The Philosophy of History

Translator’s Introduction

Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History are recognized in Germany as a popular introduction to his system; their form is less rigid than the generality of metaphysical treatises, and the illustrations, which occupy a large proportion of the work, are drawn from a field of observation more familiar perhaps, than any other, to those who have not devoted much time to metaphysical studies. One great value of the work is that it presents the leading facts of history from an altogether novel point of view. And when it is considered that the writings of Hegel have exercised a marked influence on the political movements of Germany, it will be admitted that his theory of the universe, especially that part which bears directly upon politics, deserves attention even from those who are the most exclusive advocates of the “practical.”

A writer who has established his claim to be regarded as an authority, by the life which he has infused into metaphysical abstractions, has pronounced the work before us, “one of the pleasantest books on the subject he ever read."[1]

And compared with that of most German writers, even the style may claim to be called vigorous and pointed. If therefore in its English dress the “Philosophy of History” should be found deficient in this respect, the fault must not be attributed to the original.

It has been the aim of the translator to present his author to the public in a really English form, even at the cost of a circumlocution which must sometimes do injustice to the merits of the original. A few words however have necessarily been used in a rather unusual sense; and one of them is of very frequent occurrence. The German “Geist,” in Hegel’s nomenclature, includes both intelligence and will, the latter even more expressly than the former. It embraces in fact man’s entire mental and moral being, and a little reflection will make it obvious that no term in our metaphysical vocabulary could have been well substituted for the more theological one, “Spirit,” as a fair equivalent. It is indeed only the impersonal and abstract use of the term that is open to objection; an objection which can be met by an appeal to the best classical usage; viz., the rendering of the Hebrew & #1514; & #1521; & #1512; and Greek pneuma in the authorized version of the Scriptures. One indisputable instance may suffice in confirmation: “Their horses [i.e., of the Egyptians] are flesh and not spirit.” (Isaiah xxxi. 3.) It is pertinent to remark here, that the comparative disuse of this term in English metaphysical literature, is one result of that alienation of theology from philosophy with which continental writers of the most opposite schools agree in taxing the speculative genius of Britain – an alienation which mainly accounts for the gulf separating English from German speculation, and which will, it is feared, on other accounts also be the occasion of communicating a somewhat uninviting aspect to the following pages.

The distinction which the Germans make between “Sittlichkeit” and “Moralität,” has presented another difficulty. The former denotes conventional morality, the latter that of the heart or conscience. Where no ambiguity was likely to arise, both terms have been translated “morality.” In other cases a stricter rendering has been given, modified by the requirements of the context. The word “moment” is, as readers of German philosophy are aware, a veritable crux to the translator. In Mr. J. R. Morell’s very valuable edition of Johnson’s Translation of Tennemann’s “Manual of the History of Philosophy,” the following explanation is given: “This term was borrowed from mechanics by Hegel (see his “Wissenschaft der Logik,” Vol. 3, P. 104, Ed. 1841). He employs it to denote the contending forces which are mutually dependent, and whose contradiction forms an equation. Hence his formula, Esse = Nothing. Here Esse and Nothing are momentums, giving birth to Werden, i.e., Existence. Thus the momentum contributes to the same oneness of operation in contradictory forces that we see in mechanics, amidst contrast and diversity, in weight and distance, in the case of the balance.” But in several parts of the work before us this definition is not strictly adhered to, and the translator believes he has done justice to the original in rendering the word by “successive” or “organic phase.” In the chapter on the Crusades another term occurs which could not be simply rendered into English. The definite, positive, and present embodiment of essential being is there spoken of as “ein Dieses,” “das Dieses,” etc., literally “a This,” “the This,” for which repulsive combination a periphrasis has been substituted, which, it is believed, is not only accurate but expository. Paraphrastic additions, however, have been, in fairness to the reader, enclosed in brackets [ ]; and the philosophical appropriation of ordinary terms is generally indicated by capitals, e.g., “Spirit,” “Freedom,” “State,” “Nature,” etc.

The limits of a brief preface preclude an attempt to explain the Hegelian method in its wider applications; and such an undertaking is rendered altogether unnecessary by the facilities which are afforded by works so very accessible as the translation of Tennemann above mentioned, Chalybseus’s “Historical Development of Speculative Philosophy, from Kant to Hegel,” Blakey’s “History of the Philosophy of Mind,” Mr. Lewes’s “Biographical History of Philosophy,” besides treatises devoted more particularly to the Hegelian philosophy. Among these latter may be fairly mentioned the work of a French professor, M. Vera, “Introduction ā la Philosophie de Hegel,” a lucid and earnest exposition of the system at large; and the very able summary of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right,” by T. C. Sandars, late fellow of Oriel College, which forms one of the series of “Oxford Essays” for 1855, and which bears directly on the subject of the present volume.

It may, nevertheless, be of some service to the reader to indicate the point of view from which this “Philosophy of History” is composed, and to explain the leading idea. The aim and scope of that civilizing process which all hopeful thinkers recognize in history, is the attainment of Rational Freedom. But the very term freedom supposes a previous bondage; and the question naturally arises: “Bondage to what?” – A superficial inquirer may be satisfied with an answer referring it to the physical power of the ruling body. Such a response was deemed satisfactory by a large number of political speculators in the last century, and even at the beginning of the present; and it is one of the great merits of an influential thinker of our days to have expelled this idolum fori, which had also become an idolum theatri, from its undue position; and to have revived the simple truth that all stable organizations of men, all religious and political communities, are based upon principles which are far beyond the control of the One or the Many. And in these principles or some phase of them every man in every clime and age is born, lives and moves. The only question is: Whence are those principles derived? Whence spring those primary beliefs or superstitions, religious and political, that hold society together? They are no inventions of “priestcraft” or “kingcraft,” for to them priestcraft and kingcraft owe their power. They are no results of a Contrat Social, for with them society originates. Nor are they the mere suggestions of man’s weakness, prompting him to propitiate the powers of nature, in furtherance of his finite, earthborn desires. Some of the phenomena of the religious systems that have prevailed in the world might seem thus explicable; but the Nihilism of more than one Oriental creed, the suicidal strivings of the Hindoo devotee to become absorbed in a divinity recognized as a pure negation, cannot be reduced to so gross a formula; while the political superstition that ascribes a divine right to the feebleness of a woman or an infant is altogether untouched by it. Nothing is left therefore but to recognize them as “fancies,” “delusions,” “dreams,” the results of man’s vain imagination – to class them with the other absurdities with which the abortive past of humanity is by some thought to be only too replete; or, on the other hand, to regard them as the rudimentary teachings of that essential intelligence in which man’s intellectual and moral life originates. With Hegel they are the objective manifestation of infinite reason – the first promptings of Him who having “made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation, if haply they might feel after and find him” – tou gar kai genos esmen. And it is these kaitoi protetagmenoi, these determined and organic epochs in the history of the world that Hegel proposes to distinguish and develop in the following treatise. Whatever view may be entertained as to the origin or importance of those elementary principles, and by whatever general name they may be called – Spontaneous, Primary, or Objective Intelligence – it seems demonstrable that it is in some sense or other to its own belief, its own reason or essential being, that imperfect humanity is in bondage; while the perfection of social existence is commonly regarded as a deliverance from that bondage. In the Hegelian system, this paradoxical condition is regarded as one phase of that antithesis which is presented in all spheres of existence, between the subjective and the objective, but which it is the result of the natural and intellectual processes that constitute the life of the universe, to annul by merging into one absolute existence. And however startling this theory may be as applied to other departments of nature and intelligence, it appears to be no unreasonable formula for the course of civilization, and which is substantially as follows: In less cultivated nations, political and moral restrictions are looked upon as objectively posited; the constitution of society, like the world of natural objects, is regarded as something into which a man is inevitably born; and the individual feels himself bound to comply with requirements of whose justice or propriety he is not allowed to judge, though they often severely test his endurance, and even demand the sacrifice of his life. In a state of high civilization, on the contrary, though an equal self-sacrifice be called for, it is in respect of laws and institutions which are felt to be just and desirable. This change of relation may, without any very extraordinary use of terms, or extravagance of speculative conceit, be designated the harmonization or reconciliation of objective and subjective intelligence. The successive phases which humanity has assumed in passing from that primitive state of bondage to this condition of rational freedom form the chief subject of the following lectures.

The mental and moral condition of individuals and their social and religious conditions (the subjective and objective manifestations of reason) exhibit a strict correspondence with each other in every grade of progress. “They that make them are like unto them,” is as true of religious and political ideas as of religious and political idols. Where man sets no value on that part of his mental and moral life which makes him superior to the brutes, brute life will be an object of worship and bestial sensuality will be the genius of the ritual. Where mere inaction is the finis bonorum, absorption in nothingness will be the aim of the devotee. Where, on the contrary, active and vigorous virtue is recognized as constituting the real value of man – where subjective spirit has learned to assert its own freedom, both against irrational and unjust requirements from without, and caprice, passion, and sensuality, from within, it will demand a living, acting, just, and holy, embodiment of Deity as the only possible object of its adoration. In the same degree, political principles also will be affected. Where mere nature predominates, no legal relations will be acknowledged but those based on natural distinction; rights will be inexorably associated with “caste.” Where, on the other hand, spirit has attained its freedom, it will require a code of laws and political constitution, in which the rational subordination of nature to reason that prevails in its own being, and the strength it feels to resist sensual seductions shall be distinctly mirrored.

Between the lowest and highest grades of intelligence and will, there are several intervening stages, around which a complex of derivative ideas, and of institutions, arts, and sciences, in harmony with them, are aggregated. Each of these aggregates has acquired a name in history as a distinct nationality. Where the distinctive principle is losing its vigor, as the result of the expansive force of mind of which it was only the temporary embodiment, the national life declines, and we have the transition to a higher grade, in which a comparatively abstract and limited phase of subjective intelligence and will – to which corresponds an equally imperfect phase of objective reason – is exchanged for one more concrete, and vigorous – one which develops human capabilities more freely and fully, and in which right is more adequately comprehended.

The goal of this contention is, as already indicated, the self-realization, the complete development of spirit, whose proper nature is freedom – freedom in both senses of the term, i.e. liberation from outward control – inasmuch as the law to which it submits has its own explicit sanction – and emancipation from the inward slavery of lust and passion.

The above remarks are not designed to afford anything like a complete or systematic analysis of Hegel’s “Philosophy of History,” but simply to indicate its leading conception, and if possible to contribute something towards removing a prejudice against it on the score of its resolving facts into mystical paradoxes, or attempting to construe them ā priori. In applying the theory, some facts may not improbably have been distorted, some brought into undue prominence, and others altogether neglected. In the most cautious and limited analysis of the past, failures and perversions of this kind are inevitable: and a comprehensive view of history is proportionately open to mistake. But it is another question whether the principles applied in this work to explain the course which civilization has followed, are a correct inference from historical facts, and afford a reliable clue to the explanation of their leading aspects. The translator would remark, in conclusion, that the “Introduction” will probably be found the most tedious and difficult part of the treatise; he would therefore suggest a cursory reading of it in the first instance, and a second perusal as a resume of principles which are more completely illustrated in the body of the work.

J. Sibree.

Charles Hegel’s Preface

The changed form in which Hegel’s lectures on the Philosophy of History are re-issued, suggests the necessity of some explanation respecting the relation of this second edition both to the original materials from which the work was compiled, and to their first publication.

The lamented Professor Gans, the editor of the “Philosophy of History,” displayed a talented ingenuity in transforming lectures into a book; in doing so he followed for the most part Hegel’s latest deliveries of the course, because they were the most popular, and appeared most adapted to his object. He succeeded in presenting the lectures much as they were delivered in the winter of 1830-31; and this result might be regarded as perfectly satisfactory, if Hegel’s various readings of the course had been more uniform and concordant, if indeed they had not rather been of such a nature as to supplement each other. For however great may have been Hegel’s power of condensing the wide extent of the phenomenal world by thought, it was impossible for him entirely to master and to present in a uniform shape the immeasurable material of history in the course of one semester. In the first delivery in the winter of 1822-23, he was chiefly occupied with unfolding the philosophical idea, and showing how this constitutes the real kernel of history, and the impelling soul of world-historical peoples. In proceeding to treat of China and India, he wished, as he said himself, only to show by example how philosophy ought to comprehend the character of a nation; and this could be done more easily in the case of the stationary nations of the East, than in that of peoples which have a bona, fide history and a historical development of character. A warm predilection made him linger long with the Greeks, for whom he always felt a youthful enthusiasm; and after a brief consideration of the Roman World he endeavored finally to condense the Mediaeval Period and the Modern Time into a few lectures; for time pressed, and when, as in the Christian World, the thought no longer lies concealed among the multitude of phenomena, but announces itself and is obviously present in history, the philosopher is at liberty to abridge his discussion of it; in fact, nothing more is needed than to indicate the impelling idea. In the later readings, on the other hand, China, India, and the East generally were more speedily despatched, and more time and attention devoted to the German World. By degrees the philosophical and abstract occupied less space, the historical matter was expanded, and the whole became more popular. It is easy to see how the different readings of the course supplement each other, and how the entire substance cannot be gathered without uniting the philosophical element which predominates in the earlier, and which must constitute the basis of the work, with the historical expansion which characterizes the latest deliveries.

Had Hegel pursued the plan which most professors adopt, in adapting notes for use in the lecture room, of merely appending emendations and additions to the original draught, it would be correct to suppose that his latest readings would be also the most matured. But as, on the contrary, every delivery was with him a new act of thought, each gives only the expression of that degree of philosophical energy which animates his mind at the time; thus, in fact, the two first deliveries of 1822-23 and 1824-25, exhibit a far more comprehensive vigor of idea and expression, a far richer store of striking thoughts and appropriate images, than those of later date; for that first inspiration which accompanied the thoughts when they first sprang into existence, could only lose its living freshness by repetition.

From what has been said, the nature of the task which a new edition involved is sufficiently manifest. A treasury of thought of no trifling value had to be recovered from the first readings, and the tone of originality restored to the whole. The printed text therefore was made the basis, and the work of inserting, supplementing, substituting, and transforming (as the case seemed to require), was undertaken with the greatest possible respect for the original. No scope was left for the individual views of the editor, since in all such alterations Hegel’s manuscripts were the sole guide. For while the first publication of these lectures – a part of the introduction excepted – followed the notes of the hearers only, the second edition has endeavored to supplement it by making Hegel’s own manuscripts the basis throughout, and using the notes only for the purpose of rectification and arrangement. The editor has striven after uniformity of tone through the whole work simply by allowing the author to speak everywhere in his own words; so that not only are the new insertions taken verbatim from the manuscripts, but even where the printed text was retained in the main, peculiar expressions which the hearer had lost in transcription, were restored.

For the benefit of those who place vigor of thought in a formal schematism, and with polemical zeal assert its exclusive claim against other styles of philosophizing, the remark may be added that Hegel adhered so little to the subdivisions which he had adopted, that he made some alterations in them on occasion of every reading of the course – treated Buddhism and Lamaism, e.g., sometimes before, sometimes after India, sometimes reduced the Christian World more closely to the German nations, sometimes took in the Byzantine Empire, and so on. The new edition has had but few alterations to make in this respect. When the association for publishing Hegel’s works did me the honor to intrust me with the re-editing of my father’s “Philosophy of History,” it also named as advocates of the claims of the first edition, and as representatives of Professor Gans, who had been removed from its circle by death, three of its members, Geh. Ober-Regierungs Rath Dr. Schulze, Professor von Henning, and Professor Hotho, to whose revision the work in its new shape was to be submitted. In this revision, I not only enjoyed the acquiescence of those most estimable men and valued friends in the alterations I had made, but also owe them a debt of thanks for many new emendations, which I take the opportunity of thus publicly discharging.

In conclusion, I feel constrained to acknowledge that my gratitude to that highly respected association for the praiseworthy deed of love to science, friendship, and disinterestedness, whose prosecution originated it and still holds it together, could be increased only by the fact of its having granted me also a share in editing the works of my beloved father.

Charles Hegel.