Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hegel's Philosophical View of History and Edward Snowden

Following the adventures of Edward Snowden (apparently secure in the limbo of the transit lounge of Moscow Airport as I write this), my own thoughts turn to The Philosophy of History by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel seemed to view the progress of thinking about government as a "spinal cord" for any account of how history defines a path from past to present. One particular passage seized my attention when I first read it and continues to maintain its grip on my attention:
The History of the World is the discipline of the uncontrolled natural will, bringing it into obedience to a Universal principle and conferring subjective freedom. The East knew and to the present day knows only the One is Free; the Greek and Roman world, that some are free; the German World knows and All are free. The first political form therefore which we observe in History, is Despotism, the second Democracy and Aristocracy, the third Monarchy.
I suspect that many, like myself, would puzzle over why democracy is assigned to the "some" category, while only under monarchy are "all" free. However, as one reads further, one discovers that Hegel's view of monarchy is basically an idealized form of the conditions of his own day:
Now Monarchy is that kind of constitution which does indeed unite the members of the body politic in the head of the government as in a point; but regards that head neither as the absolute director not the arbitrary rule, but as a power whose will is regulated by the same principle of law as the obedience of the subject.
In other words Hegel's monarch is sort of an optimal synthesis of Plato's philosopher-king and the emerging monarchs in a constitutional monarchy that were Hegel's contemporaries.

Putting aside the question of whether or not all are free under a constitutional monarchy, Hegel definitely has a point about that fact that only some are free under a democracy. Furthermore, the Occupy movement even went so far as to put a number on how many were in that "some." This was the 1% who, in one way or another, control the wealth of the entire world through the financial sector. In other words, democracy can never be anything other than a different kind of aristocracy. The latter is dominated by a "ruling class" for whom authority is a birthright, while the former achieves domination through technical skills in both analyzing and manipulating the global marketplace. Indeed, the only thing that differentiates the "rule of the 1%" from despotism is that authority is not concentrated in a single individual.

As a skilled intelligence analyst, Snowden could easily have been a member of this latter-day "ruling class." Instead, he chose to stake his future on the proposition that what is good for the "some" of the 1% is not good for all. He is now paying for his choice, although it remains to be seen what the ultimate price will be.

No comments: