Karl Marx's philosophical and political views were undeniably influenced by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Although the latter died five years before the former began attending the University of Berlin, Hegel's notions had already become the standard by which all Prussian philosophers sought to attain and the launching point for many new and influential philosophies by the time Marx arrived on the scene. Although Marx appears to have somewhat embraced Hegel's concept of the dialectic, the primary way in which he was affected by his predecessor consisted of a rebellion from his core beliefs. Specifically, the way the two regarded human perception, reality, and the causality of events were almost completely opposed to one another. The two most fundamentally disagreed upon both the role and the position of the state within society. Hegel believed that each nation was the manifestation of sovereign and unique political, philosophical, and religious notions; accordingly, individual drives for singular advantage were detrimental to the whole of society. Marx's, however, objected to Hegel's conception of the state because it effectually placed reason and rationality on an oppressive throne instead of gods and kings. In this regard, Hegel was merely an advocate of the status quo. To Marx, humans were self-determining beings, and these abstractions prevented them from reaching their full potential. Primarily, these differing perspectives ultimately resulted in the stark contrast between their beliefs regarding the government and society.
Hegel believed that there was no objective reality independent of thought. Therefore, the phenomenon of the mind is what accounts for all the events that humans observe in the world. As a result, the only true conceptions of the world are achieved through strict rationality. Hegel saw the events of history through the widest perspective imaginable; history, to Hegel, was capable of being looked at through a lens that encompassed the entire planet and accounted for all human standpoints to create the human standpoint. Life was defined as a universal search for ultimate intellectual understanding. A consequence of Hegel's notion of synthesis of individual perspectives is that the political framework and the broad actions of a society must reflect the moral ethos of that society. In short, "Hegel used a radical methodology to reach conservative conclusions." (Wheen 1999, p.22).
Marx, however, took the reverse view of this approach to the topic of human reality. He held that human knowledge automatically begins from our experiences with the outside world -- from our sensations and perceptions -- consequently, interaction between man, the situation, and the material object is what conglomerates to form reality. Therefore, by contrast to Hegel, objective truth is not utterly attainable -- as with Hegel's synthesis of perspectives -- because these perspectives are so fundamentally unique to each individual. This premise leads Marx to the conclusion that previous philosophers were merely successful in describing the world, but the task implied by his materialistic views is that the setting in which human reality plays itself out needs to be changed if the goal is to improve life (Strathern 2001, p.52). Overall, these central philosophical differences were what eventually culminated in Marx's "Marxism" and Hegel's "Philosophy of the Right."
Hegel's theory of the state drew from his observation that the insistence upon individual identity -- put forward by Locke and others -- failed to grasp the negativity of European political history (Pinkard 2000, p.471). In other words, the routine assertion of individual freedom categorically contributed to the limitation and oppression of that freedom. The almost perfectly formulated self-doubt regarding cultural norms and commitments from the likes of Hume were the elemental causes of death and destruction in the world. His understanding of the dialectic brought him to the conclusion that massive social movements aiming to achieve personal freedoms must be seen in contrast to acquisition of social freedom, which was something utterly different. To Hegel, this represented the total fracturing of social perspective; this traveled from the almost singular social thought of the Greek philosophers, to the seemingly infinite points-of-view held by his contemporaries. The thing that could hold the modern world together, however, was a proper understanding of rationality: "The problem with modern life was that its rationality was not immediately apparent to its participants; for that, one required a set of reflective practices that could display and demonstrate the rationality of modern life, namely, those involved in modern art, modern religion, and, most importantly, modern philosophy." (Pinkard 2000, p.472). So, the way that actions can be designated as right or wrong is by considering one's stance relative to these prevailing social constructs of rationality.
Additionally, freedom was defined by Hegel along analogous lines of reasoning. Morally right actions are the realization of freedom; a person's position within society determines what his obligations are, and fulfilling these obligations willfully is the embodiment of freedom. "That is freedom must consist of a fully reciprocal, mutual imposition of norms, not in the one-sided imposition of norms by one person or group on another." (Pinkard 2000, p.474). Essentially, a person must be able to practically reason about what he is able to do, what he is obligated to do, and most importantly, what good he is attempting to achieve. The difficulty is that our limited perspective -- we are required to see the world through a single pair of eyes -- grants our ideas a certain level of negativity that needs to be eradicated through the appropriate application of reason. This negativity means that there are no obvious truths seen by modern people; consequently, maxims of actions are required within any society to appropriately determine how each individual should act. This accounts for the necessary existence of laws and penal systems, a universally adopted religion, a sovereign power, and a common philosophy. Freedom could only be maintained by widely adopting these social institutions, rationally, and abiding by them in accordance with our obligations to ourselves and the whole of humanity.
To Marx, however, even if this form of understanding proposed by Hegel is attainable, the material world surrounding humanity is inevitably altered through the process of knowing it (Strathern 2001, p.19). Accordingly, human perception is not fully capable of grasping the truth behind events; it is only able to develop some representative illustration of it. So, the scientific observations of the world and the knowledge gained from these observations enable humans to recognize and impose patterns of behavior upon the physical world, thus, to manipulate it in a manner that can never be completely comprehended. There is no such thing as objective truth, but our patterns of thought can evolve if human surroundings are also to evolve. Accordingly, to uphold the status quo is to selectively ignore the continuing processes of human thought and exploration. Thus, Hegel's inclination to somehow regenerate the harmony he sees in ancient Greek society is not only unwarranted, but an outright denial of the course of history.
Marx also saw Hegel's treatment of freedom as ignoring the social circumstances of the abjectly poverty stricken. The idea that such individuals, whose entire existence is dominated by outside forces and the oppressive wills of the capitalist class, could possibly enter into a rational bargaining position with the rest of society was ridiculous to Marx. The culmination of this observational fact was that the bourgeoisie class was imposing their aims upon the working class by treating property as a private function, while simultaneously making it a social function. "To make the ownership of industrial capital and the means of production a private concern was immoral because it enabled on man to exploit the labor of others; it was uneconomic because it failed to provide for the proper planning of industry . . ." (Kamenka 1983, p.xxx). The reality of class conflict was not merely the expressions of the fragmentation of social aims into individual aims, but a result of the history of thought. Therefore, the social institutions and norms that had come into existence through similar processes were just as responsible for immoral consequences as individual selfishness.
Where Marx's objections to Hegel's philosophy culminated was in his recognition that the social constructs that, to Hegel, enabled freedom, to Marx, were not brought about in the search for rational coherence, but instead, as a consequence of the social division of labor. "In other words, the economic structure of society determines the legal and political superstructure as well as the dominant social consciousness of society, the laws, and the dominant class." (McGreal 1992, p. 379). This is because the powers of the ruling to shape society have existed since the origins of society, so the capitalist economy is simply the latest advancement of those same interests; they cannot be eliminated without conflict. Consequently, the proletariat is the universal class because they are the numerous bearers of this domination, and need to become socially conscious to escape. So as long as these drastic variances in extension of desires exist, there cannot be compete freedom or peace.
The most prevalent objection to Marx's theory of the state is that the mechanism needed to…