Introduction to the Reading of Hegel
Studies on Marx and Hegel
Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays
Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State
Introduction to Hegel’s Metaphysics
Hegel’s Idea of Philosophy
Hegel’s Concept of Experience
Hegel’s Science of Logic
Hegel’s reputation in the English-speaking world was at its lowest ebb in 1945. That was the year of Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, with its genially dismissive treatment of Hegel, and of the stormy invective of the Hegel chapter in Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies. In Britain the last embers of resistance to analytic philosophy, itself inaugurated at the turn of the century by Russell and Moore in total rejection of British neo-Hegelianism, had been stamped out. Collingwood had been dead for three years and had left no visible disciples. Idealism had, indeed, one distinguished exponent, the immaculately courteous and stylish Brand Blanshard at Yale. But his loyalty was not so much to Hegel as to F.H. Bradley, the most original and Hegelianly unorthodox of late-nineteenth-century British idealists, who, in fact, respectfully disowned Hegel. Like Bradley, Blanshard was more a critic of empiricism than a constructive practitioner of speculative philosophy. In all branches of philosophy Hegel’s ideas were not thought worth consideration even as an exemplary form of error, except in political philosophy, a field which analytic philosophers avoided and whose controversies thus proceeded, to the extent that they proceeded at all, in the idiom of an earlier age.
Hegel had fallen from grace in Europe by 1840, a decade after his death and long before he was known at all in the English-speaking world. But the chief initiators of the post-Hegelian philosophies of the nineteenth century, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Marx, critical as they were of Hegel, all agreed with him that philosophy should be done in the grand manner. Schopenhauer preserved his all-inclusively systematic aims; Kierkegaard followed his antiscientific concentration on the higher spiritual activities; Marx, claiming to be a scientist, understood by science a Hegelian, dialectical form of thinking. So although his European supplanters voted against Hegel, they accepted his agenda. But the brief interruption of idealism in Britain had no lasting effect on the national tradition of conceiving the philosopher, in the words of Locke and the practice of a host of others, as an underlaborer to the scientist, or, with Moore and the linguistic philosophers, to the common man.
What has done most for the restoration of Hegel’s fortunes, both in continental Europe and the English-speaking world, has been an increasing sense of the need for a new Marx. The official Marx of the interwar years, discredited as the theological ornamentation of Stalin’s slave state, was the late, scientistic Marx of Das Kapital, as interpreted by the naïvely positivist Engels, whose task it was to generalize Marx’s theory of history and society into the comprehensive philosophy of dialectical materialism. The recovery, by 1930, of Marx’s more Hegelian and philosophical early writings of the 1840s, from the Paris MS to The German Ideology, drew attention to a Marx, altogether more libertarian and less deterministic than the sage of Highgate, and, in its emphasis on man as the creator of himself and the world, much more attractive to ardent reforming spirits.
In Europe the revival of Hegel came about at much the same time as the philosophical revision of Marx and in much the same way: by attention to the earliest writings, which had for the most part been newly discovered. The Realphilosophie of Hegel’s Jena period provided a new approach to The Phenomenology of Spirit as did Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts to The German Ideology. Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, now available in English, is a version of his famous and influential lectures of the 1930s. These awakened an interest that was further fed by Hyppolite’s translation of the Phenomenology (1934), his long commentary on it (1946), and the essays of 1955, now available in John O’Neill’s translation as Studies on Marx and Hegel.
In the English-speaking world the process began much later and was less dramatic. Starting from J.N. Findlay’s presidential address to the Aristotelian Society of 1955, “Some Merits of Hegelianism,” the revival was inspired less by an interest in the proto-Marxian aspects of Hegel’s social and political thought than by a desire to reinstate metaphysical speculation after its long prohibition by positivism. In his substantial, if somewhat idiosyncratic, Hegel: A Re-examination (1958), Findlay, indeed, dismisses Hegel’s political theory with an air of embarrassment. “Hegel’s theory of the state,” he says, “is an unedifying piece of writing, largely lacking in thought and argument.” But against Hegel’s more strenuous detractors he protests, in a Wittgensteinian turn of phrase, “there is nothing vile in his political philosophy. At its worst it is small-minded and provincial, at its best it achieves the level of inspiration of an average British back-bench conservatism.”
In the United States the revival of interest in Hegel was initially the work of Walter Kaufmann, first in the Fifties in a series of articles, of which the most notable is “The Hegel Myth and Its Method” (included in Alasdair MacIntyre’s useful compilation, Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays), an analysis of Popper’s attack that is all the more effective for the general sympathy it shows to Popper, and later, in 1965, in the slightly inchoate mixture of translation, commentary, and general discussion that makes up his Hegel.
Kaufmann’s interest in Hegel is part of his general project of rescuing post-Kantian philosophy in Germany from the largely unsubstantiated charge by Anglo-Saxon philosophers that it is intellectually grotesque and morally outrageous. Hegel took second place to Nietzsche in this project, Kaufmann’s aim being to dissociate the intellectual tradition in which they stand at either end from the Heideggerian philosophy, which in his view really merits the blanket reprobation given to all German philosophers since Kant (cf. chapter 18 of From Shakespeare to Existentialism, “German Thought after World War II”).
As the list of books under review suggests, these first springs of reawakened interest in Hegel in Britain and America have now swelled. Indeed the preparation of this article has been delayed by a kind of Tristram Shandy effect. The influx of new material has steadily outstripped the reviewer’s ability to cover it. As a result the reviewer has attempted to select from the output on Hegel of the past five years.
Even if much of the current interest in Hegel derives from his proximity as a social philosopher to the original and allegedly essential Marx, only in Europe did the Hegel revival begin from that interest. In Britain and America it is Hegel the systematic metaphysician that was first exhumed. How far can the social philosopher and the cosmic metaphysician in Hegel be separated? Lenin took a strongly negative line on this issue: “You cannot completely understand Marx’s Capital, and in particular its first chapter, without having studied and understood all the Logic of Hegel.” While the battle of the Marne was in progress in the autumn of 1914 he settled down to this agonizing and perhaps impossible task himself.
Certainly Hegel’s social and political theory can be considered almost without reference to his metaphysics and still be treated in an informative and intelligible way, as is done by Shlomo Avineri in Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State. But Raymond Plant, whose excellent Hegel appears in a series of books on political thinkers, says that “an understanding of these [central metaphysical] doctrines is…a necessary condition of making his writings on political philosophy intelligible.”
An argument for separating the two aspects of his work might be drawn from the fact that Hegel’s metaphysics was not worked out until he had devoted much philosophical attention in his early years to politics and to religion, conceived as a decidedly social phenomenon and not, in the manner of Whitehead, as “what the individual does with his own solitariness.” But that argument would be cogent only if the metaphysics inspired by his early concrete studies of religion and politics had not influenced his subsequent handling of society, politics, and history. Much systematic philosophy has been inspired by more detailed investigations. From Plato to Russell many distinguished philosophers have started out from mathematics. Aristotle was a biologist, Locke a doctor and political theorist. But, in general, philosophies produced in this way are not mere epiphenomena of the more specific interests that inspired them. Hegel’s metaphysics and social philosophy are at any rate congruous and each presents so many obstacles to understanding that it is only sensible to make use of either to help make the other more intelligible.
All the same I am inclined to think that the two ought to be separated in what might be regarded as Hegel’s own best interests. The reason is that it is only the epistemological or methodological part of Hegel’s metaphysics that has a direct bearing on his social philosophy. The substantive, cosmological part has no more than a general affinity of style with the social philosophy. It is also extremely ambiguous because of the desperate vagueness of its foundations and in either of its more natural interpretations it seems pretty absurd. I am inclined to believe that Hegel’s theory of method was first derived from the consideration of human and social questions, the subject of his Phenomenology and of the concluding part of his Encyclopedia, the Philosophy of Mind, a field to which it is plausibly applicable, and that he then projected this theory on to the even larger concerns of cosmology, namely the relations of nature, man, and God, to which it is not plausibly applicable. If I am correct, the extraordinary character of the resulting substantive theory of the cosmos is neither surprising in itself nor necessarily damaging to the dialectical account of the human and social world on which he based his reflections.
Hegel saw his own work as the culmination of the whole history of Western philosophy, and with that in mind one should perhaps start any attempt to place and account for it with the pre-Socratics. One must at least go back to Kant’s uneasy critical synthesis of the seventeenth-century rationalism that culminated in Leibniz and the British empiricism that achieved its fullest development with Hume. The rationalists held that the real nature of the world, the existence and characteristics of God, nature, and the soul, could be ascertained by pure reason, working deductively from selfevident first principles. Sensation for them is only “confused thought” and its mangled deliverances provide no more than illusion-riddled appearances of the reality that reason alone can penetrate. For the empiricists knowledge of what really exists can be acquired only from the senses; pure reason is competent to discover only the formal relationships between concepts.
Kant agreed with the empiricists that the senses are necessary to knowledge of reality, but denied that they are sufficient. The intellect has an essential part to play: not as an alternative and superior mode of access to reality, the task of reason as the rationalists conceived it, but in conjunction with the senses as a source of organizing principles which order and arrange the initially chaotic “manifold of sensation” yielded by the senses into a world of persisting substances, causally related to one another.