I don’t know much about G.W.F. Hegel, but the one quote of his that I always remember is “The State is as God walking on Earth”. With that memorable phrase in mind, I sought its context to get behind the intent of the full quote as it is reproduced here from his work Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts:
The state in and by itself is the ethical whole, the actualisation of freedom; and it is an absolute end of reason that freedom should be actual. The state is mind on earth and consciously realising itself there. In nature, on the other hand, mind actualises itself only as its own other, as mind asleep. Only when it is present in consciousness, when it knows itself as a really existent object, is it the state. In considering freedom, the starting-point must be not individuality, the single self-consciousness, but only the essence of self-consciousness; for whether man knows it or not, this essence is externally realised as a self-subsistent power in which single individuals are only moments. The march of God in the world, that is what the state is.
In the land of John Knox, we Calvinists love our technical sounding theological terms such as soteriology, infralapsarianism and ontological trinity; perhaps it makes what is essentially a simple faith sound more academic and scientific. But when I considered Hegel’s phraseology, another term beloved of the sons of Knox came to mind — the incommunicable attributes of God.
That humans are created in the image of God is a Christian doctrine that many are more familiar with than a phrase such as incommunicable attributes; but they are two sides to the same Divine coin. For in being made in God's image, it is understood that somehow man reflects qualities of God in the same way that a postmark leaves a representation of the rubber stamp which made the impress. These qualities are rightly deduced to be such virtues as love, compassion, justice, mercy and creativity to name but a few.
Now, as these qualities are able to be communicated to man, so it is understood that there are certain attributes of God which cannot be communicated to men and hence are called incommunicable attributes. Amongst those commonly cited are God's omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, eternity and self-sufficiency.
As we turn again to the realm of reasoning concerning the State, the question is raised that if one person is made in the image of God then what of a society as an aggregate of persons each made in that image? Is the sum total which is potently expressed in the State reckoned to be a corporate entity corporately made in God's image? When the State exercises justice and mercy, is it fulfilling a Divine mandate or not?
The answer, I propose, is that it is fulfilling such a mandate but not in the way most presume for it is a mandate of quality as opposed to function. In other words, just as one person should display such communicable attributes within their sphere of responsibility and influence, then so should any earthly institution within their sphere of responsibility and influence.
In other words, the call to be compassionate does not imply that the State is compelled to set up the Welfare system. But it does compel it to be compassionate in its sphere of enforcing laws on behalf of the hungry from whom evil men steal the last piece of bread. And it does compel it to be compassionate when the very same laws mercifully consider the same hungry one who steals the bread from the altar lest they die.
The Divine wall firmly encloses duties round about but above the skies of compassion go as far as the eye can see.
The State may indeed be God's delegate for a particular duty at a particular time and place but when the modern State attempts to take upon itself the incommunicable attributes of God then there is a monstrosity in the making.
For consider the omniscience of God and the pretence the State makes to this unattainable goal. Thanks to the massive storage and access capabilities of computers, the State has within its grasp all knowledge within its self-appointed horizons. Like God, the State has access to information about us which we can only guess at or have long forgotten or lost.
And as the eyes of God run to and fro across the Earth beholding the deeds of men, so the State aspires to an omnipresence which allows it to be present in every CCT camera or hidden wiretap. From the feared ubiquity of an army of hidden informers in a Stalinist country to the sophistication of supercomputers tirelessly scanning untold myriads of emails, the State strives to be as God where God does not intend.
And from a pretended omnipresence and omniscience proceeds a delusional omnipotence which has wreaked havoc and murder across the centuries in the hands of the basest of men. And if the State muses that the searing shock wave of its fusion blasts are akin to the breath of God and that it has become the Shatterer of worlds in the words of Oppenheimer then surely the time for change has come.
But from its presumption that, like God in eternity, it will never pass away we see an attribute it can never aspire to emulate and that is self-sufficiency. The theologian states that God has no need of anyone or anything to sustain Him, but the State is a parasite which dies with the last willing taxpayer. Turn off the supply of tax dollars and gilt-edged securities and this creature dies a death and is cast to the dogs.
Therein lies the solution. Only that which is self-sufficient can claim deification. Hegel watched as one god in Napoleonic France overthrew another in the Prussians. His dialecticism attempted to synthesise a State which objectified Absolute Truth and which could on the one hand avoid a centralised slavedom but also eschew the antinomianism of unbridled hedonism.
He never saw that day that he may have rejoiced. We look for another day to dawn in which men are free to conduct their affairs unfettered by the bureaucrat and powermonger. And as a Christian Libertarian, my desire is that true Omnipotence will reserve such a day for us all.
June 1, 2001