Religion, Law, and Republic in Hegel Political Forms in the Early Theological Writings II (second of two posts following on from post on ‘Protestant Apocalyptic Elements of Kant’s Enlightenment Republicanism’)

This is the third kind of state in Hegel then, based on positive law and institutionalised religion rather than the virtue of citizens, and the ways Greek and Jewish republics tried to maintain virtue. The fourth kind of state, in Hegel’s early work on religion, is the state where all positive law enforcement of the rights of the state church had been eliminated. The energy of that society is such as to be able to dispense with the ways in which positive law and state churches keep some restraint on the most destructive aspects of nature.

Hegel does not expect Christianity to disappear as a religion and as a major force in European societies, but he perceives a loss of some of the stronger claims of Christianity over the lives of believers, particularly in the Protestant countries. Antique political life was characterised by the unity of the civic with the religious, while modern political life is characterised by split between the civic and the religious.

The modern age is one in which there is some idea of giving to humans what had been given to heaven, presumably a kind of politically oriented ethical humanism, but Hegel doubts that the energy will be found for this way of thinking to triumph. Hegel’s view of this seem rather like his view of Greek republics, very respectful, but rather sceptical of its practical possibility in most real world situations.

It is not very clear what Hegel thinks the features of this kind of state might be, because the two most plausible candidates had not really emerged as fully articulated positions at the time of his early writings, though the first, more liberal, candidate had become apparent to him by the end of his life. Those candidates would be the sort of limited or minimal or no-state individualist liberal positions generally now known as libertarianism, and then the sort of stateless socialist societies favoured by Marx, those Marx labelled ‘utopian socialists’, and various other revolutionary anti-capitalist thinkers.

Perhaps in between those two positions, the general evolution of various constitutional democracies towards secularism, human rights, civic liberties, moderation of state violence in the criminal justice system, and so on, might fit Hegel’s tentative thoughts here.

However, that general evolution of modern states includes an expanding administrative and welfare function that Hegel does not foresee. Later texts suggest he he probably feared that moves in a secular and natural law direction would tend to alternate between violent attempts at return to ancient virtue, as in the Jacobin phase of the French Revolution and as unsustainable small simple communities on the edges of the civilised world, as in his later suggestion that the United States was an anomalous function of  a new society at the edge of the new world, facing no external enemies and little in the way of economic complexity.

It is apparent that Hegel’s thoughts on the political aspects of theology, historically and in his own time, provide a valuable framework for assessing the roles of virtue, natural law, positive law, distributive justice, communal cohesion, and the sovereign power of the state, as it has existed at particular stages in history and in emergence of the liberal bourgeois world of Hegel’s time. There are some elements of Hegel which are likely to seem over schematic now or seem to reflect the limited historical experience of representative democracy in Hegel’s time.

Both concerns can be applied to Montesquieu, whose work Hegel continues to some degree, but also challenges with a greater sense of the differences between republican regimes the implications of a modern weakening of the hold of religion for politics. The religious dimension is not completely  absent in Montesquieu, but is developed with greater focus in Hegel, in which which anticipate discussions of ideology, norms, and legitimacy, after Marx, Durkheim, and  Weber. It is possible in his early writings on Christianity to see the articulation of a position containing all these implications.


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