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Given the complexity of his thought, it is not surprising that Hegel's philosophy has been interpreted in a number of different and often opposed ways. As such, while many philosophical movements might be described as "Hegelian," there is no univocal sense of this term, nor any unanimity about what the proper interpretation of Hegel's idealism involves. Perhaps because of these interpretive difficulties, the appeal of Hegelianism in its various guises has waxed and waned in the two centuries following Hegel's own work.

At first glance, Hegel's philosophy presents a seemingly thoroughgoing idealism, in which the world is explained as a manifestation or determination of Absolute Spirit. The Logic, for example, begins with an exploration of Being and dialectically derives from it the particularity of the world. But while there is some truth to viewing Hegel's idealism in such metaphysical terms, the system he develops is far more complicated and subtle than the initial appearance might suggest. Rather, Hegel is concerned to answer a question that had been posed by Kant: How can people find certainty in their knowledge of the world? Another central feature of Hegel's position involves the claim that rationality cannot be understood apart from history: thought matures in a dialectical process that, for Hegel, reveals the development of reason's own capacities in various social and historical epochs. This emphasis on the historical nature of reason stands as a hallmark of much of what can be called "Hegelianism."

Although the bulk of Hegel's philosophical work was done in the early part of the 1800s, its influence was not forcibly felt in Germany until 1818, when he was appointed to a position in Berlin. His lectures thereon topics ranging from history to aestheticsattracted an enormous amount of attention, especially among students interested in social and political reform. Hegel himself was not especially active politically, but even before his death in 1831, a heated debate broke out between his more conservative interpretersthe "Old Guard"and the more socially oriented and reform-minded "Young Hegelians." At issue was whether Hegel's famous assertion that "the actual is the rational" expressed a factual claim about contemporary Prussia as the culmination of the dialectic of Spirit, or whether it stood as a call to arms to lead society to greater heights. Where the Old, or Right, Hegelians focused mostly on the religious aspects of the Absolute in the service of justifying a conservative Prussian state, the Young, or Left, Hegelians were far more inspired by what they saw as the radical implications of Hegel's political thought. For the Left Hegelians, notably Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, the Philosophy of Right provides a blueprint for the reform of European politics, with an emphasis on free markets and participatory democracy. The Left Hegelians also embraced a humanist project: Feuerbach, Bauer, and Strauss, for example, all offered historicist accounts of Christianity, and attempted to show that religion must be understood as a social rather than a divine phenomenon. The force of the Left Hegelian movement, however, was thwarted in 1841 by the appointment of the aging Friedrich Schelling to Hegel's former chair in Berlin in an attempt to quash the threat of reformist Hegelianism.

By the end of the 1850s, Hegel's influence had begun to fade, and indeed the neo-Kantian movementguided by the motto "Back to Kant!"arose largely in response to a perceived lassitude in Hegelianism. For these thinkers, philosophy required a recovery from what became known as "Hegelian bankruptcy," which was induced by an overemphasis on the metaphysical trappings of Hegel's system.

Marxist Hegelianism

Despite Hegel's waning influence in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Left Hegelian movement did produce one lasting effect in Marxism. Like the other Left Hegelians, Marx's reception of Hegel was not free of substantial criticism. The most overt aspect of Hegel's influence on Marx is the so-called "dialectical method" by which theoretical and social entities are said to inherently generate their opposites. Marx and his followers make frequent use of this method, though in many cases it assumes the coarse and popular triad of "thesis-antithesis-synthesis," which was never used by Hegel himself. Marx's main criticism of Hegel is directed at the latter's idealism, which Marx aimed to replace by his own "dialectical materialism." Hegel's social and historical philosophies also exercised considerable influence over Marx. This may seem odd at first sight since Hegel was the bourgeois philosopher par excellence. Yet Hegel's intellectual integrity compelled him to uncover the unavoidable abuse of the poor in the ideal society and state he envisaged in his Philosophy of Right, and this latent social criticism was adopted and radically intensified by Marx. Marx and Hegel also share the view of humanity as product of society and history as well as the view of human history as a series of dialectical developments whose final end is the realization of freedom. Marx, however, rejects the quietist implications of Hegel's philosophy of history, according to which one cannot comprehend a period and act in it simultaneously since, according to Hegel, philosophical understanding of a period comes only once this period has already passed.

In spite of the sharp decline of Hegelianism at the second half of the nineteenth century, Marx considered himself a pupil of Hegel till his very last days. The importance of Hegel for the understanding of Marx was a matter of dispute among Marx's followers. While Lenin argued that Marx cannot be understood without the background of Hegel's Logic, the more common Marxist attitude seems content with mere lip service to Hegel's dialectical method. In 1923, following the discovery of Marx's early manuscripts, two important works by George Lukács and Karl Korsch attempted to reassert the importance of Hegel for Marxist philosophy, but this approach was strongly rejected by the official international communist movement (Third International), while nonorthodox Marxists of the Frankfurt School (most notably Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer) related to it more sympathetically. French structuralist Marxism tended to be hostile to the association of Marxism with Hegel's thought.

Hegel in France

From its very inception, existentialism has been in an intense dialogue with Hegel's heritage. Kierkegaard, for example, considered his own thought as a rebellion against the effacement of individuality in Hegel's grand system. Twentieth-century French existentialism was much more sympathetic to Hegel. The crucial event in the development of twentieth-century French reception of Hegel was a series of lectures on Hegel's Phenomenology given by the Russian émigré, Alexandre Kojève, at the École Pratique des Hautes Études between 1933 and 1939 (the lectures were edited and published in 1947). Among the participants in these seminars were Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Georges Battaille, Alexandre Koyré, Emmanuel Levinas, Eric Weil, and Jacques Lacan. Through this extraordinary group of intellectuals Kojève's reading of Hegel became extremely influential.

For Kojève, the key text for understanding the Phenomenology was the famous dialectic of master and slave. Kojève's reading, which is significantly indebted to both Marx and Heidegger, centers upon the human struggle for recognition by the other and the emergence of human culture [ Bildung ] from the life and consciousness of the slave. Another influential interpretation of Hegel was suggested by Jean Hyppolite, who attempted to reconcile the humanistic spirit of the Phenomenology with the rigorous and individual-effacing Logic.

Postmodern French philosophy engaged with Hegel and his grand logical and historical narratives as part of the main stream of Western metaphysics, whose undermining was one of the main aims of deconstructionist thought. In contemporary French thought, Jean-Luc Nancy seems to present the most interesting attempt to revive the philosophical dialogue with Hegel.

Hegel and Anglo-American Philosophy

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Hegel's ideas began exercising considerable influence on several British and American philosophers, notably Edward Caird, F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, and John McTaggart. For them, Hegel provided the vantage point from which they could criticize the empiricism and metaphysical atomism of the utilitarians. Both Russell and Moore also began in this tradition, and their break fromand response toit in the early 1900s marks the beginning of Anglophone "analytic" philosophy.

Despite continued interest in Hegel's thought, the main stream of Anglo-American philosophy in the twentieth century tended to be hostile to Hegel because of his opaque style of writing and his alleged willingness to compromise the absoluteness of the law of noncontradiction. Popper's view of Hegel as one of the sources of modern totalitarianism and nationalism was also very influential in the Anglo-American world (though it is now known that unlike Kant, Hegel was despised by the Nazis).

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, the animosity toward Hegel among "analytic" philosophers abated. Works by Charles Taylor, H. S. Harris, Terry Pinkard, and Robert Pippin, among others, have helped to revive interest in Hegel's thought, and many of these efforts have attempted to present a "critical" rather than metaphysical interpretation of Hegel. Pippin, for example, develops an account of Hegel's idealism that stresses its indebtedness to Kant while noting the ways in which Hegel's emphasis on history and society advance Kant's critical project. Also, in recent works both John McDowell and Robert Brandom have begun the process of what McDowell calls the "domestication" of Hegel's idealism in the service of developing an alternative to naturalist accounts of cognition and intentionality.

See also Continental Philosophy ; Existentialism ; Phenomenology ; Philosophy .


Beiser, Frederick C., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Hegel. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Includes a detailed and categorized bibliography.

Hegel, G. W. F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Edited by Allen W. Wood and translated by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

. The Encyclopedia Logic, with the Zusätze: Part I of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences with the Zusätze. Translated by T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchtig, and H. S. Harris. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991.

. Gesammelte WerkeKritische Ausgabe. Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft im Verbindung mit Rheinische-westfälischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Hamburg, Germany: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1968. The critical edition of Hegel's works. New volumes are published every few years.

. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A. V. Miller. Oxford: Clarendon 1977.

Hyppolite, Jean. Genesis and Structure of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by Samuel Cherniak and John Heckman. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1974.

Kojève, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Assembled by Raymond Queneau, edited by Allan Bloom, and translated by James H. Nichols, Jr. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969. An abridged translation of the French text.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative. Translated by Jason Smith and Steven Miller. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Pippin, Robert. Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self- Consciouness. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Yitzhak Y. Melamed

Peter Thielke

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