The Hegelian Collective, Research Time, 15/07/2013

Just a short post today, out of deference to Sunday’s rather epic essay on my aborted Werner Herzog project. In fact, I may not even link to this post in my other social media identities, and may publicize the Herzog essay again. I’m really rather proud of that as a piece of writing.

But I did get some philosophical reading done between that post and this, as I continue my exploration of Hegel’s Philosophy of History. I finished reading the extremely long introduction — it’s over 100 pages, a fairly typical length for one of Hegel’s works. One Hegelian idea that has been making me angry is all over this introduction, and is especially prevalent in the final sections. That’s the notion that individuals aren’t truly free (or even fully self-aware of their nature as individuals) until they achieve a harmonious union of their wills with that of the bureaucratic state in which they live. In other words, an individual is incomplete until they fully embrace their identity as a member of a collective.

Once again, I am philosophically enraged. The notion that an individual can only be free insofar as they are subsumed in a state incenses me, because it makes the only kind of individuality to be conformity of every element of your thinking, mind, soul, and life to the collective strivings of your state, your government, your national institutions. There is no room for deviation, only the expression of the collective will, the World-Spirit brought into being through the national movement, literally the movement of individuals aggregating into one body through the state. No deviance, no innovation, no experimentation. Only unity.

I shudder. There’s no place in such a philosophy for a freak like me. The only genuinely remarkable persons allowed in this view are World-Historical figures, individuals who embody the national spirit in their actions. Figures like Napoleon, to pick Hegel’s own favourite example from The Phenomenology of Spirit. Men who can shape the movement of other people, collectives, and nations to their will. There’s no room in this vision for the beautifully weird: Spinoza, Tesla, James Joyce, Herzog, maybe even me.

What really set me off was what he said about African people in the latter sections of the introduction to Philosophy of History. But that might come up another day, maybe when the utopias project revisits some of the works of Edward Said and the other post-colonial theorists.

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