The Philosophy of History
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"The interest of history is detached from individuals."
Wikipedia - Full Text - Print Edition: ISBN 0486437558
Born in Stuttgart, in the Duchy of Württemberg, (in what is now in south-western Germany), son of a senior civil servant. His progress through school was spectacular, despite, aged thirteen suffering badly from a 'biliary fever' which killed his mother. He was no stranger to death, his brother died as a soldier in Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812, and his girlfriend passed away leaving their son in an orphanage.
Through a series of senior posts at German universities Hegel developed a philosophical explanation of more-or-less everything, which, whether they have agreed with or derided him, has been immensely influential on other thinkers, including Bauer, Feuerbach, Marx, Bradley, Dewey, Sartre, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Peirce and Russell.
The idea of History presented here, that it is not a bitty mish-mash, but an inevitable linear progression from eastern foolishness to grand European wisdom, was immensely influential on Marx coming up with the idea that there really ought to be an inevitable linear next step - namely proletarian revolution.
Hegel is not a clear writer, to the point where the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno has asserted that some passages are simply incomprehensible - and Herr Adorno had the advantage of reading Hegel's own language.
This is the condensed version first published by Sir John Hammerton in 1919.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2011
I. - In the East Began History
Universal or world-history travels from east to west, for Europe is absolutely the end of history, Asia the beginning. The history of the world has an east in an absolute sense, for, although the earth forms a sphere, history describes no orbit round it, but has, on the contrary, a determinate orient - viz., Asia. Here rises the outward visible sun, and in the west it sinks down; here also rises the sun of self-consciousness. The history of the world is a discipline of the uncontrolled natural will, bringing it into obedience to a universal principle and conferring a subjective freedom. The East knew, and to this day knows, freedom only for one; the Greek and Roman world knew that some are free; the German world knows that all are free. The first political form, therefore, that we see in history is despotism; the second democracy and aristocracy; and the third monarchy.
The first phase - that with which we have to begin - is the East. Unreflected consciousness - substantial, objective, spiritual existence - forms the basis; to which the subjective will first sustains a relation in the form of faith, confidence, obedience. In the political life of the East we find realised national freedom, developing itself without advancing to subjective freedom. It is the childhood of history. In the gorgeous edifices of the Oriental empires we find all national ordinances and arrangements, but in such a way that individuals remain as mere accidents. These revolve round a centre, round the sovereign, who as patriarch stands (not as despot, in the sense of the Roman imperial constitution) at the head. For he has to enforce the moral and substantial; he has to uphold those essential ordinances which are already established; so that what among us belongs entirely to subjective freedom, here proceeds from the entire and general body of the state.
The glory of the Oriental conception is the one individual as the substantial being to which all belongs, so that no other individual has a separate existence, or mirrors himself in his subjective freedom. All the riches of imagination and nature are appropriated to that dominant existence in which subjective freedom is essentially merged; the latter looks for its dignity not in itself but in the absolute object. All the elements of a complete state - even subjectivity - may be found there, but not yet harmonised with the grand substantial being. For outside the one power - before which nothing can maintain an independent existence - there is only revolting caprice, which, beyond the limits of the central power, moves at will without purpose or result.
Accordingly we find the wild herds breaking out from the upland, falling upon the countries in question and laying them waste, or settling down in them and giving up their wild life; but in all cases lost resultlessly in the central substance.
This phase of substantiality, since it has not taken up its antithesis into itself and overcome it, directly divides itself into two elements. On the one side we see duration, stability - empires belonging, as it were, to mere Space (as distinguished from Time); unhistorical history, as, for example, in China, the state based on the family relation. Yet the states in question, without undergoing any change in themselves, or in the principle of their existence, are constantly changing their opinion towards each other. They are in ceaseless conflict, which brings on rapid destruction. The opposing principle of individuality enters into these conflicting relations; but it is itself as yet only unconscious, merely natural universality - light which is not yet the light of the personal soul. This history, too, is for the most part really unhistorical, for it is only the repetition of the same majestic ruin.
The new element which, in the shape of bravery, prowess, magnanimity, occupies the place of the previous despotic pomp goes through the same cycle of decline and subsidence. And this subsidence, therefore, is not really such; for through all this restless change no advance has been made. History passes at this point - and only outwardly, that is, without connection with the previous phase - to Central Asia. To carry on the comparison with the individual man, this would be the boyhood of history, no longer manifesting the repose and trustfulness of the child, but boisterous and turbulent.
II. - Greece, Rome and Christianity
The Greek world may, then, be compared to the season of adolescence, for here we have individualities shaping themselves. This is the second main principle in human history. Morality is, as in Asia, a principle, but it is morality impressed on individuality, and consequently denoting the free volition of individuals. Here, then, is the union of the moral with the subjective will, or the kingdom of beautiful freedom, for the idea is united with a plastic form. It is not yet regarded abstractly, but intimately bound up with the real, as in a beautiful work of art; the sensible bears the stamp and expression of the spiritual. The kingdom is consequently true harmony; it is a world of the most charming but perishable, or quickly passing, bloom; it is the natural, unreflecting observance of what is becoming - not yet true morality. The individual will of the subject adopts without reflection the conduct and habit prescribed by justice and the laws. The individual is, therefore, in unconscious unity with the idea - the social weal.
The third phase is the realm of abstract universality (in which the social aim absorbs all individual aims); it is the Roman state, the severe labours of the manhood of history. For true manhood acts neither in accordance with the caprice of a despot nor in obedience to a graceful caprice of its own. It works for a general aim, one in which the individual perishes and realises his own private object only in that general aim. The state begins to have an abstract existence and to develop itself for a definite object, in accomplishing which its members have indeed a share, but not a complete and concrete one (calling their whole being into play). Free individuals are sacrificed to the severe demands of the national ends, to which they must surrender themselves in this service of abstract generalisation. The Roman state is not a repetition of such a state of individuals as was the Athenian polis. The geniality and joy of soul that existed there have given place to harsh and rigorous toil. The interest of history is detached from individuals.
But when, subsequently, in the historical development, individuality gains the ascendant, and the breaking up of the community into its component atoms can be restrained only by external compulsion, then the subjective might of individual despotism comes forward to play its part. The individual is led to seek consolation for the loss of his freedom in exercising and developing his private rights. In the next place, the pain inflicted by despotism begins to be felt, and spirit, driven back into its utmost depths, leaves the godless world, seeks for a harmony in itself, and begins now an inner life - a complete concrete subjectivity, which at the same time possesses a substantiality that is not grounded in mere external existence.
Within the soul, therefore, arises the spiritual solution of the struggle, in the fact that the individual personality, instead of following its own capricious choice, is purified and elevated into universality - a subjectivity that of its own free will adopts principles tending to the good of all, reaches, in fact, a divine personality. To the worldly empire this spiritual one wears a predominant aspect of opposition, as the empire of subjectivity that has attained to the knowledge of itself - itself in its essential nature - the empire of spirit in its full sense.
The Christian community found itself in the Roman world, but as it was secluded from this state, and did not hold the emperor for its absolute sovereign, it was the object of persecution. Then was manifested its inward liberty in the steadfastness with which sufferings were borne. As regards its relation to the truth, the fathers of the Church built up the dogma, but a chief element was furnished by the previous development of philosophy. Just as Philo found a deeper import shadowed forth in the Mosaic record and idealised what he considered the bare shell of the narrative, so also did the Christians treat their records.
It was through the Christian religion that the absolute idea of God, in if true conception, attained consciousness. Here man, too, finds himself comprehended in his true nature, given in the specific conception of "the Son." Man, finite when regarded for himself, is yet at the same time the image of God and a fountain of infinity in himself. Consequently he has his true home in a super-sensuous world - an infinite subjectivity, gained only by a rupture with mere natural existence and volition. This is religious self-consciousness.
The first abstract principles are won by the instrumentality of the Christian religion for the secular state. First, under Christianity slavery is impossible; for man as man - in the abstract essence of his nature - is contemplated in God; each unit of mankind is an object of the grace of God and of the divine purpose. Utterly excluding all speciality, therefore, man, in and for himself - in his simple quality of man - has infinite value; and this infinite value abolishes, ipso facto, all particularity attaching to birth or country.
The other, the second principle, regards the subjectivity of man in its bearing on chance. Humanity has this sphere of free spirituality in and for itself, and everything else must proceed from it. The place appropriated to the abode and presence of the Divine Spirit - the sphere in question - is spiritual subjectivity, and is constituted the place in which all contingency is amenable. It follows, thence, that what we observe among the Greeks as a form of customary morality cannot maintain its position in the Christian world. For that morality is spontaneous, unreflected wont; while the Christian principle is independent subjectivity - the soil on which grows the True.
Now, an unreflected morality cannot continue to hold its ground against the principle of subjective freedom. Now the principle of absolute freedom in God makes its appearance. Man no longer sustains the relation of dependence, but of love - in the consciousness that he is a partaker in the Divine existence.
III. - The Germanic World
The German world appears at this point of development - the fourth phase of world history. The old age of nature is weakness; but this of spirit is its perfect maturity and strength, in which it returns to unity with itself, but in its fully developed character as spirit.
The Greeks and Romans had reached maturity within ere they directed their energies outwards. The Germans, on the contrary, began with self-diffusion, deluging the world, and breaking down in their course the hollow political fabrics of the civilised nations. Only then did their development begin, kindled by a foreign culture, a foreign religion, polity, and legislation. The process of culture they underwent consisted in taking up foreign elements into their own national life.
The German world took up the Roman culture and religion in their completed form. The Christian religion which it adopted had received from councils and fathers of the Church - who possessed the whole culture, and in particular the philosophy of the Greek and Roman world - a perfected dogmatic system. The Church, too, had a completely developed hierarchy. To the native tongue of the Germans the Church likewise opposed one perfectly developed - the Latin. In art and philosophy a similar alien influence predominated. The same principle holds good in regard to the form of the secular sovereignty. Gothic and other chiefs gave themselves the name of Roman patricians. Thus, superficially, the German world appears to be a continuation of
the Roman. But there dwelt in it an entirely new spirit - the free spirit which reposes on itself.
The three periods of this world will have to be treated accordingly.
The first period begins with the appearance of the German nations in the Roman Empire. The Christian world presents itself as Christendom - one mass of which, the spiritual and the secular, form only different aspects. This epoch extends to Charlemagne. In the second period the Church develops for itself a theocracy and the state a feudal monarchy. Charlemagne had formed an alliance with the Holy See against the Lombards and the factions of the nobles in Rome. A union thus arose between the spiritual and the secular power, and a kingdom of heaven on earth promised to follow in the wake of this conciliation. But just at this time, instead of a spiritual kingdom of heaven, the inwardness of the Christian principle wears the appearance of being altogether directed outwards, and leaving its proper sphere.
Christian freedom is perverted to its very opposite, both in a religious and secular respect; on the one hand to the severest bondage, on the other to the most immoral excess - a barbarous intensity of every passion. The first half of the sixteenth century marks the beginning of the third period. Secularity appears now as gaining a consciousness of its intrinsic worth; it becomes aware that it possesses a value of its own in the morality, rectitude, probity, and activity of man. The consciousness of independent validity is aroused through the restoration of Christian freedom.
The Christian principle has now passed through the terrible discipline of culture, and it first attains truth and reality through the Reformation. This third period extends to our own times. The principle of free spirit is here made the banner of the world, and from this principle are evolved the universal axioms of reason. Formal thought - the understanding - had been already developed, but thought received its true material first with the Reformation. From that Epoch thought began to gain a culture properly its' own; principles were derived from it which were to be the norm for the constitution of the state. Political life was now to be consciously regulated by reason. Customary morality, traditional usage, lost their validity; the various claims insisted upon must prove their legitimacy as based on rational principles.
These epochs may be compared with the earlier empires. In the German æon, as the realm of totality, we see the earlier epochs resumed. Charlemagne's time may be compared with the Persian Empire; it is the period of substantive unity, this unity having its foundation in the inner man, the heart, and both in the spiritual and the secular still abiding in its simplicity. To the Greek world and its merely ideal unity the time preceding Charles V. answers; where real unity no longer exists, because all phases of particularity have become fixed in privileges and peculiar rights As, in the interior of the realms themselves, the different estates of the realm, with their several claims, are isolated, so do the various states in their foreign aspects occupy a merely external relation one to another. A diplomatic policy arises which, in the interest of a European balance of power, unites them with and against each other. It is the time in which the world becomes clear and manifest to all (discovery of America).
So, too, does consciousness gain clearness in the super-sensuous world, and respecting it. Substantial objective religion brings itself to sensuous clearness in the sensuous element (Christian art), and also becomes clear to itself in the element of inmost truth. We may compare this time with that of Pericles. The introversion of spirit begins (Socrates - Luther), though Pericles is wanting in this epoch. Charles V. possesses enormous possibilities in point of outward appliances, and appears absolute in his power; but the inner spirit of Pericles, and therefore the absolute means of establishing a free sovereignty, is not in him. This is the epoch when spirit becomes clear to itself in separations occurring in the realm of reality; now the distinct elements of the German world manifest their essential nature.
The third epoch may be compared to the Roman world. The authority of national aim is acknowledged, and privileges melt away before the common object of the state.
IV. - Modern Times
Spirit at last perceives that nature - the world - must be an embodiment of reason. An interest in the contemplation and comprehension of the present world became universal. Thus experimental science became the science of the world; for experimental science involves, on the one hand, the observation of phenomena; on the other hand, also the discovery of the law, the essential being, the hidden force, that causes those phenomena - thus reducing the data supplied by observation to their simple principles. Intellectual consciousness was first extricated by Descartes from that sophistry of thought which unsettles everything. As it was the purely German nations among whom the principle of spirit first manifested itself, so it was by the Romanic nations that the abstract idea was first comprehended.
Experimental science, therefore, very soon made its way among them, in common with the Protestant English, but especially among the Italians. It seemed to men as if God had but just created the moon and stars, plants and animals; as if the laws of the universe were now established for the first time; for only then did they feel a real interest in the universe when they recognised their own reason in the reason that pervades it. The human eye became clear, perception quick, thought active and interpretative. The discovery of the laws of nature enabled men to contend against the monstrous superstition of the time, as also against all notions of mighty alien powers which magic alone could conquer.
The independent authority of subjectivity was maintained against belief founded on authority, and the laws of nature were recognised as the only bond connecting phenomena with phenomena. Man is at home in nature, and that alone passes for truth in which he finds himself at home; he is free through the acquaintance he has gained with nature.
Nor was thought less vigorously directed to the spiritual side. Right and social morality came to be looked upon as having their foundation in the actual present will of man, whereas formerly it was referred only to the command of God enjoined ab extra, written in the Old or New Testament, or appearing in the form of particular right, as opposed to that based on general principles, in old parchments as privilegia, or in international compacts. Luther had secured to mankind spiritual freedom, and the reconciliation of the objective and the subjective in the concrete. He had triumphantly established the position that man's eternal destiny must be wrought out in himself. But the import of that which is to take place in him - what truth is to become vital to him - was taken for granted by Luther, as something already given, something revealed by religion. Now the principle was set up that this import must be capable of actual investigation, and that to this basis of inward demonstration every dogma must be referred.
This is the point which consciousness has attained, and these are the principal phases of that form in which the principle of freedom has realised itself, for the history of the world is nothing but the development of the idea of freedom. But objective freedom - the laws of "real" freedom - demands the subjugation of the mere contingent will, for this is in its nature formal. If the objective is in itself rational, human insight and conviction must correspond with the reason which it embodies, and then we have the other essential element - subjective freedom - also realised. We have confined ourselves to the consideration of that progress of the idea which has led to this consummation. Philosophy concerns itself only with the glory of the idea mirroring itself in the history of the world, and with the development which the idea has passed through in realising itself - i.e., the idea of freedom, whose reality is the consciousness of freedom and nothing short of it.
That the history of the world, with all the changing scenes which its annals present, is this true process of development and the realisation of spirit - this is the true Theodikaia, the justification of God in history. The spirit of man may be reconciled with the course of universal history only by perception of this truth - that all which has happened, all that happens daily, is not only not without God, but is essentially His work.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Hegel's grave at Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichswerder Cemetery, Berlin
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