The spirits of the people have each their own truth, said Hegel. Each people has its role to play, at a given moment in history, and precisely at that moment. After that, they experience decadence and fall, preparing « the passage of the spirit into a new principle, and of universal history into another people.”i.
Hegel distinguishes four epochs, which present various degrees of the incarnation of the spirit of the world, various states of its self-awarenessii.
The first period corresponds to the apogee of the Eastern Empire. The government is a theocracy, the ruler is a supreme priest or a God, legislation comes from religion, and « the individual personality disappears without rights. In this context, the spirit is known as « substance », as « identity », in which individualities are lost. Individuals have no justification as such.
The second epoch corresponds to the Greek Empire, where « a mysterious basis, repressed in a dark reminiscence, in the dark depth of tradition » and an individual spirituality coexist, which « arises in the light of knowledge, becomes measure and clarity through beauty and through free and cheerful morality ». The spirit acquires knowledge of itself, a positive content, which allows the birth of a moral, objective individuality.
The third moment is that of the Roman Empire, where « the separation of private personal consciousness from abstract universality” is accomplished to the point of tearing it apart. t is the moment of the cold and greedy violence of the aristocracy, the corruption of the plebs, the dissolution of society, the universal misfortune and the death of moral life.
Consciousness deepens to an abstract universality, and then contradicts the objectivity of the world deserted by the spirit.
The last epoch is that of the Germanic Empire, where the principle of the unity of the divine and human natures is realized. It is the Nordic principle of the Germanic peoples that has the task of achieving this unity. The contradiction between consciousness and objectivity is resolved. Consciousness is ready to « receive within itself its concrete truth », and to « reconcile itself with objectivity and settle into it ». The mind returns to its primary substance, it knows itself as truth, as thought and as legal reality.
The mission of the German Empire is to overthrow previous empires. It must bring the spirit out of the loss of self, out of the infinite suffering that results from it, « suffering to serve as a support to which the Israelite people were kept ready. »
With the hindsight of history, which judges it differently from philosophy, we can see that Hegel was mistaken about the mission of the « Germanic empire ». This empire did not put an end to the suffering of the universe, nor to that of the « Israelite people ».
We also know that other empires than the Germanic one have settled down today in history. The Soviet and American empires may have believed their time had come at different times in the 20th century. Ephemeral victories, in battles à la Pyrrhus.
What will the next empire be able to meet the Hegelian challenges?
What empire will tomorrow be able to unify the divine and human natures, to put an end to the loss of oneself, to put an end to infinite suffering?
Perhaps it is in fact Hegel’s moment that has passed? Perhaps the dream of uniting the divine and the human, or of putting an end to suffering, has no chance of coming true?
If we bet on Hegel’s prophetic genius, we can try to imagine a thousand-year-old über-empire that will be able to meet these challenges.
The über-empire will be globalized, decentralized, self-organized, self-regulated. Capable of imposing a global über-tax, a system of über-social protection and a guaranteed über-income for all, this new empire will allow freedom of movement and living anywhere on earth. No borders, no passports (replaced by facial recognition). End of all wars (guaranteed by a global security force with all the necessary means). Global labour regime, based on a principle of strict equality across the planet. A system of über-political elections at all levels (local, regional, global), which will elect the « wise men » responsible for guaranteeing the forms of self-regulation necessary in the long term.
The über-empire is undoubtedly a utopia, but not so much more than Hegel’s « German Empire ».
I would even say that it is much less utopian, because one day, as is obvious, in a hundred, a thousand or ten thousand years, it will make itself, in a shrunken planet, asphyxiated by the untenable egoisms of dysfunctional nations.
The European experience shows what does not work in dreams of federal integration. It also shows what needs to be corrected in the institutions. And one day über-Europe will extend to über-Eurasia, when Russia has been civilised and China decentralised … Then the other hemisphere will come around…
There will still be a long way to go before the union of the divine and human natures is achieved. But if we take even one single step to reduce the « infinite suffering » of the peoples of the world, will we not have made a giant leap toward an über-utopia?
iElements of the Philosophy of Right. § 347
iiElements of the Philosophy of Right § 347