Hegelianism and Neo-Hegelianism

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated


The term Hegelianism refers to a movement in philosophy usually associated with two sorts of thinkers: (1) followers of G. W. F. hegel, in the strict sense of the word who, notwithstanding their personal interpretations, remain faithful to the thought of the German philosopher;(2) philosophers belonging to other schools of thought who have been basically influenced by Hegel. The first usage refers primarily to philosophers of the 19th century, the second to such contemporary movements as French existentialism, Marxism, and even in certain cases, thomism (particularly in Germany). The term Neo-Hegelianism, on the other hand, is generally applied to the revival of Hegelian philosophy that began in Europe at the end of the 19th century and then extended to America.


The first school of Hegelian philosophers started during the latter period of Hegel's life, while he was teaching philosophy at the University of Berlin (181831). This group founded, in 1827, the Jahrbücher für wissenschaftliche Kritik. It encompassed various thinkers who later would separate into "left" and "right" wings. The most important were G. A. Gabler, who in 1828 published the first commentary on Hegel's Phänomenologie des Geistes (pub. 1807); P. K. Marheinecke, who published the first edition of Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of religion, and on the proofs for the existence of God; K. E. Michelet, who later edited Hegel's lectures on the history of philosophy; E. Gans, who taught a course on the philosophy of law that was to have a decisive influence on the young Marx, and who was also the publisher of Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of history; H. Hotho, who edited Hegel's lectures on aesthetics; K. Rosenkranz, who was Hegel's first biographer; B. bauer, who was to be the leader of the left-wing Hegelians who influenced Marx; and H. F. Hinrichs, whose work on the relation between religion and science (1822) had influenced Hegel's own ideas on philosophy of religion.

Most decisive in the further development of this early Hegelianism was Hegel's own review in the Jahrbücher (1823) of a work by K. F. Göschel on the relation between philosophy and faith, proclaiming the complete congruity of his own philosophy with Christian revelation. This profession of orthodoxy, as well as the political conservatism of Hegel's later thought, was responsible for the subsequent division of Hegelianism into a left and a right wing.

Orthodoxy and Liberalism. As long as Hegel was alive, his personal prestige kept all Hegelians together; but shortly after his death the radical split took place. It was occasioned by the publication in 1835 of Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet by D. F. strauss. Although Hegelian in inspiration, Strauss's work criticizes Hegel's concept of religion on some basic points. For Hegel the contents of religion and philosophy are identical, but whereas philosophy proposes truth in the pure form of reason, religion expresses it in a sensible representation. Such identification favors the theoretical content of religion at the expense of its historical form. Against this thesis Strauss maintained that religious dogmas are irreducible to philosophical concepts, and that, far from being irrelevant, the narratives of the Gospel form the main content of the Christian religion.

These narratives, like all religious doctrines, must be considered not as symbols of rational thought, but as myths expressing the aspirations of the original Christian community. From this viewpoint the historical study of religion becomes essential, but the history of the religious myth is the history of the community that has nurtured it. Very little historical truth is to be found in the narratives themselves. This is not to say that the sacred writings are deprived of truth, but only that their truth is neither historical nor symbolicit is mythical. Strauss's work preserved the fundamental Hegelian idea of the validity of religious truth, but it destroyed Hegel's ultimate identification of religion with philosophy, as well as the identity of the logical and the historical evolution of truth. Also, by maintaining that the fundamental truth of Christianity, the identity of the divine with the human nature, is realized in not just one exemplar (Christ), but in humanity as a whole, he divorced his brand of Hegelianism from Christian orthodoxy.

Among the many writers who attacked Strauss, the most noteworthy was Bauer, who later was to be converted to an even more radical liberalism, denying that the Gospels contained any historical truth. In the controversies over Strauss's Leben Jesu, the Hegelian school became divided into a right wing, which considered the unity of God and man to be realized in a unique and historical way (Göschel, Gabler, Marheinecke, and initially, Bauer), and a left wing, which denied the historical and unique value of the Gospel narrations. Strauss's supporters in Berlin organized themselves into the so-called Young Hegelian movement.

Young Hegelians and Feuerbach. Further developments would soon turn the Young Hegelians into a politically leftist group. Over the years Hegel's political views had become more and more conservative, and many considered his lectures in Berlin as merely a philosophical support of the regime of King Frederick William III of Prussia. Hegel justified his attitude on the principle that philosophy must explain what "is," and not what "ought to be." Its task, therefore, is never to anticipate the future. Yet, Hegel's dialectical view of history implied that no historical situation can be final: each stage is to be followed by a new one that negates the present.

The Young Hegelian A. von Cieszkowski concluded from this dialectical necessity that Hegelian philosophy must become a philosophy of action, a means to change the future (Prolegomena zur Historiosophie, Berlin 1838). The left-wing Hegelians adopted his view and decided that Hegel's static "system" conflicted with his revolutionary method; the latter alone was to be preserved. Their theories found an outlet in the newly founded Hallische Jahrbücher für deutsche Wissenschaft und Kunst, edited by A. Ruge and T. Echtermeyer (1838). This new journal gradually became the liberal counterpart of the conservative Jahrbücher of Berlin. It received its definitive bent from an article by L. feuerbach, "Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Philosophie" (1839). Feuerbach showed that over and above the contradiction between system and method, Hegel's philosophy suffered from yet another shortcoming that affected the dialectical method itself. The purpose of Hegel's philosophy had been to realize the identity between the real and the ideal, but in trying to achieve it Hegel had placed himself entirely on the side of the ideal. The result was one more idealistic system in which reality was reduced to a moment of thought. To curb this idealistic impetus Feuerbach proposed that the original primacy of reality be restored, and that consciousness be considered as a product of nature rather than the opposite.

Whereas Feuerbach had attacked Hegel's philosophy, Ruge for the first time openly attacked the political conservatism of the Prussian state in an article entitled "Karl Streckfusz und das Preussentum" (1839). The Berlin group of Young Hegelians, mentored by Bauer and Strauss, and recently joined by Marx, accepted the progressive ideas of their Halle colleagues and started contributing to the Hallische Jahrbücher. Bauer, now transferred to the University of Bonn, made the link between religious and political liberalism. In his Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte des Johannes (Bremen 1840) and Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker (2 v., 2d ed. Leipzig 1841) he defended the view that, at its origin, Christianity was an entirely new manifestation of the World Spirit; yet at present it no longer corresponded to the current stage of universal consciousness. The task of the religious critique, then, was to liberate the State, the highest incarnation of the Spirit, from this antiquated Christian religion. Bauer implied that once the doctrinal changes had taken place, political reforms would follow automatically.

The religious critique of the Young Hegelians reached its apex in Feuerbach's important work, Das Wesen des Christenthums (Leipzig 1841). It applied Feuerbach's new principle of philosophy to religion, "an object with universal significance." Rather than start from an infinite and abstract notion, Feuerbach proposed that the Hegelian dialectic start from the concrete reality of man. The real "alienation" in his philosophy is not, as in Hegel's dialectic, the finite appearance of an infinite notion, but the projection of the attributes of human nature into an imaginary religious Being outside man. In religion man is estranged from himself, and the task of philosophical anthropology is to restore man to himself by liberating him from his religious illusions.

In "Vorläufige Thesen Zur Reform der Philosophie" (1843), Feuerbach completed his critique of religion by extending it to Hegel's philosophy. Hegel's Idea is no more than an idol, and his philosophy a pseudo-theology. His dialectic, going from the infinite to the finite and back to the infinite, is only a philosophical imitation of man's religious alienation. The final purpose of Feuerbach's dialectic is to overcome this Hegelian Idea, as well as any form of religion.

Marx's Development. What Feuerbach did with the religious aspect of Hegel's philosophy, K. marx would do with his political views. Initially Marx had shared the speculative viewpoint of Bauer, Feuerbach, and the entire Berlin group. Then, under the influence of Ruge, he became more and more convinced that a change in the established order cannot be effected by a critique of religion, but only by political and social reform.

Philosophy of the State. In his Kritik des hegelschen Staatsrechts written in 184243 and first published in 1927, Marx applied Feuerbach's reversal of Hegel's dialectic to the philosophy of the State. Whereas for Hegel the spheres of real life, the natural and socioeconomic relations among men, are a mere preparation for the State as Idea, for Marx the real situation is the exact opposite: The State is merely an ideal and empty structure determined by the real spheres of life. Hegel's panlogism, which culminated in his Idea of the State, Marx saw as reducing reality to the simple appearance of an Idea. The only reason why such an illusionist philosophy was successful is that it offered a faithful description of man's actual situation: the real sphere of life has become asocial, and man's status as a social being is preserved only in the ideal sphere of the State. Man's real relations with others in the economic sphere are individualistic and based on the unlimited egoism of private property. The State that is built on these economic relations is merely an ideal illusion of a social reality. Whatever is real in the State structure is, in fact, no more than a legalization of the unlimited right of private property. Marx's critique may be considered as a continuation of Feuerbach's, since he gives the ultimate reason why man creates for himself the religious illusion: being estranged from his full reality in this world, he builds all his expectations upon a better world in an afterlife.

Notion of Alienation. In a series of manuscripts, written in Paris in 1844 and first published in 1932, Marx's critique of Hegel reached the very heart of dialectical philosophy, the notion of alienation. He saw Hegel's basic form of alienation as an alienation of consciousness that consists in the outgoing movement of consciousness toward the material world. But this, according to Marx, is by no means the alienation of man, which consists rather in the fact that man relates himself inhumanly to the material world. Man's alienation is not his relation to the material worldfor that is his very essencebut the fact that he is estranged from the product of this relation, from the relation itself (his work), and from the social aspects of the relation (his intercourse with others). The communist society will replace this inhuman relation to nature, exclusively directed to the production of material goods, by an authentic relation to nature in which man is able to realize himself as a free and social being.

It is obvious that in Marx, and even in Feuerbach, Hegelianism has developed into an outright critique of Hegel. Marx's early works are no longer Hegelian in the strict sense; they constitute a new philosophy, strongly influenced by Hegel. This is even more the case for M. Stirner, another Young Hegelian, who in Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum (Leipzig 1845), pushes the negative principle of Hegelian dialectic to an extreme. Any moral or social affirmation is to be negated in the next moment; it is therefore false and bound to disappear. Only the process of thought remains constant and this process irresistibly destroys any religious, moral, and political value. But at the end, thought itself is to be destroyed and to be changed into its contrary, the pure, immediate, and individual will. Marx would violently attack this moral and political anarchism in his Holy Family.

Other Influences. Among the philosophers on whom Hegel exercised a strong, although negative, influence one should mention A. Trendelenburg and S. A. kierkegaard. In his Logische Untersuchungen (2v., Berlin 1840), Trendelenburg attacked Hegel's Logic because of the illegitimate intrusion of movement into the realm of logic, which is essentially static. Movement can be perceived, but it can never be thought. That is why Hegel's dialectic cannot be justified within the strictures of logic. Having followed Hegel in his doctoral dissertation, Kierkegaard vehemently criticized his ethical ideas in Fear and Trembling (1843), and his logic and philosophy of history in Philosophical Fragments (1844) and Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846).

Orthodox Hegelianism went rapidly into decline after the master's death. However, there remained two important interpreters, K. Rosenkranz and J. E. Erdmann. In addition, F. T. Vischer, the aesthetician, and K. Fischer, the historian of philosophy, may be counted as Hegelians, although Vischer was more empirical in his approach than Hegel, and Fischer remained basically a Kantian.

Hegelianism Outside Germany. Around the middle of the 19th century, Hegelianism in the strict sense had almost disappeared from Germany. Yet at about the same time Hegel was introduced into England by H. Stirling's work, The Secret of Hegel (London 1865). Stirling used Hegel in his reaction against English empiricism and deism. However imperfect Stirling's study wasit interprets Hegel's philosophy as a mere continuation of Kant'sit remains important for having initiated a school of profound and personal commentators: J. Mc T.E. McTaggart, who wrote a commentary on Hegel's Logic ; E. B. McGilvary; W. Wallace, who translated the Logic; and J. B. Baillie, who translated the Phenomenology.

During the same period Hegel was introduced in Italy through the publications of B. Spaventa and A. Vera. In Denmark Hegel first became popular in theological circles, particularly through J. L. Heiberg, N. Clausen, and H. Martensen. In Russia Hegelianism also split into a right wing, religiously and politically conservative (main representative: V. G. Bielinski in his first period), and a left wing, which inclined toward Stirner's nihilism (Bielinski in his second period), and finally joined forces with populism (Bielinski in his third period) and Marxism (A. Herzen, M. A. Bakunin, G. V. Plekhanov). Russian Hegelians of both right and left connected Hegel's philosophy with some sort of pan-Slavism according to which Russia must fulfill a unique and final role in world history.


At the end of the 19th century a Hegelian revival started. Various schools in different countries called themselves Neo-Hegelian. Their new approach to Hegel was characterized by a more personal reading of his works than was in vogue among their predecessors.

Holland. Most traditional was probably the Dutch school, in which the study of Hegel's philosophy was associated with a liberal trend in Calvinist theology. Neo-Hegelianism in Holland almost became a religious sect. Its leading figures were V. Bolland (Collegium Logicum, 1904) and J. Hessing, who wrote excellent commentaries on Hegel's Logic and on the Phenomenology. The movement produced two journals, Annalen van de Critische Philosophie and De Idee. It fell into some disrepute after World War II because of the active Fascism of some of its members, particularly T. Goedewaagen. Its major thinkers of the 1960s were B. Wigersma and the theologian G. A. van den Bergh van Eysinga.

Italy. A similar school, but with a more personal approach, existed in Italy. B. croce rejected Hegel's philosophy of nature and proposed an entirely new system based on the philosophy of the spirit: the spirit as individual intuition (aesthetics), as consciousness of the universal (logic), as particular will (economic activity) and as universal will (ethics). G. gentile also deviated from Hegelian orthodoxy by his subjective, somewhat Fichtean interpretation of Hegel's Absolute as creative act of the spirit immanent in all reality. By his moral and political activity man participates in this creative act of the spirit. Gentile's work was discredited after the war because of his connection with the Fascist regime.

England. No less personal than the Italians were the English Neo-Hegelians: T. H. Green, F. H. bradley, and B. Bosanquet. Green read in Hegel's philosophy the ultimate answers to the basic questions raised by Hume. Bradley, the most original of the group, combined his idealism with a certain Anglo-Saxon empiricism. In Principles of Logic (London 1883) and Appearance and Reality (London 1893) he denies the existence of all external from this principle he does not conclude, as Hume would, to an atomistic elementarism; on the contrary, for Bradley there is but one reality and its being consists in experience. Reality appears to man in various psychic modespleasure, pain, feeling, desire, will, perception, and thoughtbut each of them is incomplete the totality of experience. "In this one whole all appearances come together and in coming together they in various degrees lose their distinctive natures." Strangely enough this unity of all experiences, which is experience in its totality, is never directly known.

America. In the U.S. this Anglo-Saxon Hegelianism took a more pragmatic turn: there was a deep concern to connect speculative thought with the requirements of practical life. Its leading figure was J. royce. J. dewey also was originally influenced by Hegel's thought, and in his instrumentalism one still finds some vestiges of Hegel, particularly his notion of experience as a totality that is both "spiritual" and "material."

Germany. In Germany the Hegelian renaissance was initiated by W. dilthey, who first attracted attention to Hegel's early writings (Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels, Berlin 1905). On the basis of this long-neglected material and of his studies of German Romanticists, he interpreted Hegel in a romantic, vitalistic way. Basic for Hegel's thought, according to Dilthey, is the early notion of life.

Dilthey's work initiated a movement toward a more comprehensive understanding of Hegel. In 1907 H. Nohl published Hegel's theological writings. G. Lasson started the first critical edition of Hegel's works, which was later continued by J. Hoffmeister. H. Glockner published a Hegel lexicon in four volumes (1940), earlier having written an authoritative study on the presuppositions and development of Hegel's philosophy (1929). Other major works on Hegel were published by T. Häring (Hegel: Sein Wollen und sein Werk, Leipzig 192938), R. Kroner (Von Kant bis Hegel, Tübingen 192124), W. Moog (Hegel und die hegelsche schule, Munich 1930), and N. hartmann (Die Philosophie des deutschen: Idealismus II Hegel, Berlin-Leipzig 1929). But these writers were Hegelian scholars more than Hegelians. Only in the philosophizing of the Neo-Kantian schools (Marburg and Baden) and of Hartmann did Hegel's work stimulate new creative thinking. Hartmann saw in Hegel a return to an authentic ontology. His dialectic is not a purely logical method as are deduction, induction, or analysisit is the spiritual development of being itself. Yet Hartmann considers Hegel's application of the dialectic to nature a failure: as spiritual principle the dialectic works only in the philosophy of spirit. (see neo-kantianism.)

Indirectly Hegel influenced the dialectical theology of H. E. brunner, K. barth, and F. gogarten, and, through Dilthey, Gestalt psychology, according to which the perception of form in its totality is more than (and different from) the perception of its individual elements. German scholasticism also was being enriched by Hegel's thought. Of particular interest are the publications of E. Coreth, B. Welte, J. Möller, and J. Hommes. The influence of Hegel on Catholic thought was likewise noticeable in Belgium and Holland, particularly among students and professors of the University of Louvain (F. Grégoire, L. van der Kerken, A. de Waelhens).


Apart from the Neo-Hegelians and the Catholic thinkers already mentioned, Hegel's influence on contemporary thought is nowhere as strong as it is in French existentialism and in Marxism.

French Existentialism. In the 19th century Hegel never had a solid foothold in France: P. J. Proudhon, V. cousin, and E. Meyerson showed some influence, but Hegel's work was never seriously studied before J. Wahl introduced his Phenomenology to the French public in Le Malheur de la conscience dans la philosophie de Hegel (Paris 1929). In the 1930s A. Kojève gave a series of lectures on the Phenomenology at the École des Hautes Études, which had an enormous influence both on existentialism and Marxism. Among his auditors were J. P. Sartre, M. merleau-ponty, J. Hyppolite, and G. Fessard. In an attempt to apply Hegel's ideas to the 20th century, Kojève gave a Marxist and Heideggerian interpretation of the Phenomenology. These highly original and provocative lectures were later published as Introduction à la lecture de Hegel (Paris 1947). According to Kojève, Marxism and existentialism are the authentic offspring of Hegel's thought. Sartre follows him in this controversial interpretation and, in his philosophy, consolidates the ties between Marxism and existentialism. French existentialists tend to prefer the interpretation of the human condition in the Phenomenology to Hegel's later works, where the tragic oppositions of life are too easily reconciled in a panlogical science of the Absolute Spirit. J. Hyppolite, who wrote an excellent commentary on the Phenomenology (Paris 1946), reacted against this one-sided separation of Hegel's Logic from his early works. His interpretation is less revolutionary, less original, but also less simplistic.

Marxism. Finally, something must be said about the enormous influence of Hegel on contemporary Marxism. After the early works of Marx, Marxism had drifted away from Hegel toward materialism. The first great Marxist to see the importance of Hegel was N. lenin, who found that Marx's theory was to be completed by a serious study of Hegel's Logic. Without Hegel's dialectic Marxism would be unable to defend itself against the attacks of Neo-Kantians and positivists (see H. Lefebvre and N. Gutermann, Lénine: Cahiers sur la dialectique, Paris 1938). Hegel's most important commentator in the communist camp was the Hungarian G. Lukacs, who in 1948 published an excellent work on Hegel's political and philosophical evolution until 1807. Lukacs emphasized Hegel's interest in social problems and claimed that his dialectic was originally intended as a philosophy of action. According to Lukacs, Hegel perceived the contradictions of the capitalist society remarkably well, and the only reason he did not preach a social revolution is that the socioeconomic conditions were not ripe for it.

Other important Hegelian Marxists are E. Bloch (Subjekt-Objekt: Erläuterungen zu Hegel, 1951), H. Lefebvre (Le matérialisme dialectique, Paris 1939), and the excellent historian of left-wing Hegelianism and early Marxism, A. Cornu.

See Also: hegel, georg wilhelm friedrich; idealism; dialectics; absolute, the; history, philosophy of; philosophy, history of.

Bibliography: k. rosenkranz, Kritische Erläuterungen des hegel' schen Systems (Königsberg 1840). j. e. erdmann, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie (4th ed. Berlin 1896). h. levy, Die Hegel-renaissance in der deutschen Philosophie (Charlottenburg 1927). h. glockner, "Hegelrenaissance und Neuhegelianismus," Logos 20 (1931) 169195. g. lasson, "Hegel und die Gegen-wart," Kant-studien 36 (1931) 262276, w. moog, Hegel und die hegelsche Schule (Munich 1930). i. a. il'in, Die Philosophie Hegels als Kontemplative Gotteslehre (Bern 1946). h. marcuse, Reason and Revolution (2d ed. New York 1954). a. cornu, Karl Marx et Friedrich Engels: Leur vie et leur oeuvre, 2 v. (Paris 195558) v.1 Les Années d'enfance et de jeunesse. La Gauche hégélienne, 1818/18201844 (Paris 1955). j. kruithof, Het Uitgangspunt van Hegel's Ontologie (Bruges 1959). f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy 7:159247.

[l. duprÉ]