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The Age of Ego

Hegel’s conception of history taught us that the meaning of history was the liberation of the individual through his or her recognition as a fully autonomous rational person.

Indeed, since the French Revolution, the Age of the Individual has expanded apace even if not always in a straight line.

Today, more than ever, our politics, economics, culture, and society are all, at least nominally, directed at the well being and full recognition of each and everyone of us.

If this is so, then why are so many people still frustrated and unhappy in their daily life?

In part, this state of affairs might be due to our neglecting of the second part of the Hegelian equation: the individual’s place and relationship to others mediated by the State.

The State, according to Hegel, is the representation of universal rationality. Put in another way, the state is the structure which allows individuals to be recognized as full individuals through their participation in it. Each and every individual has a role to play within the state. The fulfillment of that role satisfies our need for recognizing one another and the constant realization that we are not and cannot be just for ourselves but for each other.

A culture, such as ours, which celebrates the socially untethered individual is propagating a fundamental lie. Individuals cannot be fully realized without the cooperation of all other individuals; an essential activity which, in the modern world, is mediated by the state.

Yet, what is the state in the modern world? What has it become? Is it a universalist, rationalist tool for the realization of the greater good?

Certainly not.

Today, the modern state is a tool of elites to ensure their total domination and power over all other classes and groups. It does not matter if the state calls itself “democratic” or a “one party state”. In effect, all states today are “one party” states controlled by their respective elites who are often tied to one another transnationally. We are, all of us, under the thumb of a new global elite who dictates the nature of our social being. “Global Empire” is not an all too fanciful term for the present situation.

And like the Roman Empire before it, it is not a coincidence that many people are turning spiritually inward toward personalistic philosophies of self-help and care. Ironically, even the philosophy of ancient Stoicism is making somewhat of a comeback.

None of this is surprising.

The individual cannot be truly satisfied if he or she is not a participating and consequent member of a polity; of a state. The elites of this world have carefully and calculatedly castrated our social and economic potentialities to do so.

The root of our gnawing unhappiness in our brave new world is simply this: consequential inter-personal participation in the sphere of the political has been vanishing for decades. The ability to effect collective change from below has been diminishing. True collectivity has been consistently denied.

The disassociation of the individual from the polity; in effect the non-existence anywhere of true democracy has led to a hollowing out of the human personality. It is only in concrete social action that we materialize fully as human beings. It is as members of a community who are able to truly guide that community that we find a deep human purpose.

Once again, recalling Hegel and the Greeks before him, it is not enough to exist as economic man symbolically feigning electoral freedom every two or four years ; one must directly participate in the polis.

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Dan Corjescu teaches Political Philosophy at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

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