The Young Hegel Georg Lukács 1938

3.4 Hegel’s view of history in his first years in Jena

THE main thrust of Hegel’s thought was historical right from the start. In his Berne period, as we have seen, his historical approach even antedated his philosophical consciousness of the problems of history. The latter was only activated after he had abandoned his Jacobin illusions about the possibility of a classical revival and was able to face up the problems of the dialectics of modern civil society. From that point on Hegel’s thought focused on the dialectical interaction of historical development and philosophical system. We may remind the reader that both the Philosophy of Right and the portrayal of objective mind in the Encyclopaedia culminate in world history as the highest expression of human reason. Moreover, one of Hegel’s chief objections to Fichte was that Fichte’s notion of freedom was isolated from the objective laws of nature and history.

Hence respect and even reverence for the realities of history form the foundation of Hegelian philosophy. In the introductory remarks to the Jena continuation of the Frankfurt essay The German Constitution Hegel saw it as his task ‘to understand what is’. And elsewhere in the same introduction he elucidated that remark in a manner which highlights both the idealistic and the forward-moving dialectical elements on his thought: ‘Whatever can no longer be understood, has ceased to exist.’

Hegel’s historicism, then, by no means implies the glorification of the past or even the vindication of certain aspects of the present, by suggesting that they have a long, honourable past behind them. That is the standpoint of the Romantic historians or of those influenced by Romanticism in one form or another. Hegel always repudiated such attitudes. Earlier on (p. 231 f.), we quoted a passage from Hegel’s essay on Natural Law in connection with the problem of positivity. He spoke there of the way in which the institutions of feudalism which had once corresponded to the historical conditions of the people had, in the course of time, developed the symptoms of a lifeless ‘positivity’. Hegel calls for a real historical understanding of the question.

But ‘it would exceed its competence and its truth if this meant that it was necessary to justify for the present a law that had truth only in the past. On the contrary, the historical understanding of a law which had its ground in past customs and a now defunct life alone shows precisely that it lacks all meaning and sense in the living present. ...’

And in this context he makes a distinction between the ‘history of a past life’ and the ‘definite idea of a present death.’ It is therefore a straightforward falsification to try and assimilate Hegel to the pseudo-historicism of the Romantic movement.

Nor did he share the historical methodology of Romanticism which came into existence at around this time. Under the influence of counter-revolutionary journalism we witness the spread of a view according to which the ‘organic nature’ of historical structures and processes precluded the intervention of the conscious will of men to change their own fate in society. Furthermore, the ‘continuity’ of history is placed in sharp contrast to attempts to interrupt the process once it has begun to take place. Both these views imply that revolution is essentially an ‘unhistorical aberration’, an ‘unhistorical piece of bungling’ which simply disrupts the ‘true course’ of history. It is highly characteristic of the growing reactionary and romantic elements in Schelling’s thought that he began to make significant concessions to this theory in his Lectures on the methodology of academic study of 1803 – the very time when he was collaborating with Hegel.

The practical methodological significance of what we have come to recognize as Hegel’s specific form of dialectics can now be seen in his approach to history. All of his comments on history at this period show that he has remained true to his conception of dialectics, to the idea that historical continuity is a union of continuity and discontinuity. We shall see later on how the French Revolution occupied a central place in Hegel’s view of history in Jena. And we may easily appreciate that this should be reflected in his methodology too. We have already shown that the Jena Logic contains a version of the theory of the transition from quantity to quality. The ‘nodal line of measure relations’ (which was not finally formulated until much later) enshrines the doctrine which enables Hegel to view qualitative leaps, violent disruptions of continuity as necessary, organic constituents of a process.

In the concluding paragraphs of the essay on Natural Law Hegel does in fact raise the matter of qualitative leaps in history – and even though he does not explicitly name the Romantics, the polemic is clear enough. Although the passage is rather long we must quote it in full because of the sharp contrast it presents between Hegel and Romanticism. It should be noted incidentally that by ‘individuality’ he means the individuality of a people.

‘And although nature advances regularly within a particular configuration, its advance is not mechanical, but accelerates progressively and enjoys the new configuration it has reached. Having leapt into it, it reposes there a while. Just like a shell that gives a final burst as it reaches its goal and there rests a moment, or the heated metal which melts not like wax, but suddenly, and then remains in that condition. For a phenomenon is a transition to its absolute opposite, i.e. it is infinite, and this emergence from infinity, or from nothing is a leap, and a configuration in all its newly born strength is something that at first exists for itself, before it becomes aware of its relation to another. And in the same way a growing individuality has both the joy of the leap and also the duration of enjoyment in its novel form. Until it gradually becomes exposed to the negative and then suddenly is shattered.’

This clearly demonstrates the worthlessness of the modern theories of Meinecke, Rosenzweig and Heller which attempt to turn Hegel into a forerunner of Ranke.

Turning now to an analysis of Hegel’s detailed historical views, we must begin by observing that we do not possess any comprehensive historical survey from his own hand at this period. All we have are scattered remarks in a number of writings, especially in the essay on The German Constitution which he worked over again in 1801-2 only to leave it finally as a fragment. In addition a number of ideas can be gleaned from the polemical essays, projected systematic works, etc. Although we shall concentrate on the first few years in Jena we shall also refer to the recently published manuscripts of his lectures for the years 1803-4 and 1805-6, both for his views on history and for our next chapter on economics. These lectures often contain superior formulations of the problems which emerged in the period following his arrival in Jena. It is true that The Phenomenology of Mind already contains a systematic survey of the history of mankind, but as we shall see later on, Hegel’s objectives in that work are quite specific and so even the Phenomenology does not present us with a comprehensive account of world history in the sense that this may be said of the later lectures on the philosophy of history.

The German Constitution though begun in Frankfurt was not given any more detailed historical backing until Hegel took it up again in Jena. When he did so he focused on one problem: that of the origins of the national and political disunity of Germany, much more clearly than he had earlier on. The other side of Hegel’s interest, however, the question of a solution to this problem is as intractable for Hegel now as it had been before. indeed, his more penetrating historical analysis forces Hegel to give this lack of clarity concrete shape.

In the course of a discussion of the national disunity of Italy and the attempts made to remedy it – a situation which offered many parallels with Germany – Hegel has occasion to mention Macchiavelli. He too had made an acute analysis of his country’s disunity, and he too had failed to discover a definite path to national unification. This was why the figure of Theseus was to be found in his writings, for according to legend Theseus had succeeded in putting an end to the discord and anarchy of the Athenian people and had laid the foundations for the political and national unity of Athens. Macchiavelli longed for an Italian Theseus and the young Hegel, no less muddled than he, followed suit.

The legendary figure of Theseus is to be found not only in The German Constitution but in a number of other early writings and the Hegel literature is full of the most ingenious conjectures about his possible identity. (Macchiavelli had had Cesare Borgia in mind, at least for a time.) According to Dilthey, Hegel’s Theseus was Napoleon. Rosenzweig has a very tortuous argument that identifies Theseus with the Austrian Archduke Charles.

Since the latter hypothesis is an important stone in the edifice designed to show that Hegel is a forerunner of Ranke and Bismarck, we must comment on it a little more fully. This will have the useful advantage of enabling us at the same time to isolate Hegel’s views of Austria and Prussia, the two great German powers of his day. His attitude towards Prussia is one of radical rejection. He considers it to be an alien power threatening Germany from without.

‘Just as the old Roman Empire was destroyed by barbarians from the North, so too the principle of destruction entered the Romano-German Empire from the North. Denmark, Sweden, England and above all Prussia are the foreign powers whose standing as estates of the Empire has given them at one and the same time a centre separate from the German Empire and a constitutionally proper influence on its affairs.’

The young Hegel does not allow himself to be dazzled by legends about Frederick the Great of Prussia. He discerns no national interest in the wars fought by Prussia, but merely ‘the private interest of the warring powers’. They are comparable to the cabinet wars of the ancien régime. Nor does Hegel see any merit in the aggrandizement of Prussia in the course of the eighteenth century as far as Germany as a whole is concerned. It just means the enlargement of that power ‘whose size is the greatest impediment to the unity of the German state’. And elsewhere he speaks with the greatest contempt of the soulless bureaucracy of the Prussian state. This view of Prussia remains dominant up to the fall of Napoleon. We find it expressed in letters from the Bamberg and Nuremberg periods, as well as Hegel’s Nuremberg writings. At the time of the transformation which caused Hegel to come to terms with the fall of Napoleon and the Restoration, a transformation which was precipitated by an inner crisis and which ushered in the resigned mood of his entire later life, there was also a change in Hegel’s view of Prussia. A discussion of the development in Hegel’s views in this later period is quite beyond the scope of the present work. His, attitude towards Austria as expressed in The German Constitution is. a shade friendlier than his view of Prussia and there is even a certain sympathy, especially for Joseph II’s attempted reforms. But with reference to the overall fate of Germany, Austria and Prussia stand on much the same footing. This gives us some idea of the value of Rosenzweig’s hypothesis.

As to the identification of Theseus with Napoleon, this is altogether more plausible. Some years later, at the time when he was engaged in writing The Phenomenology of Mind Hegel was unquestionably a supporter of Napoleon’s. From his letters it is quite clear that he was in favour of the policy of the Confederation of the Rhine and remained so until the fall of Napoleon. We have also seen how in 1803 in the course of his criticism of Fichte’s ephorate he implied approval of Napoleon’s coup d'état. It looks as if we can trace the origins of this view back to 1801, but we cannot do this with absolute certainty. For in the fragments dealing with religion and the philosophy of history from the earliest period in Jena, published by Rosenkranz and dating in all probability from the time of the essay on the German constitution, Hegel talks of the birth of a new religion in the following terms:

It will come into being ‘when there is a free people and when reason has once again given birth to reality as an ethical spirit which will be bold enough to take shape on its own soil and from a sense of its own majesty.’

This seems to suggest that at this time Hegel still cherished the hope of a complete national liberation of Germany, even though the basis for such hopes is of course completely obscure. However, the impossibility of resolving this problem is of no great moment for our understanding of Hegel’s development since we have a completely clear picture of the road he took from disillusion with the revolution to enthusiastic support for Napoleon. The question of when he began to feel this enthusiasm and what hesitations he experienced is of secondary importance.

The importance of the pamphlet on the German Constitution for Hegel himself was that for the first time he established the developmental pattern of social formations and states. Later on he would fill in various gaps in the pattern, but he never modified the main points. He regarded the Migration of Nations and the feudal system arising out of it as the social and political starting-point of the nations of modern Europe.

‘The system of representation is the system of all modern European states. It did not exist in the forests of Germany, but it did arise from them; it marks an epoch in world-history. The continuity of world-culture has led the human race beyond oriental despotisms, through a republic’s world-dominion, and then out of the fall of Rome into a middle term between these extremes. And the Germans are the people from whom this third universal form of the world-spirit was born. This system did not exist in the forests of Germany, because each nation must on its own account have run through its own proper course of development before it encroaches on the universal course of world-history. The principle which elevates it to universal dominion first arises when its own peculiar principle is applied to the rest of the unstable cosmos. Thus the freedom of the German peoples necessarily became a feudal system when in their conquests they deluged the rest of the world.’

Starting from this general position Hegel proceeds to give a sketch of the development of feudalism and its collapse in the most important European states. These he divides into two major groups. The first, includes England, France and Spain where the central monarchical power was able to subdue feudalism. The second comprises Germany and Italy where the dissolution of feudalism disrupted national life and prevented the emergence of unified nations.

Of the nations belonging to the first group it is only France that Hegel analyses in any detail. He shows how France and Germany arrive at opposed national formations from a common source in feudalism.

‘France as a state and Germany as a state had both of them the same two inherent principles of dissolution. In the one Richelieu completely annulled these principles and thus raised it to be one of the most powerful states; in the other he gave these principles full play and thus cancelled its existence as a state.’

Hegel relates how in France the absolute monarchy was able to subjugate both the nobility which had hitherto asserted its independence and the Huguenots who had for a time maintained a state within the state. He shows how the power of both had to be destroyed if the unity of the French monarchy were to be maintained. He emphasizes the part played by Richelieu and does so in such a way that we can clearly discern his later concept of the ‘world-historical individual’.

Here too the neo-Hegelians have attempted to distort a Hegelian theory, this time by connecting it with the cult of the hero stemming from Treitschke and Nietzsche. However, Hegel is never concerned with the person but with the world-historical principle which takes possession of a person at a particular moment in time, using him as an instrument for its own ends. This is undoubtedly his later position and we find it quite explicit here too. Writing of the French feudal lords he says:

‘They gave way not to Richelieu as a man but to his genius, which linked his person with the necessary principle of the unity of the state .... And herein lies political genius, in the identification of an individual with a principle. Given this linkage, the individual must carry off the victory.’

Hegel’s remarks about England, Spain and the other nations in this group are brief and even cursory. The only point to notice is that he is completely indifferent to the relative merits of political forms (monarchy or republic). What is important in his eyes is that these countries

‘have succeeded in attaining a centre in which all power is concentrated ... it does not matter in this connection whether this centre has a strictly monarchical or republican form.’

(On this point as on a number of others Hegel follows the example of Hobbes.)

In his remarks on Italy pride of place goes to a frank and objective analysis of Macchiavelli’s theories. It should be noted that Hegel does not regard Macchiavelli as the general theoretician of mindless power politics, a view favoured by the Meinecke school. Hegel sees Macchiavelli as a despairing protagonist of the Italian national unity that had been lost but which he wished to restore; he views him as a national revolutionary who is eager to attain this great goal with whatever means present themselves. In this context Hegel briefly turns aside to discuss Frederick the Great’s pamphlet attacking Macchiavelli, dismissing it as a ‘school-exercise’ whose empty sanctimoniousness was revealed by Frederick’s own actions. Nor does Hegel omit to point out the contrasting historical actions of the two men: Macchiavelli fought for the unity of Italy, his critic, the Crown Prince Frederick, was

‘a modern monarch whose whole life and actions have expressed most clearly the dissolution of the German state into independent states.’

Hegel’s views about the dissolution of German feudalism and the origins of the fragmentation of Germany into a host of petty states are already known to us from the Frankfurt version of this essay (see p. 138ff.). According to Hegel the decisive turning point here was the Peace of Westphalia (1648) which brought the Thirty Years’ War to an end:

‘In the Peace of Westphalia this statelessness of Germany was organised.... Germany renounced establishing itself as a secure state-power and surrendered to the good will of its members.’

On the basis of this historical outline Hegel goes on to speak of the necessity of the modern state. In his eyes it came into being with the over-coming of the French Revolution. To understand Hegel rightly on this point we should recollect that Hegel thinks of the French Revolution as having been overcome in the double sense of aufgehoben: annulled but also preserved. In his remarks about the Revolution in The German Constitution his dislike of its radical democratic elements is again quite explicit: he talks of them as if they were to be simply equated with anarchy. But his conclusions, which we quote at length, make it obvious, that he was very far from agreeing to Restoration of any type and that, once the threat of ‘anarchy’ was removed, he saw the French Revolution as the opening of a new epoch in world history.

‘Anarchy has become distinguished from freedom; the notion that a firm government is indispensable for freedom has become deeply engraved on men’s minds; but no less deeply engraved is the notion that the people must share in the making of laws and the management of the most important affairs of state. The guarantee that the government will proceed in accordance with law, and the co-operation of the general will in the most important affairs of state which affect everyone, the people finds in the organisation of a body representative of the people. This body has to sanction payment to the monarch of a part of the national taxes, but especially the payment of extraordinary taxes. Just as in former days the most important matter, i.e. personal services, depended on free agreement, so nowadays money, which comprises influence of every other kind, is equally so dependent. Without such a representative body, freedom is no longer thinkable. ...’

It is quite clear from this that Hegel’s standpoint is that of a constitutional monarchy (with the reservation we have mentioned of his indifference, not always explicit, to the relative merits of republics and monarchies). And on closer examination we can see that the model to which his ideal increasingly approximates is that of the Napoleonic states. On the other hand, we can also perceive his later conception of the organic growth of the modern state out of feudalism and the collapse of feudalism.

But in this process the French Revolution makes a definite caesura. We must emphasize this, since the more recent critics have made repeated efforts to obscure his anti-feudalism and his contempt for the Restoration, so as to buttress their view of a development from Hegel through Ranke to Bismarck. This interpretation occasionally resorts to quite crude methods of falsification. Thus Rosenzweig, who knows Hegel’s writings much too well to be unable to detect his affinities with Napoleonic conceptions of the state, simply falsifies the whole character of the Napoleonic age: he regards it as a restoration of the ancien régime in the style of Louis XIV. On this premise it is not hard to convert Hegel firstly into an adherent of the ancien régime and secondly into a forerunner of Bismarck. In reality the conception of constitutional monarchy we have outlined goes back to Montesquieu and is a construct based partly on the model of England, partly on that of the Napoleonic states, i.e. it is grounded above all in the idea of a state that bas undergone a bourgeois revolution. We can see this theme running through all of Hegel’s reflections on the constitution. We shall come back to his discussion of the character of the Estates in another context. All we need say here is that his proposals for a system of taxation are derived largely from English models (especially that of Adam Smith) and that he is implacably opposed to all vestiges of feudalism in financial affairs (in particular to incomes derived from royal domains.)

We can see Hegel’s view of the modern state most clearly if we return to his mystical redeemer, Theseus. Theseus makes his appearance not just in the section of The German Constitution dealing with Macchiavelli, but also in a later, rather obscure passage, whose meaning, however , we hope to be able to elucidate by means of reference to his later lectures (1805-6). Hegel says:

‘This Theseus would have to have the magnanimity to grant to the people he would have had to fashion out of dispersed units a share in matters that affected everyone. Since a democratic constitution, like the one Theseus gave to his own people, is self-contradictory in modern times and in large states, this share would have to be some form of organization. Moreover, even if the direction of the state’s power which he had in his hands could insure him against being repaid, as Theseus was, with ingratitude, still he would have to have character enough to be ready to endure the hatred with which Richelieu and other great men who wrecked men’s private and particular interests were saddled.’

Hegel’s repudiation of democracy is no longer a novelty for us. Nor is there anything original, either for Hegel or in itself, in the idea that democracy was a form of government adapted to the city-states of antiquity, but not for the great states of the modern world. It is in fact a commonplace of the French Enlightenment. Hegel’s bluntness about it is of interest mainly because it is linked to the idea that had begun to emerge in Frankfurt and would appear in its mature form in Jena to the effect that classical civilization now belonged entirely to the past and that by that token it had ceased to act as an ideal for us. We shall return to this issue later and deal with it in detail.

As to Theseus himself, we must not allow ourselves to be misled by Hegel’s very general and in parts obscure language. Of course, for Hegel the ‘world-historical individual’ is always the executive organ of the world-spirit. But, as we shall see at once, what always matters to him is the hegemony of the historically necessary principle and Theseus is no more than an organ, an instrument of world history, who is needed to carry out the latest part of the process. The antithesis that Hegel establishes here between Theseus and the masses is the antithesis between the ‘world-historical individual’ who has grasped the necessity for a general change after the French Revolution, and the inert, retrograde German nation that has fallen asleep in the midst of its wretched semi-feudal and petty-bourgeois existence and that defends this existence against all attacks by appealing to its ‘private interests and particular nature’. When Hegel speaks of the ingratitude that has been the lot of great men like Richelieu, his expression is unfortunate although its meaning is clear enough: Richelieu earned the deadly hatred of the feudal nobility of France whose independent power he destroyed. Hegel recognizes this fact and applies it to Germany. The observation is correct, but the expression is misleading because the nobles had no grounds for gratitude towards Richelieu and so their hatred cannot be construed as ingratitude. In the Lectures of 1805-6 Hegel again reverts to the idea of Theseus as the founder of states. He remarks that all states were founded through force and that the agents of this force were often great men.

‘This is the merit of the great man: that he knows and can express the absolute will. All assemble around his banner; he is their god. It was thus when Theseus founded the state of Athens; so it was too when a terrible force took hold of the state, and indeed everything, in the French Revolution. This force is not despotism, but tyranny, pure, terrifying dominance. But it is necessary and just to the extent to which it constitutes and maintains the state as a real individual entity. This state is the simple absolute spirit which is certain of itself and which acknowledges nothing but itself, neither concepts of good and evil, scandalous and base, nor cunning and deceit. It is above all these since in it evil is reconciled with itself. ‘

Hegel goes on to say almost at once that this tyranny is necessary to educate the people to ‘obey’ the new institutions. Here too it would be an error to put too much weight on the word ‘obey’. Undoubtedly these remarks do convey Hegel’s anti-democratic sentiments. But their main thrust is generated by the realization that outmoded institutions such as feudalism must not only be destroyed by force, but that tyranny is essential if attempts to restore them are to be frustrated. Hegel regards tyranny as an essential transitional phase between two social and political systems.

‘Tyranny is overthrown by the people because it is abhorrent and base, etc.: but in reality only because it is superfluous. The memory of the tyrant is execrated; but in this respect too he is only spirit certain of itself. As such he has acted as a god only in and for himself and expects the ingratitude of his people. If he were wise he would divest himself of his powers as they became superfluous; but as things are his divinity is only the divinity of an animal: blind necessity which deserves to be abominated as sheer evil. This was the case with Robespierre. His power abandoned him, because necessity had abandoned him and so he was violently overthrown. That which is necessary comes to pass, but each portion of necessity is normally assigned to individuals. One is counsel for the prosecution and one for the defence, another is judge, a fourth hangman; but all are necessary.’ [Jena Lectures III.]

Here too it is easy enough to criticize the obscurities in Hegel’s mythological view of history. It is obvious that he understood very little of the actual class struggles in France and the processes which led to the establishment and the fall of the Jacobin dictatorship. But his great understanding of history enabled him to see that this dictatorship, which he abhorred so profoundly, was a necessary and inevitable turning-point in world history: the establishment of the modern state. But even if it is true that Hegel did not understand the actuality of the class struggles in France, he was by no means blind to their social import. On the contrary, in a marginal note to the same course of lectures he wrote:

‘Thus the French Revolution, abolition of formally privileged estates, once this achieved, abolition of inequality between estates, idle talk.’

This makes it quite clear that Hegel unreservedly accepted the bourgeois content of the French Revolution, its achievement in establishing modern bourgeois society and the liquidation of feudal privileges and could even accept the historical necessity of the Jacobin Terror as an instrument for effecting this world-historical transformation (in which it is Robespierre who is equated with Theseus.) But he at once expresses his disapproval (‘idle talk’) when the radical democracy of the day overshoots the limits of bourgeois society. We believe that these observations should help to clarify the social and historical significance of Hegel’s obscure and even mystical references to Theseus.

We shall return later to the question of how Hegel envisaged the internal social structure of the modern state. For the moment we need only point out that the figure of the monarch is not thought of as a ruler after the style of the ancien régime.

He is the fixed, immediate knot binding the whole. The spiritual bond is public opinion.’

Clearly, what Hegel has in mind here is a society whose free, selfactivating movement holds the whole in balance.

‘The whole, however, is the mean, it is the free spirit which comports itself independently of these wholly fixed extremes [i.e. the particular spheres of society – G.L.]; the whole is independent of the knowledge of individuals or of the nature of the ruler; he is a knot that binds nothing.’

And just as it is not possible to identify the hereditary monarch with the ruler of the ancien régime, so too it is quite illicit to equate the. first or the universal class of the Jena philosophy of society with the old hereditary nobility, as Rosenzweig does. At this period Hegel still had not lost his old antipathy for the aristocracy that he had felt in Berne. When he wrote about democracy, aristocracy and monarchy in the System of Ethics he described aristocracy in these terms:

‘It is distinguished from the absolute constitution by heredity and even more by its possessions, and because it has the form of the absolute but not its essence, it is the worst of all.’

As we shall see, Hegel accepts the principle of heredity only for the monarchy; he rejects it for the nobility. In another passage where he makes a comparison between the monarch and the rest of the population he observes:

‘Other individuals have value only to the extent to which they are “externalized” cultivated beings, as what they have made of themselves.’

Thus Hegel holds fast to the view of a society divided into classes, the individual membership of those classes, however, is to be determined by individual talents and achievements, and not by heredity. Hegel’s conception of the ‘universal class’ at this time corresponds much more closely to the military and bureaucratic nobility of Napoleon than to the hereditary nobility of the semi-feudal states.

Hegel gives a comprehensive historical survey of medieval and modern Europe. He regards the entire development from the Migration of Nations to the present as a single unified process. The French Revolution is not a discordant note, disrupting the ‘organic’ process, as the thinkers of counter-revolutionary Romanticism believed, but on the contrary: it is a great purifying world-crisis which releases vital new elements and activates existing tendencies which will promote the healthy development of the different nations. Of course, ‘anarchy’ has to be conquered. But we have also seen how this anarchy is an essential constituent of the dialectical course of history and that Robespierre plays as vital a role in French history and indirectly in world history too, as Richelieu had done before him. The function of both was to create an opening for a new constellation of the spirit.

With this far-sighted and uninhibited view of history Hegel stands more or less alone in his age, and not merely in Germany. With its freedom from moralizing, from all antipathy and sympathy his attitude to the great events of the day and their interconnections is reminiscent of Balzac, who had also understood the history of France from the collapse of feudalism to the February Revolution in terms of a unified, if crisis-ridden, process. This becomes quite explicit in an ingenious and witty conversation between Catherine de Medici and the young lawyer Robespierre who are brought together to make the point that both had striven for the same thing, namely the unity of the French nation, and although she had failed, he would succeed. And the disciple of Hegel, Heinrich Heine, put forward the same idea – admittedly from a more highly developed stage of society when he linked Richelieu, Robespierre and Rothschild as ‘the three most terrible levellers in Europe, the greatest scourge of the nobility’.

This perspective on history spells the conscious and final demise of Hegel’s youthful dream of the revolutionary return of classical civilization. Its central problem is not just to discover and isolate the specific features of the modern world, which ever since Frankfurt had ceased to be thought of entirely as symptoms of decadence. Quite on the contrary, his present view is based on an overall conception of history as a whole, so that the dissolution of the classical city-states is not merely historically necessary – it had been necessary even in Berne – but a higher social principle has emerged from the ruins.

Thus Antiquity has definitively lost its privileged place in the philosophy of history. As early as the fragment from the first part of his stay in Jena published by Rosenkranz Hegel had referred to the beautiful world of antiquity as ‘only a memory’. In his later Jena writings Hegel describes this higher principle of the modern world in detail. In his Lectures of 1805-6 Hegel draws the following parallel between a Greek community and a modern society:

This is the higher principle of the modern age that the Ancients and Plato did not know. In days of old a beautiful public life was the custom of all, beauty as the immediate union of the universal and the particular, a work of art in which no part was separated from the whole, but a wonderful union of the self-knowing self and its representation. But the absolute self-knowledge of the individual did not yet exist, this absolute being-in-oneself was not present. The Platonic republic, like the state of Sparta, is the disappearance of the self-knowing individual.’

And in a marginal note Hegel adds, by way of explanation:

‘Plato did not set up an ideal, he interiorized the state of his age within himself. But this state has perished – the Platonic republic is not realizable – because it lacked the principle of absolute individuality.’

Thus individuality or, more precisely, the absolute value of personality in its singularity, is the novel principle that divides the ancient and the modern worlds. This idea too is familiar to us from Frankfurt and its roots, i.e. the individual as crucial in distinguishing between ancient and modern society, go back even into the Berne period. Even in Berne Hegel had observed that the ‘privatization’ of human life which entered the ancient city-states at the time of their decay had led to individuality and individualism in the modern sense. At that time, however, he had steadfastly opposed the inroads of the private on the public. It represented for him merely the subjective side of lifeless ‘positivity’, of societal existence. The Frankfurt crisis was precipitated by the fact that Hegel gradually began to modify this blunt rejection of ‘positivity’. We have already seen how the concept of ‘positivity’ gradually became historicized and how it became saturated with an increasingly complex dialectic of progressive and reactionary elements. This dialectic was set in motion as Hegel came to believe that the ‘positive’ spheres of modern society were also the products of human activity, and that they came into being and perish, flourish or petrify, in constant interaction with the actions of men. Hence they cease to appear as something ready-made, as an inexorably objective ‘Fate’.

The change in his views had begun in Frankfurt. For the time being it was confined to an objective dialectic of ‘positivity’ itself. Then the increasing interaction between subject and object, between the subjectivity of the action of individuals in society and the objectivity of the social formations ‘rigidly’ confronting them, came to influence and even to determine the dialectic, without ever reaching the point of being identified as its central principle. This was reserved for the Jena period and became fully conscious in its culminating phase in The Phenomenology of Mind. There, as we shall see, the old concept ‘positivity’ is replaced by the new terms ‘externalization’ or ‘alienation’.

As with all genuine thinkers, the change is not merely one of terminology. The distinction between ‘positivity’ and ‘externalization’ conceals a profound extension of Hegel’s earlier ideas; ‘Positivity’ refers to a quality of social formations, objects, things. ‘Externalization’ is a specific mode of human activity as a result of which specific social institutions come into being and acquire the objective nature peculiar to them. The change in terminology is very gradual indeed. The term ‘externalization’ recurs with increasing frequency, ‘positivity’ becomes more and more rare, but for years the two terms are used alongside each other. Not until the Lectures of 1805-6 are the two concepts properly distinguished.

What the change involves is a growing understanding of the real nature of modern civil society and above all of its progressive nature. We have already seen how Hegel had begun in Frankfurt to think of antiquity as irrevocably belonging to the past. In Jena he becomes more firmly convinced of this. But his conviction is accompanied by a profound feeling of sorrow that this world of really living and really human beings should have vanished forever. We have quoted the remark in Rosenkranz where Hegel refers to antiquity as ‘only a memory’. The continuation of the same passage is very revealing of his mood at that time:

‘The union of mind and its reality must be sundered. The ideal principle must constitute itself as a universal, the real must become fixed as a particular, and nature must lie between them, a desecrated corpse.’

The sorrow expressed here forms the basic mood of Hölderlin’s poetry and it also confers undying beauty on the great philosophical poems of Schiller. Schiller did not stop short at that point, but advanced in the realm of aesthetics – and of course on the basis of a broad philosophical culture – to an understanding of the specific characteristics of the modern world and its poetry. Hegel travelled the same path, but in a much more resolute and systematic fashion. It is worth remarking, however, that the greatness of both Schiller and Hegel in their reflections on the philosophy of history rests in great measure on the fact that they never really overcame this sorrow. In the absence of a proletariat, the humanist critique of capitalism could only discover a concrete standard of what man had lost and had to lose in the course of the undeniable progress made by capitalism by recalling that authentic humanity which had flourished in the city-states of Greece. The recognition of the progressive nature of capitalism never degenerated in the writings of the German classics into a superficial glorification of modern bourgeois society after the manner of Bentham. The notion, developed by idealist dialectics, of a contradictory progress is very intimately bound up with this relationship to antiquity.

The opposition between ancient and modern society develops increasingly into a distinction between the immediate and the mediate socialization of man. And the more Hegel comes to appreciate the necessary and progressive nature of mediation, the more he perceives that the increasingly complex system of mediations that results is the product of man’s own activity. This in turn leads him to the discovery that the involvement of human personality in these social mediations and the sharp decline of unmediated relationships between men does not entail the diminution of human individuality. On the contrary, real human individuality only begins to unfold in the course of this process, through the creation of a mediating system of institutions which progressively become more ‘thing-like’ and which increasingly ‘externalize’ human personality. We have just cited Hegel’s remark (p. 312) to the effect that in modern civil society individuals exist only as externalized beings, ‘as what they have made of themselves’. What this means is that Hegel was beginning to see that if mankind is to develop all its capacities and awaken into deed all the talents that sleep within it, then it must overcome its merely natural immediacy. His regret at the passing away of that beauty that was to be found in the natural immediacy of life in antiquity expresses his dialectical conviction that human progress has been dearly bought.

Since for Hegel modern civil society was the highest stage of mankind, beyond which he neither did nor could see anything higher, his recognition of the passing of antiquity had the sense of an irrevocable loss. His greatness as a thinker is that he was able to hold fast to both aspects of this contradiction without concerning himself overmuch with the further contradictions that it provoked in him. (These contradictions are connected partly with certain illusions about a classical revival prevalent in the Napoleonic era.) When Hegel’s first liberal critics, such as Haym, reproach him with a nostalgia for antiquity, a failure to recognize the merits of modern bourgeois society, what they really lament is Hegel’s failure to become the German Bentham.

The insoluble contradiction that appears here in Hegel, one with which we shall concern ourselves in a later chapter, is a contradiction in history itself. The contradictions in the nature of progress could only be fully grasped in a concrete, materialist and dialectical manner once the class struggle had developed to the point where a proletarian humanism could envisage the recovery of immediate personal and social relations as the result of the emancipation of humanity through socialism. The proper understanding of human development in historical materialism provides an essential corrective to Hegel, but in a manner diametrically opposed to those who have criticized him from the point of view of a vulgar and superficial liberal belief in progress. Marx’s view of antiquity as the normal childhood of mankind, the theory of primitive communism, of tribal society and its dissolution as the foundation of classical civilization is infinitely superior to Hegel’s conception, but does not conflict with its basic historical premises or his brilliant insights into the development of mankind.

In the Lectures of 1805-6 Hegel formulates the difference between ancient and modern civilization as follows:

‘This is the beautiful, happy freedom of the Greeks which bas been and still is the subject of such envy. The nation is divided into citizens and is at the same time one individual, the government. It interacts only with itself. The same will informs the individual and the universal. The renunciation of the particular will is the immediate preservation of that same will. But a higher abstraction is necessary, a greater opposition and culture, a deeper spirit. It is the realm of ethical life: each man is himself ethical, immediately at one with the universal. There are no protests here; each man knows himself to be immediately universal, i.e. he renounces his particularity, without knowing it as such, as this self, as essence. The higher division [of the modern world – Trans.] is that each person retires completely into himself, knows his self as such to be the essence; he comes to the wilful idea that although separated from the universal, he is yet absolute and in his knowledge he possesses his absoluteness immediately. As a particular being he leaves the universal quite free; he has complete autonomy, he relinquishes his reality and has value only in his knowledge.’

We shall have to analyse at length the problems that emerge from this comparison. In the process we shall encounter the philosophical sources of a number of the social and political limitations of Hegel’s thought, such as, for example, Hegel’s belief that his use of ‘externalization’ as the foundation of modern individuality provides him with a philosophical reason for rejecting democracy in modern society. For the present it is sufficient to focus on the contrast which lies at the roots of his conception of history. On the one hand, he sees the development of human personality as a product of the process of ‘externalization’ or alienation, and, on the other hand, he recognizes that the man-made system of ‘externalized’ mediations injects into society an objective means of propulsion and that one of the chief tasks facing the philosophy of history is to investigate the laws of that process. After some observations concerning the monarch as a ‘natural’ person and the rest of the citizenry as ‘externalized’ persons Hegel adds:

‘The entire community is tied as little to the one as to the other; it is the self-supporting indestructible substance. Of whatever sort the ruler or the citizens may be, the community is complete in itself and preserves itself.’

The increasing tension apparent here between the growing subjectivity and autonomy of human individuality on the one hand, and the simultaneous emergence of a no less autonomous system of man-made social mediations – this is in Hegel’s eyes the fundamental problem of modern civil society, and of his own philosophy of history.

Although the term has not yet been employed, it is very clear that political economy provides this problem with its scientific underpinning. It is necessary, therefore to consider Hegel’s views on economics and to estimate their importance for his dialectics. This will involve us in two sets of problems. On the one hand, there is the question of the extent to which Hegel’s understanding of the contradictions of capitalism advanced his dialectical method. On the other hand, we must consider the problem arising from Hegel’s inadequate grasp of the contradictions of capitalism and the difficulties that this involved him in, i.e. the way in which his defective understanding of economics and the limitations of his idealist dialectics mutually determined each other.