From The Young Hegel, Georg Lukacs 1938

3.6 Labour and the problem of teleology

BEFORE we can proceed to a critical analysis of Hegel’s views on economics we must turn our attention to a specific problem which has not only played a crucial role in the history of classical German philosophy but is also one of the issues which, as Lenin has pointed out, show Hegel to have been one of the precursors of historical materialism. And it is certainly no mere accident that Hegel’s novel and seminal approach grew out of his reflections on the problems of modern economics.

The problem we refer to is the problem of teleology, the right definition of the concept of purpose, above all as a concept of praxis, of human activity. Here too it was Marx who ultimately provided the solution. He defined human labour in the following manner:

‘We presuppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works but he also realizes a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will.’

Marx does not simply leave the idea there in the labour-process, the basic chemical interchange between man and nature. He applies it also to a variety of the spheres of human action above all that of economics. We shall confine ourselves, however, to one further quotation from Marx’s discussion of the relation of production to consumption:

‘Consumption furnishes the impulse to produce, and also provides the object which acts as the determining purpose of production. If it is evident that, externally, production supplies the object of consumption, it is equally evident that consumption posits the object of production as a concept, an internal image, a need, a motive, a purpose.’

The philosophy of the modern world had failed utterly to clarify the problem of purpose. Philosophical idealism, quite unaware of the human character of purposefulness, had projected purpose into nature where it sought – and found – an ‘authority’ [Träger] to vouch for it, namely God. God was alleged to have created the world with a purpose in view and to have taken care both directly and indirectly that the purposes intended by Him should be faithfully realized. Engels rightly pours scorn on all schemes of this sort:

‘The highest general idea to which this natural science attained (i.e. up to the eighteenth century) was that of the purposiveness of the arrangements of nature, the shallow teleology of Wolff, according to which cats were created to eat mice, mice to be eaten by cats, and the whole of nature to testify to the wisdom of the creator. It is to the highest credit of the philosophy of the time that it did not let itself be led astray by the restricted state of natural knowledge, and that – from Spinoza down to the great French materialists – it insisted on explaining the world from the world itself and left the justification in detail to the natural science of the future.’

In fact the important thinkers of modern times vigorously assailed this notion of teleology. However, their arguments led them logically enough to the complete repudiation of the concept of purpose however defined. They perceived quite correctly that the postulate of purpose must be something subjective and human and inferred that it must be subjective in the bad sense. In their eagerness to dismiss the theological arguments in favour of an objective purpose, what appeared to be an unbridgeable gulf opened up between causality and teleology and this led metaphysicians – and even the earliest, still somewhat tentative dialecticians – to repudiate teleology in all its forms. For example, Hobbes argued that:

‘A final cause has no place but in such things as have sense and will; and this also I shall prove hereafter to be an efficient cause.’

Hobbes was perfectly justified in reducing all events, even the fact that the realm of purposes occupies a specific place within the network of causal relations.

Spinoza’s view is very similar to this:

‘There will now be no need of many words to show that nature has set no end before herself, and that all final causes are nothing but human fictions.... Thus much, nevertheless, I will add, that this doctrine concerning an end altogether overturns nature. For that which is true in the cause it considers as the effect, and vice versa. Again, that which is first in nature it puts last.’

Spinoza was of course not unaware that final causes play an important role in the affairs of men. But, like Hobbes, he regarded them as merely subjective appearances and his correct insistence on the primacy of causality extinguished that particular dialectic in human actions which Marx discovered and formulated so definitively. Spinoza returns to the theme elsewhere:

‘and since He has no principle or end of existence, He has no principle or end of action. A final cause, as it is called, is nothing, therefore, but human desire, in so far as this is considered as the principle or primary cause of anything. For example, when we say that the having a house to live in was the final cause of this or that house, we merely mean that a man, because he imagined the advantages of a domestic life, desired to build a house. Therefore, having a house to live in, in so far as it is considered as a final cause, is merely this particular desire, which is really an efficient cause, and is considered as primary, because men are usually ignorant of the causes of their desires.’

The defect of this persuasive argument is that Spinoza, too, in his eagerness to establish the causal necessity of human desires, overlooks the specific dialectic of purpose and causality in labour – where of course the realization of a purpose through labour is likewise subject to the laws of causality.

In classical German philosophy the problem of teleology was posed afresh, together with a large number of other fundamental problems in philosophy, and the tendency towards the development of a dialectics initiated discussion at a relatively high level. This movement began with Kant. Kant asked a number of new questions about teleology, but as we shall see, they had no immediate connection with Hegel’s approach to the problem. Nevertheless, it is useful to begin with Kant’s arguments, if only briefly, since on the one hand, they provide us with ammunition against the more recent theories of the history of philosophy which attempt to show that Hegel merely continued what Kant had begun, and on the other hand, Hegel’s own method of solving the problems of teleology was undoubtedly influenced indirectly or at least made easier by the fact that the entire complex of questions had been raised and was very much in the air. For if we must reject as unscientific and confusing any assumption that classical German philosophy is to be treated as a single undifferentiated unity, we must also be on our guard against the opposite fallacy which assumes that Hegel lived in a philosophical vacuum in which he simply proposed problems as they occurred to him and solved them as best he might.

In Kant we find three different attempts to analyse the problems of teleology. Before we discuss them it is as well to begin by stating that Kant rejected the tenets of the old teleology just as firmly as all the important philosophers of his day. Even though in his philosophy objective reality is degraded to the status of mere appearance, this phenomenal world is wholly subject to the laws of cause and effect, leaving no room for teleology.

The first point at which Kant re-introduces the concept of purpose into philosophy is in his discussion of human action, of morality. His application of the notion here suffers from all the defects of subjectivism and abstractness which Hegel criticized and which were noted earlier on. The central idea put forward by Kant in this context was the proposition that man is an end in himself and may not under any circumstances be used as a means to any other end whatsoever. This theory which Fichte then extended even more radically obviously represents an ideological revolt against the treatment meted out to human beings in the system of feudal absolutism. It contains an ethic which reflects the moods of the period of the French Revolution after the fashion of German idealism.

Objectively this theory again opens up an unbridgeable gulf between man and nature, between purpose and causation. Since Kant and Fichte are under the necessity of establishing some contact between the world of pure morality and that of objective reality, they end up by reproducing the old view of teleology, as Hegel shows in Faith and Knowledge, despite an intention which runs contrary to it.

‘In the older teleology particular aspects of nature were related to particular final causes which themselves lay outside those aspects of nature, so that everything existed only for the sake of something else. – Fichte’s teleology likewise represents everything which manifests itself naturally as existing for the sake of something else, namely, to create a realm for free beings and to allow itself to be shattered so that those free beings may rise above the ruins and fulfil their destiny. Fichte’s philosophy thus shares the assumption common to all teleology that nature is nothing in itself but only in relation to something else, to something absolutely profane and lifeless.’

It is perhaps not uninteresting to note that Hegel remarks on the achievements of Voltaire in satirizing the old teleology and acknowledges the value of criticism from an empirical point of view. He sees his work as a critique ad hominem which ridicules the unphilosophical amalgam of idea and manifestation by confronting it with a matching satirical hybrid.

Of much greater importance for philosophy was Kant’s second attempt to find an adequate concept of purpose in the activities of man. His theory of aesthetics, his definition of a work of art as ‘purposiveness without a purpose’ became fundamental to all discussions of aesthetics throughout the entire period. Schiller extended the idea in the direction of objective idealism; Schelling put it in the very centre of his aesthetics and it exerted a powerful influence on Hegel’s aesthetics too, an influence always acknowledged by Hegel. A more detailed analysis of this subject lies beyond the scope of this study (although more can be found in my books Goethe and his Age and Contributions to the History of Aesthetics where I discuss Schiller’s aesthetic theory in greater detail).

Finally, in the Critique of Judgment after his discussion of aesthetics Kant took up the problem of teleology itself and devoted an extended philosophical discussion to it. The main thrust of his arguments is concerned with an attempted definition of organic life. Kant was faced by the following antinomy. On the one band, he holds fast to the idea that nature (or, in his philosophy, the phenomenal world) is subject to causality. And since causality and teleology were mutually exclusive the latter must be eliminated from the scheme of natural phenomena. On the other hand, the newly arising science of the organic brought with it problems that were not capable of solution on the old mechanistic model. It goes without saying that Kant was unable to find a solution to this crisis in the organic sciences. Indeed, he even declared that the impossibility of discovering a way out of the impasse showed that an absolute frontier of human knowledge had been reached. As he put it:

‘And we can say boldly it is absurd for men ... to hope that another Newton will arise in the future, who shall make comprehensible by us the production of a blade of grass according to natural laws which no design has ordered.’ [Critique of Judgment §75]

Kant could have had no idea that half a century later this ‘Newton of the organic realm’ would appear in the person of Darwin. It is in keeping with his acknowledgment that the problems of organic nature were insoluble that Kant never went further than to recommend the ‘regulative’ use of judgment. The title of ‘constitutive’, (i.e. something which defines the object), of what he regards as objective reality was reserved for the categories of mechanical causality.

Despite this agnostic solution, despite this conversion of the existing limits of scientific knowledge into the absolute frontiers of cognition, we can clearly see how the transition to dialectics was being prepared in the Critique of Judgment, how the central problems of dialectics were presented, albeit as yet in an unsatisfactory form. When, for example, Kant states that these problems are inaccessible to the human understanding he vividly illustrates the limitations of metaphysical thought and, in part, those of idealist dialectics also. He explains the ‘regulative’ use of the category of purposiveness in this way:

‘Between natural mechanism and the technic of nature, i.e. its purposive connection, we should find no distinction, were it not that our understanding is of the kind that must proceed from the universal to the particular. The judgment then in respect of the particular can cognize no purposiveness and, consequently, can form no determinant judgments, without having a universal law under which to subsume that particular. Now the particular, as such, contains something contingent in respect of the universal, while yet reason requires unity and conformity to law in the combination of particular laws of nature. This conformity of the contingent to law is called purposiveness; and the derivation of particular laws from the universal, as regards their contingent element, is impossible a priori through a determination of the concept of the object. Hence, the concept of the purposiveness of nature in its products is necessary for human judgment in respect of nature, but has not to do with the determination of objects. It is, therefore, a subjective principle of reason for the judgment, which as regulative (not constitutive) is just as necessarily valid for our human judgment as if it were an objective principle.’

Kant then proceeds to contrast this human faculty, this discursive understanding which always retains an element of contingency when it subsumes a particular under a universal, to an understanding of a different kind. This understanding has

‘a complete spontaneity of intuition’; it is ‘an intuitive understanding ... which does not proceed from the universal to the particular, and so to the singular (through concepts). In this mode of cognition we do not find that the particular laws governing nature in its products are afflicted with the same contingency that had been present in the understanding.’

In this way Kant postulates the idea of a particular form of intelligence, of an intellectus archetypus but with the explicit reservation that it is only an ‘idea’ and that this mode of cognition is inaccessible to human understanding.

It is evident that we have here a programme for advancing beyond the limits set to metaphysical thought. And the outstanding minds of Germany, Goethe and Schiller above all, embraced it with enthusiasm, without concerning themselves overmuch with Kant’s protestations that this mode of cognition was inaccessible, that it exceeded the powers of man. Once again it would go beyond the bounds of our present subject if we were to chart the further course of this idea through the philosophy of nature of Goethe and Schelling. No doubt the question is very closely connected with the philosophical movement which developed from Goethe and Schelling and was strongly influenced by the Critique of Judgment. A discussion of Hegel’s originality in this area would require much specialized research. What is certain, however, is that on this issue of an inner purpose Engels, who usually establishes the fundamental distinctions between Kant and Hegel, here brackets them together. In the course of a polemic against Haeckel, who had argued that mechanism and teleology were rigidly opposed principles, Engels says:

‘Already in Kant and Hegel inner purpose is a protest against dualism. Mechanism applied to life is a helpless category, at the most we could speak of chemism, if we do not want to renounce all understanding of names.... The inner purpose in the organism, according to Hegel (V. p 244), operates through impulse. Pas trop fort. Impulse is supposed to bring the single living being more or less into harmony with the idea of it. From this it is seen how much the whole inner purpose is itself an ideological determination. And yet Lamarck is contained in this. ‘

This brief survey will perhaps suffice to show the reader that the old dogmas about causality and teleology had begun to totter in the period of German idealism even before Hegel. It was important to register the general atmosphere of change before proceeding to Hegel’s own particular contribution to this discussion. Hegel’s new view of teleology appears first in connection with his analysis of labour, and, specifically, where he talks about man’s use of tools. We shall quote from the Lectures of 1805-6 his most mature statement of his position:

‘It is also the content in so far as it is the object of will, the means of desire and their definite possibility. In tools or in the cultivated, fertilized field I possess a possibility, content, as something general. For this reason tools, the means, are to be preferred to the end or purpose of desire, which is more individual, the tools comprehend all the individualities.

‘But a tool does not yet have activity in itself. It is inert matter, it does not turn back in itself. I must still work with it. I have interposed cunning between myself and external objects, so as to spare myself and to shield my determinacy and let it wear itself out. The Ego remains the soul of this syllogism, in reference to it, to activity. However, I only spare myself in terms of quantity, since I still get blisters. Making myself into a thing is still unavoidable; the activity of the impulse is not yet in the thing. It is important also to make the tool generate its own activity, to make it self-activating. This should be achieved (a) by contriving it so that its line, its thread, its double edge or whatever, is used to reverse its direction, to turn it in upon itself. Its passivity must be transformed into activity, into a cohesive movement. (b) In general nature’s own activity, the elasticity of a watch-spring, water, wind, etc. are employed to do things that they would not have done if left to themselves, so that their blind action is made purposive, the opposite of itself. the rational behaviour of nature, laws, in its external existence. Nothing happens to nature itself, the individual purposes of natural existence become universal. Here impulse departs entirely from labour. It allows nature to act on itself, simply looks on and controls it with a light touch: cunning. The broadside of force is assailed by the fine point of cunning. The point d’honneur of cunning in its struggle with force is to seize it on its blind side so that it is directed against itself, to take a firm grip on it, to be active against it or to turn it as movement back on itself, so that it annuls itself. ...’

And in a note in the margin he adds:

‘Wind, mighty river, mighty ocean, subjugated, cultivated. No point in exchanging compliments with it – puerile sentimentality which clings to individualities. ’

The exceptional philosophical importance of these arguments is easily grasped. Hegel’s concrete analysis of the dialectics of human labour annuls the unyielding antithesis of causality and teleology, i.e. it locates conscious human purposes concretely within the overall causal network, without destroying it, going beyond it or appealing to any transcendental principle. Nor does it fall into the opposite error which we have noted in earlier philosophers: of losing sight of the specific determinants of final causes in the sphere of labour.

Like almost every major turning-point in philosophy Hegel’s discovery here is extraordinarily simple: every working man knows instinctively that he can only perform those operations with the means or objects of labour that the laws or combinations of laws governing those objects will permit. That is to say, the labour-process can never go beyond the limits of causality. And every human invention must therefore consist in discovering concealed causal relationships which are then introduced into the labour-process. The specific nature of final causes as both Hegel and Marx correctly saw is just that the idea of the objective to be attained comes into being before the work process is set in motion and that the work process exists for the purpose of achieving this objective by means of an ever greater penetration of the causal relationships existing in reality. It is true and indeed self-evident that the final cause is itself causally conditioned – as Spinoza insists. This insight did escape Hegel since he derives the labour-process from immediate need and then constantly reduces all perfected labour processes to their social origins and ultimately to man’s impulse to satisfy his essential wants. But far from annulling the specific teleological nexus in labour – as Spinoza believed – it only makes the dialectical unity of cause and purpose more transparent. For it becomes perfectly obvious that the breadth and depth of man’s knowledge of cause and effect in nature is a function of the purposes man sets himself in the work process. Man comes to recognize the chain of cause and effect more and more precisely in order to make nature work for him. Thanks to this purposiveness he gives objects a different form and function, he gives different directions and effects to the forces of nature than they would have had without his intervention. In Hegel’s view this novel function of objects and of the forces of nature is both new and not new. Man can only make use of ‘nature’s own activity’ for his own purposes; he can add nothing new to the essence, the laws of nature. Nevertheless, through the intervention of his causally determined purpose these laws may give birth to new effects which were either unknown before or whose appearance had been a matter of chance. Thus Hegel’s concrete analysis of the human labour-process shows that the antinomy of causality and teleology is in reality a dialectical contradiction in which the laws governing a complex pattern of objective reality become manifest in motion, in the process of its own constant reproduction.

It is quite evident from the foregoing that Hegel has made a great advance on his predecessors. He has taken the first step towards a correct philosophical understanding of the real relations and interactions between man and nature. In Kant and Fichte an abstract dualism had prevailed: nature was thought of either as the passive arena for man’s activity or else as a mere frontier delimiting human action. In consequence, this activity became elevated, as Hegel said about Fichte, onto the ‘pure and vertiginous heights’ of abstract morality. And this would always end up in the ‘bad infinity’ of the concept of infinite progress.

Schelling did indeed make a serious effort to translate the subjective principles of the Critique of Judgment into objective ones, but the method he chose was so unmediated, abstract and assertive that he never really advanced beyond the confines of Kantianism, and where he did it was to lapse into mysticism. His aim was to bring about the unity of man and nature by means of an idea which in itself was not without profundity: he saw the whole universe as consisting of a unified process of activity. Within this process the only distinction between man and nature was that man’s activity was conscious while that of nature was unconscious. But the real profundity (and the real limitation) of this idea could only have been demonstrated in the course of a real, concrete analysis. Schelling did not possess the knowledge that might have enabled him to analyse the ‘unconscious production’ of nature. Where his knowledge failed him he filled the gap with more or less ingenious inventions. And as for the conscious activity of man Schelling never made any serious attempt to concretize that with the sole exception of man’s aesthetic activity. And even here his efforts served in the last analysis only to furnish a real, palpable analogy for the mystical doctrine of intellectual intuition. For this reason he never escaped the confines of the concept of infinite progress postulated by Kant and Fichte:

‘The antithesis between conscious and unconscious activity is infinite, since, if it were to be annulled, this would entail the annulment of freedom as a manifestation, because freedom depends simply and solely on this antithesis for its survival.’

In Hegel, on the other hand, the precise analysis of the labour process led to the real concretization both of human praxis and of man’s relationship with nature. Whereas the Romantics expended their lyrical energy declaiming about the unity of man and nature, Hegel, while brusquely rejecting ‘wretched sentimentality’, in any form took the trouble really to think the matter out. In The German Ideology Marx makes this comment on the problem:

‘... the celebrated “unity of man with nature” has always existed in varying forms in every epoch according to the greater or lesser development of industry.’

There can be no doubt that Hegel made a significant advance in the direction of this real understanding of the relationship between man and nature.

The dialectical concretization of human activity which we find in Hegel’s teleology of labour also dramatizes the mediating processes that link human praxis with the idea of social progress. In the old teleology the relative values placed on means and ends were necessarily false. The metaphysical analysis tended towards a rigid polarization of the two concepts; since the ends were inevitably idealized and since they were the product of a consciousness, idealist philosophies always placed a higher value on them than on the means. In the earlier teleologies theological motives were clearly at work, since the authority which guaranteed the ends was always God. But even the subjective idealism of Kant and Fichte foundered upon this rock: even though their notion of ends was inspired by an utterly sincere and revolutionary sense of the dignity of man, the relationship between ends and means remained metaphysical and idealistic.

As far as immediate needs are concerned Hegel too does not dispute that in the first instance the ends stand higher than the means. Man naturally wishes to satisfy his needs immediately and all work, every tool, etc., only appears to his immediate consciousness as a means to this end. But Hegel also shows the concrete objective dialectics of the labour-process which necessarily lead beyond the standpoint of immediate consciousness. And it is here that progress lies. We earlier quoted Hegel’s statement that ‘desire must always start again from the beginning’, and his philosophy of history shows that the course of human development (or, in Hegel’s language, the historical origins and growth of mind) passes through the labour of the ‘servant’, whereas the ‘master’ sticks fast in immediate enjoyment, the immediate satisfaction of his needs, all of which remains barren as far as the progress of mankind is concerned.

Hegel’s dialectic of labour also shows why this is necessarily so: what is expressed in labour, in tools, etc., is a higher more universal, more social principle. A new terrain is conquered which leads to a broader and deeper understanding of nature; and this conquest redounds to the advantage of not just of one single man, but of mankind as a whole. And when this process continuously reproduces itself it does not lead to the monotony of ‘infinite progress’, but to the constant self-reproduction of human society at an ever-higher level – even though this progress is sometimes uneven and may be punctuated by setbacks. For this reason Hegel can rightly say that tools, the means, are more valuable than the ends for which they are employed, i.e. than desire, the impulse to satisfy one’s needs.

Hegel did not draw out all the philosophical consequences of this new view of teleology until some years later, in the Logic. (We do not know exactly whether Hegel made use of the Jena lecture notes for these sections of the Logic, but we shall see that its fundamental ideas do in fact go back to the passages we have quoted from the Jena period.) We shall now turn to some of Hegel’s most important systematic statements in the Logic on the subject of teleology. We do this partly because it is important to show that the dialectical analysis of the labour-process provided the foundations for the later systematic discussion in the Logic of the relations between causality and teleology, theory and praxis, and partly because Lenin, in his Conspectus of Hegel’s Logic, made a series of extremely important comments on precisely these passages, comments which throw a completely new light on the relations between Hegel’s dialectics and historical materialism. Moreover, it is not without interest to see that those of Hegel’s views which in Lenin’s opinion brought him closest to historical materialism were the very ones which sprang from his comprehensive and accurate analysis of economic problems. That is to say, the proximity of Hegel’s ideas to historical materialism was not a coincidence, not the expression of the mysterious intuitions of a genius, but the results of his study of the same objective problems which were solved so brilliantly by the founders of historical materialism.

Lenin quotes the following passage from Hegel’s Logic:

‘Further, since the end is finite it has a finite content; accordingly it is not absolute or utterly in and for itself reasonable. The means, however, is the external middle of the syllogism which is the realization of the end; in it, therefore, reasonableness manifests itself as such – as preserving itself in this external other and precisely through this externality. To that extent the means is higher than the finite ends of external usefulness: the plough is more honourable than those immediate enjoyments which are procured by it, and serve as ends. The instrument is preserved while the immediate enjoyments pass away, and are forgotten. In his tools man possesses power over external nature, even though, as regards his ends, nature dominates him.’ [Science of Logic]

Lenin made the following notes in the margin to this passage: ‘the germs of historical materialism in Hegel’ and ‘Hegel and historical materialism.’ And immediately after the quotation he adds:

‘Historical materialism as one of the applications and developments of the ideas of genius – seeds existing in embryo in Hegel.’ [Philosophical Notebooks]

The reader of our earlier remarks will require no commentary to convince him that these excerpts from Hegel’s Logic merely present in a more systematic form ideas which we have already found in the Jena Lectures, but that they do not go beyond them. Even the idea that the labour man performs with the aid of tools is a syllogism is already present in various places in Hegel’s economic writings in Jena. What Lenin says about the Logic may be applied also then to Hegel’s Jena arguments.

However, in the Logic Hegel does take the idea further when he says that teleology, human labour, and human praxis are the truth of mechanism and chemism. This idea represents an advance on his Jena ideas, even though at the same time its underlying assumptions are contained there. In particular, his interest in the relationship of teleology to mechanism and chemism focuses on the way in which mechanical and chemical technology bear on the objective reality of nature. That is to say, the economic process of production is the moment thanks to which teleology becomes the truth of mechanism and chemism. Lenin has given a running commentary on all these sections, modulating them into the language of dialectical materialism. To give the reader a clear idea of this process we shall quote the central passage from Hegel in full together with Lenin’s materialist critique:

Hegel Materialist Dialectics
‘... From this results the nature of the subordination of the two previous forms of the objective process: the other, which in them lies in the “infinite Progress”, is the concept which at first is posited as external to them, which is end; not only is the concept their substance, but also externality is the moment which is essential to them and constitutes their determinateness.
‘Thus mechanical or chemical technique spontaneously offers itself to the end-relation by reason of its character of being determined externally; and this relation must now be further considered.’
‘Two forms of the objective process: nature (mechanical and chemical) and the purposive activity of man the mutual relation of these forms. At the beginning, man’s ends appear foreign (“other”) in relation to nature. Human consciousness, science (“der Begriff”), reflects the essence, the substance of nature, but at the same time this consciousness is something external in relation to nature (not immediately, not simply, coinciding with it). Mechanical and chemical technique serves human ends just because its character (essence) consists in its being determined by external conditions (the laws of nature).’

Lenin concludes his comments on this section of Hegel’s Logic with the following remarks:

‘In actual fact, men’s ends are engendered by the objective world and presuppose it – they find it as something given, present. But it seems to man as if his ends are taken from outside the world, and are independent of the world (“freedom”). NB. All this in the paragraph on the Subjective End.)’

Thus Hegel proposes here a quite new approach to the place of human praxis in the system of philosophy. And we do not have to waste any more words in showing that the prototype of human praxis for Hegel is to be found in labour, in economic activity. As Marx noted in his Theses on Feuerbach, the great achievement of German classical idealism was to develop the ‘active side’ of reality which had been neglected by the older forms of materialism. This development began with Kant and Fichte, but their concept of praxis was so moralistic and exaggerated that it led to the rigid confrontation of theory and praxis, and to the abstract isolation of practical philosophy which Hegel criticized so trenchantly. But we have now seen not only his criticism but also his positive concrete proposals for a theory of human praxis. We may refer the reader back to his remarks about labour and tools etc. and to his analysis of master and servant in The Phenomenology of Mind. These ideas are synthesized in the Logic which Lenin then subjected to a thorough-going critique in his commentaries on Hegel.

In the Logic Hegel compares the ‘idea’ of praxis with merely theoretical knowledge and arrives at the following conclusion:

‘But in the practical idea it [the notion, concept] stands opposed as actual to the actual.... This idea is higher than the idea of theoretical cognition, for it has not only the dignity of the universal but also of the simply actual.’

In what follows Hegel provides a more detailed explanation of the concrete superiority of the practical over the theoretical idea, a superiority which, the reader will need no further telling, has nothing in common with and is indeed diametrically opposed to the ‘primacy of the practical reason’ of Kant and Fichte. Hegel says:

‘Another way of regarding this defect is that the practical idea still lacks the moment of the theoretical idea. That is to say, in the latter there stands on the side of the subjective concept – the concept that is in process of being intuited within itself by the concept – only the determination of universality. Cognition knows itself only as apprehension, as the self-identity of the concept, which ‘for itself is indeterminate; fulfilment, that is, objectivity determined in and for itself, is given to it, and that which truly is is the actuality that is present independently of subjective positing. The practical idea on the other hand counts this actuality (which at the same time opposes it as an insuperable barrier) as that which in and for itself is null, which is to receive its true determination and sole value through the ends of the good. Will itself consequently bars the way to its own good insofar as it separates itself from cognition and external actuality does not, for it, retain the form of that which truly is; consequently the idea of the good can find its complement only in the idea of the true.’

Lenin excerpted the entire passage and added this commentary:

‘Cognition ... finds itself faced by that which truly is as actuality present independently of subjective opinions, (positings). (This is pure materialism!) Man’s will, his practice, itself blocks the attainment of its end ... in that it separates itself from cognition and does not recognize external actuality for that which truly is (for objective truth). What is necessary is the union of cognition and practice.’

A number of other comments by Lenin arising more or less directly from these quotations from the Logic are highly illuminating on the subject of our present discussion: Hegel’s efforts to acquire an understanding of the subject-matter and methodology of economics and the way in which these made him the forerunner of historical materialism. Immediately following the passage just quoted Lenin points out with a substantial measure of agreement, but also with critical reservations of a materialist nature, that Hegel uses the syllogism as a practical principle for getting to grips with objective reality:

‘The “syllogism of action” ... For Hegel action, practice, is a logical “syllogism”, a figure of logic. And that is true! Not, of course, in the sense that the figure of logic has its other being in the practice of man (= absolute idealism), but vice versa: man’s practice, repeating itself a thousand-million times, becomes consolidated in man’s consciousness by figures of logic. Precisely (and only) on account of this thousand-million-fold repetition, these figures have the stability of a prejudice, an axiomatic character.’

And a few pages earlier on, but still in the same critical commentary of Hegel’s discussion of cognition and praxis, Lenin gives a summary of the links between Hegel and Marx:

‘All this in the chapter “The Idea of Cognition” (Chapter II) – in the transition to the “Absolute Idea” (Chapter III) – i.e., undoubtedly, in Hegel practice serves as a link in the analysis of the process of cognition, and indeed as the transition to objective (“absolute” according to Hegel) truth. Marx, in consequence, clearly followed Hegel’s lead in introducing the criterion of practice into the theory of knowledge: see the Theses on Feuerbach.’

We see, then, that Hegel’s new approach to the problem of teleology, of the connections between final causes and man’s economic activities in particular and – branching out from there – human praxis in general, is of cardinal importance for his entire philosophical system. It leads to the abolition of the mechanical separation between theory and praxis established by the subjective idealism of Kant and Fichte. Consequently it reaffirms the objective link between human praxis and reality. This return to objectivity indicates a partial return to major philosophers of the past such as Spinoza or Hobbes, but with the reservation that Hegel’s objectivity stands on a higher plane than theirs, since it incorporates the dialectics of man’s ‘active side’ in its conception of reality. Indeed as far as the theory of knowledge of Hegel’s own dialectical method is concerned this ‘active side’ may be considered to be the decisive factor. The relationship of theory to practice was thereby clarified in a manner unknown in philosophy up to that time, so much so that Marx could take up the matter where Hegel left off and was in a position to introduce his final and decisive clarifications.

This deepened understanding of the relationship of theory to practice had the most far-reaching consequences for the dialectics of the essential concepts of philosophy. We shall now attempt to demonstrate this with reference to a number of the relevant issues, such as freedom and necessity, contingency and necessity. We shall see how Hegel’s enlarged understanding of these issues springs from the same source as the philosophical insights we have been discussing. At the same time we shall also see that the limitations of his dialectics, the point at which his profound dialectics of reality lapse into an idealistic mystification, is located at the very point at which, for various reasons, his knowledge of economics lets him down and his understanding of society loses itself in the miasmas of mysticism.

Hegel is surprisingly conscious of economic problems and their philosophical implications. We have already seen how consciously he established a connection between praxis and labour, economic activity. But his clear understanding is by no means confined to isolated issues. He is fully aware that the categories of action emerge most clearly in the sphere of economics and he comments on the methodological issue involved in the introductory remarks to his essay on Natural Law. It is true that he is dealing expressly with natural law and not with economics, but since we have come to understand the crucial role of economic categories in the overall structure of society and its scientific analysis we may not take it as read. In a discussion of the way in which the world is reflected in the mirror of science he observes:

‘that the state of natural law is the closest [to reality] since it pertains directly to the ethical, the mover of all things human, and insofar as there is a science of such things to which necessity may be ascribed, it must be at one with the empirical form of the ethical, which is equally necessary, and as a science it must express the latter in universal form.’

The problem of freedom and necessity is concretized above all by being placed in a specific socio-historical framework. Hegel is concerned as we have seen to combat the ethical views of subjective idealism, with its isolation of the concept of freedom from the real world of history and society. Since Hegel’s study of the modern world represents an effort to comprehend the isolation of the individual with the aid of classical economics, the overall self-movement of society must appear as the product of the isolated and hence contingent activities of individuals. We have already quoted various statements in which the identity of Hegel’s position with that of Adam Smith is established beyond doubt. But in order to gain a clear picture of what it entails we must consider his later description of economics as a science, for it is there that he synthesizes his view that the problem of necessity and contingency is the fundamental problem of the discipline. This view is in complete accord with his position in Jena except for the fact that the stage he had reached in Jena did not make it necessary for him to make a formal statement on the subject. In the Philosophy of Right he writes:

‘But this medley of arbitrariness generates universal characteristics by its own working; and this apparently scattered and thoughtless sphere is upheld by a necessity which automatically enters it. To discover this necessary element here is the object of political economy, a science which is a credit to thought because it finds laws for a mass of accidents. It is an interesting spectacle here to see all chains of activity leading back to the same point; particular spheres of action fall into groups, influence others, and are helped or hindered by others. The most remarkable thing here is this mutual interlocking of particulars, which is, what one would least expect because at first sight everything seems to be given over to the arbitrariness of the individual, and it has a parallel in the solar system which displays to the eye only irregular movements, though its laws may none the less be ascertained.’

On this basis Hegel proceeds both to pose and for the first time correctly and concretely to solve the question of the relationship between freedom and necessity within the framework of the concrete and dynamic totality of man’s life in history and society. Engels discussed Hegel’s solution in these terms:

‘Hegel was the first to state correctly the relation between freedom and necessity. To him, freedom is the appreciation of necessity. “Necessity is blind only in so far as it is not understood.” Freedom does not consist in the dream of independence from natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws, and in the possibility this gives of systematically making them work towards definite ends.’

As we have seen, this view of freedom and necessity stands in the very centre of Hegel’s study of teleology and hence of his discussion of human activity in general. We are already familiar with the purely economic side of the problems and also with its basis in the dialectical progress of human knowledge about the laws of nature. Furthermore, we will recollect Hegel’s passionate attack on the abstract concept of freedom held by Kant and Fichte, with all its pretensions to the sublime. What remains, then, is briefly to consider what Hegel’s definition actually implies for our understanding of society and history as a concrete totality. For given Hegel’s position it goes without saying that history is the real framework of freedom, the actual arena in which the dialectical conflict between freedom and necessity is to be fought out.

It is well known that the ‘cunning of reason’ is the central concept in Hegel’s later philosophy of history. Translated into more prosaic terms the expression refers to the idea that men make their own history themselves and the actual driving-force behind the events of history is to be found in the passions of men and in their individual, egoistic aspirations; but the totality of these individual passions nevertheless ends by producing something other than what the men involved had wanted and striven to attain. Nevertheless, this other result is no fortuitous product, on the contrary, it is here that the laws of history, the ‘reason in history’, the ‘spirit’ (to use Hegel’s terms) actually makes itself manifest.

The term ‘ruse’, ‘cunning’ (List) has a long history in Hegel’s thought, reaching back to Jena. We may recollect his use of it in the methodologically important analysis of tools (p. 344f.) as a concept with which to relate man to nature through labour. Closely associated with that is his use of the same concept to establish the relation of the state and the government to the individual, and especially to the total network of man’s economic activities. In the next section we shall show in detail how the frontiers of Hegel’s ideas on economics and above all his idealist illusions about the state make their appearance at this point, illusions which are intimately bound up with his general attitude towards Napoleon.

But this is not the sole source of Hegel’s views. Of course, the influence of contemporary events on his mind is very apparent; but their remoter origins are to be found in the ideas of Hobbes and Mandeville according to which the interaction of the egoistical and even evil and vicious passions of men gives rise to the balance of forces prevailing in capitalist society and even guarantees its future progress. This conception was extended and generalized by the leading thinkers of the French Enlightenment into a utilitarian philosophy (which admittedly, as Marx points out, also perpetuates the accompanying illusions of idealism). The economics of Adam Smith provides all these theories with a firm foundation and its sober emphasis on the actual facts of the given situation shows how far these views can lead.

Hegel is heir to this tradition. How close he is to it can be seen from this passage from the Lectures of 1805-6:

‘From the outside the actual does not indeed look like the ideal, because the observer holds fast to what is immediate, namely necessity. The eccentricity, ruin, licentiousness and vice of others must be borne; the state is cunning.’

And elsewhere Hegel sums up his view as follows:

‘The cunning of the government is to allow free rein to the self-interest of others – the right, the understanding of the merchant tells him what counts in the world: utility – the government must turn its utility to account and ensure that it returns back into the world.’

What is remarkable about Hegel’s general theory of the relations between civil society and the state at this point is the way in which he compares it to that of the merchant in society and attempts to assimilate his idea of the ‘cunning’ of the government to his general economic use of the notion of cunning. This appears even more clearly in another marginal comment in the same work:

‘Not the artificial [actions] of the legislative, etc. organs – the self is the highest authority. – Free rein for the powers of necessity – the cunning to leave individuals a free hand, each looks after himself –this flows into the universal – a higher reflection of spirit in itself. – Guarantee against arbitrariness; general constitution of the estates – not provincial estates; universal reason – mobility of everything individual. The reason of the people is as clever as its arrangements.’

From all this it is evident that there are two conflicting forces at work here which are to be reconciled by means of Hegel’s theory of cunning, his dialectics of freedom and necessity. On the one hand, there is the cunning of the government as opposed to the autonomous movement of the economy in modern civil society, and, on the other hand, there is the cunning of reason which itself becomes manifest in that movement, regulating the production, reproduction and the further advance of capitalist society.

We have already considered Hegel’s views on the workings of this dialectic of freedom and necessity in the course of world history. We may refer the reader back to Hegel’s ideas about the role of the tyrant in history, his necessary appearance and his no less necessary eclipse (p. 310 ff ).

We have also seen that Hegel discerns a similar dialectic in the role played by great men, by the ‘world-historical individuals’ (cf. his remarks on Richelieu, p. 306). We should like to supplement our discussion there with a few quotations from the Jena Lectures which make the connection between the problem of freedom and necessity and the other question of necessity and contingency particularly clear. In one of the Lectures Hegel turns to a discussion of artistic genius. Openly satirical about the deification and mystification of the genius by the Romantics he gives a dispassionate account of the relationship between the activity of the individual genius and the movement of society and the life of the nation as a whole.

‘Those who are called geniuses have acquired a particular skill by means of which they make the universal creations of the people into their own work, as others do with other things. What they produce is not their own invention, but the invention of the entire nation, or rather the discovery, that the nation has discovered its true essence. What really belongs to the artist as such is his formal activity, his particular skill in this mode of representation, and in this he was educated as part of the universal attainment of skill. He is like the man who finds himself among workers who are building a stone arch whose general structure is invisibly present as an idea. He so happens to be the last in line; when he puts his stone into place the arch supports itself As he places his stone he sees that the whole edifice is an arch, says so and passes for the inventor.’

Hegel’s view is made even more explicit in another lecture written at the same time in which he discusses the role of prominent individuals in history, particularly in transitional periods.

‘These self-possessed natures need do nothing but speak the word and the nations will flock to their support. The great minds who do this must, if they are to succeed, be purified of all the characteristics of the configuration which preceded them. If they wish to accomplish a work in its totality, they must grasp it with their totality. It may happen that they only grasp it by a corner and so advance it a little. But since nature wants the whole, it pushes them from the pinnacle to which they had climbed, and replaces them with others; and if these too are one-sided, there will be a succession of individuals until the whole work is finished. But if it is to be the work of one man, he must recognize the whole and so free himself from all limitations.’

These passages do of course reveal the defects of Hegel’s thought which will soon concern us more immediately. Chief among them is his wholesale mystification of the historical process, his hypostatization of a ‘spirit’ which acts as the conscious principle in which it is grounded. But ignoring this for the moment, we can see how dispassionately and dialectically Hegel analyses the role of the ‘world-historical individual’ in history, and we can admire the energetic manner in which he subordinates the outstanding personality to the exigencies of the objective tasks facing him, tasks arising from the objective circumstances of society itself On the other hand, we may observe that Hegel is under no illusions about the element of chance in selecting those individuals who find themselves in a position to get to grips with major political or artistic dilemmas.

In this sphere too his lucidity enables him to anticipate some of the later ideas of historical materialism. Of course, Marx and Engels went far beyond Hegel in their materialist concretization of the problem of necessity and contingency, and it was only when they developed their really scientific language that Hegel’s mystified constructs could finally be overcome. And of course we must remember to distinguish their contributions here from their later vulgarizers of the Second International who so over-emphasized the notion of necessity in history as utterly to eliminate the role of personality and of the activity of individuals in history, turning necessity into an automaton (for the use of opportunists) which functions without human agency. Lenin and Stalin have liberated historical materialism from this mechanical vulgarization and restored and extended the teachings of Marx and Engels in this respect too.

But even earlier Engels, in his old age, had been forced to conduct an ideological campaign against this mechanical vulgarization of history. Here is a passage from his letter to Heinz Starkenburg which not only corrects these false notions but also shows Hegel’s contribution to the thought of historical materialism on this issue. Engels’ argument begins with the subject of contingency and necessity and proceeds thus:

‘This is where the so-called great men come in for treatment. That such and such a man and precisely that man arises at a particular time in a particular country is, of course, pure chance. But cut him out and there will be a demand for a substitute, and this substitute will be found, good or bad, but in the long run he will be found. That Napoleon, just that particular Corsican, should have been the military dictator whom the French Republic, exhausted by its own warfare, had rendered necessary was chance; but that, if a Napoleon had been lacking, another would have filled the place, is proved by the fact that the man was always found as soon as he became necessary: Caesar, Augustus, Cromwell, etc. While Marx discovered the materialist conception of history, Thierry, Mignet, Guizot and all the English historians up to 1850 are the proof that it was being striven for, and the discovery of the same conception by Morgan proves that the time was ripe for it and that it simply had to be discovered.’

The decisive factor which prevented Hegel from making a concrete and accurate application of his philosophically correct view of freedom and necessity, contingency and necessity to the actual course of history is to be found in his ignorance of the class struggle as a motive force in society. Hegel’s knowledge was undoubtedly vast and he was sufficiently critical and unprejudiced to be able to see isolated instances of class antagonisms in society. (We need refer only to his observations on the connection between poverty and the rise of factories, p. 331.) But his general view of history and society prevented him from grasping the importance of class antagonisms as a motive force, to say nothing of making any general inferences from their observed laws of motion.

Thus in Hegel’s philosophy of history the particular states appear as unified and coherent individuals. He does of course realize that behind these individuals there are social processes at work. We may recall that he related the unity of France and the fragmentation of Germany to the different paths taken by feudalism in its period of disintegration. But these insights, accurate though they are, were not consistently applied and had no further consequences. The history of the world appeared essentially as a power struggle between ‘unified’ nations and states among themselves.

Hegel contemplates this struggle as dispassionately as he had contemplated the economic struggle of individuals in civil society. In The Phenomenology of Mind this appears as the internecine conflicts of the ‘animal kingdom of the spirit’ (das geistige Tierreich). This he analyses as the recurrence, indeed as the authentic form, of the state of nature which he sees as Hobbes’ war of all against all. We shall see how the juridical control of economic affairs – which likewise consist of a bellum omnium contra omnes – assumes an extreme, indeed an exaggerated importance in Hegel’s social philosophy, even though we must bear in mind that for Hegel the idea of juridical control has a very different meaning from the one it had for Kant and Fichte. But in Hegel’s view once a nation or a society has been formally constituted as a state, it ceases to be possible to exercise control over the individual states.

In the Lectures of 1805-6 he puts the matter thus:

‘The whole is an individual, a people that is directed against others. The restoration of the state of indifference between individuals, the state of nature – only here does it become real. This state of affairs is partly the peaceable existence of individuals independently of each other, sovereignty; and partly a union through treaties. But the treaties do not have the reality of real contracts; they are not an existing power, it is the individual people which represents the universal as an existing power. Hence they do not have the force of civil contracts; they are not binding if one party abrogates them. This is the eternal deception of concluding treaties, binding oneself and then nullifying one’s obligation.’

We shall see later on how crucial a part is played by war in the Jena philosophy of history. Of course, here too, despite a Napoleonic overestimation of war, his customary dispassionate and historically grounded view prevails. On the one hand, he takes issue with Kant’s utopian conception of eternal peace, as we can see from the final remarks in the last quotation. On the other hand, he is very far from being taken in by the apologias of the various combatants. He is perfectly well aware of the use made of the notions of offensive and defensive war. Each side claims to be defending itself against the attack of the other. And at this level the disagreement about who is in the right is incapable of resolution. In his essay on the German Constitution Hegel observes:

‘Each bases his claim on rights and accuses the other of violating those rights.... The public takes sides, each side claims to have right on its own side, and both are in the right and it is precisely the two rights that have come into conflict.’

Hegel infers from this, consistently enough, that conflicts between states are direct power struggles, in which God, the world-spirit, always stands at the head of the big battalions. Hegel’s realism here has been fastened upon by the ideologists of the imperialist period (such as Meinecke and Heller) to turn Hegel into a forerunner of the unthinking ‘power politics’ promulgated by Treitschke. However, these gentlemen have managed to overlook two inconvenient details. First, despite Hegel’s ignorance of class struggles he never represents the power of a state as an inexplicable gift of heaven, let alone the product of some ‘genius’ or other. It is clear from the earlier contrast between France and Germany that Hegel regarded the immediate predominance of one or the other as just the surface of the problem: he was constantly concerned to discover the mediating factors, the objective social conditions underlying the immediate appearances. And later on, at the time of the shattering defeat of Prussia in the battles of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806, his sympathies may have lain with Napoleon, but this was no mere worship of the Emperor’s ‘superior force’; it was rather a sympathy for the social inheritance of the French Revolution combined with contempt for a Prussian state corrupted by its degenerate feudal traditions.

This one instance leads us to our second point. Meinecke, Heller and the others all forget that Hegel was the ideologist of a revolutionary age, the age of the revolutionary creation of the great nations of the modern world. Hegel rightly thought this process progressive. It took the form of a series of great wars which Hegel regarded as that state of nature in which the spirit emerges from the immediate dialectic of power struggles to attain the highest point in its history. This high point would be reached when the modern civil society of a great people finally constituted itself as a nation. That is to say, Hegel had grasped the main lines of the great problem of the age, and he also understood, and in this he showed great insight, how the dialectic necessarily makes its way through the seemingly fortuitous and incidental episodes of world history to arrive at its final goal.

However, the boundary of Hegel’s view of history now becomes visible, since, on the one hand, he id not see anything beyond that point and, on the other hand, he himself remained enmeshed in the real contradictions surrounding the problem of German national unity. Hence of all the central issues which according to Lenin confronted the democratic revolution in Germany his system focused on just one area of unresolved contradiction.

But all this has nothing in common either historically or philosophically with Bismarck, let alone the ‘power politics’ of German Imperialism. Meinecke and Heller distort history in much the same way as the various groups of social-imperialist opportunists during the First World War. The latter appropriated the various statements by Marx and Engels about the progressive nature of national wars of liberation and applied them – quite unhistorically – to the imperialist World War with the intention of showing that it too was a ‘just’ national war worthy of their support. Of course, there are a number of obscurities, ambiguities and outright contradictions in Hegel which – if adroitly selected – will at least serve as a pretext for historical falsification, whereas in the case of Marx and Engels not even the pretext is there. But as the distortions of the ideas of the latter demonstrate, the validity of a pretext is by the way when an apologia of imperialism is what is really at stake.

The main thrust of Hegel’s view of history, then, culminates in the concrete realm of human praxis; it aims at achieving a philosophical understanding of the real historical process that necessarily led to the establishment of modern civil society. This necessity arises from the actions of men, from passions and aspirations which, through the dialectics of freedom and necessity, produce other, higher and more universal effects than were originally intended or even contemplated. The concrete dialectic of freedom and necessity means, then, that these individual passions and self-interested aspirations are just as essential to the realization of history as their results are different and more than was originally intended and implicit in the immediate impulses of action. This whole system goes far beyond both the morality and the conception of history contained in subjective idealism. The movement of history according to Hegel is no ‘infinite progress’, but a concrete process of development; society and history are not the abstract aspirations of the even more abstract ‘pure will’.

In a certain sense, Schelling anticipated Hegel’s efforts to transcend the view of praxis and history found in subjective idealism. The principles of teleology as re-interpreted by Kant in the Critique of Judgment assisted Schelling to reach a new, coherent view of nature and history in their development. In the course of his reflections Schelling did indeed acquire a certain understanding of dialectics, since he glimpsed the fact that the sum of historical events is greater and on a higher plane than was intended by the men who participate in them. Schelling speaks of

‘the assumed relation of freedom to a hidden necessity ... by virtue of which men acting freely, yet against their own will, become the cause of something which they never desired, or conversely, something miscarries and is ruined even though they strove freely and with all the means at their disposal to bring it about.’

But these intimations never lead to any real knowledge. The necessity of which he speaks is described as ‘unconscious’ in contrast to the conscious nature of freedom. This inflexibility goes so far that, having established the premise that the ‘unconscious’ is the principle of historical objectivity, he goes on to infer that ‘it is simply impossible for anything objective to be produced consciously. ...’ This abstract and unbending opposition between freedom and necessity, conscious and unconscious, eliminates all scope for a concrete dialectics of praxis. A mystical pseudo-dialectics is the most that can be achieved.

Thus on the one hand Schelling ends up in a mystical and irrational view of history, and, on the other hand, he remains firmly inside the framework of Kant’s teleology, despite all his efforts to overcome Kant’s subjectivity by means of his own specious objectivity. He does indeed sense that the old metaphysics were incapable of grasping the laws of history. He says of the concept of history that

‘neither an absolutely lawless series of events nor another series entirely governed by law can deserve the name of history.’

But the bare hint of truth contained in this is at once nullified when he goes on to add:

‘Theory and history are mutually exclusive. Man only has history because no theory can calculate in advance what he will do.’

It is clear that Schelling’s ideas lack precisely that quality which distinguishes Hegel’s application of the dialectics of purposive action to history and which constitutes his greatness and his importance for later philosophers. It is, therefore, historically impermissible to deduce Hegel’s philosophy of history and society from that of Schelling and to equate the ideas of the two men on the subject of freedom and necessity. It is possible and even likely that Schelling’s view that history is the unconscious praxis of the absolute acted as a stimulus for Hegel. But it was never more than that. The essential moment of Hegel’s philosophy of history is the dialectical unity of theory and practice, i.e. the very thing missing in Schelling who on this point never went beyond the dualism of Kant and Fichte.

The real connection between the two thinkers is in their limitations. In art Schelling discovered a unity of freedom and necessity, of conscious and unconscious production. By analogy with this – and with the aid of intellectual intuition he constructed a unity in the development of nature and history. The defect of the end-product is not so much the abstract mysticism in which it culminated, but the fact that he was never able to concretize or illuminate any given moment of history with its aid. And just here lies the strength of Hegel’s system. But Hegel’s system too culminates in a mystical chiaroscuro, and this is certainly an element which he shares with Schelling and which, as an idealist, he can never disown.

What is at stake here is the conception of history as a totality. For objective idealism, i.e. for both Hegel and Schelling, nature and history are the products of a ‘spirit’, and since this is so it follows that the old conception of teleology must inevitably recur, even though Hegel had eliminated it from his detailed discussions of society and history. For if history is an object which is guaranteed by a unified subject, if it is indeed the product of that subject’s activity, then, for an objective idealist like Hegel, history itself must realize the purpose which the ‘spirit’ had posited as a goal from the outset. In consequence, for Hegel as for Schelling, the whole process is thereby transformed into a pseudo-movement: it returns to its starting-point, it is the realization of something that had always existed a priori.

Hegel has this to say about it in The Phenomenology of Mind:

‘What has been said may also be expressed by saying that reason is purposive activity. The exaltation of so-called nature at the expense of thought misconceived, and more especially the rejection of external purposiveness, have brought the idea of purpose in general into disrepute. All the same, in the sense in which Aristotle, too, characterizes nature as purposive activity, purpose is the immediate, the undisturbed, the unmoved which is self-moving; as such it is subject. Its power of moving, taken abstractly, is its existence for itself, or pure negativity. The result is the same as the beginning solely because the beginning is purpose. Stated otherwise, what is actual and concrete is the same as its inner principle or notion simply because the immediate qua purpose contains within it the self or pure actuality.’

Hegel falls to notice here that the consistent application of his own teleological principle leads him back into the old theological conception of teleology. His great philosophical achievement had been to take the concept of purpose down from Heaven, where the theologians had placed it, and bring it back to earth, to the reality of actual human action. His concept of teleology remained great, original and creative as long as it remained earthly. But by taking his ideas to their logical conclusion he destroys as an objective idealist, what he had laboriously built up as a dialectician. In this theological twist to his thought there is a lasting affinity between Hegel and Schelling which outlasts their disagreements.

But we must never lose sight of the fact that this affinity is an affinity imposed on them by the defects of their idealism. The difference between them is that before Hegel lost his way in the miasmas of idealism where a mystified demiurge carried on its ‘activities’, he made a great detour in the course of which he made innumerable fundamental dialectical discoveries. He then pushed forward to that frontier which no idealist can cross. This antithesis between system and method is rudimentary in Schelling and in time it gradually disappears altogether. For this reason what the historian of philosophy must emphasize is the differences between the two views of historical development.

Further reading:

Lenin’s Conspectus of Hegel’s Logic | Marx’s Annotations on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
Jena Lectures, Hegel 1805-6 | Transcendental Philosophy, Schelling, 1800