Hegel and the national heritag

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In Hegel's political theory the state is seen not only as an instrument of legal power, but also as the embodiment of a national heritage. Interestingly, theorists like Hobbes, Locke, and Bentham were able to talk of states and government as if they bore no relation to particular countries. A citizen's loyalty is, in fact, seldom to the state as an institution. Most people pledge and give their allegiance to the country of their birth or adoption regardless of the political system that country might have. It is only the exceptional person who will quit his native land because he finds its exercise of political power unbearable: the vast majority would find the severing of national roots even more unbearable. A theory of politics, therefore, must acknowledge that in most cases state and nation are conjoined. It is the state which ultimately acts in the nation's name, and it draws on national sentiment as its primary source of power.

All states, no matter what institutional or ideological colors they may wear, are obliged to pay deference to national traditions and national aspirations. Even purportedly universal ideologies like fascism and communism must make concessions to the peculiar national sentiments they encounter throughout the world. On the other side of the coin, if a political movement makes a point of demonstrating its patriotic motives, it may gain freedom of action to bring about important institutional changes under the guise of enhancing the national interest.

Hegel emphasizes the power of national loyalty by talking of the nation as if it were an individual. It is, he suggests, an organism with an explicit life of its own: Each particular National genius is to be treated as only one individual in the process of Universal History. For that history is the exhibition of...