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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, "The Constitution of Germany," unpublished manuscript (1800-1802)

Like his precursor Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) bequeathed a rich and complex legacy to modern German intellectual and political history. Of his mature philosophy, it can be said that he historicized Enlightenment reason, while replacing the rational individual with Herderian cultures as the crucial subject of history. It was the state, he argued, that endowed cultures, and the individuals within them, with “objectivized” morality and a freedom appropriate to their historical development. In the historical process, human beings, acting through cultures and states, realized the fullness of their own freedom, which was also the realization of the Divine Idea itself. In this text, left unpublished during Hegel’s lifetime, its author – a young professor much gripped by the spectacle of the French Revolution and its cataclysmic effects in Germany – pronounces the Holy Roman Empire devoid of life and spirit, and conjures up a “German Theseus” who might, acting with sword in hand (as Napoleon was doing at the time), unify Germany under a strong central government. Yet, in view of the Germans’ sense of freedom, the liberal principle of representation would also require satisfaction. Later in the nineteenth century, it was Bismarck who seemingly played Theseus’s role. In this essay, however, Hegel sharply criticizes Prussia’s failure to champion broad German interests.

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“The Constitution of Germany”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Germany is no longer a state. The older constitutional lawyers who, in treating German constitutional law, had tried to fix a concept of the German constitution could not agree, until the more recent ones gave up the attempt. [ . . . ] There is no longer any argument about which concept of a constitution the German one belongs to. What cannot be understood, does not exist. If Germany were to be a state, this dissolution would have to be called anarchy, but parts of it have reconstituted themselves as states which retain in memory of a former bond a semblance of association.
[ . . . ]

The health of a state manifests itself generally not in the quietness of peace but in the commotion of war. Peace is a state of enjoyment and activity in isolation, when the government is a wise paternalism, which demands from the subjects only what is customary. In war, the strength of the cohesion of all with the whole is demonstrated, how much the state can demand of them and how much that is worth which all may be willing to do for it out of their own initiative and sentiment. Thus Germany has experienced in its war with the French Republic how it is no longer a state [ . . . ] the tangible results of this war are the loss of some of the most beautiful German regions and several millions of its inhabitants [the French had annexed the left bank of the Rhine in the Treaty of Luneville, 1802], a great burden of debt ... and several states losing their quality as states. [ . . . ]

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