The Later Significance of Hegelianism

The Later Significance of Hegelianism. Despite the technicalities in which Hegel cloaked his thoughts and the apparent abstraction of his conclusions, few political theories had a more intimate relationship to political realities. It reflected in a very real way the state of affairs in Germany at the close of the Napoleonic Wars, her bitter national humiliation at the hands of France, and her aspiration for political union and the creation of a national state corresponding to the unity and greatness of German culture.

To a remarkable degree also it grasped the main lines of development by which that aspiration was to be realized in the generation following his death. It gave a special meaning to the concept of the state and invested that concept with connotations for which there was no analogue in the political thought of France and England but which made it throughout the nineteenth century the central principle of German political and juristic philosophy.

After the middle of the century the concept of the state detached itself from the philosophical technicalities of the dialectic in which Hegel had wrapped it, but it retained its essential characteristics without the technical form. In substance it was an idealization of power which united curiously an almost Philistine contempt for ideals apart from force with a moral respect for force as almost self-justifying. It placed the nation on a metaphysical pinnacle above control by international law and even above moral criticism.

In its political implications the theory of state was anti-liberal a highly sublimated form of monarchical authoritarianism in which nationalism took the place of dynastic legitimacy-but it was not anti-constitutional. It conceived constitutionalism, however, in a way quite different from any that was possible in countries where liberalism and constitutionalism were phases of the same political movement.

Almost its whole meaning was summed up in the aphorism a government not of men but of laws. Hence it implied nothing in respect to democratic procedures but much in respect to orderly bureaucratic administration. It assumed security of person and property and governmental care for public welfare, but to protect these it depended box on political responsibility to popular opinion but on the public spirit of an official class assumed to stand above the conflicts of economic and social interests.

In practice it represented the hazardous venture of leaving politics to those who by birth and profession are fitted to rule. But this was a venture which was intelligible in a society where the creation of political unity and the extension of national power eclipsed the concern for political liberty. In all these respects Hegel’s political philosophy reflected with surprising accuracy the Germany of the Second Empire.

The importance of Hegel’s political thought, however, is only feebly represented by its relation to Germany alone. His mind had an extraordinary breadth of grasp, and his philosophy as he conceived it was not only in the current of all modern thought but was intended to be its summation and its consummation.

Viewed in this light its Central, idea was the concept of universal history, and this he designed to be a new unifying principle to take the place held by the system of natural law in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In it Hegel unity the idea of the general will incoherently set forth by Rousseau-a vita principle inherent in nations but also the manifestation of a large, spiritual force that forms the core of reality itself-and Burke’s religious vision of history as a divine tactic.

To these vague speculation, Hegel aspired to give the certainly and precision of logic and to create in the dialectic an instrument of scientific investigation which would actually display the march of God in the world. In place of the eternal system of unchangeable natural law he put the rational unfolding of the Absolute in history.

Nothing is easier than to dismiss this grandiose structure of speculation as a vagary of the romantic imagination Yet it was the germ of a new point of view that came to affect, both for good and bad, almost every phase of social philosophy in the nineteenth century, The significant change lay in the fact that Hegel’s unfolding cosmic force, though like the philosophers of the Enlightenment he called it Reason, is manifested in social groups, in nations and in national cultures and institutions, rather than in individuals.

If for Hegel’s World Spirit is substituted the forces of production, the result is in principle similar. In either case society became a system of forces rather than a community of persons, and its history became a development of institutions that belong to the community as a collective entity.

These forces and institutions, like the community they belong to, are conceived to follow the trends and tendencies inherent in their own nature. Institutional history of law, constitutions, morals, philosophy, religions-became a permanent and indeed dominant part of the intellectual equipment of social studies.

To the action and development of these social forces the individual’s moral judgments and his personal interests became almost irrelevant, since the real agents in society are forces which are self-justifying because their course is inevitable. Ideas such as these, which contained at once so much truth and so much exaggeration, became the climate of opinion in the social philosophy of the nineteenth century.

To the study of politics they brought at once enrichment and impoverishment. Politics was enriched and made vastly more realistic when legalism and individualism were supplemented by the historical study of institutions and by a more concrete understanding of social and economic factors in government and in human psychology. Yet in a sense the very existence of politics as an independent activity was threatened by a view that reduced it to a reflection of social forces, of rivalries between nations or antagonisms between economic classes.

For such a view tended to minimize the area of negotiation in human relations, and to obscure the fact that political institutions often are more truly agencies by which negotiation can take place than agencies for exerting power. ft obscured also the fact that the art of negotiation and therefore political intelligence cannot be summed up altogether in the shrewd calculation of forces.

Evidently it was a liberal conception of politics that was most likely to be lost to sight with this shift in point of view. All these tendencies existed in the germ of Hegel’s philosophy, though they did not grow directly from it alone. But it was a powerful statement of the changes in social and intellectual outlook on which they depended.

Of the developments in political theory which grew directly from Hegelianism three will call for special consideration. The direct line of development was undoubtedly from Hegel to Marx and so to the later history of communist theory. Here the point of connection was the dialectic, which Marx accepted as the epoch-making discovery of Hegel’s philosophy.

Hegel’s nationalism and his idealization of the state Marx regarded as merely “mystifications” that infected the dialectic because of the metaphysical idealism by which the system was vitiated. By transforming it into dialectical materialism and construing the dialectic as the economic interpretation of history Marx supposed that he could retain the method as a genuinely scientific way of explaining social evolution.

That civil society apart from the state is mainly economic in its structure was a conclusion that Marx could take ready-made from Hegel. In the second place Hegelianism was an important factor in the revision of English liberalism by the Oxford idealists. Here, however, the dialectic had negligible importance.

The important influence was Hegel’s searching and on the whole sound critique of individualism, to which the progress of industrialism lent an urgency that Hegel never felt. The anti-liberal bias of Hegel’s political theory was so remote from the realities of English politics that it passed almost unobserved.

Finally, in Italy Hegelianism was adopted in the early stages of fascism to provide a philosophy for that highly pragmatic movement. In fact, however, fascist Hegelianism was almost admittedly an ad hoc rationalization

More Read from Hegel: Dialectic and Nationalism:-

  1. The Historical Method of Dialectic & Nationalism
  2. Dialectic and Historical Necessity
  3. Individualism and the Theory of the State
  4. Hegel Freedom and Authority
  5. The State and Civil Society

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