Like all human beings, social thinkers too are exponents of their times and of particular concerns. The environment and conditions they live in certainly influence their reasoning. As the unabated march of time continues, circumstances are altered and changes suggested by those thinkers are gradually made obsolete. Moreover, an only partial realization of human personality, however sophisticated or embellished by rhetoric, has little, if any, power of sustenance in a world of rapid psychic development. It is therefore hardly surprising that when partisans of such rigid, weak philosophies ventured to materialize their theoretical dogmas, it led to slavery, exploitation, bigotry and spiritual bankruptcy. Wherever such developments took root, it quite naturally resulted in tremendous reactions. Let us briefly look at some examples from recent history.
Hegel1, steeped in metaphysical extravaganza, conceived in his deliberations on life of a utopian “Idea”. At the same time he assumed the role of loyal servant of the Prussian State2 and glorified it: “The State is the earthly expression of the Divine Idea,” and: “The State is the Idea of the Spirit in the external manifestation of human will and its freedom.” To Hegel the authoritarian government was the personification of the Absolute. His opponents called him “the official philosopher” and they may not have been unfair in saying so.
Hegel’s deification of the state was emulated by Hitler who attempted to transform the collective into a temple for the adoration of myths of his people’s racial and economic supremacy. World War 2 history abounds in evidence of the torture and suffering brought on humanity by this tragic devolution. Hegelian concepts fermented in Marxist theory as well to cause the emergence of a monstrous state dictatorship.
The era following the industrial revolution was one of emerging capitalism offering prospects of economic affluence and expanded vistas of material pleasure. Economic motivation as an aspiration and inspiration was rationalized by Adam Smith. The social mentality had grown economy-oriented, especially in Western Europe and most of all in England where Karl Marx educated himself for a new thinking. Preeminently of an economic persuasion, shocked by the exploitation and the deplorable conditions of labor, and fond of history Marx interpreted the emerging industrial civilization as the natural result of class struggle.
Applying Hegelian dialectics to his own analysis of history Marx proclaimed that the entire human history was one of “class struggle.” In his version of totalitarian utopia, economic force was the determining factor that steered people towards classlessness. The thinker in Marx remained impossibly anti-middle-class and refused to incorporate any finer and higher human sentiments into the hopes for heaven on Earth. Perched on materialist dogmas and heavy on fantastic claims of proletarian aspiration Marx’ insubstantial concept of working class dictatorship never became a reality. Nevertheless, as an antipode to capitalist thought Marxism took firm root and was able to create mass illusions such as: “It is economic circumstances that create consciousness,” and “From everyone according to capacity to everyone according to need.” In the communist countries human beings remained economically enslaved by a theory of economic determinism.
With time a deepening understanding of Marxism’s impossible amalgamation of the proletarian and progress began to transform the idea of the economic being into psychic being along with the latter’s manifestations of subtler sentiments. Human society today needs a new social philosophy able to guide its emerging psychic being towards a still higher psycho-spiritual state. It further needs to smoothly adjust that lofty state of being with an ever-changing psycho-spiritual order comprising within itself spiritual, economic, political and the other aspects of a progressive society.
1 G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), philosopher and one of the creators of German Idealism. His historicist and idealist account of the total reality revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to continental philosophy. (Source: Wikipedia)
2 At its peak during the 18th and 19th centuries Prussia was the leading state of the great German Empire.