Mariusz Turowski
Objective and Absolute Otherness.
Radical Spectres of Hegel


The title of this presentation is, I believe, the most universal when it comes to the matter of otherness, but my aim is more exact and particular. I would like to present here some motives from Hegel's philosophy. Universality of the topic is linked to the logic of his system, to models, conceptions and notions he is offering to us. Particularity is related to one certain part of the system, political and social theory, and to some conclusions I would like to draw in the end of my talk. Presenting origins of Hegel's idea of the state, I will concentrate at characteristics of family and civil society,[1] as the background, both conceptual and material, for his views on the institutional modes of organizing human relationships. This is precisely the space where I would like to position the questions about otherness, the self, identity, particularity, subjectivity, universality, mediation, supersession (Aufhebung) objectification on one hand (as theoretical tools), and recognition, property, self-interest, rationality, love, contract, institutions, on the other (as manifestation of concrete problems).

I would like to deal with the offered topic in the following steps.

1.    Property as personality

Private property, as Hegel holds, is the basis and the starting point of all social organizations and arrangements. Property doesn't limit in its meaning merely to transactions and instrumental relationships among humans. Its notion, in Hegel's philosophy, is connected to the idea of recognition. The formulation of that concept finds its fullest affirmation in the idea of, what we can call, imperative of personality, that transcends Kant's categorical imperative. Instead of contractual basis (like in Kantian idea) it exposes a real concern for treating the others as the others, not as the subjects inhabiting a vague domain of constructed original position (or moral sphere). Imperative of personality says: "be a person and respect other persons". In the most radical sense that utterance means that personality (internality) is based on the other, actually on the absolute other, on something that is external. Recognition foreordains a certain attitude towards the others (accepting the otherness of the other), but at the same time it is formation of personality. Categorical imperative regulates relations among individuals. For Hegel, because of just noted non-contractual appeal, the point is to relate individuals to something wider - community (in the sphere of Sittlichkeit). For example, categorical imperative cannot operate in family, where it is surpressed by love. Love is necessary in family (which is described by Hegel as particular altruism), as well as in the state (universal altruism). And more generally - individual morality cannot be introduced into political life, as there must be a harmony between subjective intentions and objective results. Hegel thus comes to accusation of romanticism, which, according to Hegel, is actually based on Kant's formalism. In the pattern of formalism human agents can base their actions on criterions of right, rationality, but also on excellence which is rooted in humans' enthusiasm. Partisans of romanticism are just performing some kind of shift from reason to heart, both of which are build upon the same logic of contract. Hegel criticizes romantic subjectivism and its consequences for the vision of the state, and proclaims that the state is first of all the publicity of law and the universality of manners. Such a stance breaks down the distinction (traditional and supported by all streams in modern philosophy, especially in political philosophy, till the Hegel's times) of individual and the state - in this couplet the latter had always an external character.

Aufhebung of the division of political world into public and private sphere is defined by conception of interiorization (of the state into individual mind). The state is an aspect of our own self-determination (personality, property, recognition). Interiorization doesn't implicate any form of dependence on the state, servitude - it rather entails the same sort of dependence as in the case of recognition, where one human is dependent because of ontological self-determination on the other. Up to the point it was romanticism, who made people servants of the state, as the state was an exterior entity, to which human was framed, aligned, and existed in some (outside and aliening) relationship. Hegel offers us a real notion of human emancipation: from dependence and domination to conscious relations (internal) of mutual interdependence. Once we have defined personality, which in Hegel's system is connected with property, we can move to his preparations to describe the state (constitutional law, international law and world history). Property for Hegel is the outset of the process of mediation leading man to the consciousness of freedom. The final result of this is the state. But the process itself divides into three stages of will-formation: the will as immediate absolute or formal right; the will reflected - subjective morality (Moralitaet); and the unity of both - ethical life (Sittlichkeit).

2.    Family: individual, particular altruism

Altruism is expressed in love. Love is contradiction, it means giving up personality in order to find it in the other and thus to gain freedom (liberation). Personality turns to something which is outside itself, towards the other, to find itself. Subjectivity (that is expressed by sex) is discovered in objectivity - institution, that of family, which embodies transition from particularity (sex as an esthetic act) to universality (procreation). Again Hegel's conflict with romanticism is visible here. For Schlegel, for instance, institutionalization (marriage) of relation between man and woman was not necessary (concubinage-obsession of French Enlightenment, which influenced Schlegel to a very great extent). For Hegel such relation would lack its meaning -  love cannot residue without formal (socially recognized) arrangement. There is one more objectivisation connected with family - children, which are a kind of authorization of love as a space for common self-(and person-)building by married couple.

3.     Civil society

Civil society is another relationship within social substance. For Hegel it is constructed as relations of families (universal egoism). In this stage of the system Hegel turns to evaluation of modern interactions among members of political community, as defined by contract theory. Civil society, in Hegel's account, is a form of social life which refers to, and finds expression in liberal vision of social and political life. The otherness on this level is expressed in work, which is a fundament for Hegel's civil society. Work consists of three structural phases: production, exchange and consumption. All of them have contractual meaning as a contractual interdependence of individuals. Hegel criticizes the idea that this could be the final stage of development of social and political human spirit, as the liberals understood it.

4. Radical (non)theory of state

Criticism of the concept of the state, from the perspective of anxiety invoked by subordination of particular will to universal idea, shows us possible ways of critical assessment of the state itself, and implies a legitimization of anarchy as the only possible mode of realization of particular freedom. Of course such a declaration means necessity of opening the way for a sort of post-liberal considerations about political life. It couldn't be a subject of my study that let to this paper. What I have to do here is to persuade that this is really the case that Hegel's idea of freedom entails subordination of person to something that remains outside it, to something that is the other. According to Hegel's logic, criticism of the subordination means actually its affirmation. In first explorations from Phenomenology of Spirit - on certainty and truth of reason - the (romantic) individual, depicted as a member, an agent, of intellectual elite, performs his faked, poor criticism of the state. This is because the intellectual acts in the domain of (intellectual, literary) culture, which for Hegel is nothing but a world of "robbed thieves". Intellectuals manifest their "talents" in the name of ideal, absent "reality", not in the name of Republic, of real social (and thus individual) life. Thus they are essentially unable to become citizens (those only legitimate to criticize - in Hegelian sense). Impotent intellectuals' criticism will always end up in the hopeless opposition between the universal (the ideal) and the concrete, between the private and the collective, because it is just an escape from real world. This is precisely the Hegel's task to avoid such oppositions.[2] The otherness of the world, universe, idea, totality, objectivity, abstract concept, is, during the process of Bildung (education - process of historical formation of the human kind, where men gain self-consciousness[3]), transmitted into one's subjectivity, particularity, uniqueness. How can we trace down this critical, dialectical transformation? How can we combine the absolute otherness with the absolute, radical distinctiveness, identity of a particular person? Bildung as a synthesis, result of dialectical connection of thesis and anti-thesis, gives as a picture of the freedom which means unity of will in its concept with individual will. This mediated freedom is possible only within the structure of the state. This was a manifestation of my general interest in Hegel's conception here. Particularly, and at the same time - I hope - with some provocative relish, it takes form of an observation that only the state as understood by Hegel can be a plausible concept. Plausibility also here must be treated according to Hegel's dialectical radicalism - there is no escape from the state. Today state is defined by global financial ties, which also deprive us of any independence and autonomy. Should we put on some kind of Hegelian glasses in order to take a closer look at ultra-postmodern appearance of specters which once were haunting Phenomenology of Spirit? How can we react to the fact of happy domination of virtual, ghostly Capital? What is individual, universal, absolute here? Who is citizen and who is intellectual-thief?







[1] In Hegel's system we can find a lot of paths organized around some schemes, mostly taking shape of triadic relationships. One of those paths is the one which let him in the world which he called Philosophy of Spirit, divided into three sub-worlds: subjective spirit, objective spirit and absolute spirit, to the conception of social and political life deliberated within the framework of the second of those sub-worlds, objective spirit - main focus of the Philosophy of Right - that is again divided into another three dimensions: law, morality and ethical life; this is ethical life [Sittlichkeit] that is my concern here; the state is the last element of the triad connected with Sittlichkeit: family, civil society, the state.

[2] Phenomenology of Spirit Ch. V, part C, and Ch. VI, part B. In fact, the opposition could be pushed even further, to some meta-level, as in Hegel's devise for understanding tragedy of Enlightenment - the alternative between acceptance (from bourgeois intellectual's side) and escape  (from Christian, or enlightened intellectual's side). See also Alexandre Kojeve, Introduction to Lectures on Hegel.

[3] (E)ducation is the absolute transition from an ethical substantiality which is immediate and natural to one which is intellectual and so both infinitely subjective and softly enough to have attained universality of form.


Wroc³aw, 19.08.2000