Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hegel and America

Sometimes one reads something one expects to be basically wrong, and finds it provides an interesting perspective. Such is the case with Hegel's Philosophy of History. The interesting perspective is provided by the question: how would Hegel approach the USA as an embodiment of Spirit? That is, what results when one uses Hegel's template for talking about States on the United States?

I have little inclination to affirm Hegel's views on progress, or even the direction History should go. I also have not actually finished The Philosophy of History. So what follows is highly tentative and exploratory. It might be classified as something like "Fictional Philosophy," more like tracing a great painting than actually painting one, and more interpretation than new theorizing. Still, it is interesting, particularly in light of "right side of history" arguments and the like.

Hegel begins with the origins of the State in question. As usual, there is a kind of mixing of peoples in the origin of the USA, both in the colonials and natives, as well as slaves, this continues in the US far more than in former States with the later immigrants. We must note at the outset, however, that the US begins with a separation from England and that the bulk of its population began, religiously, with a separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Thus the form of US thought is Analysis or Division of wholes into parts.

This Division is seen first in the form of its political system. In it, powers are divided among branches, and each individual is counted an individual first, rather than primarily a member of the State. The Each is dominant over the We. Nevertheless this form of political life does give rise to a State, that is, does unify a people into a whole, however it is a whole unified around divisions. This comes to the fore in its development into Statehood with its civil war, where the division of the USA into states provides for the fracturing of the USA in half. This event is perhaps the clearest time when the dominion of the majority over the minority, in the form of slavery, was shown as possible despite the divisions of powers in the government, which went so far as to divide the power of election of officials from the power of legislation, thus protecting against the tyranny of the majority which is possible in a simple democracy.

In this people the Spirit gains supremacy over Nature, with numerous conquests of what is by Spirit's movement toward Freedom: away from Necessity and toward Potential. Thus the people of the United States have often been known for their great ingenuity, that is, they are seen to be compelled to overcome Nature by the force of Spirit. To this may be attributed their expansion West, as well as their rise into space. In our own time, Transhumanism and the subjective accounts of gender and sexuality exhibit this same movement of Spirit to overcome Nature. Thus the USA solidifies its rise to superpower with the space program.

Hegel comments early in The Philosophy of History that the United States cannot form a true State until it has filled its available space and begins to press in on itself rather than outward. Yet the outward pressure has never ceased, rather, the USA has moved from an expansion in territory to an expansion over the whole world in influence and power. This shift begins when the Pearl Harbor attacks bring the US into WWII, thus bringing it into conflict with Hegel's final form of Spirit in the Germanic. It is with this event that the United States gains the ascendancy and becomes the form of Spirit in the world, and the completion of this war with the Nuclear Bomb evidences the United States power in ingenuity, bringing together the violence of division with the creativity found in the division of Subjectivity and Objectivity such that Spirit becomes lord over Nature.

It is quite hard to tell a State's history before it has fallen, yet we may expect the US to fall as her predecessors did: she will overshoot her principle. Analysis will give way to Synthesis, as Division goes too far, and so brings itself down. Contra Hegel, History is not finished. The Germanic was not the Best, nor is the United States, nor will any other, but each will continue to move to a closer approximation of Freedom and Spirit, until Spirit harmonizes perfectly with Nature, Subjectivity with Objectivity, that is, until all conflict between the duality is resolved into a harmony of Spirit: Freedom in Nature. True Freedom, for Hegel, is opposed to the caprice as much as blind obedience, yet this dominance of Subjective over Objective moves to caprice, though of a different sort than Hegel saw in India. It is on account of this caprice that we may expect the United States to fall, even as it is now a powerful State, yet beginning, perhaps, to wane.

Addendum: I am tempted to make suggestions as to what one might expect to follow this phase of Spirit, or where one might look for the next State. Hegel would likely suggest South America, or perhaps Space. With America, we have circled the globe, and Hegel made comments which he would have to go back on to suggest that History might go around again, for China and India--though they have changed--are not really supposed to change on his view. Wherever it may turn out to be, I doubt we can be too clear on what the principle will be, though it is likely to reassert the priority of the Objective again, as the two aspects of Spirit go back and forth like a see-saw, yet slowly getting closer to an equilibrium. What this will mean is not clear. Perhaps a revival of natural law thinking, but I am inclined to expect a shift from Analysis to Synthesis, from Atomism to Holism, as we are already beginning to see. How Synthetic thinking will come together with the rise of the Objective is unclear from here, and another spurt of creative philosophy would be needed to develop a conception of how they might come to form a single principle.

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