from The Doctrine of State & the Principles of State Law (Aalten: WordBridge Publishing, 2009), pp. 82–87.

The purpose of the state is the realization of the ethical kingdom. This entails on the one hand rule as such, that ruling authority exists over people and that it exists by virtue of the ethical bond and regard, not merely by virtue of natural power, and on the other the purpose of rule: protection and promotion of people, development of the nation’s condition, maintenance of God’s commandments.

The state is therefore not there merely for the sake of the purposes of individuals but no less for the sake of the purposes of the nation, the fulfillment of the common (objective) condition. The latter as a whole is to fulfill tasks which in no way can be tasks of individuals, e.g., punitive [strafende] justice; as a whole it is to be the expression of higher conceptions, is to be the development of gifts and powers of the nation in its unity, and to that end promotes precisely the devotion and sacrifice of individuals. In fact, the goods of individuals – their welfare, education, morality – are of course not the immediate purpose of the state; for they are precisely the life-task of individuals, while the state is the fulfillment of the life-task of the nation. The state preserves people only in the possibility, the means of these goods – this is protection and promotion – not in the goods themselves, and it strives after them to the degree that they have a relation to the whole, a characteristic of commonality, and this mediate promotion of individual people in their free pursuit of those goods is for their part again a side of the fulfillment of the common condition. That is the marvelous depth of the ethical world: everywhere the higher power and order has people as its purpose, no less than its being a purpose for them.

Furthermore, the purpose of the state precisely for this reason comprehends not merely the care of conditions under it but at the same time its own existence. Its value does not consist merely in that which it effectuates but above all in that which it is. As the hero or the wise man is not a mere means for other people, whom he protects or promotes, but is himself a purpose in the economy of the ethical world – in the same way are institutions as well. The bravery and power of the army, the wisdom of the administration, the majesty of the ruling authority, the obedience and devotion of subjects are purposes in themselves, not mere means to protect against the enemy and to satisfy needs and maintain order. In all this in fact lies the fulfillment of national existence. But accordingly this fulfillment is not a mere artistic fulfillment, the impression made on the viewer (Schelling), and not a mere logical fulfillment, the complete explanation of abstract categories of universal and particular (Hegel), but creative and ethical fulfillment. It comprises the range of national powers and their uniform rule and the range of ethical bonds and the depth of every like characteristic ethical persuasion.

Finally, the purpose of the state does not merely consist in the improvement of human conditions, but above all in the  maintenance of divine commandments; not merely in freely pursuable goods but in obedience to inviolable ordinances. In the same way that the concept of the state is the highest aspect of the ruling authority, so is the concept of the ruling authority the highest aspect of this maintenance of God’s commandments.

The noblest purpose of the state is law (in the objective sense)1 and justice. Law is precisely the most important component of the commandment assigned to it, it is “ the life-order of the people for the preservation of God’s world order” (Book II, §. 1). However, law in this its true meaning, no less than morality, has the Ten Commandments as its content and essence (Book II, §. 4, 6). It is the free human application of these commandments, issued from God to individuals and for individual acts, to the order of the common condition and for the institutions. While the state through its legal order supports the true worship [Kultus] (regard of the church, Sunday observance), protects life and property, upholds the pure order of marriage and obedience to elders and ruling authority, it indeed accomplishes nothing other than the maintenance of the Ten Commandments (certainly by no means over individuals, but for all that) in the public life of the people. In this sense one may say: the highest purpose of the state – and the core in the position of the ruling authority – is to be the upholder and avenger of the Ten Commandments. It is, as the ancients said, the “guardian of both tables.”

Freedom and the right of individuals are already included in this, for they are an essential component of the legal order. But one may also justifiably consider them to be a particular independent aspect of the purpose of the state. Because absolute freedom, the secure sphere of independent action and choice [Schalten] of the people comprising the ethical kingdom, is part of the essence of that kingdom. This is a no less essential element of it than are its commandments and ordinances.  One might say that these commandments and ordinances as well as the goods of the nation and the individuals who generate them are the matter of the ethical kingdom, while law and freedom of individuals are the necessary form of its existence; only that here the form is in turn just as essentially matter. Both together are the one indivisible purpose of the state, since in both together the concept of the ethical kingdom is realized.

In accordance with all of this, the purpose of the state is certainly by all means a uniform [einheitlicher], but not a simple [einfacher] one.2

The objectivity of the purpose of the state is the high merit of Plato’s doctrine of state; albeit with the sacrifice of the gratification and entitlement of individuals, which in fact necessarily are included in the fulfillment of the whole. But this insight disappears from Plato onward. Already Aristotle placed the purpose of the state in happiness ( τοῦ εῦ ζῆν ένεκα), hence [bez.] the virtue of individuals. In the same way Cicero3 with his honeste beateque vivere. The entire Middle Ages followed Aristotle, although, in consequence of the Christian confession, with the modification that the state targets earthly virtue and the earthly good, the church on the other hand heavenly virtue (grace) and eternal salvation. In this manner Thomas Aquinas, Dante,4 et al. Bacon in Aristotelian fashion still viewed the purpose as bene vivere.5 From Grotius on, however, the right of the individual was asserted to be the primary purpose of the state, while the good, which Grotius retained, was therefore conceived materially, as utility rather than virtue. It continues in this fashion through the development of natural law, until the good was completely eliminated by Kant and only the right of the individual remained as purpose of the state. In this manner the purpose of the state everywhere was placed in the objectives of individuals, and the controversy of the most recent period revolves solely around the question as to whether utility, virtue, or freedom are the same as law. In the same manner the English, with Locke at the forefront, sought the purpose of the state only in the protection of life and property, chiefly the latter. Finally, Rousseau as well, although entirely annihilating the will of individuals under the volonté générale, content-wise provides for the latter, as well as the bien public, nothing other than the good of the individuals, and his deduction of the state, as Sidney’s and others, therefore proceeds like this: “What do men seek in the state, given that they give up their natural freedom? A higher good; thus their greater advantage.” So stated, finally, Mounier in his lecture regarding the constitution of July 9th, 1789, on behalf of the committee with the approval of the national assembly: “Les droits du roi et de la nation n’existent que pour le bonheur des individus, qui la composent.” It is the vocation and therefore the inner drive of the entire epoch to bring out the truth that man, thus each individual person, is an absolute purpose of the state, and that the protection of rights is not one of many tasks but the actual independent principle of the entire political institution. This essential aspect in the purpose of the state comes, precisely through the one-sidedness and exclusivity of its emphasis, to certain powerful awareness which fills the age. By contrast, the perfection of the common condition, the higher ethical order of life relations, which is no less an aspect, in fact the first aspect, of the essence of the state, vanished entirely from this viewpoint; from this it is understandable that here the entire acknowledgment of the state in all its relations must necessarily be one-sided and faulty.

Schelling was the first to return to Platonic objectivity and thereby founded a new epoch for the philosophical view of the state; the standpoint gained by him received greater extension and confirmation through Hegel’s more developed doctrine. Corresponding to this, the ancients viewed the state as a mere means for conditions outside of it, in fact perhaps as a necessary evil; Schelling6 conversely viewed it simply as  an end in itself; its purpose is simply “to be the state (i.e., unity of universal and particular etc.).” Similarly Hegel,7 who therefore also considered the constitution to be the state; but the administration, thus the entire provision for conditions, which originates with the state, he consigns to the humbler sphere of “civil society.” This however goes too far to the other side. The effect of the state on conditions, as for example above all the protection of rights and the maintenance of justice, is no less significant and elevated as its own structure [Bau]. Everywhere, though, the idea of the maintenance of necessary arrangements [gebotener Ordnungen] is lacking.

Montesquieu’s view, which occasionally is accepted even by later writers, that every state has its own special purpose, e.g., the Romans conquest, the Indians religion, the citizens of Marseille trade, the English political freedom, and that, excepting mechanical indispensable self-preservation, there is no general state purpose, is something similar to the denial of a natural law. Certainly in accordance with the individuality of the age and the peoples, this or that endeavor will predominate in the state; even so, the state still has a significance for human life which is the same everywhere.


1 As opposed to law in the subjective sense, or rights (see Book II, ch. 6) – RCA.

2Similarly, we also had to recognize a dual purpose regarding marriage (Book III, §. 66).

3Laws, II. 5.

4On Monarchy, Book III at the end; Thomas Aquinas, de regim. princ. lib. I. cap. 14.

5The Advancement of Learning, Book VIII.

6Academic Studies, 10th lecture.

7Philosophy of Law, §. 258 (pp. 311, 312).