Metaphysical Theory (Idealistic): Views, Features and Criticism against Idealism



Metaphysical Theory (Idealistic): Views, Features and Criticism against Idealism are described below:

Views of Plato and Aristotle:

The Idealistic Theory of the State is sometimes called the Absolute Theory, sometimes the Philosophical Theory and often the Metaphysical Theory. It is called the Absolute Theory because it gives absolute power to the state.

It is known as Metaphysical Theory or Philosophical Theory because its exponents speak about the state in metaphysical or philosophical terms. This theory have had its origin in the doctrine of Plato and Aristotle that the state alone is self-sufficing and that in it alone is the individual capable of living the good life and of realizing the highest ends of his existence. According to Aristotle, "State came into existence for the sake of mere life but now it continues to exist for the sake of good life." Plato and Aristotle discovered no distinction between the state and society.

Views of Kant (1724-1804):

Immanuel Kant is regarded as the father of the Idealistic Theory. He gives expression to this doctrine in his famous book "Metaphysical First Principles of Theory of Law" (1796). He was of the opinion that the state was omnipotent, infallible, ad divine in essence.

Its authority came from God. Obedience, to its authority was a sacred duty even though its authority was illegitimate as it was in the hand of a usurper. The obedience was due because the state realised a holy and divine idea. Kant believed that the individual reserved no right to rise in revolt against the State.

It was the cardinal duty of the citizens to serve the state. Revolt against the authority of the State was unjustified. Kant laid more stress on the performance of duty than on the use of authority. He emphasised that if we performed our duties well, naturally we would have claims over our rights.

He opined that man gave due consideration to his own interests and ignored the claims of society. So the state forced or compelled him to give due consideration to everybody's claims. According to him freedom does not mean that everybody is at liberty to act according to his will. On the contrary it means that he should aim at promoting the common welfare.

"The idealistic theory regarded the state", says Dr. Garner, "as having an existence apart from the people who compose it; it is a mystical, super-personal entity above the nation organised; it possess a will, rights, interests, and even standards of morality of its own, separate and distinct from nose of individuals or even of the sum of individual wills; and it, rather than individual enterprise and effort, is the real source of all civilization and progress." "Indeed, citizens and subjects ought not to inquire too closely into the question of legitimacy; their duty is not to doubt or question the legality of established authority but to obey it blindly and implicitly."

Views of Hegel (1770-1831):

The Idealistic Theory reached its culmination in the views of Hegel. The state is the reality of ethical spirit and is an entity above and apart from the people who compose it. It is a new personality and "it is in the General Will and in the personality of the state that will and personality of each individual are made to transcend themselves.

"It is man in his fullness and perfection of development. It has the personality of its own and the real will which is the "general will" and not the sum- total of individual wills. According to him "State is a march of God upon earth." The state is not the sum-total of the individuals.

It is an entity having the personality of its own and its real will. Divorced from the State, the individual has no significant role to play. The individual has no right to rise in revolt against the state as the state is a supreme ethical institution. And whatever is done by the state is always justified. The state itself is above the level of morality.

Hegel discovered no distinction between the state and society. In his opinion the state is an end and not a means. The state is the main source of human freedom, morality, and personality. Not only this it is their guardian also. The state is not liable to commit wrongs because it represents the will of the individual. It is a different matter whether he knows this fact or not. The state acts representatively. Whatever it does is an expression of the real will of individuals, even if it be the arrest by a policeman of a thief.

Dr. Garner has beautifully summoned up Hegel's doctrine of idealism: "Thus, the state, to Hegel is a God state, incapable of wrong, 'infallible, omnipotent and entitled to every sacrifice and devotion which it has a right to demand, it elevates and ennobles the individual whose tendency is to become selfish and self-centered and carries him back into the life of universal substance."It is the divine idea as it exists on earth". "It is the divine will as the present spirit unfolding itself to the actual shape and organisation of the world."

English Idealists (T.H. Green, Bosanquet, and Bradley):

The political philosophy of England did not adhere to the pure idealistic conception of the state, although a few English political thinkers accepted it with important qualifications and reservations. F.H. Bradley, T.H. Green, William Wallace, R.R. Nettleship and especially Bernard Bosanquet are some of the writers who accepted Hegle's idealistic conception of the state with reservations and qualifications.

They did not endorse the teachings of Treischke in regard to the omni-competence and absolutism of the state. Nor did they even follow Hegel's conception of the state as the "March of God in the world". "Green, the most brilliant of the group," says Dr. Garner, "was a Kantian than a Hegelian; he taught that the power of the state was in fact limited within and without, and that the life of the nation has no real existence except as the life of the individuals composing the nation.

"He was a Hegelian," says Dr. Garner, "only in emphasizing the moral value and majesty of the state, holding that it is the source and creator of individual rights and that if the individual challenges its authority the burden of proof is on him to show that the state is wrong."

T.H. Green maintained that if the individual challenges the authority of the state, then it becomes his duty to prove the wrongs of the state. T.H. Green's concept of Idealism is known as Moderate Idealism. He has confined the authority of the state and laid stress on the right to individual freedom.

T. H. Green maintained that will and not the force is the basis of state. In fact he was more of a Rousseauist than a Hegelian so far as his philosophical theory of the state was concerned. He regarded the state as a natural plus moral institution. He admitted that the state was needed for the moral development of man.

He has regarded the state as the main source of the individual rights. He maintained that freedom can be achieved only within the state. The function of the state is to enable people to become free. The state can make man free only when the state grants a few rights to man. Sanction of rights to the individual is essential for the perfection of morality.

It is the function of the state to guarantee the enjoyment of these rights. But the rights depend more on morality than on the state. Professor Barker has beautifully commented on the political philosophy of T.H. Green "Human consciousness postulates liberty; liberty involves rights; rights demand the state. He conceived the positive liberty and not the negative one.

According to T. H. Green the state can make the use of its authority and power. The state represents the General Will. But at the same time he confines the authority of the state. The laws of the state can control the outward actions of man. The state cannot exercise its effect on the feelings and desires of man.

According to Green, the real function is to act as an hindrance to hindrances against good life. It means that the state aims at providing a better standard of living. The state is not an end in itself. On the contrary, it is only a means. It is the real function of the state to remove the hindrances that come in the path of good life.

T.H. Green regarded drinking (of wine), ignorance and vandalism as hindrances in the path of good life. Therefore, he maintained that it was the sole function of the state to remove these hindrances from the path of good life. Green's attitude is not only negative but it is positive also.

For example, he believes that the state should run dispensaries and educational institutions. He permits the individual to make the proper use of his property. But if any one makes the use of his property in such a way as hinders and curtails other's right to liberty and property.

T.H. Green was of the opinion that in such a situation the state should take his property in its control. He was in favour of such a society in which people till their land themselves and each of them has equal measure of land.

Green's views on war are different from those of Hegel. He does not regard war as indispensable. He says, "War is never an absolute right." He believes that war is an ethical error which causes harm to our freedom and rights. He advocates in favour of brotherhood. Green's attitude to law is also similar.

He believes that people should act according to the commands of law as far as possible. But if the laws are immoral and bad, then the individuals reserve the right to violate these laws or to correct these laws or to appeal against these laws.

T.H. Green was the ardent advocate of Democracy and Presidential Government. He wanted a change in the right to vote. His political philosophy was moderate. Like Hegel he was not the supporter of absolute monarchy. He did not believe in the omnipotence of the state.

Beranrd Bosanquet (1848-1923) was another English Idealist who upheld the conception of Idealistic State. Hobhouse regards him as the most modern and most faithful exponent of Hegel. It is generally said about him, that he began with Rousseau and Green and ended almost in Hegel. His famous blood "Philosophical Theory of the State" is regarded as a landmark of Hegelianism for English-speaking people.

According to him, people have two types of will: Actual will; Real will. The actual will of the individual is selfish, momentary and opposed to intelligence, farsightedness and reason. The real will of the individual is permanent, farsighted, and full of reason and intelligence.

The real will of all the individual is similar and, therefore the sum-total of the real wills of all the individuals gives birth to the General Will. The General Will represents the welfare of all the people living in a society.

The state is the image of the General Will. No individual is authorised to rise in revolt against the state. The laws of the state can be violated only on t he group-level or on the level of society as a whole because at this state society represents the social sentiment to a great extent than the State.

According to Bernard Bosanquet, the state is the supreme moral institution as it brings about unity in all these institutions. Bosanquet does not discover any distinction between the state and society and regards the State as essential for providing good standard of living to the people.

In spite of all this, he regards the functions of the state as of negative nature. According to him, art, morality and religion are outside the scope of the state. He is of the opinion that in order to make fine and good life possible the state should not interfere with these matters.

F.H. Bradley's name figures quite prominently among the English Idealists. He maintained that the individual depends on society for the development of his personality. The progress of the individual is possible only in society. Divorced from society, he cannot make a progress.

He lays stress on his fact that the prevailing social conditions enable him to occupy his definite place in society. And it becomes the duty of the individual that he should continue to occupy his place in society and go on performing his duty.

F.H. Bradley has expressed his views on Politics on the article, "My Station and its Duties" of his famous book "Ethical Studies." He has regarded the state as a moral organism. He is of the opinion that the individual is under the authority of the state completely. An individual divorced from society cannot have any right. It is the cardinal duty of the individual to obey the state.

Basic Tenets or Features of Idealism:

After having closely studied the views of Hegel, T.H. Green Bernard Bosanquet and F.H. Bradley, we arrive at the conclusion that the following are the highlights of Idealism:-

(1) Man is a social animal:

Idealism begins with Aristotelian dictum that man is a social animal. And the development of his personality is possible only in society. Divorced from society, the individual has no significant role to play nor is his progress possible in the absence of society.

(2) The State possesses an organic unity:

The State possesses the same organic unity as is possed by human body. Just as an organ is the part of body so an individual is the organ of the state. Just as an organ cannot be more important than the whole body, so the individual cannot be more important than the state. Thus, the welfare of the individual lies in the welfare of the state. The state is the saviour of the social order.

(3) State is a moral institution:

Though there are many moral institutions like family, church, etc. yet the state is the supreme moral institution. So the development of human personality is possible only in the state and only with the help of the state.

(4) State is creator and protector of the rights of the individual:

The state is the source of freedom and other rights. The individual cannot have his freedom and other rights from any other source. It is only the state that protects the rights of the individual.

(5) The State has got its independent personality and will:

The state is not the sum-total of the individuals. But it has its independent personality and will. The state is not the sum-total of the actual will of the individuals. On the contrary it represents their real will. So, whenever, the state acts according to the real will of all.

(6) The state is an end in itself:

Political thinkers like Hegel and Bernard Bosanquet regard the state as an end and the individual as a means. But Kant and T.H. Green regard the state as a means and the individual as an end.

(7) The State is a divine Institution:

Hegel and many of his followers regard the state as a divine or spiritual institution. Hence, they conceive the state to be all powerful, infallible and absolute institution.

(8) There can be no conflict and interacts between the interests of the state and the individual:

Since the state represents the real will of all the individuals, there can be no conflict between the interests of the state and the individual.

(9) The state is supreme of all human institutions

(10) Extreme idealist is of the opinion that war is indispensable and the state reaches its culmination during the period of war. But the moderate idealists do not support this view.

(11) Moderate idealists like T. H. Green maintain that Public Will is the basis of the state. But the extreme idealists do not attach any importance to Public Will. They believe in the absolution of the state.

Criticism of Idealism:

(1) This theory is purely abstract:

This theory does not throw any shade of light on the existing social conditions. It is purely an abstract theory. It is related more to spiritualism than to Materialism. This theory is not practical.

(2) The distinction between the actual and real will is confusing:

Duguit has criticised this theory on the ground that this theory makes provision for the independent personality of the state, which is distinguished from that of an organised nation. Besides, the distinction between the actual and real w ill IS purely abstract.

(3) It sacrifices the liberty of the individual:

This theory regards the state as an end and the individual as a means and thus it sacrifices the liberty of the individual. This theory does not make any provision for 'he individual to condemn the immoral and illegal actions of the state. It does not attach any importance to the individual in comparison to the state.

And this hampers the development of the individual. Hobhouse has severely criticised this theory in these words, "The doctrine that the individual has no value or life of his own apart from the state and no freedom unless it is in conformity with law and custom as interpreted by the ethical spirit of the particular society to which the individual belongs, is virtual negation of freedom".

(4) It makes the State omnipotent which is wrong:

The idealistic theory of the state has been severely criticised on the ground that it makes the state an omnipotent and does not confine its authority by any international law or morality. Duguit, a French political thinker has severely criticised the state on this ground: The most eminent of the critics of Idealism is M r. Duguit who attacks the theory particularly because "it attributes to the state a personality of its own distinct from that of the nation organised generally, because it teaches the doctrine of the omnipotence, absolutism and divinity of the state".

Duguit further says, "This doctrine also sacrifices the autonomy and independence of the individual to its all-embracing power, denying to him not only the inalienable right of revolution but even the right to question, the legitimacy or moral rightfulness of the authority or conduct of the state".

He further says, "The doctrine that state is infallible, that it can do no wrong, that it is subject to no law except that of which, it is itself, the creator, that it is not even bound by the moral law or the prescriptions of international law except in so far as it chooses to be bound, is false and iniquitous".

(5) This doctrine does not distinguish between State and Society:

This doctrine does not discover any difference between the State and Society. The two are the images of the same coin. In modern age, nobody accepts it.

(6) This doctrine does not award a prominent place to the association:

The idealistic theory adores the authority of the state only and completely ignores the claims of all other institutions existing in society.

(7) It regards the functions of the state as of negative nature:

According to this theory, the functions of the state are not of positive nature but of negative nature. It does not recognise the state as socialistic institution.

(8) This doctrine considers the state as perfect which is not the truth:

The Idealists regards the State as perfect. But in reality, there is no state which is not imperfect. Professor Barker has severely criticised this theory on this very ground".

(9) This Theory is not only unsound but dangerous also:

Hobhouse has asserted that, "it is a mistake to regard Hegel's exaltation of the state as merely the rhapsodical utterances of a metaphysical dreamer, his false and wicked doctrine of the "God-state" furnished the basis of the most serious opposition to the rational democratic humanitarianism of the nineteenth century”.

He further asserted, "The Hegelian conception was designed to turn the edge of the principle of freedom by identifying freedom with law; of equality, by substituting the conception of discipline; of personality itself, by merging the individual in the state; of humanity, by erecting the state as the supreme and final form of human association".


Hoernle defends idealism in these words: "In so far as the Idealists exalted the state above all other human associations, regarded it as indispensable to the realisation of the good life, and held that, as such, it is entitled to the loyalty of the citizen and may demand sacrifice of him to preserve its existence, that it is the sole source of law and of rights, than in it alone is the individual capable of realising fully the ends of his existence, and that without it human progress and civilization would be impossible, the theory is entirely sound and irreproachable".

Adverting to the Hegelian glorification of the state, Professor Hobhouse concludes, "The state is a great organisation. Its well-being is something of larger and more permanent import than that of any single citizen. Its scope is vast. Its service calls for the extreme of loyalty and self-sacrifice.

All this is true. Yet when the state is set up as an entity superior and indifferent to component individuals, it becomes a false god and its worship the abomination of dissolution, as seen as Ypres or on the Somme.

After so much of discussion we arrive at the conclusion that the state should be all powerful in principle and it should have the authority to regulate the external life of the institutions and individuals but at the same time it should have no right to interfere with the internal matters of the institutions.

In practice, the state should pay due regard to international law, morality, religion, tradition and customs and public opinion. In practice, the state should never exercise its absolute authority. On the contrary the same should aim at promoting the common welfare.