2 minute read


Marxist Hegelianism, Hegel In France, Hegel And Anglo-american Philosophy, Bibliography

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 there—on topics ranging from history to aesthetics—attracted 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 interpreters—the "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 movement—guided 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.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to Heterodont