“State Is The March Of God On Earth”: Re-examining Hegel In Times Of Corona Crisis

by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

Famous German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel was the first philosopher who linked social science and natural science by applying the principle of Thesis, Anti-Thesis and Synthesis. He effectively separated State and Religion while allowing them to function in their separate spheres and advanced the scientific thinking of modern world. In these times of coronavirus war on humanity we must understand his game changing statement that “State is the March of God on Earth”. Three major religions of the world–Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, are still struggling to accept State, Science and Medicine as the saviors of the humanity and religion should move into the private sphere. Religions must leave the public domain to the State in a situation when a pandemic like corona erupted and shaken the foundations of human life. State, according Hegel, is a rational institution as an agent of rational God. He transformed God from a superstitious element into a rational element and from subjective being to objective reality.

Modern state is much more developed than what it was during Hegel’s time in early nineteenth century. In India, for example, with the Bharatiya Janatha Party coming to power in 1999 and 2014, state is seen as an irrational faith based institution. Yogi Adityanath, who was supposed to be a non-political sanyasi, became the Chief Minister of biggest state in India and is handling it as if it is a Mutt like religious institution, risking the nation itself. A global Islamic body, Tablighi Jamaat, by organizing an international conference at Delhi at a time when corona was attacking the world put whole of India in great risk. In America a pastor of major church in Florida was arrested for refusing to lock down a church and still holding mass services 1

Hegel died of Cholera in 1831 at the age of 61. Religion in those days was very dominant and conflict between medical science and faith based religion was very intense. Cholera was not a pandemic like Corona which we are struggling with. But it was a major epidemic in Germany of his time. Large number of people were dying in Germany as they were dying world over in 2020. Hegel went out of Berlin for fear of cholera but after  his university was re-opened he came back and was said to have died having contracted cholera.

Hegel was an intense reader of Bible and a serious follower of Jesus Christ and wrote a book on Him– Life of Jesus. In fact Hegel was trained to be a pastor but he left that course and became a philosopher.

At that time also the religious masses perhaps were not caring the state controls to save themselves. In those trying times Hegel declared that ‘State Is the March of God on Earth’. He conjoined State with God which no religious person or preacher would accept. It was a blasphemic statement. But Hegel wanted them to understand the role of strong state in difficult situations. He thought that his German rulers were not strong enough hence he wanted Napoleon to take over Germany.

But we are living in times that democracy is a dominant political system where discussion, consultation and policy formulation even to tackle pandemic situations would play a better role than dictatorship. People must be sensitive enough to understand the importance of public health than that of individual pleasure or right in times of pandemics. Very organised religion is far more well spread now than in Hegel’s times. Hegel’s was post crusades and post Martin Luther period and the Islamic and the Hindu religions were not so well organised at that time. Buddhism always remained a different entity without pushing itself into fundamentalism at any time in its existential history. Its only fundamentalist tendency was maintaining all male Sangha system in the modern times. But by and large the states where Buddhism is dominant religion, there the religion functions under the guidance of state laws as religious congregations were never critical to that religion. Socialism and semi-socialism are the main socio-political structure in these Far Eastern Buddhist nations, except Japan. The notion of God in those countries is focused in the image of Buddha or on their ancestors.

At a time when Coronavirus is waging a war on global humanity, there are billions who still believe that God, Allah or Eswar will save people from coronavirus in Hindu, Muslims and Christian religious nations and they do not have to care for the state, doctors and medicine. Many of them do not want to practice Disease Distancing ( I am against using the phrase Social Distancing) in the markets and at home. Particularly some religious communities like Muslims believe in herded prayer life. They normally organize religious congregations with huge number of people at the religious spaces. Many Muslim countries have not adopted democracy where debate and expert opinion does not play any role in decision making on health issues. They use Quoranic injunctions to pass decrees. In many Muslim countries monarchies or dictatorships are handling power at the time of coronoa pandemic attack. Social science and medical science discourses have not acquired much place in those countries. India which was a secular democracy from 1947 began to change the course  after the Bharatiya Janatha Party/Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh came to power in 1999 and 2014. The social science, natural science and medical science developmental discourse in the country came under cloud. Investment in the sciences–social, natural and medical–got reduced drastically. The State is not seen as the ‘March of God on the Earth’but began to be seen ‘Mythology is the State’. The RSS/BJP forces have no understanding of European thought of materialism and science and religion negotiated with each other. They started treating the ancient texts as ready made answer books like the Quoran in the Muslim world even on medical issues.

Corona pandemic suddenly intervened into this process of change from democratic to theocratic state in India. Science, particularly medical science had to come to central stage as the corona pandemic threatened everybody’s life like a nuclear war on a particular zone. No nuclear war can shake the whole world at once like the coronavirus could do.

Globally the contemporary state–whether of democratic or of one party or of one man dictatorship–is far more powerful and organized than what it was in Hegel’s time. The virus has attacked the word in the thick of the right wing spiritual forces took control of many nation states. Hence there is a confused handling of virus.

The Muslim world has been depending more on Allah than on state, doctor and medicine even in times of corona attack. Many Muslim  countries have not focused on medical infrastructure at all. The Hindutva forces in India are spreading superstition and myth as source of state power and kept the morale of Indian scientists and doctors at low by the time the virus attacked in March 2020. Babas and yogis became Chief Ministers and most Hindutvawadis are more baba worshipers than God worshipers. The Indian secular State was transformed into baba state and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hanging between astrology and science. He declares at 9 AM on 3rd March that people should lit lamps on 5th March at 9 PM for 9 Minutes. Some astrologer must have told him that number 9 works like an anti-corona vaccine. The Indian PM while ruling 1.3 billion people believed in that kind of astrology. He is known as more sensible among the BJP/RSS leaders who are ruling the nation yet his regime never gave reason, science and medicine priority over belief and faith. An individual can rely on belief and faith and face the consequence as an individual but the state must be a an embodiment of Reason as Hegel wanted it to be.

Modi and his team have been attacking Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, who believed in reason and science as the foundation of modern Indian democratic secular state. If only that beginning was not made in the 1940s India would have been a hot bed of superstition and ignorance. Though BJP/RSS combine praises Dr..B.R.Ambedkar it does not believe in the rational state that he advocated for.

Even the Christian world where secularism and rationality gained ground over a period of time went back into more fundamentalist beliefs where Pentecostal spirits not Jesus started dominating by the time corona landed in the West from China. America had to arrest pastors who refused to lock down churches. The case of a Muslim Mullah international conference organized at Delhi from 13 January to 16, which spread the virus across India that was contracted by the native Muslims from the air traveled foreign Mullahs is case in point. At Ayodhya on Sriramnavami (marriage celebration Sriram with Sita) massive gathering on 2nd April was planned by Yogi Adityanath but that had to be forcefully stopped by Modi Government.

There is an international guiding body called the United Nations Organization and  its health wing, World Health Organization, to guide people on protection of health through modern medical science practices now. The guide lines are coming from there. But each state has to implement those guidelines with a scientific temper. Religious fundamentalists do not bother about the medical science and many of them are ready to die in the name of God, Allah or Eswar. But a virus like corona does not kill just one individual even s/he wants to die for the sake of their belief. It kills many people who want to live and depend on reason and medicine. The modern state has to ensure the life of those who want live more seriously than those who want to die without any concern for others. Death in a pandemic situation does not remain and individual affair. An individual death becomes a community or nation’s death.

Like the Chinese doctor Li Weliang who warned the Chinese state about the deadly virus and became victim of that virus but saved millions from the virus the modern state must save every life with the help of science, medicine and doctors . There are many science believers who would want to live long and preserve many lives would die if the state does not take timely steps. The solution to the problem of contradiction between science and faith lies in Hegelian formulation that ‘State is the March of God on Earth’.

India is a country of 1.3 billion people. If the pandemic is not handled by the Indian state based on science, medicine and doctor and para medical strength , the nation will stand to lose millions of people.

Hegelian state was an embodiment of Reason and God but not of  superstitious faith. In a crisis like this that state needs to operate on rational grounds. Any rational state deploys science as the driving force of disease cure. Doctor and nurse with the help of medicine and technology  play a key role in saving human beings but not superstition or astrology or prayer. Every religious institution has to surrender to modern rational state so that human life could be saved first. Hegel understood the relationship between God, State and Science. His famous statement that State is the March of God on Earth is more relevant now than any other time before. Let that God function with full powers but not as dictator but as democracy.

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 coronacrisis 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 is Political Theorist, Social Activist and Author