After reading this article you will learn about the views of various political thinkers like Kant, Fichte and Hegel on State and Individual!
Views of Kant on State and Individual:
Being influenced by Rousseau’s political thought Kant came to the conclusion that the state was the product of contract. And in other respects practically there is no difference between Kant and Rousseau.
In order to give freedom its full realization Kant, following Rousseau, observed that a civil society through the machinery of contract was formed. The civil society or, as it is called, state, was a moral organization to both Kant and Rousseau. But to Kant it was more than that. This was also a legal organization.
Rousseau talked about a different type of sovereignty better known as popular sovereignty. The functioning and image of Greek city states were quite alive in his mental world. And since he was the great lover of human freedom he built up the fabric of general will which will ensure popular sovereignty and individual’s liberty. Kant followed Rousseau and accepted his general will. Many other concepts of Rousseau also influenced Kant.
We find a great amount of influence of the prevailing condition of Germany or Prussia upon Kant’s idea on state. Germany was ruled by absolute monarchy and Kant was not in favour of such type of government though he did not come forward with a denouncement of absolutism. Perhaps he believed that absolutism was not in consonance with people’s liberty and rights.
Kant, however, was in search of reconciliation between the prevailing monarchical structure and Rousseau’s general will. The sovereign power will exercise its authority through the general will and in this way Kant affected the compromise between people’s sovereignty and Prussian monarchical system. But we think that Kant’s solution is not a practical one.
There is hardly any scope of peaceful coexistence between monarchies—which is absolute in character—and general will’s authority.
Kant could not support the imperialist and expansionist designs of state because he believed that the “standing armies excite states to outrival one another in the number of their armed men, which has no limit”. Kant wanted peace and hated militarism.
He witnessed how military expansion destroyed the natural political, social and ethical situation of both home and abroad. His love for freedom led him to support a republican form of government and constitution. This view of Kant establishes the fact that he wanted a good relationship between the state and the individual.
He did not recognize the state’s right to declare war if war were to be declared at all it should be based on plebiscite. Hence people’s will is the ultimate determiner of state affairs. Kant had not the courage to declare openly the imperialist motives and functions of the German state. But if we read his mind and thought we shall find that he was against all sorts of military preparations and imperialist motives. He wanted peace for the survival and progress of mankind.
Kant’s acceptance of Rousseau’s general will once again makes us to believe that individual and his will are never to be neglected and that freedom must be given, in all cases, priority.
He never thought that the relationship between the individual and the state is not of the master and slave relationship. Though state is a legal organization its duty is to create an atmosphere in which individual can develop his morality.
Both Rousseau and Kant viewed politics, individual and other related ideas from the standpoint of morality and ethics. Man performs his duties not for the maximization of utility or happiness but for the attainment of morality and ethics.
He cannot sacrifice morality and ethics for the sake of happiness or material gain. Particularly, Rousseau emphasized on morality and ethics.
Views of Fichte on State and Individual:
Like Kant, Fichte was not very much interested in the origin of state. But he thought and said something about the state and along with it about individual and his freedom.
He wrote two books on politics Closed Commercial State and Theory of the State and from these two books it is evident that he was in favour of national state which must have sufficient power encompassing almost all the aspects of individual life.
The interpreters of Fichte’s philosophy draw conclusion from this that his ideas practically laid the foundation of a fascist state. Also Hegel drew inspiration from Fichte’s conception of state, because both thought of a powerful national state.
Why did Fichte support a national state? His contemporary Germany was not economically self-sufficient. Industrial progress was quite unsatisfactory such could never be the true state of a national state.
He wanted to introduce the idea of exclusiveness into the concept of national state and for that purpose he vehemently opposed free trade. He was of opinion that a free trade leads to commercial and economic rivalry among the states creating an atmosphere of war. Sometimes a real war is the cause of keen competition among the states.
The idea of exclusiveness indicates that a state should always make efforts to achieve self-reliance in economic sphere and for that purpose it should produce all commodities which it requires.
Dependence of a state upon others is likely to weaken a state. Fichte’s argument behind such conception was to make Germany self-dependent and powerful.
Once he said that some states have their natural boundaries such as river, mountain etc. and these make the states national states. He also believed that national states must have political self-reliance which means that it must be capable of making its own political and other regulations.
Summarizing Fichte’s ideas about state Maxey makes the following observation:
“In his mature political writings Fichte argued that the principal function of the state is to make individuals free by establishing in the outward world the conditions necessary to further identification with the universal. This meant that it was the rightful business of the state not only to remove obstacles which might stand in the way of this communication but to compel people to follow proper courses of action to that end”.
Fichte believed that the individuals could realize their freedom and other goals only through the state.
The state was an end in itself. Without state the individuals had no opportunity to achieve their objectives. For this reason Fichte argued for the identification of the individual with the state; and the state was again identified with the universal.
In such a state the individuals cannot have separate status and importance. They have been advised by the state to sacrifice to the state for the development of personality.
This view of Fichte resembles that of Greek idealist philosophy His exaltation of state has reduced the individuals to a very insignificant position. In other words, in Fichte’s political philosophy, the term individualism has no place. The state is all-powerful and the individuals must display their unconditional obedience to it.
What has been said above is the reflection of Fichte’s maturity of thought in respect of philosophy and politics. But in his earlier days he showed special interest in individual’s rights and duties.
He thinks about contract for the realization of certain rights. The idea of natural rights has no place in his thought system. Through the contract people will be entitled to some rights such as right to property.
There may be contract among the people. Under such contract each individual will agree to protect the rights of others. This gesture of people is associated with the consciousness which they possess. Without consciousness people cannot make such sort of contract. Nobody can violate the contract in his own sweet will.
Rational consciousness constitutes a basic aspect of Fichte’s theory of rights of individuals and their relationship with the state. Because the individuals are in possession of rational self-consciousness they cannot ignore the interests and requirements of other persons of the society.
One very interesting aspect of Fichte’s views regarding state, individual, their relationship, possession of rights, realization of those rights etc. is that he wanted to bring all these under one umbrella. State, individual, rights and their realization all these are not separate from each other.
They constitute a complete or undivided whole and this is the national state. Fichte also thought of reconciliation between individual rights and the rights of other persons. For this purpose he envisaged of a contract the mention of which has been made earlier.
Only through a contract a compromise will be made between private will and general will. For this idea Fichte is indebted to Rousseau.
Though in his later writings Fichte wanted to make a state powerful, in his earlier works he made ample scope for individual volition. Following Rousseau he said that people assembling in a common place would decide the political and other issues which are an indication of the fact that people are the source of sovereign power. Behind the law of the state there shall be the consent of individual.
So Fichte did not deny individual freedom. According to Fichte, rational consciousness enables man to think of others, as well as to think about the national interests. This is the source of patriotism. Thus Fichte places every person at the centre of political and other activities.
Views of State and Individual in Hegel’s Thought:
We know that Hegel had no sympathy for liberalism or liberal political philosophy which was highly prevalent in Britain and some other parts of Western Europe. In Germany the liberal tradition did not develop. For that very reason he did not keep any special place for individual’s rights and privileges.
He did not consider that rights were essential for the adequate development of man’s personality. To him state and individual are not two distinct entities between which there was a Chinese wall.
Rather, the individual must unconditionally surrender to the authority of the state because only through it could he find his progress in freedom. According to liberal thinkers rights, freedom etc. are personal and the role of the state is negative.
It is in the sense that the duty of the state ends in hindering the hindrances to the attainment of freedom.
On the other hand, according to Hegel, rights and freedom are social in character and these can be achieved through the legal protection adopted and ensured by the state and, in that sense, the state is never an enemy of individual freedom.
Hegel did not support the liberal concepts of Locke and many other liberal thinkers. His belief was that liberalism had the only objective and that was to curb the power and authority of state.
Since he was not brought up in a liberal tradition he had no sympathy for liberalism. On the contrary, his firm belief was that growth of liberalism would lead to dwarf the function of state. This will ultimately stand on the way of all sorts of progress. This idea he built up in the background of economic backwardness of Germany.
Kant developed a weakness for Rousseau’s philosophy—particularly general will. But at the same time he could not embrace liberal political philosophy.
The concept of German national state in an embryonic form occupied place in his mind. But in ultimate analysis he has been found to effect reconciliation between general will and monarchical form of government.
Whether in practice it is possible or not that not our concern. The point is, Kant could not ignore the concept of a national state. Fichte, in his later year, voted for the national state.
Kant could not view the idea of national state from broader perspective which Fichte did. He was of opinion that the self-reliance of state (in his opinion of Germany) in economic and political spheres could strengthen the foundation of a national state.
Fichte rejected competition among the states on commercial interests and also war. But Hegel glorified war.
All the three German philosophers—Kant, Fichte and Hegel had discussed the idea of national state. But Hegel’s analysis on the subject is comprehensive. He has discussed it from the wider perspective.
Here lies his credit. In earlier life Hegel showed his sympathy for the French Revolution. But in the later years he revised his earlier views. The destructive and violent aspects of the Revolution forced him to reject the previous ideas.
Hegel’s main interest was national state and then it’s various aspects such as integrity, unity, construction, progress. He believed that war had the potentialities of halting the advance of civilization and to him the national state (and in his case the German national state) was the greatest manifestation of highest civilization. Kant and Fichte did not spend so much time and energy as well as space for a comprehensive analysis of national state.
Kant said that general will or people were the source of sovereignty. This is Rousseau’s view. General will is the source of all power and authority. Hegel differed from Kant. Sovereignty in Hegel’s state vested in the monarchy. Monarchy, according to Hegel, is the symbol of unity and integrity and it is the ultimate decision-making authority.
People will have no place. We may call Kant’s sovereign power as popular while it is absolute in the case of Hegel. Hegel has personified sovereign power with the state and in this way Hegelian state is totalitarian. When the state is so, people’s special status is neglected.
Kant’s acceptance of the separation of powers is an indication of the limitation of state power and proliferation of individual’s liberty. Hegel had no business to deal with special attention the liberty of persons.
According to Hegel, individual will find the proper flourishing of liberty or freedom through the ultimate authority of state since it is the manifestation of Absolute Idea or World Spirit.
Hegel has called the limiting of the state power for the realization of man’s freedom as negative. Man is an insignificant part of the national state and he cannot claim separateness.
Separation from state will lead to the destruction of freedom. Kant believes that freedom is the right to will a self-imposed imperative of duty. But this approach of Kant has been termed by Hegel as negative and he calls his own approach to freedom as positive.
The concept of national state has assumed clear position in the hands of Hegel because in such a state there is a clear location of sovereignty—is an essential ingredient of state. Kant was influenced by Rousseau and by emphasizing general will he has clouded the concept of national state.