Hegel: why liberal thought is not anti-totalitarian enough

Title: Hegel: why liberal thought is not anti-totalitarian enough
Author: Korda, Tomáš
Source document: Pro-Fil. 2020, vol. 21, iss. 1, pp. 24-40
  • ISSN
    1212-9097 (online)
Type: Article
License: Not specified license

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This paper discusses totalitarianism against the background of Hegel's concept of ethical life (Sittlichkeit). It employs Hegel's concept of experience from the Phenomenology of Spirit so that the reader could "experience" totalitarianism (in Hegel's sense), and thereby apprehend a universal (sittlich) ethical life within the state as a true antidote against totalitarianism. "Hegel's" state, understood here as an emergent middle that balances between its relation to itself (domestic policy) and to the other states (foreign policy) is contrasted with the totalitarian state that suspended its self-relation in the name of its relation to the outside, either in the form of a "total war" (Hitler) or the "total peace" (Stalin). Contrasting the totalitarian state with that of Hegel's aims to reveal, in turn, the substantial defect of liberal thought. Despite the fact that "total war" and the "total peace" had taken place, liberal thought still stubbornly preoccupies itself with domestic issues, traditionally with the question of how to secure the "Maginot" line between the state and its citizens, at the expense of overcoming its own impoverished knowledge of the state as an instrument, since this utilitarian knowledge of the state combined with the fact that the state is also the sovereign individuality appearing on the scene of foreign relations turned out to be totalitarian. Totalitarianism and liberalism are thereby not understood simply as enemies but rather as a tragical couple. To reveal this mutually enforced interdependence, the paper illustrates it on different and more commonplace examples in order to clarify how liberal thought can overcome animosity against its totalitarian enemy, namely via "experiencing" totalitarianism as nothing but the hitherto unknown dark side of its own instrumental understanding of the state.
This paper was supported by the funds for "Specifický vysokoškolský výzkum 2020: Hranice a identity v propojujícím se světě" of the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague.