'Tis still a dream, or else such stuff as madmen
Tongue, and brain not...
Cymbeline, William Shakespeare (suggested by Schopenhauer as the motto of Hegel's philosophy)
Frau Edouard Devrient: "Do tell me, who is the stupid fellow sitting next to me?"
Felix Mendelssohn (behind his napkin): "The stupid fellow next to you is the philosopher Hegel."
Paul Johnson, The Birth of the Modern, HarperCollins, 1991, pp. 817-818.
God alone is the true agreement of concept [Begriff] and reality [Realität]; all finite [endlichen] things involve some untruth [Unwahrheit], they have a concept and an existence [Existenz] which are incommensurable [unangemessen]. For this reason they inevitably go to ruin [zugrunde gehen], that the incommensurability [Unangemessenheit] of their concept and their existence may be evident [manifestiert]. The animal, as an individual, has its concept in the species [Gattung]; and its death [Tod] sets the species free from individuality [Einzelnheit]. [§ 24, note 2]
What is living comes to death, for its very being is a contradiction [Widerspruch]; in itself it is the general [Allgemeine], the class [Gattung], yet its immediate [unmittelbar] existence is as an individual. In death the class shows its power [Macht] over the immediate individual. [§ 221, note]
G.W.F. Hegel, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Vol. 1, translation by Humphrey Palmer, 1971; or The Logic of Hegel, translated from The Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, by William Wallace, Oxford, 1873, 1972, pp.52 & 361.
[A]ll worth which the human being possesses -- all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State.
G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, Collier & Son, New York, 1902, p.87.
It was reserved for our own age to see metaphysicians of the greatest eminence turning their speculations to the exaltation of their own countries and to the depreciation of other countries, fortifying the will to power of their compatriots with all the power of abstractive genius. Fichte and Hegel made the triumph of the German world the supreme and necessary end of the development of Being.... It will be the eternal shame of the German philosophers to have transformed the patrician virgin who honored the Gods [i.e. metaphysics] into a harpy engaged in shrieking the glory of her children.
Julian Benda (1867-1956), La Trahison des Clercs, 1927, The Treason of the Intellectuals, 1928, translated by Richard Aldington, 2007, Transaction Publishers, pp.77-78 -- note the timely publication of Heidegger's own Germanizing metaphysic in Being and Time in 1928
It happens that there is a philosopher called Friedrich Hegel, whom, I must confess, I specifically detest; and I am happy to share that profound feeling with a far greater man, [Carl] Gauss.
Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974), "Knowledge or Certainty," The Ascent of Man, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1973, Ambrose Video Publishing, 2007
The destructive work of totalitarian machinery, whether or not this word is used, is usually supported by a special kind of primitive social philosophy. It proclaims not only that the common good of 'society' has priority over the interests of individuals, but that the very existence of individuals as persons is reducible to the existence of the social 'whole'; in other words, personal existence is, in a strange sense, unreal. This is a convenient foundation for any ideology of slavery.
Leszek Koakowski (1927-2009), Is God Happy? Selected Essays, Basic Books, 2013 p.57
ELIZABETH BENNET: 'There is something very pompus in his stile... -- Can he be a sensible man, sir?'
MR. BENNET: 'No, my dear; I think not.'
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813, Penguin Classics, 1972, 1986, p.108
Few philosophers have had a more baleful influence on modern philosophy and politics than Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. In The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume II, Hegel and Marx [Princeton, 1971], Karl Popper considers the depths of nonsense that issued from Hegel's pen:
Hegel achieved the most miraculous things. A master logician, it was child's play for his powerful dialectical methods to draw real physical rabbits out of purely metaphysical silk-hats. Thus, starting from Plato's Timaeus and its number-mysticism, Hegel succeeded in 'proving' by purely philosophical methods (114 years after Newton's Principia) that the planets must move according to Kepler's laws. He even accomplished the deduction of the actual position of the planets, thereby proving that no planet could be situated between Mars and Jupiter (unfortunately, it had escaped his notice that such a planet had been discovered a few months earlier [Hegel was trying to refute "Bode's Law", a simple mathematical progression which implied that such a planet might exist]). Similarly, he proved that magnetizing iron means increasing its weight, that Newton's theories of inertia and of gravity contradict each other (of course, he could not foresee that Einstein would show the identity of inert and gravitating mass), and many other things of this kind. That such a surprisingly powerful philosophical method was taken seriously can be only partially explained by the backwardness of German natural science in those days. For the truth is, I think, that it was not at first taken really seriously by serious men (such as Schopenhauer, or J.F. Fries), not at any rate by those scientists who, like Democritus,' would rather find a single causal law than be the king of Persia'... [p. 27]
In order to discourage the reader beforehand from taking Hegel's bombastic and mystifying cant too seriously, I shall quote some of the amazing details which he discovered about sound, and especially about the relations between sound and heat. I have tried hard to translate this gibberish from Hegel's Philosophy of Nature as faithfully as possible; he writes: '§ 302. Sound is the change in the specific condition of segregation of the material parts, and in the negation of this condition; -- merely an abstract or an ideal ideality, as it were, of that specification. But this change, accordingly, is itself immediately the negation of the material specific subsistence; which is, therefore, real ideality of specific gravity and cohesion, i.e. -- heat. The heating up of sounding bodies, just as beaten or rubbed ones, is the appearance of heat, originating conceptually together with sound.' There are some who still believe in Hegel's sincerity, or who still doubt whether his secret might not be profundity, fullness of thought, rather than emptiness. I should like them to read carefully the last sentence -- the only intelligible one -- of this quotation, because in this sentence, Hegel gives himself away. For clearly it means nothing but: 'The heating up of sounding bodies...is heat...together with sound.' [p. 28]
While most would admit (with a few dissenters) that Hegel's "philosophy of nature" is not his strong suit, the passages Popper refers to and quotes are significant for three things: (1) This is how Hegel thought and wrote -- it is his "method"; (2) he thought and wrote similarly about everything and did not let his grotesque ignorance of science stand in the way of applying such a "method" to the methods and objects of science; and (3) a very similar "method" and a comparable militant ignorance are now characteristic of much academic writing in the humanities, social "sciences," and education.
Indeed, not only are deconstruction and "post-modernism" satisfied with their own superiority over ordinary science, as was Hegel, but they are positively hostile, with an often activist political agenda, to every characteristic of science that attends upon truth, evidence, and even logic. A fashionable view is that all such characteristics of science and mathematics are merely expressions of white, male, "Eurocentric" oppression and power and could easily be replaced by other modes of thinking and truth once non-white, non-male, and non-"Eurocentric" viewpoints are empowered through the right political action (e.g. forbidding the teaching and testing of science and mathematics in the traditional way, as "racist," "sexist," "classist," etc.). Although Hegel saw himself as standing for reason and logic, his actual practice, of free association and conceptual confusion masquerading as "dialectic" (truly fine examples of what Kant had called "dialectical illusion"), which saw logical contradictions, not as evidence of falsehood, but as steps in the production of higher and more comprehensive contradictions, i.e. Truth, paved the way for the frank adoption of overt hostility to logic and rationality.
Leonard Nelson's extensive critique of Hegel in Progress and Regress in Philosophy [Volume II, Basil Blackwell, 1971, pp.75-100, translated by Humphrey Palmer; Fortschritte und Rückschritte der Philosophie, Felix Meiner Verlag, 1962, pp.444-445, edited by Julius Kraft] features many examples like Popper's of Hegel's "method," such as the following:
Logicist metaphysics [e.g. as in Leibniz] was refuted by Kant by his distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments and his discovery that mathematics, the very science whose possibility and fruitfulness had tempted men into the adventures of logicist metaphysics, consists in fact of synthetic judgments. It is therefore no accident that this discovery of Kant's, so decisive for the whole fate and future of philosophy, was rejected by Hegel.The 'axioms of mathematics', he expressly declares, 'are simply propositions of logic', which in their turn 'are to be derived from universal and self-determining thought, which can in consequence be treated as their proof' (Enyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Vol. I, § 188, note).
Let us linger a little over this assertion to assess its meaning and importance. Let us consider the example which Hegel himself gives of such a proof, and on which he bases his own view as opposed to that of Kant. This example concerns the axiom, which Kant also discussed [Critique of Pure Reason, edition B p.16], that a straight line is the shortest path connecting two points.'That this definition', says Hegel characteristically, 'is analytic can easily be seen from the fact that a straight line reduces to simplicity of direction, and simplicity, considered with regard to quantity, determines it as least in quantity, i.e. in this case as the shortest path' (Encyclopaedia, Vol. II, § 256).
The obvious fallacy in this proof has been neatly described by the mathematician Schloemilch (in Philosophical Aphorisms of a Mathematician).
Firstly, Hegel has forgotten, in his proof, what he was really trying to prove. For the axiom asserted is not concerned, as the proof is, with the relation between straight and curved lines in general, but only with the relation between possible paths joining two points. No mention is made of this limitation in Hegel's proof. He would therefore prove too much; viz. the proposition, which in its generality is false, that any straight path is shorter than any curved one.
Further, the proof requires a major premiss [sic], which in its turn is taken for granted as an axiom, that what is qualitatively simple must also be quantitatively simple. This proposition, however, is undoubtedly synthetic. It is also, and just as certainly, false; this too can be seen from the fact that it would prove too much. For if, as Schloemilch suggests, we replace the word 'line' by the word 'jacket', 'straight' by 'white', and 'curved' by 'motley-coloured', we obtain the surprising result that a white jacket is always shorter than a motley-coloured one. This is how Hegel dismisses one of the fundamental discoveries of Kant's Critique of Reason.
While various philosophers still don't like the idea that the axioms of mathematics are synthetic, their approach has been rather more sophisticated, let alone more coherent, than Hegel's. The arguments based on Gottlob Frege's theory of analyticity have recently been refuted by Jerrold Katz.
To see the fundamental mechanics of Hegel's method, what he calls letting "the thought-forms follow the impulse of their own organic life" [Hegel's Logic, William Wallace, op. cit., §24, p. 51], another example is in order. The very first inference in the whole Dialectical system is from the concept of Being to that of Nothing, as we see here:
§87] But this mere Being, as it is mere abstraction, is therefore the absolutely negative; which, in a similarly immediate aspect, is just Nothing.
(1) Hence was derived the second definition of the Absolute; the Absolute is Nought. In fact this definition is implied in saying that the thing-in-itself is the indeterminate, utterly without form and so without content, -- or in saying that God is only the supreme Being and nothing more; for this is really declaring Him to be the same negativity as above. The Nothing which the Buddhists make the universal principle, as well as the final aim and goal of everything, is the same abstraction. [ibid. p.161]
Here the argument is that, because the concept of Being is very abstract and so without much content (a privation), it is rather like the concept of Not Being, also without much content, which means that it implies Not Being, so that things of which Being is predicated, like the Absolute, must also be predicated with Not Being. This is like an argument that because fire engines are red, and red is rather like pink, therefore fire engines are pink.
How any sane, let alone sensible, person could take such an argument seriously is astonishing. "Nothing" is similar in content to "Being" just because it is the negation of Being, just as the Null Set () is the negation, the complement, of the Universal Set. This implies nothing. The idea that the negation of a concept applies equally to that of which the concept can be predicated would simply erase the Law of Non-Contradiction. Something rather like that, indeed, is Hegel's "method"; but Aristotle already understood that anything of the sort would make asserting anything about anything meaningless. Thus, my assertion that Hegel is a dreadful philosopher may be contradicted by Hegelian apologists, but they cannot deny the equal truth of my assertion, or that their statement is implied, according to Hegel's principles, by mine. And their assertion that Hegel was a great philosopher implies mine that he was not. Hegelian apologists thus cannot claim anything without allowing that its denial is "implied" by their own claim. Hegel's "Logic" is entirely without logic.
This cited passage shows something else. As well noted by Schopenhauer, but ignored by recent Hegelians, Hegel's metaphysics is about God. This is not the God of Abraham and Isaac, or even Kant's God, but it is comparable to a theology like Spinoza's. At the same time, Hegel likes the idea that the Absolute as Nothing sounds like Buddhism. Unfortunately, Hegel, and even Schopenhauer, who was rather more sympathetic to Buddhism, have made an elementary mistake in interpreting Buddhist doctrine, where "Emptiness" is not simply nothing -- it is neither existence nor non-existence nor both nor neither. This is an Antinomy, the Four-Fold Negation, which imposes a limitation on knowledge, the kind of thing the Hegel forcefully rejects, as itself conformable to the heritage of Kant, whose limitations on knowledge Hegel dismisses.
The finest summary of Hegel is therefore still Schopenhauer's judgment in The World as Will and Representation [E.F.J. Payne trans., Volume I, Dover, 1966]
The public had been forced to see [in Kant] that what is obscure is not always without meaning; what was senseless and without meaning at once took refuge in obscure exposition and language. Fichte was the first to grasp and make vigorous use of this privilege; Schelling at least equalled him in this, and a host of hungry scribblers without intellect or honesty soon surpassed them both. But the greatest effrontery in serving up sheer nonsense, in scrabbling together senseless and maddening webs of words, such as had previously been heard only in madhouses, finally appeared in Hegel. It became the instrument of the most ponderous and general mystification that has ever existed, with a result that will seem incredible to posterity, and be a lasting monument of German stupidity. [p. 429]
Das Publikum war genöthigt worden einzusehn, daß das Dunkle nicht immer sinnlos ist: sogleich flüchtete sich das Sinnlose hinter den dunklen Vortrag. Fichte war der Erste, der dies neue Privilegium ergriff und stark benutzte; Schelling that es ihm darin wenigstens gleich, und ein Heer hungeriger Skribenten ohne Geist und ohne Redlichkeit überbot bald Beide. Jedoch die größte Frechheit im Auftischen baaren Unsinns, im Zusammenschmieren sinnleerer, rasender Wortgeflechte, wie man sie bis dahin nur in Tollhäusern vernommen hatte, trat endlich im Hegel auf und wurde das Werkzeug der plumpesten allgemeinen Mystifikation, die je gewesen, mit einem Erfolg, welcher der Nachwelt fabelhaft erscheinen und ein Denkmal Deutscher Niaiserie bleiben wird. [Reclam, 1987, p. 596]
The monument is no longer just to German Niaiserie (a French word, note). In the Seventies I seem to have personally witnessed a step in the current revival of Hegel when, for a whole deadly semester at the University of Texas, I attended a seminar on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit given by Robert C. Solomon, who was evidently preparing his book, In the Spirit of Hegel, A Study of G.W.F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit [Oxford, 1983]. This was an important moment in the New Apologetic for Hegel, arisen since the 60's, and called by Solomon even "the current apotheosis of Hegel." It must be admitted, then, that behind all the stupefying verbiage and ignorant pontification, behind all the vast rent-seeking apparatus of "public education" that burrows a niche for obscurantism into the public purse, there actually is a systematic philosophical theory in Hegel, based on significant precedents in the history of philosophy, that appeals to contemporary philosophers. It is not clear, however, which is worse, the thought that the enthusiasts were deceived by the mere appearance of Hegel's profundity, that the enthusiasts feather their own nest in a self-contained hermetic bureaucracy, or that the enthusiasts actually embrace the kind of theory that Hegel ends up with out of honest conviction and agreement.
The kind of theory, indeed, is the foundation of modern statism and totalitarianism. As such, the fault with Hegel's Philosophy of Right as an apologetic for the Prussian State was not, as Professor Solomon said at one point, that he was corrupted by "tenure," but that Hegel's entire epistemological and metaphysical system was well suited for the political absolutism upon which Hegel and his sponsoring State happily agreed. This all in fact follows easily from a fundamental ontological truth in Hegel: Only Universals are Real. No idea has deeper roots in Western Philosophy. Plato's Forms in the World of Being were the "only true reality, compared, as it were, with shadows." Aristotle allowed that individual things were "primary substance," but they were actual only because of their universal form and only actual to the extent that form superseded matter, which was mere potential. Ultimate reality, then, was God, who was Pure Form and Pure Actuality. From this, the Neoplatonists inferred that God only knew Universals and that pure matter, the only basis of individuality, was the equivalent of Not Being (and, by the way, Evil) [note]. In Hegel, then, the Absolute Idea, like the Neoplatonic God, is absolutely everything in so far as it has any real existence. Signifying this, he turns around traditional terminology to say that the Universal is "concrete," while individual things are "abstract." The progress of both Reason and History (which are identical) is to go from abstract to concrete, from individual to Universal. In the epigraph above, we see Hegel asserting that living individuals die because their very existence is a contradiction. This extraordinary view, indeed, is original, but it is of a piece with his sense that individuals as such are irrational, unreal, and must be "overcome" by dialectical synthesis. Or, as Hegel says, by death the species is "set free from individuality" and "shows its power" over the individual.
Hegel was asked once to deduce a particular pencil from the Dialectic. He objected that such a request showed a misunderstanding of his doctrine. Quite right. Since an individual pencil has no rational existence, it would not be deducible from the Dialectic. An honest request, however, would be for the deduction of Pencilhood, the Universal of the pencil, from the Dialectic. Whether or not Hegel would agree, his doctrine would require an answer; but it is not hard to imagine him, after all, producing an explanation based on the "ideal ideality" of writing, or some such. At the same time, it is fair to ask why individuals appear to exist in Hegel at all. What is the positive ontological basis of individuality? In Aristotle, the answer would be easy: individual existence is due to the matter which individuates the universal forms of things. In Hegel the answer is more obscure, but it is there. Since individuals involve a contradiction, they exist where contradictions exist, i.e. in among the workings of the Dialectic, which is a matter of contradictions. As contradictions are resolved in syntheses, individuals will disappear, until all contradictions are resolved in the Absolute, i.e. God. Some individuals, however, are more individual than others.
Thus, the mere common individual person is unreal compared to the State, which is Real and Rational. A dissenting individual is, as the Marxists would say, "objectively" irrational. An individual as individual becomes real only to the extent that it participates in the Universal. In those terms, the most real individual is the one that uniquely embodies a universal, as Napoleon did the Zeitgeist of his Age, as the King of Prussia did the Prussian State, or as Hegel himself did the philosophy of the Absolute Idea. This dismissal of the ontological claims of individuality is then of a piece with the dismissal of the moral claims of individuality: as the "All the Real is Rational, and all that is Rational is Real," so is the universality of the state identical with good and right. This gives us a kind of judicial positivism sharply different from Kant, where the source of moral authority is in autonomous individual reason (a recipe for "irrationality" for Hegel), and external reality cannot measure up to the demand for Good Will in the Moral Law, or even from Plato, where the Forms are, after all, detached from the World of Becoming, which cannot approach their perfection. The privileged claims of conscience, then, or the idea that worldly governments are inherently imperfect and corruptible, would be for Hegel meaningless. Indeed, in his own day Hegel could complain about the merely "formal" freedom of British institutions (like Marx complaining about mere "bourgeois" freedom), in comparison to real freedom under the King of Prussia.
Apologists such as Solomon like the idea of leaving Hegel's metaphysics entirely out of the mix and reinterpreting works like the Phenomenology as anti-metaphysical and descriptive in the sense of Edmund Husserl's later "phenomenological" method, which suspends metaphysical judgment (although Hegel says, "Logic therefore coincides with Metaphysics"). To Solomon, this makes Hegel "humanistic" and "far more in tune with the spirit of the logical positivists and the more modern pragmatism of W.V.O. Quine" (ibid., p. 9). However, this doesn't help, since it leaves all the moral heteronomy and judicial positivism of Hegel's method and epistemology in place. Recent "pragmatists," like Richard Rorty (who comes in for honorable mention by Solomon), have renounced the natural rights principles that stand in the way of the fashionable statism and "communitarianism" that they advocate. Solomon affects some neutrality in this debate but then does rather ominously say, "We assume as our dogma the priority of the individual" (p. 35, boldface added) -- no such negative term is allowed for Hegel's emphasis on the collective. In this vein, Solomon's anti-metaphysical interpretation makes no significant difference in the evil moral and political tendencies of Hegel's system. Instead, the New Apologetic for Hegel can happily join the authoritarian political movements that are the ideologically descendants of Hegel. In fact, Hegel himself merely provided the metaphysics that was commensurable and sufficient to the rest of his thought. The "anti-metaphysical" interpretation of Hegel is a red herring.
The reader is recommended this test. When Hegelian apologists forcefully deny that Hegel denigrates individualism or requires a totalitarian state, one need merely ask whether the apologists themselves, when push comes to shove, denigrate individualism and natural rights and promote the authority of the state over individuals. After loud disclaimers that the totalitarian interpretation of Hegel is a mistake, a misunderstanding, or a dark conspiracy of corporations, the apologists usually turn out to be the kind of statists and collectivists who only see individuals as members of groups, subject to unlimited political authority. With the many apologists who even turn out to be Marxists, their denials are cases either of monumental self-deception or of simple dishonesty. The Big Lie. The Left is attracted to Hegel simply because, indeed, he is their spiritual progenitor.
Although Solomon is honest and candid that, "My intention is quite literally to re-do Hegel" (p. 1), in the heat of the moment he sometimes forgets just what he is about. Thus, he says:
...Søren Kierkegaard, the first existentialist, was simply mistaken when he viewed Hegel as the ultimate collectivist and rationalist who had taken the risk and passion out of our existence and replaced them with his "system." [p.28]
Kierkegaard, however, is not going to have been aware of Solomon's "re-do" of Hegel but was reacting to the entire "system" as Hegel formulated, published, and advocated it through the rest of his life. Solomon does not even seem interested in what the whole system added up to -- just that it was a betrayal of the promise shown by (some of) the Phenomenology. But a moment's inattention or enthusiasm by Solomon can become an entire hermeneutic, as I recently discovered, where the "system" doesn't even exist and the credulous can assert that Hegel was never a statist, rationalist, or metaphysician -- from people who, to be sure, may be neither rationalists nor metaphysicians, but who, with some certainly, will turn out to be statists and collectivists -- such as Solomon himself, with his telling characterization of the "dogma" [!] of "the priority of the individual."
The modernization and "humanization" of Hegel is effected by a kind of decapitation of Hegel's system -- the removal, not just of the metaphysics, but of "absolute" knowledge, the goal and end of the whole system. Thus, Solomon says [p.16], what Hegel offers as "absolute" knowledge is, "a fraud, or at most, just another stage on the journey," i.e. not an end, not an absolute, at all. This decapitation, however, uncovers some bases that Hegel himself had covered, and allows a fundamental incoherence into the system. Solomon says, "The Phenomenology is a grand treatise in cosmic humanism; humanity is everything, in the guise of Geist, or 'Spirit'..." [p.7], "he sees God (insofar as we should use that word at all) as nothing more than human spirit writ large, or what Hegel calls Geist" [p.6], and "There is no 'reality' beyond human experience, and no set reality within human experience -- à la Kant -- which our concepts and judgments must conform to" [p.9]. The idea that human consciousness, however, is all of reality can be rebuked as the most extreme anthropocentrism, or in more recent heresiology, "speciesism." Either Geist is actually everything, in which case it transcends mere humanity (as Hegel holds), or the emphasis on its limitation to humanity implies that there is something else, i.e. the reintroduction of the detested Kantian thing-in-itself, beyond human knowledge. Solomon appears to decide simply to not worry about this choice. He does worry, however, about a microcosmic version of it: it is not just that Hegel generalized human consciousness to all the universe, but he generalizes his German/European consciousness to all of humanity. Solomon, who is indifferent to the general anthropocentrism, blanches at Euro-centrism:
Thus what can too easily be viewed as the banality of "humanism" becomes in Hegel a voracious arrogance, which Claude Lévi-Strauss (criticizing neo-Hegelian Jean-Paul Sartre) calls "transcendental humanism," and which I have elsewhere called "the transcendental pretense." This is the view that all of "humanity" can be understood in our own image and in our terms. Hegel's dialectic will "stop at nothing" -- or rather, it will not stop until it has encompassed everything. In the Phenomenology, at least, the transcendental pretense is more than balanced by Hegel's appreciation of differences. But in "the Absolute" and in what is often made out of Hegel, the entire cosmos is made over into a function of the Spirit of German philosophy. That is not a "higher synthesis," as the jargon goes; it is European cultural imperialism and a historical rationale for murder. [p.27]
Now we suddenly get a connection between Hegel and genocide, which sounds like one of the worst charges of the anti-Hegelians, not of a principal participant, like Solomon, in the "apotheosis" of Hegel. But how can Solomon save Hegel from this charge? If the dialectic is unable to encompass all of humanity, let alone all of the cosmos, then there is indeed, again, something beyond human knowledge -- and the dreaded Kantian limitations on knowledge return. Calling the problem of the overgeneralization of our perspective "transcendental humanism" even has a Kantian ring to it -- like "transcendental realism," "transcendental humanism" subsitutes the pretense of "reality" for what is only anthropocentric or ethnocentric, i.e. appearances/phenomena. But if Hegel's dialectic is really so "voracious" as to end up "encompassing everything," it is hard to see how Solomon can stop the process without the sort of arbitrary end to the dialectic that Solomon actually rejects when Hegel himself brings an end to the process with "absolute" knowledge. Thus, Solomon wants to blame European imperialism and genocide on "the Absolute" and on "what is often made out of Hegel," but the problem looks like a inherent methodological one, where the dialectic "will stop at nothing," and which is even worsened with the rejection of a termination at "the Absolute."
Solomon eagerly embraces ("a much more radical Hegel," p.15) that which Popper regarded as the essence of Hegel's error: "historicism" -- a relativization of knowlege and morality to a historical period and situation. Solomon clearly regards this as more "progressive," but even without Hegel's metaphysics and Absolute knowledge, it embodies all the evils of Hegel's heteronomy and judicial positivism. This is because there is no objective or transcendent standard for right and wrong which could provide the individual with a ground of objection or resistance independent of actual authority. The actual authority itself is valorized just by existing. There is no difference, in Humean terms, between "is" and "ought." The protesting or rebellious individual would only be justifed for Hegel by success, in which case he can be fit, retrospectively, into Hegel's dialectic. The protester or rebel who fails is necessarily (the Marxists would say "objectively") "irrational." While Hegel's own preferred (absolute) historical reality was Prussia, modern Hegelians, whether following Marx or not, tend to come down on the side of the authority of the welfare state in social democracies. This abridges older freedoms of voluntary association and private property, which can be dismissed, as by both Hegel and Marx, as "formal" and insufficient. Hegel's statism and Prussianism then live again as the means of instituting involuntary servitude and state ownership, all in the name of "progressive" politics.
The state-worship of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, then, was no passing political pay-back or temporary enthusiasm. It was fully consistent with the fundamentals of Hegel's system (even the re-done Hegel). I don't think that the New Apologists for Hegel appreciate this, or the manner in which Hegel's answer was a serious contribution to the Problem of Universals in the history of philosophy -- Solomon had derisively dismissed a book about Hegel (An Introduction to Hegel, G.R.G. Mure, Oxford, 1940, 1970), which I had thought was quite revealing, that explained him against the background of Aristotle. One would think that treating Hegel in relation to Aristotle would only dignify and enlarge him as a major figure in the history of philosophy; but it would also serve to highlight just the issues of universality and individuality where the implications of Hegel's theory are the most terrifying.
Popper compiles for us a number of characteristic statements:
'The Universal is to be found in the State', Hegel writes. 'The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth... We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth, and consider that, if it is difficult to comprehend Nature, it is infinitely harder to grasp the Essence of the State... The State is the march of God through the world... The state must be comprehended as an organism... To the complete State belongs, essentially, consciousness, and thought. The State knows what it wills... The State is real; and .. true reality is necessary. What is real is eternally necessary... The State .. exists for is own sake... The State is the actually existing, realized moral life.' [op. cit. p. 31]
It is not hard to imagine the solace that this gave, along with the doctrine that a Monarch embodies and personifies the State, to the advocates of Emperor Worship in Japan, where, after all, the Meiji constitution was modeled after that of Prussia. This and other applications of Hegel's ideas in the Twentieth Century, in Japan, Germany, and for all the Marxist stepchildren of Hegel's statism, have had consequences of slaughter and tyranny appalling beyond belief. It is one of the answers to Kurt Vonnegut's plaintiff question, why people in our time have often been treated like garbage: If individuals as individuals don't really exist, what's the problem?
It also explains the continuing appeal of Hegel. The political Left, which all but dominates the academy, literature, journalism, the social "sciences," and education, although famous for the defense of the individual, the eccentric, and the "abnormal," in fact despises individual-ism, which means any desire of the individual to be free of the Power of the State, especially for an individual to control his own property, wealth, business, or children (often stated in the form of "children's rights," but which really makes children wards of the state). Even much personal liberty, as what can and cannot be said to coworkers in the workplace, or whether a private establishment can allow smoking or not, is now seen as public business and is fiercely subjected to the majesty and sanctions of the law. The Left is also tempted by extreme legal doctrines about "hate speech," by which politically "incorrect" statements become crimes. In short, the post-modern Left, armed with Marxist principles consistent with Hegel's judicial positivism, still despises Capitalism, the free market, and the freedoms of contract, association, conscience, and speech.
Thus, Hegel continues to be popular because he continues to play the same political role, although we may say that for him it really is and was sincere rather than merely mercenary (as suspected by Popper). And it is consistent, as Popper discovered in one Hegel apologist, J.H. Sterling, "the first British apostle of Hegelianism," who said:
'...while in constitutional England, Preference-holders and Debenture-holders are ruined by the prevailing commercial immorality, the ordinary owners of Stock in Prussian Railways can depend on a safe average of 8.33 per cent. This, surely, is saying something for Hegel at last!' [ibid. p. 34]
"Commercial immorality" indeed. This is the recognizable universe of our own time where the rich, capital, markets, and profit are still all attacked in the fashionable press, academia, and art by people educated in Marxist Sixties radicalism but completely ignorant or uncomprehending of the most elementary principles of free market economics. The full force of Hegel's statism, whether today it is called "communitarianism," the "politics of meaning," or something else, thus descends on property. And when any kind of private action becomes a matter of money, employment, children, weapons, or political activity (in someone's definition), then the state continues on in, police (Polizei, which may be Hegel's own neologism, by the way), prosecutors, prisons, and all. As it happens, even American police still traditionally sport the black and white colors of the Kingdom of Prussia on their vehicles. Hegel, indeed, would be proud.
What Hegel is probably the most famous for, and what has exercised the greatest technical influence, is his Dialectic. While the Greek term meant logical argumentation or examination, the Idealist usage comes from Kant, for whom "dialectic" meant the speculative employment of Reason on transcendent objects, for which no positive result could be obtained. Thus, Kant talked about the "dialectical illusion" produced in systems of speculative metaphysics.
Speculative metaphysics is just what Hegel and the other Idealists wanted to engage in. Since Kant had thought that speculative Reason would often produce Antinomies, where the arguments were just as good for a "thesis" and a contradictory "antithesis," the notion was already current before Hegel, in Fichte, that the antinomies could perhaps be overcome through a "synthesis" (another Kantian term) that would somehow transcend the contradiction. Hegel stated the logic of this very starkly, that the thesis was an affirmation ("in itself"), the antithesis was the denial ("for itself"), and the synthesis the denial of the denial ("in and for itself").
Ordinarily in logic, a double negation would be equivalent to no negation, i.e. the affirmation. By denying this, Hegel was, unfortunately, denying the principle of the excluded middle, which means that no proper logician has ever cared much for his system. The formalism of Kant, and the Procrustean Bed of his architectonic, achieve a kind of mad apotheosis with Hegel's theory, where all the complexity of the world is apparently formally generated by multiplication of negations. Since this is ridiculous, either there is meaning that is not captured by the formalism of the Dialectic, which means that nothing is unambiguously derived by Hegel's "Logic," or negation itself becomes a mere metaphor for opposition or conflict, the way it is typically later used by Marxists (one of whose favorite phrases is about the "contradictions of capitalism").
The Dialectic begins, indeed, with Hegel's Logic, whose first step is the only one that has ever made any sense to me. The most general metaphysical concept is just Being. Fair enough. The denial of this is Not-Being. OK. The denial of the denial is then Becoming. Indeed, Becoming might be thought of as the denial of both Being and Not-Being, since it is not quite nothing but is not yet what it is going-to-be. Parmenides, however, had already denied that becoming could bridge the gap between true Being and Not-Being. Things that come-to-be require a preexisting and durable substratum, so that they are not literally nothing before they reach the state that they are becoming. But this sinks the Dialectic already, since there are clearly other concepts besides negation (like substance) required to get from Being and Not-Being to Becoming.
The general plan of the Dialectic is based on a grand division of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The Logic itself is the thesis. Since the Logic consists of concepts, which are purely mental and internal, the denial and antithesis of this is Nature, which is purely non-mental and external. I have already noted the level of nonsense achieved in Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, where it is abundantly clear that he had no particular interest in or understanding of the real science of his day. While Germany was already entering a golden age of mathematics (with Gauss, Riemann, etc.), and by the turn of the century would excel in physics (Planck, Einstein, etc.), German philosophy (and later Anglo-American) would remain burdened and mystified with the ignorance and arrogance of Hegel's treatment, wholly foreign in spirit and substance from scientific method, or even the essentials of logic.
The pinnacle of Hegel's thought then comes in the great synthesis of Logic and Nature: Spirit. Hegel's first and still most popular book, The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), already dealt with this part of the Dialectic. Misunderstandings about "Spirit" are evident in some translations of the word itself. Geist is sometimes rendered "Mind," but this gives the wrong impression. Spirit, as the synthesis of Logic and Nature, has overcome the duality of mental and physical, internal and external. The Ideas that constitute Spirit, then, are not mental, or merely mental, objects. If anything, they are like what happened to Plato's Forms (the original Ideas) in Neoplatonism, where they transcend the reality of the objects that exemplify them, but are not really "separated" from them, as Plato thought but Aristotle denied.
The Idea that is the most characteristic of these qualities of Spirit, as well as Hegel's greatest contribution to the hellish history of the 20th Century, is that of the State. The State, clearly, is not a physical object or part of nature. On the other hand, the common sense view that the State is just some belief in people's heads is rejected by Hegel. As an Idea, the State exists externally as well as internally, independent of mere "abstract" individuals, and easily exerts real physical force, as when its armies march, its police kick in doors, or its judges put people in jail or execute them. I have already given the state-worshiping quotes gleaned from Hegel by Popper. Now it should be clear why the State boasts such a lofty status, not just as a Universal more real than the individual, but as one of the ultimate products of the Dialectic.
The ultimate product of the Dialectic, however, the end of Spirit, is the Absolute Idea, which would appear to be the synthesis of absolutely everything, giving its name to Hegel's system, "Absolute Idealism." Since Hegel was the first to understand this, and since individuals have significance only in so far as they exemplify or embody some Idea, this makes Hegel the supreme individual of all history.
Exchange with James Good on Hegel
History of Philosophy
While the unreality of individuals has deep roots in the history of Western philosophy, there is another way of getting to Hegel's view more immediately. That is to start with Kant's phenomenalism.
The phenomenal world is empirically real to Kant, but phenomena are nevertheless appearances, these only exist in consciousness, and consciousness only exists because of the individual existence of conscious beings. The only thing that accounts for substantial and separable individuality in Kant, therefore, are things-in-themselves.
Hegel rejects things-in-themselves. With their disappearence, something must be done about the existence of consciousness, and Hegel's move is to have it exist independently and inter-subjectively in its own right. Consciousness transcends individual consciousness; it becomes "meta-consciousness," which is essentially what was the case in Neoplatonism. Traditionally this sort of doctrine has been known as "idealism," with Hegel's variety distinguished as "absolute idealism" to differentiate it from the "subjective idealism" of individual souls in someone like Berkeley. While Kant's views are sometimes associated with Berkeley, I have never heard of anyone ever making such a connection for Hegel.
The comfort of this view to modern trendy anti-individualism, whose dark purposes are moral and political more than metaphysical, is considerable. It is now common for people to say that individuality as such was "socially constructed" by people like Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke, for their own evil purposes of racism, sexism, capitalism, etc. The "natural," or at least previous, state of things, then, was communal, public, collective, and external. Since collectivism and the heteronomy of external authority are what the politically correct crowd wants, as did Hegel, their purposes and his again coincide in the ontological abolition of Kantian individual consciousness.
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