Extracts from Herbert Marcuse

Reason and Revolution. Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (1941)

National Socialism versus Hegel

We cannot understand the basic difference between the Hegelian and the Fascist idea of the state without sketching the historical foundations of Fascist totalitarianism.

Hegel's political philosophy was grounded on the assumption that civil society could be kept functioning without renouncing the essential rights and liberties of the individual. Hegel's political theory idealized the Restoration state, but he looked upon it as embodying the lasting achievements of the modern era, namely, the German Reformation, the French Revolution, and idealist culture.

The totalitarian state, on the other hand, marks the historical stage at which these very achievements become dangerous to the maintenance of civil society.

The roots of Fascism are traceable to the antagonisms between growing industrial monopolization and the democratic system. In Europe after the first World War, the highly rationalized and rapidly expanding industrial apparatus met increasing difficulties of utilization, especially because of the disruption of the world market and because of the vast network of social legislation ardently defended by the labor movement. In this situation, the most powerful industrial groups tended to assume direct political power in order to organise monopolistic production, to destroy the socialist opposition, and to resume imperialist expansionism.

The emerging political system cannot develop the productive forces without a constant pressure on the satisfaction of human needs. This requires a totalitarian control over all social and individual relations, the abolition of social and individual liberties, and the incorporation of the masses by means of terror. Society becomes an armed camp in the service of those great interests that have survived the economic competitive struggle. The anarchy of the market is removed, labor becomes compulsory service, and the productive forces are rapidly expanded_but the whole process serves only the interests of the ruling bureaucracy, which constitutes itself the heir of the old capitalist class.

The Fascist organisation of society requires a change in the entire setting of culture. The culture with which German idealism was linked, and which lived on until the Fascist era, accented private liberties and rights, so that the individual, at least as a private person, could feel safe in the state and in society. The total surrender of human life to the vested social and political powers was prevented not only by a system of political representation, legal equality, freedom of contracts, but also by the alleviating influence of philosophy, art, and religion. When Hegel divided man's social life among the family, civil society, and the state, he recognized that each of these historical stages had a relative right of its own. Moreover, he subordinated even the highest stage, the state, to the absolute right of reason asserted in the world history of mind. When Fascism finally demolished the liberalist framework of culture, it in effect abolished the last field in which the individual could claim his right against society and the state.

Hegel's philosophy was an integral part of the culture which authoritarianism had to overcome. It is therefore no accident that the National Socialist assault on Hegel begins with the repudiation of his political theory. Alfred Rosenberg, official keeper of National Socialist 'philosophy,' opened the drive on Hegel's concept of the state. As a consequence of the French Revolution, he says, 'a doctrine of power, alien to our blood, arose. It reached its apogee with Hegel and was then, in a new falsification, taken over by Marx . . .'2 This doctrine bestowed upon the state, he continues, the dignity of the absolute and the attribute of an end in itself. To the masses, the state came forth as a 'soul-less instrument of force.'s

The ideological attack of National Socialism upon the Hegelian conception of the state contrasts rather squarely with the Italian Fascists' seeming acceptance of it. The difference is to be explained in the different historical situations that the two Fascist ideologies had to meet. In contrast to Italy, the German state had been a powerful and firmly established reality, which even the Weimar Republic had not shaken in its foundations. It was a Rechtsstaat, a comprehensive rational political system with distinctly demarcated and recognized spheres of rights and liberties that could not be utilized by the new authoritarian regime. Moreover, the latter could discard the state form because the economic powers who stood behind the National Socialist movement were long since strong enough to govern directly, without the unnecessary mediation of political forms that would have to grant at least a minimum of legal equality and security.

Consequently, Rosenberg, like all the other National Socialist spokesmen, turns against 'the State' and denies its supreme authority. 'Today we view the State no longer as an independent idol before which men must kneel. The State is not even an end, but is only a means for preserving the people,' 4 and 'the authority of the Volkheit is above that of the State. He who does not admit this fact is an enemy of the people . . .'5

Carl Schmitt, the leading political philosopher of the Third Reich, likewise rejects the Hegelian position on the state, declaring it incompatible with the substance of National Socialism. Whereas the political philosophy of the last century had been based upon a dichotomy between state and society, National Socialism substitutes the triad of state, movement (the party), and people (Volk). The state is by no means the ultimate political reality in the triad; it is superseded and determined by the 'movement' and its leadership.6

Alfred Rosenberg's statement sets the stage for the National Socialist rejection of Hegel's political philosophy. He says Hegel belonged to the line of development that produced the French Revolution and the Marxian critique of society. Here, as in many other instances, National Socialism reveals a far deeper understanding of the realities than many of its critics. Hegel's state philosophy held to the progressive ideas of liberalism to such an extent that his political position became incompatible with the totalitarian state of civil society. The state as reason_that is, as a rational whole, governed by universally valid laws, calculable and lucid in its operation, professing to protect the essential interest of every individual without discrimination_this form of state is precisely what National Socialism cannot tolerate.

This is the supplementary institution of economic liberalism that had to be crushed as soon as that form of economy went under. The Hegelian triad of family, society, and state has disappeared, and in its place is the over- arching unity that devours all pluralism of rights and principles. The government is totalitarian. The individual championed in the Hegelian philosophy, he who bore reason and freedom, is annihilated. 'The individual, so we teach today, has as such neither the right nor the duty to exist, since all rights and all duties derive only from the community.'7 This community, in turn, is neither the union of free individuals, nor the rational whole of the Hegelian state, but the 'natural' entity of the race. National Socialist ideologists emphasize that the 'community' to which the individual is completely subordinate constitutes a natural reality bound together by 'blood and soil' and subject to no rational norms or values.

The focussing upon 'natural' conditions serves to divert attention from the social and economic basis of totalitarianism. The Volksgemeinschaft is idolized as a natural community precisely because and in so far as there is no actual social community. Since the social relations demonstrate the lack of any community, the Volksgemeinschaft has to be set apart in the dimension of 'blood and soil,' which does not hamper the real play of class interests within society.

The elevation of the Volk to the position of the original and ultimate political entity shows once again how distant National Socialism is from the Hegelian conception. According to Hegel, the Volk is that part of the state that does not know its own will. This attitude of Hegel's, though it may seem a reactionary one, is closer to freedom's interest than the popular radicalism of the National Socialist utterances. Hegel rejects any notion that 'the people' are an independent political factor, because, he maintains, political efficacy requires the consciousness of freedom. The people, Hegel said time and again, have not as yet achieved this consciousness, they are still lacking the knowledge of their true interest, and constitute a rather passive element in the political process. The establishment of a rational society presupposes that the people have ceased to exist in the form of 'masses' and have been transformed into an association of free individuals. National Socialism, in contrast, glorifies the masses and retains the 'people' in their pre-rational, natural condition.8 Even in this condition, however, the Volk is not allowed to play an active political role. Its political reality is supposed to be represented by the unique person of the Leader, who is the source of all law and all right and the sole author of social and political existence.

The German idealism that culminated in the Hegelian teaching asserted the conviction that social and political institutions should jibe with a free development of the individual. The authoritarian system, on the other hand, cannot maintain the life of its social order except by forcible conscription of every individual, regardless of his interest, into the economic process. The idea of individual welfare gives way to the demand for sacrifice. 'The duty of sacrifice for the whole has no limit if we regard the people as the highest good on earth.' The authoritarian system cannot considerably or permanently raise the standard of living, nor can it enlarge the area and means of individual enjoyment. This would undermine its indispensable discipline and, in the last analysis, would annul the Fascist order, which, of its very nature, must prevent any free development of productive forces. Consequently Fascism 'does not believe in the possibility of "happiness" on earth,' and it 'denies the equation that well-being equals happiness.' Today, when all the technical potentialities for an abundant life are at hand, the National Socialists 'consider the decline of the standard of living inevitable' and indulge in panegyrics on impoverishment.

The total victimization of the individual that takes place is encouraged for the specific benefit of the industrial and political bureaucracy. It therefore cannot be justified on the ground of the individual's true interest. National Socialist ideology simply states that true human existence consists in unconditional sacrifice, that it is of the essence of the individual's life to obey and to serve_ 'service which never comes to an end because service and life coincide.'

Ernst Krieck, one of National Socialism's representative spokesmen, devoted a considerable portion of his writing to a repudiation of German idealism. In his periodical, Volk im Werden, he published an article called 'Der Deutsche Idealismus zwischen den Zeitaltern,' in which the following sweeping declaration occurs: 'German idealism must ... be overcome in form and in content if we are to become a political and active nation.'1S The reason for the condemnation is clear. German idealism protested the wholesale surrender of the individual to ruling social and political forces. Its exaltation of mind and its insistence on the significance of thought implied, National Socialism correctly saw, an essential opposition to any victimization of the individual. Philosophic idealism was part and parcel of idealist culture. And this culture recognized a realm of truth that was not subject to the authority of the order that is and of the powers that be. Art, philosophy, and religion envisioned a world that challenged the claims of the given reality. Idealist culture is incompatible with Fascist discipline and control. 'We live no longer in the age of education, culture, humanity, and pure spirit, but in the necessity for struggle, for political visions of reality, for soldiery, national discipline, for the national honor and future. It is, therefore, not the idealist but the heroic attitude which is demanded of men as the task and need of life in this epoch.' "

Krieck makes no attempt to point to any specific sins in the thought- structure of German idealism. Although a philosopher and holding Hegel's chair at the University of Heidelberg, he finds difficulty in coping with the simplest philosophical idea. We must turn for specific statements to those who by profession are still engaged in philosophical work. Franz Bohm's Anti-Cartesianismus, which offers a National Socialist interpretation of the history of philosophy, contains a chapter on 'Hegel und Wir.' Hegel is here made the symbol of all that National Socialism abhors and rejects; the 'emancipation from Hegel' is hailed as forerunner of a return to a true philosophy. 'For a century, Hegel's universalistic conception . . . buried the motivations of the German history in philosophy.'" What is this anti-German orientation in Hegel? First, his stress on thought, his attack on action for action's sake. Bohm gets to the center of Hegelianism when he criticizes its 'humanitarian ideals.' He recognizes the intrinsic connection between the notions of reason and mind and the 'universalistic conception* of humanity.16 To view the world as mind, he says, and to measure existing forms according to reason's standard is tantamount in the end to transcending contingent and 'natural' distinctions and conflicts among men, and passing beyond these to the universal essence of man. It is tantamount to upholding the right of humanity as against the particular claims of politics. Reason implies the unity of all men as rational beings. When reason finally fulfills itself in freedom, the freedom is the possession of all men and the inalienable right of every individual. Idealistic universalism thus implies individualism. The National Socialist critique harps on the tendencies in Hegel's philosophy that contradict all totalitarianism. By virtue of these tendencies it declares Hegel to be the 'symbol of a centuries-old, superseded past' and 'the philosophic counter-will of our time.'

Bohm's criticism recurs in a somewhat milder and more elaborate form in another representative document of the National Socialist philosophy, Hans Heyse's Idee und Ex-istenz, which declares Hegel 'the source of all liberal, idealistic as well as materialistic philosophies of history.' " The National Socialists, in contrast to many Marxists, take the connection between Hegel and Marx seriously.

The fact that the development towards authoritarian forms was an about-face from Hegelian principles, rather than any consequence of these, was recognized within and outside of Germany as early as the period of the first World War. Muirhead in England declared at that time that 'it is not in Hegelianism, but in the violent reaction against the whole idealist philosophy that set in shortly after his death, that we have to look for the philosophical foundations of present-day militarism.' " The statement holds with all its implications. The ideological roots of authoritarianism have their soil in the 'violent reaction" against Hegel that styled itself the 'positive philosophy.' The destruction of the principle of reason, the interpretation of society in terms of nature, and the subordination of thought to the inexorable dynamics of the given operated in the romanticist philosophy of the state, in the Historical School, in Comte's sociology.

These anti-Hegelian tendencies joined forces with the irrational philosophies of Life, history and 'existence' that arose in, the last decade of the nineteenth century and built the ideological framework for the assault on liberalism.19

The social and political theory responsible for the development of Fascist Germany was, then, related to Hegelianism in a completely negative way. It was anti-Hegelian in all its aims and principles. No better witness to this fact exists than the one serious political theorist of National Socialism, Carl Schmitt. The first edition of his gegriff des Politischen raises the question of how long 'the spirit of Hegel' lived in Berlin, and he replies, 'in any case, the school that became authoritative in Prussia after 1840 preferred to have the "conservative" philosophy of F. J. Stahl, while Hegel wandered from Karl Marx to Lenin and to Moscow.'20 And he summarizes the entire process in the striking statement that on the day of Hitler's ascent to power 'Hegel, so to speak, died.'



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