Hegel on History

Georg Friedrich Hegel argued that history is not meaningless chance, but a rational process - the realization of the spirit of history. But it is something whose significance intellectuals grasp only after it has happened

The following extract is taken from the Preface to Hegel's The Philosophy of Right (1821) as translated into English by S.W. Dyke in 1896. The Preface was signed Berlin, June 25th 1820.

Hegel on the owl of Minerva

Only one word more concerning the desire to teach the world what it ought to be. For such a purpose philosophy at least always comes too late. Philosophy, as the thought of the world, does not appear until reality has completed its formative process, and made itself ready. History thus corroborates the teaching of the conception that only in the maturity of reality does the ideal appear as counterpart to the real, apprehends the real world in its substance, and shapes it into an intellectual kingdom. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.

[The bird of wisdom squawks only when the deed is done - We only work out what has happened when it has already happened.]

The following extracts on the French revolution are taken from Hegel's The Philosophy of History. The extracts are from the 1956 Dover edition of Hegel's The Philosophy of History, part 4, section 2, chapter 3: "The Eclairissement and Revolution".

A discussion of them will be found in Reason and Revolution by Herbert Marcuse.

Hegel on the French Revolution

The consciousness of the spiritual is now the essential basis of the political fabric, and philosophy has thereby become dominant.

It has been said, that the French revolution resulted from philosophy, and it is not without reason that philosophy has been called "weltweisheit" (world wisdom); for it is not only truth in and for itself, as the pure essence of things, but also truth in its living form as exhibited in the affairs of the world.

We should not, therefore, contradict the assertion that the revolution received its first impulse from philosophy. But this philosophy is in the first instance only abstract thought, not the concrete comprehension of absolute truth - intellectual positions between which there is an immmeasurable chasm.

The principle of the freedom of the will, therefore, asserted itself against existing right. Before the French revolution, it must be allowed, the power of the grandees had been disminished by Richelieu, and they had been deprived of privileges; but, like the clergy, they retained all the prerogatives which gave them an advantage over the lower class. The political condition of France at that time presents nothing but a confused mass of privileges altogether contravening thought and reason - an utterly irrational state of things, and one with which the greatest corruption of morals, of spirit was associated - an empire characterized by destitution of right, and which, when its real state begins to be recognized, becomes shameless destitution of right. The fearfully heavy burdens that pressed upon the people, the embarrassment of the government to procure for the court the means of supporting luxury and extravagance, gave the first impulse to discontent. The new spirit began to agitate men's minds: oppression drove men to investigation. It was perceived that the sums extorted from the people were not expended in furthering the objects of the State, but were lavished in the most unreasonable fashion. The entire political system appeared one mass of injustice. The change was necessarily violent, because the work of transformation was not undertaken by the government. And the reason why the government did not undertake it was that the court, the clergy, the nobility, the parliaments themselves, were unwilling to surrender the privileges they possessed, either for the sake of expediency or that of abstract right; moreover, because the government as the concrete centre of the power of the State, could not adopt as its principle abstract individual wills, and reconstruct the State on this basis; lastly, because it was Catholic, and therefore the idea of freedom - reason embodied in laws - did not pass for the final absolute obligation, since the holy and the religious conscience are separated from them. The conception, the idea of right asserted its authority all at once, and the old framework of injustice could offer no resistance to its onslaught. A constitution, therefore, was established in harmony with the conception of right, and on this foundation all future legislation was to be based. Never since the sun had stood in the firmament and the planets revolved around him had it been perceived that man's existence centres in his head, i.e. in thought, inspired by which he builds up the world of reality...not until now had man advanced to the recognition of the principle that thought ought to govern spiritual reality. This was accordingly a glorious mental dawn. All thinking being shared in the jubilation of this epoch. Emotions of a lofty character stirred men's minds at that time; a spiritual enthusiasm thrilled through the world, as if the reconciliation between the divine and the secular was now first accomplished.


Hegel was a professor at Jena when, in October 1806, Napoleon won the battle of Jena against the Prussians. About this time, Hegel wrote to a friend:

I saw Napoleon, the soul of the world, riding through the town...It is a wonderful sight to see, concentrated in a point, sitting on a horse, an individual who over-runs the world and masters it.

In The Philosophy of History he has this to say about the extension of the French revolution by conquest:

We have now to consider the French revolution in its organic connection with the history of the world; for in its substantial import that event is world-historial... As regards outward diffusion its principle gained access to almost all modern states, either through conquest or by express introduction into their political life. Particularly all the Romanic nations, and the Roman Catholic world in special - France, Italy, Spain - were subjected to the dominion of liberalism. But it became bankrupt everywhere; first, the grand firm in France, then its branches in Spain and Italy; twice, in fact, in the states into which it had been introduced. This was the case in Spain, where it was first brought in by the Napoleonic constitution, then by that which the Cortes adopted - in Piedmont, first when it was incorporated with the French empire, and a second time as the result of internal insurrection; so in Rome and in Naples it was twice set up. Thus liberalism as an abstraction, emanating from France, traversed the Roman world; but religious slavery held that world in the fetters of political servitude. For it is a false principle that the fetters which bind right and freedom can be broken without the emancipation of conscience - that there can be a revolution without a reformation. These countries, therefore, sank back into their old condition - in Italy with some modifications of the outward political condition. Venice and Genoa, those ancient aristocracies, which could at least boast of legitimacy, vanished as rotten despotisms. Material superiority in power can achieve no enduring results: Napoleon could not coerce Spain into freedom any more than Philip 2nd could force Holland into slavery


Hegel on Logic

Logic is the science of the pure Idea; pure, that is, because the idea is in the abstract medium of thought.
Logic might have been defined as the science of thought, and of its laws and characteristic forms. But thought, as thought, constitutes only the general medium, or qualifying circumstance, which renders the Idea distinctively logical. If we identify the Idea with thought, thought must not be taken in the sense of a method or form, but in the sense of the self-developing totality of its laws and peculiar terms. These laws are the work of thought itself, and not a fact which it finds and must submit to.
Logic is usually said to be concerned with forms only and to derive the material for them from elsewhere. But this `only', which assumes that the logical thoughts are nothing in comparison with the rest of the contents, is not the word to use about forms which are the absolutely real ground of everything. Everything else rather is an `only' compared with these thoughts

Our first impression when we use the term `thought' is of a subjective activity - one among many similar faculties, such as memory, imagination, and will. Were thought merely an activity of the subject-mind and treated under that aspect by logic, Logic would resemble the other sciences in possessing a well-marked object. It might in that case seem arbitrary to devote a special science to thought, while will, imagination, and the rest were denied the same privilege.

The selection of one faculty however might even in this view be very well grounded on a certain authority acknowledged to belong to thought, and on its claim to be regarded as the true nature of man, in which consists his distinction from the brutes.

Nor is it unimportant to study thought even as a subjective energy. A detailed analysis of its nature would exhibit rules and laws, a knowledge of which is derived from experience. A treatment of the laws of thought, from this point of view, used once to form the body of logical science. Of that science Aristotle was the founder. He succeeded in assigning to thought what properly belongs to it. Our thought is extremely concrete; but in its composite contents we must distinguish the part that properly belongs to thought, or to the abstract mode of its action. A subtle spiritual bond, consisting in the agency of thought, is what gives unity to all these contents, and it was this bond, the form as form, that Aristotle noted and described.

Up to the present day, the logic of Aristotle continues to be the received system. It has indeed been spun out to greater length, especially by the labours of the medieval Schoolmen who, without making any material additions, merely refined in details.

The moderns also have left their mark upon this logic, partly by omitting many points of logical doctrine due to Aristotle and the Schoolmen, and partly by foisting in a quantity of psychological matter.
The study of this formal logic undoubtedly has its uses. It sharpens the wits... and teaches us to collect our thoughts and to abstract - whereas in common consciousness we have to deal with sensuous conceptions which cross and perplex one another. Abstraction moreover implies the concentration of the mind on a single point, and thus induces the habit of attending to our inward selves. An acquaintance with the forms of finite thought may be made a means of training the mind for the empirical sciences, since their method is regulated by these forms...

Hegel on Right

Hegel, F. 1821 Philosophy of Right
(1952 English translation with notes by T.M. Knox

First Part: Abstract Right,

Second Part: Morality

Third Part: Ethical Life

i) The Family
a) marriage
b) The Family Capital
c) The Education of Children and the Dissolution of the Family

ii) Civil Society
(a) The System of Needs
  a) The Kind of Need and Satisfaction
  b) The Kind of Work
  g) Capital and Class Divisions

(b) The Administration of Justice

(c) The Police and the Corporation

iii) The State

Third Part:

Hegel on Ethical Life

142 ... ethical life is the concept of freedom developed into the existing world and the nature of self-consciousness.

146 ... This ethical substance and its laws and powers are on the one hand an object over against the subject ..

147 On the other hand, they are not something alien to the subject. On the contrary, his spirit bears witness to them as to its own essence in which he has a feeling of his selfhood, and in which he lives as in his own element which is not distinguished from himself. The subject is thus directly linked to the ethical order by a relation which is more like an identity than even the relation of faith or trust.

153 The right of individuals to be subjectively destined to freedom is fulfilled when they belong to an actual ethical order, because their conviction of their freedom finds its truth in such an objective order, and it is in an ethical order that they are actually in possession of their own essence or their own inner universality.

154 The right of individuals to their particular satisfaction is also contained in the ethical substantive order, since particularity is the outward appearance of the ethical order - a mode in which that order is existent.

155 Hence in this identity of the universal will with the particular will, right and duty coalesce, and by being in the ethical order a man has rights in so far as he has duties, and duties in so far as he has rights...

156 The ethical substance, as containing independent self- consciousness united with its concept, is the actual mind of a family and a nation.

157 The concept of this Idea has being only as mind, as something knowing itself and actual, because it is the objectification of itself, the movement running through the form of its moments. It is therefore

A) ethical mind in its natural or immediate phase - the Family. This substantiality loses its unity, passes over into division, and into the phase of relation, i.e. into

B) Civil Society - an association of members as self- subsistent individuals in a universality which, because of their self-subsistence is only abstract. Their association is brought about by their needs, by the legal system - the means of security of person and property - and by an external organisation for attaining their particular and common interests. This external state

C) is brought back to and welded into unity in the Constitution of the State which is the end and actuality of both the substantial universal order and the public life devoted thereto.

Hegel on The Family

158: The family, as the immediate substantiality of mind, is particularly characterised by love, which is mind's feeling of its own unity. Hence in a family, one's frame of mind is to have self-consciousness of one's individuality within this unity as the absolute essence of oneself, with the result that one is not in it as an independent person but as a member.

160: The family is completed in these three phases:

    (a) Marriage, the form assumed by the concept of the family in its immediate phase;

    (b) Family Property and Capital (the external embodiment of the concept) and attention to these

    (c) The Education of Children and the Dissolution of the Family

Hegel on Civil Society

188: Civil society contains three moments:

    (A) The mediation of need and one man's satisfaction through his work and the satisfaction of the needs of all others - the System of Needs

    (B) The actuality of the universal principle of freedom therein contained - the protection of property through the Administration of Justice

    (C) Provision against contingencies still lurking in systems (A) and (B) and care for particular interests as a common interest, by means of the Police and the Corporation

Hegel on The State

255: As the family was the first, so the Corporation is the second ethical root of the state, the one planted in civil society. The former contains the moments of subjective particularity and objective universality in a substantial unity. But these moments are sundered in civil society to begin with... In the Corporation these moments are united in an inward fashion, so that in this union particular welfare is present as a right and is actualised. The sanctity of marriage and the dignity of Corporation membership are the two fixed points round which the unorganised atoms of civil society revolve

256: The town is the seat of the civil life of business. There reflection arises, turns in upon itself, and pursues its atomising task, each man maintains himself in and through his relation to others who. like himself, are persons possessed of rights. The country, on the other hand, is the seat of an ethical life resting on nature and the family. Town and country thus constitute the two moments, whose true ground is the state, although it is from them that the state springs.

257: The state is the actuality of the ethical Idea. It is ethical mind qua the substantial will manifest and revealed to itself, knowing and thinking itself, accomplishing what is known and in so far as it knows it.

258 The state is absolutely rational inasmuch as it is the actuality of the substantial will which it possesses in the particular self-consciousness once that consciousness has been raised to consciousness of its universality. This substantial unity is an absolute unmoved end in itself, in which freedom comes into its supreme right. On the other hand this final end has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the state.

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