Hegel addresses Kant’s position on the cause of war at several points in “Elements of the Philosophy of Right”. While Hegel agrees with Kant’s position that war catalyzes the development of humanity he offers a critique of Kant’s aspirations of perpetual peace. For Hegel war is a byproduct of the state and will always exist. War serves the function of revitalizing the state. Further, Hegel believed that if perpetual peace were to be accomplished it would only lead to the state becoming “rigid and ossified” ultimately leading to its death.
The state is of primary importance for Hegel because it is the highest expression of rationality. The state is the harmonious construction of rational thought applied to questions of the right and ethics. Hegel describes the state as a structure in which “through the strict proportions in which every pillar, arch, and buttress is held together, produces the strength of the whole from the harmony of its parts”. Unlike Kant, Hegel does not argue that the individual was compelled to join the state in order to rationally conqueror social antagonism. Instead, Hegel argues that the individual does not have access to meaning without the state. Because the state is the expression of thought and the universal “it is only through being a member of the state that the individual himself has objectivity, truth, and ethical life”. It is through the state that the spirit underlying world history is expressed and moves towards its end.
In Hegel’s view, a consequence of the individual access to “objectivity, truth, and ethical life” through active membership in the state is that individuals are also given access to a “higher form” of action. The movement of the individual into the universal, ie the state, is akin to the formation of a many. In the case of valour, for example, Hegel notes, “the true valour of civilized nations is their readiness for sacrifice in the service of the state, so that the individual merely counts as one among many”. Further, “not personal courage but integration with the universal is the important factor here”. This “integration with the universal” requires a “total obedience and renunciation of personal opinion and reasoning”. Through service to the state the individual becomes a member of the whole. Their action is therefore elevated to a higher level in which their opponent is also a universal. Valour when expressed in its higher form is deed directed “not against individual persons, but against a hostile whole in general”. This explains why modern warfare has increasingly been directed against populations. Hegel saw the development of the gun as an expression of thought that has “turned the purely personal form of valour into a more abstract form”. This position complicates any discussion of the cause of war because it suggests that the state must create, and kill, its enemy at each stage of its development. For example, we can imagine that a given country invaded the same neighboring country at several different points it its history. As the invader country progressed it would experience its enemy in different ways and would use different methods of killing at each stage of this movement from the personal to the abstract.
Under Hegel’s view, it is a duty for the individual to defend the state: “in so far as the state as such and its independence are at risk, duty requires all citizens to rally to its defence”. Even if it weren’t a duty, the formation of the “military estate” that carries out these wars on behalf of the state is a necessary consequence of the state’s existence:
The fact that the armed power of the state becomes a standing army and that the vocation for the particular task of defending it becomes an estate is [a result of] the same necessity whereby its particular moments, interests and functions become estates such as those of marriage, trade and industry, the civil service, business, etc.
If the formation of the military estate is a necessary consequence of the state, is the creation of an enemy also inevitable? Hegel argues yes. Addressing Kant’s prescription for perpetual peace, Hegel argues that “the state is an individual, and negation is an essential component of individuality. Thus, even if a number of states join together as a family, this league, in its individuality, must generate opposition and create an enemy”.
The inevitability of war plays a positive role in the development of the state because it acts to revitalize thought and society. While Kant held the position that peace was something imposed through rational thought, Hegel argues that this imposition would lead to stagnation:
In peace, the bounds of civil life are extended, all its spheres become firmly established, and in the long run, people become stuck in their ways. Their particular characteristics become increasingly rigid and ossified. But the unity of the body is essential to the health, and if its parts grow internally hard, the result is death.
The state is not morally culpable for using war to revitalize itself because states are individuals and interact as “independent units which make mutual stipulations but at the same time stand above these stipulations”. Further, there is no higher power than that of the state which is the expression of rationality and the universal: “the nation state is the spirit in its substantial rationality and immediate actuality, and is therefore the absolute power on earth; each state is consequently a sovereign and independent entity in relation to others”. Ultimately, the state’s individuality makes war the only way of solving disputes: “if no agreement can be reached between particular wills, conflicts between states can be settled only by war”. Thus, for Hegel, war is a necessary, and sometimes positive, consequence of the progression of world history.