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Hegel And The National Heritag Essay

3790 words - 15 pages

In Hegel's political theory the state is seen not only as an instrument of legal power, but also as the embodiment of a national heritage. Interestingly, theorists like Hobbes, Locke, and Bentham were able to talk of states and government as if they bore no relation to particular countries. A citizen's loyalty is, in fact, seldom to the state as an institution. Most people pledge and give their allegiance to the country of their birth or adoption regardless of the political system that country might have. It is only the exceptional person who will quit his native land because he finds its exercise of political power unbearable: the vast majority would find the severing of national roots even more unbearable. A theory of politics, therefore, must acknowledge that in most cases state and nation are conjoined. It is the state which ultimately acts in the nation's name, and it draws on national sentiment as its primary source of power. All states, no matter what institutional or ideological colors they may wear, are obliged to pay deference to national traditions and national aspirations. Even purportedly universal ideologies like fascism and communism must make concessions to the peculiar national sentiments they encounter throughout the world. On the other side of the coin, if a political movement makes a point of demonstrating its patriotic motives, it may gain freedom of action to bring about important institutional changes under the guise of enhancing the national interest.Hegel emphasizes the power of national loyalty by talking of the nation as if it were an individual. It is, he suggests, an organism with an explicit life of its own: Each particular National genius is to be treated as only one individual in the process of Universal History. For that history is the exhibition of the divine, absolute development of spirit in its highest forms-- that gradation by which it attains its truth and consciousness of itself. The forms which these grades of progress assume are the characteristic "National Spirits" of History; the peculiar tenor of their moral life of their Government, their Art, Religion, and Sciences.The idea of a "national spirit" is a controversial one. As a figure of speech, one can say that America is generous, Germany is industrious, and France is amorous. But Hegel means a great deal more than this. First of all, he intends to say that "national spirit," as it is found in each country, is real. It is not a metaphor, nor is it just a shorthand device for making a complicated point in a simple way. The spirit or genius of a nation is no less real than the Idea of which it is an expression. Furthermore, the national spirit is the best place to observe the unfolding of the Idea in the actual world: the stages of development attained by a nation's art, religion, and science are the clearest manifestation of its progress through history. To speak of a nation as if it were a person is to show that it has a capacity for...

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