by Bill Nugent
One of the major shapers of the modern mind was the immensely influential German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831). Hegel was one of the great philosophical transmitters of the Enlightenment to the generations that followed.
This article is concerned with Hegel’s contribution to the rise of Totalitarianism as a form of government. Hegel was born at the end of the Enlightenment and was in Protestant seminary during the French Revolution. He watched the unfolding of the French Revolution at a distance with great horror and yet with admiration. His philosophical system is complex and nuanced. Hegel is one of the founders of German Idealism and he influenced the 19th century philosophy called Romanticism.
The Enlightenment was the philosophical upheaval that occurred in the middle decades of the 1700s in which rationalist and empiricist philosophers gave birth to modernism in intellectual circles. Rationalism claims that truth is discovered by human reason rather than by divine revelation (the Bible). Empiricism claims that truth is discovered by the senses or sensory experience and not by faith. These two God rejecting philosophies melded during the Enlightenment. The French Revolution and the Reign of Terror was the immediate fruit.
Medieval philosophy was largely Christian but with a strong, debilitating dose of Greek Classical philosophy. Medieval philosophy, nevertheless, had God as the starting point. Christian philosophers looked to the Bible as God’s revelation of law, justice and redemption. They regarded the Bible as the revelation of absolute truth. Absolute truth is the set of fixed moral principles that apply to all people at all times.
Modernism exalts man’s reason and claims that absolute truth can be discovered by rational analysis rather than by God’s revelation. The Postmodernism of our own day rejects both revelation and reason and claims that absolute truth does not exist and if there is any truth, it is simply created by the thoughts and desires of each person.
Hegel in essence was a kind of bridge between the modern (Enlightenment) and the postmodern philosophies. Once western intellectuals rejected the Bible as the starting point of philosophy they slid down a slippery slope through exaltation of reason (1700s), then to the Romanticist exaltation of emotion (1800s) and sliding all the way down to the postmodern embrace of moral relativism (1900s) and genocide (1930s & 40s) and pessimism (post World War II) and Phenomenalism and Deconstructionism (present day). Moral relativism is the defining dogma of postmodernism and claims that there is no objective standard of morality so each culture and each person invents their own morals.
Without God as lawgiver how does society organize itself? Though Hegel was not overtly atheist, the thrust of his message devolved into a claim that human government becomes the new god. I went to a website showing many quotes from Hegel’s writings exalting government and despising the masses and rejecting the value of public opinion and free speech.
The most telling quote attributed to Hegel is the famous and oft quoted: “Government is god upon the earth.” When philosophers reject God, the next logical step is to embrace human power. Human power is most overtly expressed in government. Hegel greatly influenced Marx and Engels who were of the next generation. There were also the “Right Hegelians” who were influenced by Hegel and took a nationalist and racist approach. A century later would see the rise of Lenin’s multiracial international socialism and Hitler’s racist national socialism.
Several generations after Hegel, traditionalist, Bible believing Christians in Nazi Germany formed the “Confessing Church” and signed The Barmen Declaration in May 1934. The Barmen Declaration repudiated Nazi governmental absolutism in religious affairs. Over 2,000 pastors were sent to concentration camps in the 1935-37 period alone. Many died there and some, like Martin Niemoller, were held right through to 1945 and liberated.
The idea of an all supreme government is nothing new. Idolatry of government is simply the pagan idea of government. The ancient Greeks and Romans had authoritarian governments. The Greek experiment in democracy lasted only about 30 years and Roman republicanism crumbled and allowed the rise of the emperors who were worshipped as gods. The ancient Egyptians worshipped their Pharaohs. The Babylonians and other pagan cultures worshipped their monarchs. The monarchs gladly received worship and claimed to be god-men or messiah figures.
At the time of Christ there were probably dozens of kings and emperors who claimed, in some sense, to be God. No wonder Jesus said “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers”(John 10:8 NAS). Jesus is the genuine Messiah, the genuine Son of God who is one in essence with the Father and is divine. The first chapter to the New Testament book of Hebrews contains quotations of Old Testament scriptures that show that the promised Messiah of Israel was prophesied to be divine. The mere men who claimed to be divine were false.
Hegel was just one of many modernist philosophers who interpreted the Enlightenment and transmitted it to the next generation of intellectuals. The 19th century saw a terrible falling away from the Christian faith among the intellectuals. The 20th century saw not only the intellectuals but also the masses of the people embrace godlessness and the idolatry of government that flows from it.
The thirteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Revelation predictively prophesies the coming of a powerful antichrist dictator who will be worshipped by the masses of the ungodly. This is a return to paganism in the end times just before the second coming of Christ. There is another New Testament mention of the coming antichrist in John’s first epistle: “Ye have heard that antichrist shall come” (First John 2:18).
Traditional western governments in the past have acknowledged God as transcendant lawgiver. Presidents and prime ministers were rightly regarded as mere men who had power delegated to them by the people under God. The Declaration of Independenceof the US says that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” It is not the government that endows the unalienable rights. God gives the rights and they are “unalienable” which means government can’t remove them. This traditional view of government is a governing philosophy that is dependent on the Bible’s divine revelation of how humans should treat each other.
Hegel and his followers ignored or denied the Christian doctrine of original sin and denied the presence of the sin nature in each person. They believed that people are born “basically good” and therefore one person, as dictatorial head of government, can be entrusted with unlimited power. By contrast, the writers of the US Constitution, being heavily influenced by biblical thinking, believed in the sinfulness of man. For this reason they divided power among the three branches of government which are the legislative, executive and judiciary.
The lesson here is that the Bible, not worldly philosophy, gives the basis of freedom and limited government. The fact that the Bible gives the foundation of social justice is further proof that the Bible is inspired by God. Hegel and the modernists and postmodernists meant well but their man pleasing rationalist ideas ultimately led to tyranny.
The divine inspiration of the Bible is proven not only by the Bible’s practical wisdom but also by the fact that it contains hundreds of predictive prophecies and their fulfillments. No other holy book of any other faith can match the Bible’s record of prophetic fulfillment. Jesus Christ came in fulfillment of over 300 Old Testament Bible prophecies.
Centuries before Christ was born it was written that He would come to live a perfect life and then suffer and die, taking upon Himself the penalty of our sins. Turn to Christ today to receive forgiveness of sins!