John Paul II, Poland, and the Hegelian Menace

Rocco Buttiglione is a Professor of Political Science at Saint Pius V University in Rome, and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

“… we reach the heart of the question which interests us. To appreciate its full scope, let us take G. W. F. Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of History’ as a point of reference. This book expresses the most sophisticated and the most coherent modern secular understanding of Western history, one to which the Marxist view of contemporary history is connected. Yet in this book, we find only a passing allusion to Poland and its history.

For Hegel, the Slavic peoples live outside of history. The sole exception is Russia, which (according to Hegel, writing in the first half of the nineteenth century) was about to enter the theater of the history of European civilization. Hegel’s judgment does not come from a preconceived hostility to Poland or to the Slavic peoples but is rather the necessary consequence of his understanding of history. It is indebted to an interpretation of human history which does not recognize, or misunderstands, the central position which it gives to Christ.

Power, Force

It would be unjust to Hegel to say that he wishes to exclude Christ from human history. For the great dialectician of Stuttgart, Christianity marks the epochal turning point in the history of humanity, and he conceives his own philosophy as a rational development of Christian dogma. However, Hegel seeks to align the Christian principle of truth and of the Spirit with a different principle, always present in human history but which, in the course of these last centuries, has emerged with particular vigor: the principle of force and of power.

The Christian tradition does not deny the reality and the importance of power, but it seeks to subordinate it to its own axiom. St. Augustine, in one phase of his thought, creates an unnuanced opposition between the City of God and the City of the devil, without indicating any possibility of conciliation or mediation between them. But in ‘De Trinitate,’ he distinguishes between scientia (“science”), which is the ability to manipulate the things of the world, and sapientia (“wisdom”), which is the knowledge of the truth of man (Gen.1:26-28): this truth indicates the purpose or “telos” to which the manipulation of things ought to be subordinated.

Between scientia and sapientia there is no contradiction in principle, even if they can be opposed in fact, in the sense that scientia rebels against sapientia and denies its prerogatives.

When this happens, man no longer masters nature in order better to realize the truth of his own [created] person, but his domination becomes an end in itself, the unifying principle of all natural and social relations. To speak the language of a more recent philosophy, we could say that what then prevails and imposes itself is “instrumental reason.”

Along the same line as that indicated by ‘De Trinitate,’ St. Thomas Aquinas stresses further the possibility of conciliation, in a hierarchical and harmonic order, between scientia and sapientia. Hegel also wants to synthesize truth and force. But instead of subordinating force to truth, as the Christian thinkers had, he follows Spinoza in envisaging truth and force as following parallel roads.

Consequently, the people who triumph in the struggles of history are also, necessarily, the bearers of increasingly elevated spiritual principles. Once truth is separated from force it no longer finds any point of support or defense. By radicalizing this perspective, Marx will then read history as the history of the modes of production, that is to say, of more and more efficacious forms by which the dominion of man over nature and over other men is achieved…

But one cannot understand the history of the Polish nation in this way. There we have to deal with a great spiritual culture which almost entirely lacks material force. Surrounded by neighbors more populous, more organized, and more powerful (Swedes, Germans, Austrians, and Russians), Poland has suffered harshly and has been for a long time deprived of independence and of national unity. In the eyes of a Pole, the limitations of a Hegelian vision of history are immediately apparent: truth and force do not walk together at all.

The political-military history of Poland is a history of heroic defeats, of rebellions nourished by the desire to witness its own rights rather than any concrete possibility of victory. The last of these is the Warsaw uprising in 1944, on which John Paul II commented with these words:

“Without Christ, it is impossible to understand this nation, with a past so splendid and at the same time so terribly difficult. It is not possible to understand this city, Warsaw, the capital of Poland, which in 1944 committed mitted itself to an unequal battle against the aggressor, a battle in which it was abandoned by the allied powers, a battle in which it was buried under its own rubble, if one does not recall that under this same rubble there was also Christ with his cross which can be found facing the church of Krakowskie Przedmiescie.

It is impossible to understand the history of Poland from Stanislaw in Skalka to Maximilian Kolbe in Oswiecim, if one does not apply, to them also, that unique and fundamental criterion which bears the name of Jesus Christ…


The concentration camp of Oswiecim, the Polish town which the Germans mans called Auschwitz, is both the most potent symbol of the horror of the war and, at the same time, the culmination of the immanentist culture. In a universe from which God has been expelled, any reason to respect man is forfeited. Man becomes simply an object, similar to other natural objects, on which other men exercise their will to power. Each, according to the project by which he constructs his own life, treats others instrumentally.

Naturally each man becomes, himself, an object in the projects of other men, and social life becomes the stage of reciprocal instrumentalization, in which the Darwinian principle of the “survival of the fittest” (which Spencer applied to the human world) triumphs.

The fact that the same error to which Auschwitz witnesses was reproduced in a radically different political milieu, shows how the great division which traverses contemporary history – that which truly opposes slaughterers and victims – influences the way we think of human beings. The antithesis is between the position of those who, although they seek their own interest, still respect a certain measure of truth and justice, and that of those who accept no limits in their race toward power.

The horror of Auschwitz is so immense that it must necessarily have a philosophical significance. It is not only a question of the number of victims and of the terrible way in which they were murdered.

Auschwitz is the symbol of a humiliation of man which, under different (though no less emblematic) forms, does not cease to repeat itself in our time. It draws its force from a profound spiritual deviation, which one needs to understand at its root if one wishes to put an end to the barbarity…

If the Second World War marks the catastrophe of ethical immanentism, it is precisely at Auschwitz that the fundamental dogma of that philosophy of history, the parallel march of justice and force, is contradicted in the most bloody way.

Nor is the military victory of the Allies enough to overturn this judgment. One of the principal victors in the war maintained in its own country a Gulag system which would do justice to a Nazi camp commandant.

Moreover, in order to achieve victory, the Allied forces delivered death to hundreds of thousands of innocents at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Beyond a certain level it seems as if force is almost inevitably separated from justice.

Human history, once oriented toward indefinite progress, is faced with the menace of destruction. Even if this has not yet struck every city and destroyed human lives, it has already annihilated the values and the conscience which ought to animate those lives. The drama of modern man is that of having physically survived his own spiritual extinction…


The ultimate purpose of the extermination camp is, in a certain sense, metaphysical: it shows that authentic human values in the name of which it would be right to defy power do not exist, because man is only matter, which can by material means be coerced to any end. If, therefore, there is neither truth nor justice in man, if these are only empty words, then in principle the root of all opposition to totalitarian power disappears. Any possible opposition would also have to place itself, if it could, on the terrain of force alone.

Precisely for this reason, in virtue of this metaphysical depth which belongs to the horror of Auschwitz, the witness of Fr. Kolbe is not just a witness but a victory. For, by voluntarily sacrificing his life, he makes the extermination camp useless; he spiritually annuls it by showing at the same time that humanity is what is most profound in man. It is more fundamental for him and belongs to him more intimately than the instinct for self-preservation and all the other natural tendencies that man has in common with other animals. In the place constructed for the annihilation of man, for the negation of his spiritual nature, Kolbe shows the essence of human greatness [made in God’s image].

No success of the anti-Nazi alliance can annul what happened in Auschwitz; no punishment inflicted on the murderers can balance the account of the innocent victims’ pain. It is not possible to expunge Auschwitz and similar places of death from human history. But Fr. Kolbe has opened unexpected depths for the reading of their meaning. For these places are the cross of Christ on which contemporary man groans. The Christian knows that, lived in the spirit of Christ, as a participation in his suffering and his witness for man, they are the places of a fundamental victory of man and for man. To grasp more exactly John Paul II’s thought, we ought to take up for a moment the Polish text of his discourse because on one point the translation is not entirely faithful. When our translation says that “there is accomplished a particular victory for the faith,” the exact Polish text pronounced by the Holy Father says: “dokonalo sie szczegolne zwycietwo czlowieka przez wiare” – literally, “is accomplished a particular victory of man through the faith.” What conquers, through Kolbe, is not the Christian faith but man, man who through faith has arrived at the full possession of his own humanity. This possession coincides with the recognition.that his own human truth is a gift which springs continually from the mercy of God. In the camp, man as such undergoes the trial of the cross, but it is the faith which allows him to overcome this trial, to regain fully and definitively, by means of the trial, his own truth.”

— from Karol Wojtyla, The Thought of the Man Who Became John Paul II, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1997.

Emphasis mine throughout. SH

Hegel and the Idolatry of the State

“Hegel is the ideological nexus where the Gnostic scientific dictatorships of Nazism and communism intersect.”

Phillip and Paul Collins, The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship.

“All the worth which the human being possesses – all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State. … For Truth is the Unity of the universal and subjective Will; and The Universal is to be found in the State, in its laws, its universal and rational arrangements. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth. We have in it, therefore, the object of History in a more definite shape than before; that in which Freedom obtains objectivity, and lives in the enjoyment of this objectivity. …

The objective and subjective will are then reconciled, and present one identical homogenized whole.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of History in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 388-89.

“The Nation State is spirit in its … actuality … it is therefore the absolute power on earth. … The State is the Spirit of the People itself. The actual State is animated by this spirit … The self-consciousness of one particular Nation is the vehicle for the … development of the collective spirit; … in it, the Spirit of the Time invests its Will. Against this Will, other national minds have no rights: that Nation dominates the World.”

From G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Law, § 331

“The State is the realization of the ethical idea. It is the ethical spirit as revealed, self-conscious, substantial will. It is the will which thinks and knows itself, and carries out what it knows, and in so far as it knows. The unreflected existence of the State rests on custom, and its reflected on the self-consciousness of the individual, in return, has his substantial freedom in the State, as the essence, purpose, and product of his activity.”

“The true State is the ethical whole and the realization of freedom. It is the absolute purpose of reason that freedom should be realized. … The State is the march of God through the World, its ground is the power of reason realizing itself as will.”

“We must … worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on Earth.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Law in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 443-444, 447.

“It must further be understood that all the worth which the human being possesses—all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State.”

“In civilized nations, true bravery consists in the readiness to give oneself wholly to the service of the State so that the individual counts but as one among many. Not personal valor alone is significant; the important aspect lies in self-subordination to the universal cause.”

— Hegel, Philosophy of Law in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), p. 465

“A State is well-constituted and internally powerful, when the private interest of its citizens is one with the common interest of the State; when the one finds its gratification and realization in the other.”

— Hegel, Philosophy of History in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), p. 369.

“The origin of a State involves imperious lordship on the one hand, instinctive submission on the other. Obedience – Lordly power, and the fear inspired by a ruler – in itself implies some degree of voluntary connection … it is not the isolated will of individuals that prevails; individual pretensions are relinquished, and the general will is the essential bond of political union.”

— Hegel, Philosophy of History in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), p. 398.

“A single person, it hardly needs saying, is something subordinate, and as such he must dedicate himself to the ethical whole [this whole being the Nation].”

— Hegel, Philosophy of Law, § 70L.

“The really living totality, that which preserves, and continually produces, the State and its constitution, is the Government. In the Government, regarded as an organic totality, the Sovereign Power or Principate is … the all sustaining, all decreeing Will of the State, its highest peak and all pervasive unity. In the perfect form of the State in which each and every element … has reached its free existence, this will is that of one actual decreeing individual; it is monarchy. The monarchical constitution is therefore the constitution of developed reason; and all other constitutions belong to lower grades of development and the self-realization of reason.”

Hegel, Philosophy of Mind in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 252-53.

“The constitutions under which World Historical Peoples have reached their culmination, are peculiar to them; and therefore do not present a generally applicable political basis.”

“The so-called Representative Constitution is that form of government with which we connect the idea of a free constitution, and this notion has become a rooted prejudice. On this theory People and Government are separated. But there is a perversity in this antithesis; an ill-intentioned ruse designed to insinuate that the People are the totality of the State.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of History in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 399-401.

“The question ‘To whom … belongs the power of making a constitution?’ is the same as ‘Who has to make the Spirit of a Nation?’ Separate your idea of a constitution from that of a collective spirit … and your fancy proves how superficially you have apprehended the nexus [between the two] … It is the indwelling spirit and the history of the Nation – which is that Spirit’s history – by which constitutions have been made and are made.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 251ff.

“The many … whom one chooses to call the people, are indeed a collection, but only as a multitude, a formless mass, whose movement and action would be elemental, irrational, savage, and terrible.”

“Public opinion deserves … to be esteemed as much as to be despised; to be despised for its concrete consciousness and expression, to be esteemed for its essential fundamental principle, which only shines, more or less dimly, through its concrete expression.”

“The definition of the freedom of the press as freedom to say and write what one pleases, is parallel to the one of freedom in general, viz., as freedom to do what one pleases. Such a view belongs to the uneducated crudity and superficiality of naïve thinking.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Law in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 457, 461-62.

“When it is contrasted with the sovereignty of the monarch, the phrase ‘sovereignty of the people’ turns out to be merely one of those confused notions which arise from the wild idea of the ‘people’. Without its monarch … the people are just a formless multitude.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Law, § 279.

“In public opinion all is false and true, but to discover the truth in it is the business of the great man. The great man of his time is he who expresses the will and the meaning of that time, and then brings it to completion; he acts according to the inner spirit and essence of his time, which he realizes. And he who does not understand how to despise public opinion, as it makes itself heard here and there, will never accomplish anything great.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Law in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), p. 461.

“The laws of morality are not accidental, but are essentially Rational. It is the very object of the State that what is essential in the practical activity of men, and in their dispositions, should be duly recognized; that it should have a manifest existence, and maintain its position. It is the absolute interest of Reason that this moral Whole should exist; and herein lies the justification and merit of heroes who have founded states – however rude these may have been.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of History in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), p. 388.

“Such are all great historical men, whose own particular aims involve those large issues which are the will of the World Spirit. … World historical men – the Heroes of an epoch – must be recognized as its clear-sighted ones; their deeds, their words are the best of that time. Great men have formed purposes to satisfy themselves, not others.”

“A World-Historical individual is devoted to the One Aim, regardless of all else. It is even possible that such men may treat other great, even sacred interests inconsiderately; conduct which is indeed obnoxious to moral reprehension. But so mighty a form must trample down many an innocent flower or crush to pieces many an object in its path.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of History in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 376-80.


“War has the deep meaning that by it the ethical health of nations is preserved and their finite aims uprooted. And as the winds which sweep over the ocean prevent decay that would result from its perpetual calm, so war protects the people from the corruption which an everlasting peace would bring upon it. History shows phases which illustrate how successful wars have checked internal unrest and have strengthened the entire stability of the State. Not only do nations issue forth invigorated from their wars, but those nations torn by internal strife, win peace at home as a result of war abroad.”

— G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Law in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 464-65.

See also, Hegel: The State as God’s Will

“Hegel was not a socialist like Marx. But he laid the foundation for socialist thought, state and society. The socialist state emerged and has undergone ups and downs. But during the corona crisis of the world, it seems to re-emerge as the best alternative for human survival. Hence Hegel becomes more relevant now than ever before.

–Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, Countercurrents


Pope John Paul II on Faith Reason and Nihilism

— John Paul II on the “Most Decisive Confrontation” —and History’s ‘Last Lap

— Rebecca Frazier: My Visit to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Reminded Me Why I Oppose Abortion

Dehumanization today. No discussion allowed.

Sperm assault on Italian Catholic philosopher and political figure Rocco Buttiglione in Budapest, 2017, who authored the lead excerpt above.

Rocco Buttiglione and “pro-choice” woman in Budapest who objected to his Christian world view

“Buttiglione is a Professor of political science at Saint Pius V University in Rome, and member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. He served as a minister for EU policies (from 2001 to 2005) and then as Minister for Cultural Assets and Activities (from 2005 to 2006) in Silvio Berlusconi‘s governments. In 2005 Buttiglione received an honorary doctoral degree from GuatemalanFrancisco Marroquín University for his commitment to the ideas of liberty. — Wikipedia

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