Spreading Hegel’s Wings—II

Hegel

by Raymond Plant
Indiana University Press, 214 pp., $7.95

Hegel’s Political Philosophy

edited by Walter Kaufmann
Lieber-Atherton, 179 pp., $2.95 (paper)

Hegel’s Political Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives

edited by Z.A. Pelczynski
Cambridge University Press, 246 pp., $15.50

Hegel’s Philosophy of History

by Burleigh Taylor Wilkins
Cornell University Press, 196 pp., $7.50

Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State

by Shlomo Avineri
Cambridge University Press, 252 pp., $4.95 (paper)

Introduction to the Reading of Hegel

by Alexandre Kojève, edited by Allan Bloom, translated by James H. Nichols Jr.
Basic Books, 287 pp., $8.95

The American Hegelians: An Intellectual Episode in the History of Western America

by William H. Goetzmann
Knopf, 327 pp., $15.00

From Marx to Hegel

by George Lichtheim
Seabury, 248 pp., $3.95 (paper)

In the first part of this article I discussed the current state of opinion about Hegel, his relation to previous philosophy, in particular that of Kant, and went on to consider his theory of knowledge or method and its most grandiose application in his general metaphysics. I concluded that recent studies of his account of the universe in general, even Ivan Soll’s very good one, had not succeeded in making clear what Hegel took the relations of Nature and Spirit to be, in particular whether Spirit should be conceived as something like the God of theism or rather as human mentality taken as a collective whole. I turn now to the application he makes of his dialectical method of reason to the specifically human subject matter of society, politics, and history. Here its implications are very much clearer and, if there has been vigorous controversy over what precisely they are, the issues in dispute, I shall suggest, are within reasonable distance of being settled.

Raymond Plant’s Hegel does for Hegel’s social philosophy very much what Soll’s book does for Hegel’s metaphysics. I mentioned earlier that for Plant Hegel’s social philosophy cannot be understood abstracted from his metaphysics, but the relevant part of the metaphysics is the theory of knowledge or method rather than the theory of God, man, and nature. Plant has something to say about the latter but it has a secondary role since he sees all Hegel’s thought as rooted in his social and political experience. In general he sees Hegel’s mature philosophy as the culmination of a process of reflection set in motion by a pained awareness of the incoherence and division within men’s personalities and between men in society, taking the form of nostalgia for the ancient Greek ideal in which men were not divided into public and private beings, and where state, society, and religion were fully integrated.

Plant stresses the influence on the direction of Hegel’s thinking of Steuart’s An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy, which convinced him of the social and psychological importance of economic change. The emergence of commercial, industrial, urban society had deepened the divisions between and within men, and intensified the problem of reestablishing coherence. Yet the process, with its division of labor and of classes, is irreversible. It is a social parallel to the cosmic alienation of men from nature. Where the latter is to be overcome by a metaphysically transfigured religion, the former is to be cured by the state as Hegel conceives it—and to effect the cure he required a strong state.

An issue that emerges here, which Plant does not seem to me to deal with, is that while cosmic alienation seems eliminable by thought, by the transfigured conception of man’s place in the total scheme of things supplied by Hegel, actual political change seems required for the reintegration of society. Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach appear to imply that …

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Letters

Absolutely Yours, Hegel October 2, 1975