By reading Kant, Schopenhauer wrote about 1816, “the public was compelled to see that what is obscure is not always without significance.” Fichte and Schelling, he thought, took undue advantage of Kant’s success with obscurity. But (Schopenhauer continued)
the height of absurdity in serving up pure nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant masses of words, such as had previously been known only in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most beautiful mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, and will remain as a monument of German stupidity.31
1. Skeptic’s Progress
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was alive and flourishing when this dirge was published (1818); he survived another thirteen years. He came of a Stuttgart middle-class family steeped in mysticism and piety. The family property was mortgaged to send Georg to study theology at Tübingen Seminary (1788–93). Hölderlin the poet was there, and Schelling came in 1790; together they deplored the ignorance of their teachers, and applauded the victories of Revolutionary France. Hegel developed a special fondness for Greek drama, and his praise of Greek patriotism foreshadowed his own final political philosophy:
To the Greek the idea of his fatherland, the state, was the invisible, the higher reality for which he labored. … In comparison with this idea his own individuality was as nothing; it was its endurance, its continued life, that he sought…. To desire or pray for permanence or eternal life for himself as an individual could not occur to him.32
After graduating from the seminary with a degree in theology, Hegel disappointed his parents by refusing to enter the ministry. He supported himself by tutoring at Bern in the home of a patrician with a substantial library; there, and later at Frankfurt, he read Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Montesquieu, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Kant, Fichte; how could his ailing Christian faith resist such a phalanx of doubters? The natural rebelliousness of a vigorous youth reveled in the pagan feast.
In the year 1796 he wrote a Life of Jesus (Das Leben Jesu), which remained unpublished till 1905. It was in part an anticipation of Das Leben Jesu (1835), with which David Strauss, a follower of Hegel, launched a full-scale attack upon the Gospel story of Christ. Hegel described Jesus as the son of Joseph and Mary; he rejected the miracles ascribed to Christ, or explained them naturally; he pictured Christ as defending the individual conscience against priestly rules; he ended with the burial of the crucified rebel, and said nothing of a resurrection. And he gave a definition of God which he was to hold to the end: “Pure reason, incapable of any limitation, is the Deity itself.”33
In 1799 Hegel’s father died, leaving him 3,154 florins. He wrote to Schelling asking advice in finding a town with a good library and ein gutes Bier.34 Schelling recommended Jena, and offered to share his quarters with him. In 1801 Hegel came, and was allowed to lecture at the university as a Privatdozent, remunerated only by his pupils, who numbered eleven. After three years of such servitude he was appointed professor extraordinarius; and a year later, on Goethe’s intervention, he received his first stipend—one hundred thalers. He never became a popular teacher, but at Jena, as later in Berlin, he inspired in several students a special attachment that penetrated the rough surface of his language to the arcane vigor of his thought.
In 1801 he began, but left unfinished and unpublished, a significant essay, Kritik der Verfassung Deutschlands (On the Constitution of Germany, published in 1893). Looking out upon Germany, he was reminded of the petty principalities that had divided Renaissance Italy and opened it to foreign conquest, and he remembered Machiavelli’s plea for a strong prince who would hammer these scattered pieces into a nation. He put no faith in the Holy Roman Empire, and foretold its early collapse. “Germany is no longer a state. … A group of human beings can call itself a state only if it is joined together for the common defense of the entirety of its property.” He called for the unification of Germany, but he added: “Such an event has never been the fruit of reflection, but only of force… The common multitude of the German people… must be gathered into one mass by the force of a conqueror.”35
Presumably he had no notion of summoning Napoleon, but when, in 1805, Napoleon overwhelmed both the Austrians and the Russians at Austerlitz, Hegel may have begun to wonder whether this man was destined to unify not only Germany, but all Europe. When, in the following year, the French Army was approaching Jena, and the future of Europe seemed at stake, Hegel saw Napoleon riding through Jena (October 13, 1806), and wrote to his friend Niethammer:
I saw the Emperor—that world-soul—riding out to reconnoiter the city. It is a truly wonderful sensation to see such an individual, concentrated here at a single point, astride a single horse, yet reaching across the world and ruling it…. To make such progress from Thursday to Monday is possible only for that extraordinary man, whom it is impossible not to admire…. All now wish good fortune to the French Army.36
On the next day the French Army prevailed; and some French soldiers, eluding the eye of the world-soul, began to plunder in the city. One group entered Hegel’s rented room. Seeing the Cross of the Legion of Honor on a corporal’s coat, the philosopher expressed the hope that so distinguished a man would treat a simple German scholar honorably. These invaders settled for a bottle of wine, but the spread of looting frightened Hegel into taking refuge in the office of the university vice-president.
On February 5, 1807, Christina Burkhardt, wife of Hegel’s landlord, gave birth to a boy whom the absent-minded professor recognized as one of his anonymous works. As the Duke of Saxe-Weimar was hard put to finance the Jena faculty, Hegel thought it a good time to try another city, woman, and task. On February 20 he left Jena to become editor of the Bamberger Zeitung. Amid the turmoil he published (1807) Phänomenologie des Geistes. No one seems to have suspected that this would later be ranked as his masterpiece, and as the most difficult and seminal contribution to philosophy between Kant and Schopenhauer.
Irked by governmental censorship of his paper, Hegel left Bamberg (1808) to become headmaster of a Gymnasium in Nuremberg. He labored conscientiously in this new field, teaching as well as directing, but he longed for a secure and fitter berth in a distinguished and solvent university. On September 16, 1811, age forty-one, he married Marie von Tucher, the twenty-year-old daughter of a Nuremberg senator. Shortly thereafter Christina Burkhardt surprised the couple with a visit in which she offered them Hegel’s four-year-old son, Ludwig. His wife met the situation bravely by adopting the boy into her family.
Dreaming of a post in Berlin, Hegel accepted in 1816 an invitation from the University of Heidelberg to be its first professor of philosophy. His class began with five students, but grew to twenty before the term was over. There he published (1817) hisEncyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. It pleased both the intelligentsia and the government of Berlin much more than his Logik, which had appeared there in 1812. Soon the Prussian Minister of Education invited him to come and fill the chair of philosophy which had been left vacant since the death of Fichte (1814). Hegel, now forty-seven, bargained until the remuneration finally offered him atoned for his long wait. Besides the two-thousand-thaler yearly salary he asked something to compensate for the high rents and prices in Berlin, for the furniture he had bought, and would now have to sell at a loss, for the cost of travel to Berlin with his wife and children; furthermore, he would like “a certain quantity of produce.”37 All this having been granted, Hegel on October 22, 1818, began at the University of Berlin the long tenure that would end with his death. In those thirteen years his lectures, notoriously dull but finally meaningful, drew larger and larger audiences, until students came from almost every country in Europe—and beyond—to hear him. Now he gave form and order to the most complete and influential system of thought in the history of post-Kantian Europe.
2. Logic as Metaphysics
He begins with logic, not in our modern sense as the rules of reasoning, but in the ancient and classic sense as the ratio, or rationale, or basic meaning and operation, of anything, as when we use geology, biology, or psychology for the meaning and operation of the earth, life, or mind. So, to Hegel, logic studies the meaning and operation of anything. Generally he leaves the operations to science, as science leaves the meaning to philosophy. He proposes to analyze not the words in reasoning but the reason or logic in realities. To the source and sum of these reasons he will give the name of God, very much as ancient mystics identified the deity with the Logos—the reason and wisdom of the world.*
The perceiving mind gives specific meaning to objects by studying their relationships, in space and time, with other objects remembered or perceived. Kant had given to such relationships the name of categories, and had listed twelve, chiefly: unity, plurality, and totality; reality, negation, and limitation; cause and effect, existence and nonexistence, contingency and necessity. Hegel adds many more: determinate being, limit, multiplicity, attraction and repulsion, likeness and difference… Each object in our experience is a complex web of such relationships; this table, for example, has specific place, age, form, strength, color, weight, odor, beauty; without such specific relations the table would be merely a confusion of obscure and separate sensations; with them the sensations become a united perception. This perception, illuminated by memory and pointed by purpose, becomes an idea. Hence, for each of us, the world is our sensations—external or internal—coordinated by the categories into perceptions and ideas, mingled with our memories, and manipulated by our wills.
The categories are not things, they are ways and tools of understanding, giving form and meaning to sensations. They constitute the rationale and logic, the structure and reason, of each experienced feeling, thought, or thing. Together they constitute the logic, reason, Logos of the universe, as conceived by Hegel.
The simplest and most universal of the categories through which we may seek to understand our experience is pure Being (Sein)—being as applied to all objects or ideas without particularization. The universality of this basic category is its fatality: by lacking any distinguishing form or mark it cannot represent any existing object or idea. Hence the concept of pure Being is in effect equivalent to its opposite category—Nonbeing or Nothing (Nichts). Hence they readily mingle; that which was not is added to Being, and deprives it of its indeterminateness or purity; Being and Nonbeing become something, however negative. This mysterious Becoming (Werden) is the third category, the most useful of all, since without it nothing could be conceived as happening or taking form. All subsequent categories flow from similar combinations of apparently contradictory ideas.
This Hegelian prestidigitation, producing the world (like Adam and Eve) out of a conjunction, recalls the medieval idea that God created the world out of nothing. But Hegel protests that his categories are not things; they are ways of conceiving things, of making their behavior intelligible, often predictable, sometimes manageable.
He asks us to allow some modification in the principle of contradiction (so sacred in the old logic)—that A cannot be not-A. Very well; but A may become not-A, as water can become ice or steam. All reality, as conceived by Hegel, is in a process of becoming; it is not a static Parmenidean world of Being but a fluid Heracleitean world of Becoming; all things flow. All reality, in Hegel, all thoughts and things, all history, religion, philosophy, are in constant evolution; not by a natural selection of variations, but by the development and resolution of internal contradictions, and the advance to a more complex stage.
This is the famous Hegelian (formerly Fichtean) dialectic (literally the art of conversation) of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis: an idea or situation potentially contains its opposite, develops it, struggles against it, then unites with it to take another transient form. A logical discussion would follow the dialectical structure of exposition, opposition, and reconciliation. Sensible deliberations—the weighing of ideas and desires on the scale (libera) of experience—would do likewise. Interruption, as Mme. de Staël insisted, is the life of conversation—but is its death if the contradiction is not pertinent and resolved. Opposition absorbed is the secret of wisdom and the perfection of victory. A true synthesis rejects neither the affirmative nor the negative, but finds room for elements of each. Karl Marx, a disciple of Hegel, thought that capitalism contained the seeds of socialism; that the rival forms of economic organization must clash in a war to the death; and that socialism would prevail. A more consistent Hegelian would have predicted a union of both, as in Western Europe today.
Hegel was the most thoroughgoing of Hegelians. He undertook to “deduce” the categories—to show how each of them necessarily resulted from the resolution of contradictions in its predecessors. He organized his arguments, tried to divide each of his works, on a triadic form. He applied his dialectic to realities as well as to ideas: the repetitive process of contradiction, conflict, and synthesis appears in politics, economics, philosophy, and history. He was a realist in the medieval sense: the universal is more real than any of its contained particulars: man includes all men, briefly alive or durably dead; the state is realer, more important and longer living, than any of its citizens; beauty has immortal power, makes many wrecks and rhymes, though Pauline Bonaparte is dead and perhaps Aphrodite never lived. Finally the compulsive philosopher carried his parade of categories to the most real, inclusive, and powerful of them all—the Absolute Idea that is the universal of all things and thoughts, the Reason, structure, or law that upholds the cosmos, the Logos that crowns and rules the whole.
The Phänomenologie des Geistes was written at Jena while the Grande Armée was approaching the city; it was published in 1807, when the merciless devastation of Prussia by the sons of the French Revolution seemed to prove that somewhere in that historic groping from monarchy through terror to monarchy the mind of man had lost the road to freedom. Hegel proposed to study the mind of man in its various phenomena as sensation, perception, feeling, consciousness, memory, imagination, desire, will, self-consciousness, and reason; perhaps at the end of that long road he would find the secret of liberty. Not frightened by that program, he would also study the human mind in communities and the state, in art and religion and philosophy. The product of his quest was his chef-d’oeuvre, eloquent and obscure, challenging and discouraging, and pregnant with influence upon Marx and Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre.
The difficulty begins with the word Geist, which spreads a cloud of ambiguities over ghost and mind and spirit and soul. We shall usually translate it as mind, but in some contexts it may be better rendered as spirit, as in Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age. Geist as mind is not a separate substance or entity behind psychological activities; it is those activities themselves. There are no separate “faculties”; there are only the actual operations by which experience is transformed into action or thought.
In one of his many definitions of Geist Hegel identified it with consciousness.38 Consciousness, of course, is the mystery of mysteries, for, as the organ for interpreting experience, it cannot interpret itself. Nevertheless, it is the most immediate, as well as the most remarkable, fact known to us. Matter, which may be the outside of mind, seems less mysterious, even though less directly known. Hegel agrees with Fichte that we know objects only insofar as they become part of us as subjects perceiving; but he never questions the existence of an external world. When the object perceived is another individual apparently endowed with mind, consciousness becomes self-consciousness by opposition; then the consciously personal Ego is born, and becomes uncomfortably aware that competition is the trade of life. Then, says our tough philosopher, “each man” (potentially, ultimately, and seldom consciously) “aims at the destruction and death of the other,”39 until one of the two accepts subordination,40 or is dead.
Meanwhile the Ego is feeding upon experience, as if aware that it must arm and strengthen itself for the trials of life. All that complex process by which the Ego transforms sensations into perceptions, stores these in memory, and turns them into ideas, is used to illuminate, color, and serve the desires that make up the will. The Ego is a focus, succession and combination of desires; percepts, ideas, memories, deliberation, like arms and legs, are tools of the self or Ego seeking survival, pleasure, or power. If the desire is a passion it is thereby reinforced, for good or ill; it must not be condemned indiscriminately, for “nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.”41 It may lead to pain, but that does not matter if it contributes to the desired result. Life is made not for happiness but for accomplishment.42
Is the will (i.e., our desires) free? Yes, but not in the sense of freedom from causality or law; it is free in proportion as it agrees with the laws and logic of reality; a free will is one enlightened by understanding and guided by reason. The only real liberation, for the nation or the individual, is through the growth of intelligence; and intelligence is knowledge coordinated and used. The highest freedom is in the knowledge of the categories and their operation in the basic processes of nature, and their union and harmony in the Absolute Idea, which is God.
There are three ways in which man can approach this summit of understanding and freedom: through art, religion, and philosophy. Briefly in the Phänomenologie, more fully in his posthumous V orlesungen über Aesthetik, Hegel tried to bring the nature and history of art under the triadic formulas of his system. Incidentally he revealed a surprising knowledge of architecture, sculpture, painting, and music, and a detailed acquaintance with the art collections of Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, Paris, and the Netherlands. Art, he felt, was an attempt of the mind—by intuition (i.e., direct, intense, persistent perception) rather than by reason—to represent spiritual significance through a sensory medium. He distinguished three major epochs of art: (1) the Oriental, in which architecture sought to support the spiritual life and mystical vision through massive temples, as in Egypt and India; (2) the Greco-Roman Classical, conveying the ideals of reason, balance, and harmony through perfect sculptural forms; and (3) the Christian Romantic, which has sought, through painting, music, and poetry, to express the emotions and longings of the modern soul. In this third stage Hegel found some seeds of degeneration, and suggested that the greatest period of art was coming to an end.
Religion troubled and puzzled him in his declining years, for he recognized its historic function in molding character and supporting social order, but he was too fond of reason to care for the gropings of theology, the ecstasies and sufferings of saints, the fear and worship of a personal God.43 He struggled to reconcile the Christian creed with the Hegelian dialectic, but his heart was not in the effort,44 and his most influential followers interpreted his God as the impersonal law or Reason of the universe, and immortality as the lingering—perhaps endless—effects of every soul’s moment on the earth.
Toward the end of the Phänomenologie he revealed his true love—philosophy. His ideal was not the saint but the sage. In his enthusiasm he recognized no limit to the future extension of human understanding. “The nature of the universe has no power which can permanently resist the courageous effort of the intelligence; it must at last open itself up; it must reveal all its depth and riches to the spirit.”45 But long before that culmination philosophy will have perceived that the real world is not the world that we touch or see, but the relationships and regularities that give them order and nobility, the unwritten laws that move the sun and the stars, and constitute the impersonal mind of the world. To that Absolute Idea or cosmic Reason the philosopher will pledge his loyalty; in it he will find his worship, his freedom, and a quiet content.
4. Morality, Law, and the State
In 1821 Hegel sent forth another major work—Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Outlines of the Philosophy of Right). Recht—right—is a majestic word in Germany, covering both morality and law as kindred supports of the family, the state, and civilization. Hegel dealt with all of these in a magisterial volume which had lasting influence upon his people.
The philosopher was now entering his sixth decade. He had become accustomed to stability and comfort; he was aspiring to some governmental post;46 he yielded readily to the natural conservatism of age. Moreover, the political situation had drastically changed since he feted France and admired Napoleon: Prussia had risen in arms and fury against Napoleon fleeing from Russia, had fought under Blücher and had overthrown the usurper; and now Prussia had reestablished itself on a Frederician basis of victorious army and feudal monarchy as stanchions of stability amid a people reduced by the costs of victory to desperate poverty, social disorder, and hopes and fears of revolution.
In 1816 Jakob Fries, then holding the chair of philosophy at the University of Jena, published a treatise, Von Deutschem Bund und Deutscher Staatsverfassung (On the German Confederation and the Political Constitution of Germany), in which he outlined a program of reform that frightened the German governments into the harsh decrees of the Karlsbad Congress (1819). Fries was dismissed from his professorship, and was declared an outlaw by the police.47
Hegel gave half the preface of his book to denouncing Fries as a dangerous simpleton, and condemning as “the quintessence of shallow thinking” Fries’s view that “in a people ruled by a genuine communal spirit, life for the discharge of all public business would come from below, from the people itself.” “According to a view of this kind,” Hegel protested, “the world of ethics should be given over to the subjective accident of opinion and caprice. By the simple family remedy of ascribing to feeling the labor… of reason and intellect, all the trouble of rational insight, and of knowledge directed by speculative thinking, is of course saved.”48 The angry professor vented his scorn upon street-corner philosophers who construct perfect states any evening out of the rosy dreams of immaturity.49 Against such wishful thinking he proclaimed, as the realistic basis of his philosophy (political as well as metaphysical), the principle that “what is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational.”50 (It is what the logic of events made it be; what, under the circumstances, it had to be.) The liberals of Germany denounced the author as a time-serving place-seeker, the “Philosopher Laureate” of a reactionary government. He went on.
Civilization needs both morality and law, since it means living like a citizen (civis), and therefore in a community; and a community cannot survive unless it limits liberty in order to provide protection. Morality must be a common bond, not an individual preference. Freedom under law is a constructive force; freedom from law is impossible in nature and destructive in society, as in some phases of the French Revolution. The restrictions laid upon individual liberty by custom morality—the ethical judgments developed in the evolution of a community—are the oldest and broadest, the most lasting and far-reaching measures taken by it for its continuance and growth. Since such regulations are transmitted chiefly by the family, the school, and the church, these institutions are basic to a society, and constitute its vital organs.
Therefore it is foolish to let a family be founded by a love marriage. Sexual desire has its biological wisdom for continuing the species and the community; but it contains no social wisdom for supporting a lifetime partnership in the management of property and children.51 Marriage should be monogamous, and divorce should be difficult. The property of the family should be held in common, but be managed by the husband.52 “Woman has her substantive destiny in the family, and to be imbued with family devotion is her ethical frame of mind.”53
Education should not [as in Pestalozzi and Fichte] make fetishes of freedom and play; discipline is the backbone of character. “The punishment of children does not aim at justice as such; the aim is to deter them from exercising a freedom still in the toils of nature, and to raise the universal into their consciousness and will.”54
Nor should we make a fetish of equality. We are equal only in the sense that each of us is a soul, and should not be a tool for another person; but we are obviously unequal in physical or mental ability. The best economic system is one in which superior ability is stimulated to develop itself, and is left relatively free to transmute new ideas into productive realities. Property should be the private possession of the family, for without that distinguishing reward superior ability would not train or exert itself.
For the purpose of civilization—of turning savages into citizens—religion is an ideal instrument, for it relates the individual to the whole.
Since religion is an integrating factor in the state, implanting a sense of unity in the depth of men’s minds, the state should even require all its citizens to belong to a church. A church is all that can be said, because—since the content of a man’s faith depends upon his private ideas—the state cannot interfere with it.55
The churches should be separate from the state, but should look upon the state as “a consummate worship,” in which the religious goal of the unification of the individual with the totality is as nearly effected as is possible on earth.56
The state, then, is man’s highest achievement. It is the organ of the community for the protection and development of the people. It has the difficult task of reconciling social order with the natural individualism of men and the jealous conflicts of internal groups. Law is the freedom of civilized man, for it frees him from many injustices and perils in return for his agreement not to inflict them upon other citizens. “The state is the actuality of concrete freedom.”57 To so transform chaos into orderly liberty, the state must have authority and, sometimes, must use force; police will be necessary, and, in crisis, conscription too; but if the state is well managed it can be called the organization of reason. In this sense we may say of the state, as of the universe, that “the rational is real, and the real is rational.” It is not utopic, but utopia is unreal.
Was this an idealization of the Prussian state of 1820? Not quite. Unlike that regime, it assumed the full success of Stein’s and Hardenberg’s reforms. It called for a limited monarchy, constitutional government, freedom of worship, and the emancipation of the Jews. It condemned despotism, which it defined as “any state of affairs where law has disappeared, and when the particular will as such, whether of a monarch or a mob (ochlocracy), counts as law or takes the place of law; while it is precisely in legal, constitutional government that sovereignty is to be found as the moment of ideality.”58 Hegel rejected democracy outright: the ordinary citizen is ill-equipped to choose competent rulers, or to determine national policy. The philosopher accepted the French revolutionary Constitution of 1791, which called for a constitutional monarchy, in which the people voted for a national assembly, but not for a ruler. An elective monarchy “is the worst of all institutions.”59 So Hegel recommended a government composed of a bicameral legislature elected by property owners; an executive and administrative cabinet of ministers; and an hereditary monarch having “the will with the power of ultimate decision.”60 “The development of the state to constitutional monarchy is the achievement of the modern world.”61
It would be unfair to call this philosophy reactionary. It was quite in line with the reasoned conservatism of Montaigne and Voltaire, Burke and Macaulay, Benjamin Constant advising Napoleon, and Tocqueville after studying the French and American governments. It left some room for individual freedom of thought, and for religious toleration. We must view it in its context in place and time: we must imagine ourselves in the maelstrom of post-Napoleonic Europe—with its bankruptcy and depression, and its reactionary governments trying to restore the Ancien Régime—to understand the reaction of a thinker too advanced in years to be adventurous in thought, too comfortably established to relish the ecstasy of revolution, or risk the replacement of an old government with inexperienced theorists or mob rule. It was the hasty preface, not the carefully organized and considered book, that was unworthy of a philosopher. The old man was frightened by Fries’s eloquence and its excited reception; he called for the police; and he was not sorry “that governments have at last directed their attention to this kind of philosophy.”62 It is not for age to venture but to preserve.
Hegel’s students must have loved him, for after his death they pored over his notes, added their own records of his lectures, arranged the result in some reasonable order, and issued it over his name. So appeared four posthumous books: Aesthetics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of History, and History of Philosophy. They are the most intelligible of his works, perhaps because least obscured by the complexity of his thought and style.
“The only thought which philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of history is the simple concept of Reason: that Reason [the logic and law of events] is the Sovereign of the World; that therefore the history of the world presents us a rational process.”63Here too the actual was rational—it was the only logical and necessary result of its antecedents. Hegel often speaks of his Sovereign Reason in religious terms, but he defines it by mating Spinoza and Newton: “Reason is the substance of the universe,viz., that by which and in which all reality has its being and subsistence”; and on the other hand it is “the Infinite Energy of the Universe”; i.e., the categories of the Logik are the basic means of understanding the operative relations which constitute “the infinite complex of things, their entire Essence and Truth.”64
If the operations of history are an expression of Reason—of the laws inherent in the nature of things—there must be some method in the apparent whimsy of events. Hegel sees method in both the process and the result. The process of reason in history, as in logic, is dialectical: each stage or condition (thesis) contains contradictions (antithesis) which struggle to compose a synthesis. So despotism tried to suppress the human hunger for freedom; the hunger broke out in revolt; their synthesis was constitutional monarchy. Is there, then, a general or total design behind the course of history? No, if this means a conscious supreme power guiding all causes and effects to a determined goal; yes, insofar as the widening stream of events, as a civilization advances, is moved by the total ofGeist or Mind to bring man closer and closer to his absorbing goal, which is freedom through reason. Not freedom from law—though that conceivably might come if intelligence should reach its full growth—but freedom through law; so the evolution of the state can be a boon to liberty. This progress toward freedom is not continuous, for in the dialectic of history there are contradictions to be resolved, oppositions to be transformed into fusion, centrifugal diversities to be drawn toward a unifying center by the character of the age or the work of exceptional men.
These two forces—the time and the genius—are the engineers of history, and when they work together they are irresistible. Hegel—inspiring Carlyle —believed in heroes and hero worship. Geniuses are not necessarily virtuous, though it is a mistake to think that they are selfish individualists; Napoleon was no mere conqueror for the sake of conquest; he was, consciously or not, the agent of Europe’s greater need for unity and consistent laws. But the genius is helpless unless, consciously or not, he embodies and serves theZeitgeist, the Spirit of the Times. “Such individuals had insight into the requirements of the time—what was ripe for development. This was the very truth for their age, for their world; the species next in order, so to speak, and which was already formed in the womb of time.”65 If the genius is borne on such a tide (like Galileo, Franklin, or James Watt) he will be a force for growth, even if he brings misery for an entire generation. The genius is not meant to peddle happiness. “The history of the world is not the theater of happiness. Periods of happiness are the blank pages in it, for they are periods of harmony, when the antithesis is in abeyance,”66 and history sleeps.
The chief obstacle to interpreting history as progress is the fact that civilizations can die, or entirely disappear. But Hegel was not the man to let such incidents disrupt his dialectic. He divided man’s past (as aforesaid) into three periods, the Oriental, the Greco-Roman, and the Christian, and saw some progress in their succession: the Orient gave freedom to one man as absolute ruler; classical antiquity gave freedom to a caste using slaves; the Christian world, giving each person a soul, sought to free all. It encountered resistance in the traffic in slaves, but this conflict was resolved in the French Revolution. At this point (about 1822) Hegel broke out into a surprising paean to that upheaval, or to its first two years.
The political condition of France [had] presented nothing but a confused mass of privileges, altogether contravening Thought and Reason, with the greatest corruption of morals and spirit. The change was necessarily violent, because the work of transformation was not undertaken by the government [was opposed by the court, the clergy, and the nobility]…. The idea of Right asserted its authority, and the old framework of injustice could offer no resistance to its onslaught. It was a glorious mental dawn. All thinking beings shared in the jubilation. A spiritual enthusiasm filled the world.67
Mob violence darkened that dawn, but after the blood was washed away substantial progress remained; and Hegel was still cosmopolitan enough to recognize that the French Revolution had brought substantial benefits to much of Germany—the Code Napoléon, the abolition of feudal privileges, the enlargement of freedom, the spread of property ownership…,68 All in all, Hegel’s analysis of the French Revolution, in the final pages of The Philosophy of History, proves that the frightened conservative had not quite repudiated the ideals of his youth.
He considered it a main fault of the Revolution that it had made an enemy of religion. “Religion is Reason’s highest and most rational work. It is absurd to maintain that priests have thought up religion for the people as a fraud for their own benefit.”69Consequently it is “folly to pretend to invent and carry out political constitutions independently of religion.”70 “Religion is the sphere in which the nation gives itself the definition of that which it regards as the True…. The concept of God, therefore, constitutes the general basis of a people’s character.”71
Conversely, “the shape which the perfect embodiment of Spirit assumes [is] the state.”72 Fully developed, the state becomes “the basis and center of the other concrete elements of the life of a people—of Art, Law, Morals, Religion, Science.”73 Supported and justified by religion, the state becomes divine.
Aspiring to produce a system of philosophy unified by one basic formula of explanation, Hegel applied his dialectic to one field after another. To his philosophy of history his students, after his death, added his History of Philosophy. The famous ancient systems of universal analysis, in this view, followed a sequence basically corresponding to the evolution of the categories in the Logik. Parmenides stressed Being and stability; Heracleitus stressed Becoming, development, change. Democritus saw objective matter, Plato saw subjective idea; Aristotle provided the synthesis. Each system, like each category and each generation, enclosed—and added to—its predecessors, so that a full understanding of the last system would comprehend them all. “What each generation has brought forward as knowledge and spiritual creation, the next generation inherits. This inheritance constitutes its soul, its spiritual substance.”74 Since Hegel’s philosophy was the latest in the great chain of philosophical imaginations, it included (in its author’s view) all the basic ideas and values of all major preceding systems, and was their historical and theoretical culmination.75
6. Death and Return
His time, for a time, almost took him at his own estimate. His classes grew despite his dour temper and abstruse style; prominent men—Cousin and Michelet from France, Heiberg from Denmark—came from afar to see him balance the universe on his categories. He was honored in Paris in 1827, and by old Goethe on the way home. In 1830 his certainties were shaken by the spread of radical movements and revolutionary agitation; he denounced them, and in 1831 he issued across the waters an appeal for the defeat of the Reform Bill that marked the rise of democracy in England. He rephrased his philosophy more and more in terms acceptable to Protestant divines.
Still only sixty-one, and apparently in full vigor, he fell victim to a cholera epidemic, and died in Berlin, November 14, 1831. He was buried, as he had wished, beside the grave of Fichte. As if in testimony to his cautious obscurity, his students divided into antipodal groups: the “Hegelian Right,” led by Johann Erdmann, Kuno Fischer, and Karl Rosenkranz; and the “Hegelian Left”—Ludwig Feuerbach, David Strauss, Bruno Bauer, and Karl Marx. The “Right” excelled in scholarship, but declined as “Higher Criticism” of the Bible grew; the “Left” expanded in attacks upon religious and political orthodoxy. The “Left” interpreted Hegel’s identification of God and Reason to mean that nature, man, and history are subject to invariable and impersonal laws. Feuerbach quoted Hegel as saying, “Man knows about God only insofar as God knows about himself within man”;76 i.e., the Reason of the universe becomes conscious only in man; only man can think of cosmic laws. Marx, who knew Hegel chiefly through the master’s writings, transformed the dialectical movement of the categories into the economic interpretation of history, in which the class war superseded the Heroes as a main agent of progress; and socialism became the Marxian synthesis of capitalism and its internal contradictions.
Hegel’s reputation faded for a time as Schopenhauer’s sarcastic passions swept the philosophic board. Philosophers of history were lost in the advance of historical scholarship. Hegelianism seemed dead in Germany, but it had risen to new life in Great Britain with John and Edward Caird, T. H. Green, J. M. E. McTaggart, and Bernard Bosanquet. When it died in England it rose again in the United States. Perhaps the echoes of Hegel’s worship of the state helped to pave the way for Bismarck and Hitler. Meanwhile Sören Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre found in the Phänoinenologie des Geistes a virile note of human competition in a world apparently shorn of divine guidance, and Hegel became the godfather of Existentialism.
All in all, this age of Goethe, Beethoven, and Hegel was one of the high-water points in the history of Germany. It had reached or neared such peaks before, as in the Renaissance and the Reformation; but the Thirty Years’ War had shattered the economic and intellectual life of the people, and had darkened the soul of Germany almost to despair through a hundred years. Slowly the native vigor of her stock, the stoic patience of her women, the skill of her craftsmen, the enterprise of her merchants, and the power and depth of her music prepared her to receive and transform to her own taste and character such foreign influences as England’s Shakespeare and her Romantic poets, the Enlightenment and Revolution of France. She moderated Voltaire into Goethe and Wieland, Rousseau into Schiller and Richter; she answered Napoleon with a War of Liberation, and cleared the way for the manifold achievements of her people in the nineteenth century.
Civilization is a collaboration as well as a rivalry; therefore it is good that each nation has its own culture, government, economy, dress, and songs. It has taken many diverse forms of organization and expression to make the European spirit so subtle and diverse, and to make the Europe of today an endless fascination and an inexhaustible heritage.