Restoring Hegel

Hegel: Reinterpretations, Texts, and Commentary

by Walter Kaufmann
Doubleday, 498 pp., $6.95

If civilization is wiped out in a nuclear war between East and West, it is quite likely that Hegel will be among the few authors to survive the holocaust. His writings are currently being studied in places as far apart as Ghana and Cuba. He is part of the curriculum in Samarkand, and Mao Tse-tung has seen to it that Chinese schoolboys are imbued with a proper respect for the official philosopher of Prussian conservatism. There are bearded sages in Central Asia for whom he has taken the place of Aristotle (the only other philosopher to have come to their notice). Africans who study in Paris cannot fail to return with potted fragments of Hegel in their mental baggage, though they may think of themselves as followers of Marx or Sartre. All in all, Hegel has made good. The only considerable area of contemporary civilization where he remains taboo is the Anglo-American academic world.

The appearance of a critical commentary on Hegel by Professor Walter Kaufmann provides a welcome opportunity for examining some of the reasons for this cultural lag. The most important of them is obvious. As Sidney Hook observed in a recent Encounter article, the Anglo-American school of philosophy has been hard at work since the First World War trying to make people forget its own previous indebtedness to Hegel. Green, Bradley, and McTaggart in Britain, Royce and Dewey in America, had been deeply influenced by him. Indeed the whole idealist movement down to 1914 owed its peculiar cast of mind to the impact of the Hegelian tradition. Penance was called for, and Hegel was duly exorcized, along with Nietzsche (with whom he had literally nothing in common). In later years, the rise of Communism and Fascism—both ostensibly linked to Hegel—sharpened the antagonism. By 1945 the educated public was ready for Karl Popper’s furious vituperation in The Open Society. In vain did the surviving academic Hegelians, with G. E. Mure of Cambridge in the lead, point out that Popper clearly had not read Hegel properly, let alone understood him. The general reader was impressed by Popper’s authoritative tone and reluctant to credit the notion that he might be talking through his hat. Only when Professor Kaufmann some years ago, in a lengthy and effective polemical essay demolished Popper’s criticism, did it become possible once more to get the debate back on dry ground.

What Kaufmann has now done in his new book is decidedly original. He opens with a brief biography of Hegel, and then goes on to a discussion of some of the more difficult texts: principally the Logic and the Phenomenology. In addition he has provided a full translation of the lengthy and important Preface to the latter work, with a textual commentary on facing pages. There he not only clarifies Hegel’s famous obscurities, but offers the reader a guide to the often very puzzling connotations of Hegel’s elaborate punning in German. No translator can do full justice to the Phenomenology—the most poetic, as well as…

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