The Historical Method of Dialectic & Nationalism

The Historical Method of Dialectic & Nationalism. The philosophy of Hegel aimed at nothing less than a complete reconstruction of modern thought. Political issues and ideas were an important but still only a secondary factor in it as compared with religion and metaphysics. In a broad sense Hegel’s problem was on a that had been perennial in modern thought from the beginning and that had grown steadily more acute with the progress of modern science, viz., the opposition between the order of nature as it mus be conceived for scientific purposes and the conception of it implicit in the ethical and religious tradition of Christianity.

In the half century before Hegel began his philosophical education three important thinkers had sharpened this opposition. Hume had showed the ambiguities concealed in the word reason and so had put in doubt the very principle of the system of natural law.

Rousseau had set the reasons of the heart against the reasons of the head and had virtually regarded religion and morals as matters of sentiment. And Kant had tried to preserve the autonomy of both science and morals by assigning to each its own sphere and by sharpening to the last degree the contrast between theoretical and practical reason.

These three philosophies-the typical conclusions of the Enlightenment-had been constructed upon the analytic principle, divide and conquer. Against them Hegel proposed to set a bolder speculative principle of synthesis. Morals and religion, he believed, could be given a logical justification, but only if a newer and more powerful logic of synthesis could be discovered, transcending the analytic logic of science.

What Hegel’s philosophy professed to offer, therefore, was an enlarged conception of reason that should overlap and include what had been separated by the analysis cf Hume and Kant, and the center of his system was a new logic purporting to systematize a new intellectual method. This he called dialectic. Its virtue, he held, lay in its capacity to demonstrate a necessary logical relationship between the realm of fact and the realm of value.

Accordingly it supplied a new and an indispensable tool for understanding the problems of society and of morals and religion. It was to provide a strictly rational standard of value, though rational according to a new definition, to replace the law of nature, the philosophical weakness of which had been proved by Hume and the practical weaknesses of which had been still more glaringly proved by the French Revolution.

In point of fact, however, Hegel’s philosophy was not exclusively determined by considerations so formal or by abstractions at so high a level as the preceding statement might suggest. The French Revolution drew a broad line across the intellectual as well as the political history of Europe. Its violence and terrorism, and the imperialist attack on smaller nationalities in which it ended, induced a reaction against it even in the minds of men who at the start had been ardent believers in the rights of man.

Among its opponents, such as Burke, they -induced the belief that its excesses were the proper fruit of its revolutionary philosophy. The result was to set a new value upon national traditions and the customary pieties which the revolutionists flouted. Moreover, the Napoleonic Wars had left the constitutional systems of all the continental European countries in ruins.

Their reconstruction was a major problem and one which, as the event proved, would not be solved by a further appeal to the abstractions, like the rights of man, that had proved so disruptive. More and more the Revolution was felt to be destructive and nihilistic, and its philosophy was pictured as a doctrinaire effort to remake society and human nature according to caprice.

Substantially this was the estimation in which Hegel came to hold the Revolution and the individualism of its political philosophy. National reconstruction presented itself to him and to many others in the form of re-establishing the continuity of national! institutions, of tapping sources of national solidarity in the past, and of affirming the dependence of the individual upon his heritage of national culture.

In the case of Hegel this impulse was not merely reactionary, though it often was so in the romatic medievalism that followed the Revolution. In its purpose it was constructive, but it was profoundly conservative, or if one prefers, counter-revolutionary.

His dialectic was in fact a kind of symbol for revolution and recovery. It acknowledged the destruction of obsolete institutions by living social forces but it celebrated the re-establishment of stability by the creative forces of the nation. Neither in tearing down nor in building up did Hegel impute much importance to the volition of individual -men. The impersonal forces inherent in society itself work out their own destiny.

Hegel’s conception of the historical method implied to his mind a thoroughgoing intellectual revolution of which his philosophy was to be the exponent. The magisterial tone in which he often enunciated that philosophy was not wholly due to intellectual arrogance. It reflected rather the conviction that his thought employed a method not available to the uninitiated, and also not capable of being formulated in a manner that will commend itself to a logician who has not learned to transcend the limitations of logical analysis.

By listing attributes, etc., no progress can be made in assessing the nature of the state; it must be apprehended as an organism, One might as well try to understand the nature of God by listing His attributes.

The question, of course, is whether this did not really imply a resort, to sheer mysticism or authority, even though Hegel did not so regard it. Are the cosmic forces which he supposed that reason could discern behind the facts of history and which he considered to be more real than particular facts and events-forces such as the state-in truth anything but abstractions? And can the dialectic, the logical apparatus for grasping the organic wholes with which social studies are concerned, in truth be brought to any precise methodological formulation, so that its alleged pronouncements can be subjected to critical examination?

Finally, if these questions were favorably answered, would it be clear that a synthetic understanding of historical process could effect a combination of causal explanation and moral criticism, which both Hume and Kant had believed to be fundamentally different? Upon the answers to these questions the evaluation of Hegel’s philosophical system depends. Upon them depends also the estimate to be placed upon the claim that the dialectic, whether in Hegel or in Marx, is a new logical instrument indispensable for the understanding of social phenomena and for the creation of valid historical science.

The Spirit of the Nation:-

Whatever the validity of Hegel’s conclusions, there can be no doubt that the origin of his ideas had very little to do with the parade of logical precision and the formidable terminology in which he finally cast his philosophy. His main ideas were suggested to him by his youthful studies of European culture, especially the history of Christianity, and were only later reduced to the formulas in which he published them.

The chief interest of Hegel’s youth was not so much politics as religion. His speculations started from Herder and Lessing and from their idea that the succession of world-religions is a progressive revelation of religious truth and a kind of divine education of the human race.

The idea which Hegel elaborated later in his philosophy of history-that process begins with a potentiality striving to realize itself which expands itself actually to what it always was potentially was in fact an element of Aristotelian-ism that had been inherent in German thought since Leibniz.

From Herder and Lessing he learned also to think of creeds and ritual as neither wholly true nor wholly superstitious, but as the outward forms in which a spiritual truth symbolically clothes itself. They are at once needful for their time and yet of only passing value. In this mode of criticism and evaluation it is not hard to see the germs of the dialectic.

Like the ablest of his contemporaries in Germany, also, Hegel was deeply stirred by a far reaching renaissance of Greek studies. He early formed the conviction that Western civilization is the product of two great forces, the free intelligence of Greece and the deeper moral and religious insight, as he believed, of Christianity.

Intellectually he was forced to estimate Christian theology as decadent when compared with the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, yet he was convinced also that Christianity brought to western culture a depth of spiritual experience which Greek philosophy lacked.

As Hegel reflected upon this problem he came to see, perhaps partly under the guidance of Montesquieu’s interpretation of the law of nature, that the philosophy and religion of Athens was an inseparable part of the whole mode of life in the city-state, and that the mysticism, pessimism, and world-weariness of Christianity were correlated with the loss of civic freedom and the travail of bringing to birth the consciousness of a new idea, that of a worldwide humanity.

In this way Hegel’s early religious speculation brought to a focus in his mind, ideas and a point of view implicit in the thought of the Enlightenment and especially of the German Enlightenment that all the elements of a culture form a unit in which religion, philosophy, art, and morality mutually affect one another, that these several branches of culture all express the spirit-the internal intellectual endowment-of the people which creates them, and that the history of a people is the process in which it realizes and unfolds its unique contribution to the whole of human civilization.

As he reflected further on these ideas Hegel came to believe that he could detect in this process a threefold pattern a period of natural, happy, youthful, but largely unconscious, spontaneity; a period of painful frustration and self-consciousness in which the spirit is turned inward and loses its spontaneous creativeness; and a period in which it returns to itself at a higher level, embodying the insights gained from frustration in a new era which unites freedom with authority and self-discipline.

The total process is what he called thought. His philosophy of history was an attempt to document this idea on a vast scale from this history of Western Civilization. The Greek city in it Creative period represented the first stage, Socrates and Christian the second, and the period of Protestantism and the Germanic nation beginning with the Reformation the third. The national mind is manifestation of the world-mind at a particular stage of its historic development.

Each particular national genius is to be treated as only one individual in the process of universal history.

Its worth is to be estimated according to its contribution to the progress of mankind; not all people are to, be counted among the ”welthistorische Volksgeister”.

In general this was already a familiar, German speculation. Years before Hegel Herder had said that German had always had and would always have a fixed national spirit, and Hegel’s contemporary Schleiermacher said that God assigns to each nationality its definite task on earth.

In no case, and least of all in Hegel, was this belief in the revelatory power of history antiquarian. it was rather the painful search for a national vocation. In popular religion Hegel sought for something less doctrinaire than the Enlightenment’s religion of reason and something less stultifying than ecclesiastical orthodoxy.

In all branches of social study his thought was guided by the conviction that ideas and institutions must be understood as parts of a total culture and that their history is a clue to their present value and their future role in the development of a world culture. In Schiller’s aphorism, ”Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht”,

Hegel’s early writings on politics, and more specifically on German politics, show a similar purpose and conception. The frustration of spirit which he regarded as the key to the rise of Christianity he conceived to be also, mutatis mutandis, the mark of his own age and the key to great social and spiritual changes which he hoped, or perhaps foresaw, for Germany. Between the spirit of Germany and the actual state of German politics he found a complete discrepancy which he interpreted as at once a cause of pessimism and futility and the ground for new hope and activity. Writing in 1798, doubtless still under the drive of a youthful enthusiasm kindled by the French Revolution, he said:

The silent acquiescence in things as they are, the hopelessness, the patient endurance of a vast, overmastering fate, has turned to hope, to expectation, to the will for something different. The vision of a better and a juster time has entered alive into the souls of men, and a desire, a longing, for a purer, free condition has moved every heart and has alienated it from the existing state of affairs. Call this, if you like, a fever-paroxysm, but it will end either in death or in eliminating the cause of the disease.

Certainly Hegel was at no time a revolutionist he believed too fervently in the essential rightness of the institutions in which the national life had embodied itself yet his political writing was at once a prophecy and an appeal. But it was an appeal rather to the communal will of the nation than to the self-help of its individual members.

How blind are they who can imagine that institutions, constitutions, and laws can persist after they have ceased to be in accord with the morals, the needs, and the purposes of mankind, and after the meaning has gone out of them; that forms in which understanding and feeling no longer inhere can retain the power to bind a nation.

Such institutions must change or give place to new embodiments of  national aspiration. The question was what form these new embodiments must take.

This thought was expanded and particularized, with special reference to the existing condition of Germany, in an essay which Hegel wrote in 1802 on the Constitution of Germany. The work began with the striking assertion, Germany is no longer a state. Hegel made this good with an exceedingly able analysis of the decline of the empire after the Peace of Westphalia. Germany, he argued, has become merely an anarchical collection of virtually independent units.

It is a name which has the connotations of past greatness but as an institution it is wholly out of accord with the realities of European politics in particular it must be contrasted with the unified national governments which modern monarchy has produced in France, England, and Spain, and which nave failed to develop in Italy and Germany. The historical analysis, however, was obviously a means and not an end. Hegel’s purpose was to raise the question, tow may Germany become a real state?

A German State:-

Hegel quite properly found the cause of the empire’s weakness in the particular-ism and provincialism which he took to be a national defect of German character. Culturally the Germans are a nation but they have never learned the lesson of subordinating part to whole which is essential for a national government. The empire has no power except what the parts give it, and the existing constitutions has in fact no purpose except to keep the state weak. The free cities, the in dependent princes, the estates, the guile’s and the religious sector go their own way, absorbing the rights of the state and paralyzing it, action-all with a good show of legal right in the antiquated feudal, law that governs the empire.

The motto of Germany, as Hegel said with bitter irony, is “Fiat justitia, pereat Germania”. For there is complete, confusion between private and constitutional law. Legislative, judicial, ecclesiastical, and military privileges are bought and sold like private, property. In this analysis of the condition of Germany at the beginning of the century there may be seen two characteristic features of Hegel’s later political theory.

First, he identified German particular-ism with an anarchical love of freedom, which misconceives liberty as an absence of discipline and authority. And this he contrasted with true freedom, which is to be found only within the bounds of a national state. A nation finds freedom, therefore, in an escape from feudal anarchy and in the creation of a national government. Freedom as Hegel understood it had nothing to do with the individualism of English and French political thought but it was rather a quality refiled upon the individual by the national power of self-determination.

Second, Hegel assumed a contrast of private with public or constitutional law which was wholly foreign to English political thought. This corresponds to the contrast of the state with civil society, which became a typical property of his finished political theory.

Following his diagnosis of Germany’s weakness Hegel defined the state as a group which collectively protects its property; its only essential powers are a civil and military establishment sufficient to this end. In other words a state is de facto power, the expression, certainly, of national unity and a national aspiration to self-government, but fundamentally the power to make the national will effective at home and abroad.

The existence of a state is consistent with any lack of uniformity which does not prevent effectively unified government. The precise form of government Hegel regarded as a matter of indifference, aside from the fact that he believed monarchy to be indispensable. The existence of a state does not imply, he argued, equality of civil rights or uniformity of law throughout the national domain.

There may be privileged classes arid wide differences in custom, culture, language, and religion. In fact he branded as pedantic the centralized government of republican France, that tried to do everything and that reduced its people to the level of common citizenship. Like Jean Bodin, Hegel regarded the rise of a national, constitutional monarchy as the sole necessary condition for the existence of a state.

The experience of France, Spain, and England proved, he thought, that the extinguishing of feudalism and the rise of a national state could be achieved only through monarchy and that this Process of itself constituted freedom from the period when these countries grew to be states dates their power, their wealth, and the free condition of their citizens under the law.

The historical accuracy of Hegel’s judgment need not be contested. At the same time he was obviously prescribing for Germany a remedy which an Englishman or a Frenchman would have regarded as politically backward. It is evident also that such an expression as the free condition of their citizens never connoted for Hegel any thing like the meaning of the French phrase, the rights of man and citizen.

Believing as he did in the historical role of the monarchy, Hegel in 1802 put his hope for the unification and modernizing of Germany upon the appearance of a great military leader, though he considered it essential that such a leader should voluntarily accept constitutional limitations and identify himself with German national unity as a moral cause.

Emphatically he did not believe that Germany would ever be unified by common consent or by the peaceful spread of national sentiment. Gangrene, he said bitterly, is not cured with lavender water. In is in war rather than in peace that a state shows its mettle and rises to the height of its potentiality. For Hegel the two heroic figures in modern politics were Machiavelli and Richelieu. The Prince he called the great and true conception of a real political genius with the highest and noblest purpose.

For the rules of private morality do not limit the action of states; a state has no higher duty than to preserve and strengthen itself. Richelieu’s enemies-the French nobility and the Huguenots-went down not before Richelieu personally but before the principle of French national unity which he represented.

Hegel added an aphorism highly characteristic of his philosophy of history Political genius consists in identifying yourself with a principle. In 1802 Hegel was already firmly convinced that the modernizing of Germany would require an era of blood and iron but at that time his hopes centered rather in Austria than in Prussia. The shift in loyalty that the later made was one that occurred very often among South Germans after the Napoleonic Wars.

It has seemed worthwhile to refer somewhat at length to this early essay on the Constitution of Germany for two reasons. First, Hegel wrote in 1802 as a publicist and quite without that astonishing array of dialectical abstractions which later made his political philosophy so difficult. Yet without the logical apparatus his leading ideas were already there. It has been plausibly suggested that in 1802 his ambition was nothing less than to become the Machiavelli of Germany.

The most striking qualities of his thought were already a firm grasp of historical actualities and a kind of hard political realism that frankly identified the state with power and estimated its success terms of its ability to carry out a policy of national aggrandizement home and abroad.

Already he conceived the state as the spiritual embodiment of a nation’s will and destiny, the real realm of freed, in which the Idea of Reason has to materialize itself. As such it is above and distinct from the economic arrangements of civil society, and from the rules of private morality that control the actions of citizens.

The realization of the nations spiritual potentialities is contribution of ultimate value to the cause of advancing civilization, moment in the progressive realization of the World Spirit, and the source of the dignity and worth that attaches to the private concern, of its citizens. Already he identified the freedom of the individual with his voluntary dedication to the work of rational self-realization which is at the same time a personal self-realization.

Already the national monarchy was pictured as the highest form of constitutional government, the unique achievement of modern politics, in which ideally there is a perfect synthesis of freedom and authority. In it Hegel believed that the outworn forms of feudal particular-ism could be sublimated (aufgehoben) into functions of a national life.

So far he agreed with and accepted the consequences of the French Revolution, but he dissented absolutely from the individualism revolutionary theory, which, like many Germans after him, he construed as a specious glorification of egoism and caprice in the individual and of plutocracy in society.

Already his reference to history as the source of moral and political enlightenment was not a simple appeal to experience but was governed by the belief that the evolution of ideas and institutions reveals a necessity which is at once causal and ethical.

Second, the Constitution of Germany showed clearly that Hegel’s conception of the dialectic was controlled by a moral rather than a scientific purpose. In the opening pages he explained that the object of the essay was to promote understanding of things as they are, to exhibit political history not as arbitrary but as necessary. The unhappiness of man is a frustration that arises from the discrepancy between what is and what he is fain to believe ought to be.

It occurs because he imagines that events are mere unrelated details and not a system ruled by a spirit. Its remedy comes with reconciliation, the realization that what is must be and the consciousness that what must be also ought to be. This is manifestly the principle which Hegel later summarized in his aphorism,

The Real is the rational. Yet no attentive reader of either the early essay or the Philosophy of Right can imagine that Hegel meant to teach political quietism of mere political reaction. What must be is not the status quo but the modernizing and nationalizing of Germany.

The must is a moral imperative, not something that is physically inevitable or merely desirable, but a moral cause that can enlist men’s loyalty and devotion and dignify their petty personal ends by identifying them with the destiny of civilization itself. This compounding of moral, physical, and logical necessity was the very essence of the dialectic.

More Read from Hegel: Dialectic and Nationalism:-

  1. Dialectic and Historical Necessity
  2. Individualism and the Theory of the State
  3. Hegel Freedom and Authority
  4. The State and Civil Society
  5. The Later Significance of Hegelianism