Contradiction, Potentiality, and Actuality
In our society "contradiction" (like negativity) is considered to be a bad thing that can and must be eliminated. Consequently, it is easy to conclude that when Hegel identifies a contradiction in the abstract right of property, he is making a judgment that property is somehow incoherent or bad and in need of replacement. Nothing could be more wrong. In the Hegelian dialectic, contradiction cannot be bad and it can never be destroyed. Contradiction must be resolved, but each resolution necessarily creates a new contradiction. As a result, contradiction is not only a logically necessary aspect of the world, it is precisely that aspect of the world that creates change and dynamism.
For something to be possible it must be actualized—the failure of something eventually to become actualized means that it was not, in fact, possible. As I have explained, this means that something only retroactively becomes potential once it has been fulfilled. This is why the abstract person as free will is driven to actualize its potential freedom as concrete freedom in order to reaffirm its own understanding of itself. But the dialectic works the opposite way as well. The logically later concept cannot exist except for the logical necessity of the continuance of the earlier, and the earlier cannot exist except for the logical necessity of the possibility of the
later. The later concept is actuality, but the earlier concept is the possibility that allows it to come into being.
To resort to metaphor, the earlier moment in the dialectic is like the foundation for the subsequent edifice. A foundation is dug before the building, but in anticipation of the building. The building requires the foundation because one cannot remove the foundation after the building is built without causing the entire edifice to come crashing down. But the foundation also requires the building in the sense that unless the building is subsequently built, it is not a foundation, merely a hole in the ground. It only becomes a foundation retroactively. Similarly, the legal subject and abstract right are the foundations on which the individual citizen and the state will be built. If the dialectic is circular as claimed, the fact that when one starts with an analysis of the free person one ends up with the state means that if one instead started with an analysis of the state one would inevitably be led back to the free person. If autonomy and abstract rights are suppressed and subordinated to the state, the state will also cease to be. We would be left only with their ruins—tyranny and oppression.