Sunday, August 11, 2019

Hegel [and Marx] on labor and freedom — Daniel Little

So does labor fulfill freedom or create alienation? Likewise, does technology emancipate and fulfill us, or does it enthrall and disempower us? Marx's answer to the first question is that it does both, depending on the social relations within which it is defined, managed, and controlled.
It would seem that we can answer the second question for ourselves, in much the same terms. Technology both extends freedom and constricts it....
Adding to what David Little says in this post, Hegel and Marx were chiefly interested in the expansion of human freedom, although they provided different analyses that appear to be at odds. Marx was writing in reaction to Hegel but also operating strongly under Hegel's influence, adopting his dialectical method, for example.

Daniel Little draws a connection between them through Alexandre Kojève's commentary on Hegel's Phenomenology, specifically the master-slave passage that he regarded as highly influential on Marx. When I was studying Hegel in grad school, I recall the professor strongly emphasizing this. We were expected to know that passage from the Phenomenology in detail.

Hegel, following the ancient Greeks, distinguished freedom from constraint, freedom to chose, and freedom for self-determination. Hegel emphasized that genuine freedom requires only freedom from constraint and freedom to chose but also freedom for self-determination. Human's share "natural freedom" — freedom from and freedom to — with other animals. This is the "law" of the jungle as set forth by Hobbes. The human challenge is to reach ethical and political freedom and this requires the application of rationality. This occurs in the liberal state.  (This is obviously a thumbnail sketch that needs elaboration. Here is short article on this. Hegel's view is still quite relevant to contemporary liberal societies.)

Hegel held that these conditions are met in the rational state, ideally in a state governed by the rule of law based on due deliberation. Self-determination occurs in a state in which those governed by the rule of law chose the laws in contrast to a state governed by dictate. Hegel is thinking here of the Greek polis or "city-state," and more specifically of Athens, where citizens voted after debating the issues publicly in the agora.

A central question in Greek political thought was, what does it mean to be a good person in a good society. Greeks considered themselves not only individuals but also citizens. Or better, they could not consider themselves other than as citizens. This distinguished the civilized as those that lived in city states from those that did not – the barbarians.

While Greeks provided the foundation for the subsequent Western intellectual tradition, a considerable superstructure was erected on this foundation based on may influences whose interaction were aspects of a historical dialectic, which Hegel attempted to trace. (Incidentally, the American founding fathers also read the Greeks and Romans on politics, and they were familiar with the great orators and statesmen as well as thinkers. The American founding documents and the debates that led up to their writing and adoption show this influence.)

For the Greeks it was not a great challenge between a person's will as individual and as a citizen. This was not so in modern times. Then the challenge became one of reconciling personal liberty with community. The motto of the French revolutionaries was liberty, egality and fraternity, where egality means absence of privilege, and fraternity means solidarity in community. This is still a driving force in the historical dialectic and far from resolved. Hegel did not think that the Prussian state was "the end of history," as many American exceptionalists do of the US. He saw the Prussian state only as the epitome of the time, to be transcended as the concept of freedom expanded through the historical dialectic and became objectified in ongoing historical moments.

Marx rejected Hegel's view that the individual wills of the members of a society merge, so to speak, into the collective will of the society that is expressed in the rational state. Marx viewed Hegel's rational state being the locus of a people's ethical and political life as inherently bourgeois.

In this sense, Hegel was a liberal in the broad sense, albeit a German one that presaged the later German adoption of ordoliberalism, while Marx was a left libertarian.

While Hegel was a "liberal" in the broad sense of the Enlightenment, he would likely be regarded as conservative like Edmund Burke. But both Hegel and Burke sought to synthesize and harmonize liberalism and conservatism. As did John Maynard Keynes. Conversely, Marx rejected the assumption that all are equal as persons before the law but are so varied as individuals that only the most qualified should govern as essentially a bourgeois rationale for the continued rule of a few on the shaky ground of "rationality."

But while the analyses differed, the objective of expanding human freedom was essentially the same as the "Zeitgeist." This remains true in the West, but now it is beginning to be questioned as liberalism and traditionalism clash on the world stage.

Marx presents somewhat of a dilemma that needs to be mentioned. On one hand, he agreed with Hegel that the historical dialectic was foundational and events are dependent on the timing owing to changing conditions. On the other hand, he also assumed that this process could be commanded by working actively on changing mode of production that he viewed as foundational. Since this is a historical process, "only time will tell."

But at least we can say that Marx apparently got the timing wrong in that he looked for this to happen in the capitalist (industrialized) countries in the near future. That did not happen. On the other hand, the march of time was accompanied in the expansion of freedom, the remnants of the feudal era of aristocracies were all but eradicated in the West post-WWI.

In my view, Hegel and Marx are not necessarily far apart in terms of the ideal. They both viewed the direction of history as involving the expansion of freedom, with the contradiction between individual will and social requirements resolved by expansion of collective consciousness toward altruism as expressed in the golden rule that Kant made rational in his categorical imperative to act on the principle of universal reciprocity. This has a scientific basis now as research shows that reciprocity is an evolutionary trait and that human morality is a rational form of it.

Recurring to David Little's post, the labor-technology dichotomy is directly relevant to the degree that increased productivity and technological innovation make greater distributed leisure possible, and leisure is foundational for the expansion of freedom as the uniting of freedom from, freedom to, and freedom for. The future of humankind is bright if we can get beyond the challenges emerging with the opportunities. This will require concerted action and coordination in adapting to swiftly changing conditions.

Understanding Society
Hegel [and Marx]  on labor and freedomDaniel Little | Chancellor of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Professor of Philosophy at UM-Dearborn and Professor of Sociology at UM-Ann Arbor


Kaivey said...

I'm glad you're an optimist, and I think I tend to be too, although the politics over the last few years has shown a really ugly side of man.

Kaivey said...

I was optimistic and thought that mankind was basically good once, and that we would always try to do the right thing, like tackle climate change, get the world population under control, and try to sort out world poverty, etc. Well, that took a beating.

jrbarch said...

I heard somewhere, out of 7.7B people on this planet - the troublemakers represent only 0.13% (most of them male)! The rest of us want to live in peace. The good comes as seeds that must be watered. We always have a choice as to the fruit we bear.

So, it depends upon what you practice; and what you practice you will get good at. Watering the good - or growing bloody, expotential chaos. Women were always more intelligent than men: - men think with their musculature - women think with their heart and their brain. What good is it if the President flies around high in the atmosphere while the rest of the earth goes up in a nuclear conflagration? World ‘leaders’ should be the first over the trenches since it is their trouble.

For a human being, peace is not a luxury - peace is mandatory. A human being cannot even function properly, unless there is peace. Only the heart in mankind sees the beauty; sees the wisdom. Mind, left to its own devices, leads us out into the desert; ego its howling banshee and banner. Why follow fools …. When there is a leader in every human heart who is truly sovereign. One of its names is kindness; clarity, humanity. The women know, much more than the men because they are closer to it and that makes them more wise. And we need wisdom, more than ever ….

Bob said...

MMT exposes the scarcity mentality that has gripped the human psyche, despite technological advancement. If we can't get past believing in scarcity, barbarism is assured.