentrate on the task. Hegel outlines three different systems of government, in fact, each of which constitutes an advance on the other in fulfilling the task. They are intrinsically related to the structure of the society over which they rule.

The general picture of society is one in which ‘the system of wants’ is a ‘system of mutual physical dependence.’ The individual’s labor fails to guarantee that his wants will be attended to. ‘A force alien to the individual and over which he remains powerless’ determines whether or not his needs will be fulfilled. The value of the product of labor is ‘independent of the individual and is subject to constant change.’ The system of government is itself of this anarchic kind. What governs is nothing but ‘the unconscious blind totality of needs and the modes of their fulfillment.’

Society must master its ‘unconscious and blind fate.’ Such mastery, however, remains incomplete so long as the general anarchy of interests prevails. Excessive wealth goes hand in hand with excessive poverty, and purely quantitative labor pushes man ‘into a state of utmost barbarism,’ especially that part of the population that ‘is subjected to mechanical labor in the factories.’

The next stage in government, represented as a system of justice,’ balances the existing antagonisms, but does so only in terms of the prevailing property relations. Government here rests upon the administration of justice, but it administers the law with ‘complete indifference to the relation in which a thing stands to any particular individual’s needs.’ The principle of freedom, namely, that ‘the governed are identical with the governing,’ cannot be fully realized because the government cannot do away with conflicts among particular interests. Liberty therefore appears only in ‘the law courts, and in the discussion and adjudication of litigations.’

Hegel barely sketched the third system of government in this series. It is, however, most significant that the main concept in its discussion is ‘discipline’ (Zucht). ‘The great discipline is expressed in the general morals ... and in the training for war, and in the trial of the true value of the individual in war.’

The quest for the true community thus terminates in a society governed by utmost discipline and military preparation. The true unity between the individual and common interest, which Hegel demanded as the sole aim of the state, has led to an authoritarian state that is to suppress the increasing antagonisms of individualistic society. Hegel’s discussion of the various stages of government is a concrete description of the development from a liberal to an authoritarian political system. This description contains an immanent critique of liberalist society, for the gist of Hegel’s analysis is that liberalist society necessarily gives birth to an authoritarian state. Hegel’s article on Natural Law, 42 probably written shortly after the outline of the System of Morality, applies this critique to the field of political economy.

Hegel examines the traditional system of political economy and finds it to be an apologetic formulation of the principles that govern the existing social system. The character of that system, Hegel again says, is essentially negative, for the very nature of the economic structure prevents the establishment of a true common interest. The task of the state, or of any adequate political organization, is to see to it that the contradictions inherent in the economic structure do not destroy the whole system. The state must assume the function of bridling the anarchic social and economic process.

Hegel attacks the doctrine of natural law because, he says, it justifies all the dangerous tendencies that aim to subordinate the state to the antagonistic interests of individualist society. The theory of the social contract, for example, fails to note that the common interest can never be derived from the will of competing and conflicting individuals. Moreover, natural law works with a purely metaphysical conception of man. As he appears in the natural-law doctrine, man is an abstract being who is later equipped with an arbitrary set of attributes. The selection of these attributes changes according to the changing apologetic interest of the particular doctrine. It is, moreover, in line with the apologetic function of natural law that most qualities that characterize man’s existence in modern society are disregarded (for example, the concrete relations of private property, the prevailing modes of labor, and so on).

The first draft of Hegel’s social philosophy, then, already enunciated the conception underlying his entire system: the given social order, based upon the system of abstract and quantitative labor and upon the integration of wants through the exchange of commodities, is incapable of asserting and establishing a rational community. This order remains essentially one of anarchy and irrationality, governed by blind economic mechanisms – it remains an order of ever repeated antagonisms in which all progress is but a temporary unification of opposites. Hegel’s demand for a strong and independent state derives from his insight into the irreconcilable contradictions of modern society. Hegel was the first to attain this insight in Germany. His justification of the strong state was made on the ground that it was a necessary supplement to the antagonistic structure of the individualist society he analyzed.