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Hegel And The Russian Constitutional Tradition

3309 words - 13 pages

Hegel and the Russian Constitutional Tradition

ABSTRACT: This paper advances the idea that Russian constitutionalism developed through a reinterpretation of Russian history in terms of Hegel's concept of the World Spirit. Russians implicitly viewed their nation as the embodiment of Hegel's World Spirit, which would have a unique messianic mission for humanity. However, the specifics of Russia's historical development diverged from Hegel's critical stage of ethical development, in which individuals would be mutually recognized as free beings. For this reason, the rights of the individual in Russia were seen until recently as originating exclusively in the state and valid only insofar as a given individual constituted an organic part of the whole or collective. I give examples from all six Russian and Soviet constitutions. I also demonstrate how the 1993 post-Soviet constitution represents a major breakthrough in the advancement of individual rights in Russia.

Hegel is the philosopher whose teachings on history, politics and law set the stage for the genesis and evolution of the Russian constitutional tradition. Although Hegel made only a brief mention of Russian history in his own writing, (1) his theories have played a major role throughout the development of Russian constitutionalism.

In my presentation I would like to raise and develop, as time allows, the following five theses:

1) The mature Russian political and legal tradition emerged in the middle of the 19th century through reinterpretation of previous Russian national development in terms of Hegel's understanding of history as a process of the self-development of the World Spirit as the Absolute.

2) The embodiment of the World Spirit was interpreted as the Russian and later the Soviet state. Accordingly, the Russian/Soviet state was apotheosized in terms of its unique nature and Messianic mission.

3) The Hegelian concept of state is based on the mutual recognition of individuals as being substantially free. This crucial point of Hegel's philosophy was missing in Russia, where the concept of "individual personhood" (Persönlichkeit) never became a part of the Russian political and legal doctrines. As a result, individual rights were interpreted as having their origin exclusively in the state as a whole, and were considered to be valid only insofar as a given individual constituted an organic part of the totality.

4) According to the Hegelian teaching, Spirit (and the World Spirit in particular) develops from the state of its mere potentiality to its actuality. In other words, Spirit develops from its being in another (nature, which is not yet Spirit) to its being in itself and for itself (knowing itself as the only and whole actuality). Accordingly, Spirit. s development toward its completeness turns out to be Spirit. s liberation from the other. In the case of the Russian and especially the Soviet political and legal system, this would mean that any individual who...

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