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Young Hegelians

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The Young Hegelians (German: Junghegelianer), or Left Hegelians (Linkshegelianer), or the Hegelian Left (die Hegelsche Linke), were a group of German intellectuals who, in the decade or so after the death of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in 1831, reacted to and wrote about his ambiguous legacy. The Young Hegelians drew on his idea that the purpose and promise of history was the total negation of everything conducive to restricting freedom and reason; and they proceeded to mount radical critiques, first of religion and then of the Prussian political system. They rejected anti-utopian aspects of his thought that "Old Hegelians" have interpreted to mean that the world has already essentially reached perfection.

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  • ✪ Hegel & Marx - Peter Singer & Bryan Magee
  • ✪ Hegel: Biography, Philosophy, Quotes, Dialectic, Beliefs, History, Ideas (2000)
  • ✪ Karl Marx: Quotes, Theory, Communist Manifesto, Sociology, Biography, Economics (2000)


Few philosophers have more obviously changed the world than Hegel, both personally through his influence on German Nationalism, and indirectly through the work of his most famous philosophical disciple, Karl Marx, after whom a great many governments in our own day actually call themselves. So if we want to see some of the practical consequences of Hegel's ideas, all we have to do is look at the world in which we ourselves live. His influence on philosophy was correspondingly great. In fact, it's been said that the history of philosophy since Hegel can be understood as a succession of varying reactions against his work. He was born in Stuttgart in 1770. A teacher of one sort or another for most of his life, he eventually became professor of philosophy at Heidelberg and then in Berlin. As a philosopher, he was a late developer. But by the time of his death in 1831, he was very much the dominant figure in philosophy throughout the whole of Germany. The titles of some of his most influential works are: The Phenomenology of Mind, The Science of Logic, The Philosophy of Right, and The Philosophy of History. Hegel had several followers who themselves became well known. But far and away the most famous is Karl Marx. Marx was born in Germany in 1818, and as a young student of philosophy, was very much a Hegelian. He didn't become a socialist until his mid 20s, when he began to develop that rich and highly original mixture of German philosophy, French politics, and British economics which is Marxism. Together with a wealthy young industrialist, Friedrich Engels, he wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848. The partnership between Marx and Engels must be just about the most momentous collaboration in the history of ideas. Engels kept Marx for most of his life so that he could produce his writings. And it was a life spent largely in exile because of Marx's political activities. At the age of 31, he went to live in London, and stayed there until his death in 1883. He's buried in Highgate Cemetery. For many years, he worked in the British Museum, in its reading room. And it was there that he wrote his masterpiece, Das Capital, published in 1867. Marxism isn't quite philosophy in the accepted meaning of the term, but there's obviously a major philosophical element in it. And that element always remained Hegelian. What I propose to do in this program is to devote the bulk of the discussion to Hegel, and then show how some of the most important of the ideas we've been discussing were incorporated into Marxism. With me to do this is someone who has published excellent introductions to the works of both thinkers, Peter Singer, professor of philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Professor Singer, Hegel is notorious for being difficult to read, for being obscure. He's often described as the most obscure of all the major philosophers. Yet, your little book about him has the conspicuous merit of discussing his central ideas in ordinary plain English. I hope you're going to be able to do the same on this program. When you're confronted with the task of expounding Hegel's ideas, where do you find the most convenient place to start? I start with the Philosophy of History, because the history in Hegel is quite concrete. Part of the difficulty with Hegel is that he's so abstract. But the history, because it's concrete, is an easy way into the more abstract parts of his philosophy. Well, that in itself, is already a new departure in philosophy, isn't it? Because no major philosopher before Hegel regarded history or the philosophy of history as being important. Yes, it is a departure. Compare it with Kant, for instance. Kant had a view of human nature as human beings eternally divided between their reasoning element and their brute desires. It's a bit like the old picture of man as halfway between the apes and the angels. And for Kant, that was just a fact of human nature, we would always be torn with this division, this conflict. But Hegel said, no, wait a minute, this isn't something immutable. Look at Greek society. Greek society, Hegel said, was more harmonious. People were not conscious of this gulf or division. Their desires were in harmony with their reason. So the point that Kant is talking about -- this division -- is something that has occurred historically, has developed with the rise of individual conscience in Protestant Europe. And because it's happened historically, it need not be a permanent feature. It could, in some other period, actually again be overcome and a harmony restored. Hegel looked at all important concepts in this historical way, didn't he? He saw them as being embedded in human life, in ways of life, in societies. And as societies change, so the concepts change, isn't that right? Yes, that's absolutely right. He saw that there was development in the way history occurred, that it was always moving forward, it was always a process, never static. And he had a name for the way in which it moved forward. He called this the dialectical process. Now can you explain exactly what in Hegel's mind the dialectical process was? Let's go back to the example I mentioned before. Greek society he saw a harmony, but as a simple harmony, a simple harmony in the sense that people had not developed the alternative notion of individual conscience. There was harmony between the individual and society because individuals hadn't really thought about things themselves. Now, into that simple harmony there came-- in the person, in fact of Socrates, whom Hegel considered a world historical figure--there came the idea of questioning this harmony. Socrates went around asking people "What is justice?", "What is virtue?". And when they tried to answer, they realized that they'd accepted certain conventions which Socrates had no trouble in showing could not be sustained. So the simple harmony of Greek society broke down. And because Socrates broke it down incidentally, Hegel thinks that the Athenians were quite right to condemn Socrates to death. He was genuinely corrupting and subverting Athenian society. But that was an essential part of a historical process, because ultimately--and Hegel fills in the gaps, the steps--but ultimately, that led to the rise of individual conscience, a second necessary element, and the opposite of Greek society. So we've moved from what Hegel calls the "thesis" to the "anti-thesis." The antithesis of Greek society is individual conscience risen to its height in Protestant Europe. But that too turns out to be unstable. It leads to the destruction of the French Revolution and the terror that followed the French Revolution. And so that too must give way to a synthesis, to a third stage which combines harmony and individual conscience. And very often in this process, that then again serves as the new thesis from which a further antithesis will arise, and the process will continue. Now, this notion of dialectical change that you've just explained has been so influential ever since Hegel and it's enormously influential today through Marxism which embodies it, that I think we must get it completely clear in our minds. So let me just go over it again. The idea is, that Hegel put forward, that the reason why we human beings are involved in a process of perpetual change is that every complex situation contains within itself conflicting elements, which therefore destabilize the situation. And therefore, the situation cannot go on indefinitely. It breaks down into something else within which those conflicts are dissolved or assuaged. But then, of course, in the new situation you get new conflicts. And so it goes on indefinitely. So you get, as you put it just now: a thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis, which becomes a new thesis using his terminology. And this, Hegelians--and following them, Marxists--think, gives us the key to history, to understanding historical change, the dialectical process. Now, up to that point in the explanation, it would've been open to Hegel to say that the direction that this change took was purely accidental, it could be the random outcome of innumerable random conflicts. But he doesn't say that, does he? He actually thinks this linear process has a direction, has a goal. That's right. And the goal for Hegel is the greater development of mind towards freedom. We are moving always towards consciousness of freedom, towards realizing human freedom, and understanding freedom. And that is the process of increasing awareness of freedom and increasing knowledge of ourselves. Now, what is this change happening to? I mean, wherever we talk of change, in any context whatever, there must be something identifiable that changes. Now what is it that's changing? In other words, is he writing about whole societies? Is he writing about individuals? What is he writing about in this context? The short answer is that he's writing neither about individuals nor about societies, but about what he calls "Geist". Now that German word "Geist" is a difficult one to translate. The easiest way perhaps would be to say that it happens to mind. "Mind" is one normal translation of the German word "Geist". We mean, when we talk about mental illness, the German word "Geisteskrankheit" is "mentally ill". So, you could say it's happening to mind, to your mind and mine, or all our individual minds. But mind also has another meaning, which goes beyond that: the notion of spirit. We talk about the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Or we talk about "Geist" when Germans talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The word ghost---"Helige geist," exactly. It also has therefore a somewhat spiritual or religious flavor which suggests that in some sense there's a reality above and beyond your and my individual mind. And so you could say it's happening to Mind, but "Mind" with a capital 'M', not just "mind" in the sense of individual human minds. So is Hegel saying then that total reality is something mental or spiritual--or this word "Geist" may be poised between the mental and the spiritual--and that all the processes that we're talking about are processes ultimately of this ultimate mental or spiritual thing? Yes, that's the ultimate view that Hegel comes down to: that reality is Geist. It's ultimately mental or intellectual. And these processes happen to Geist, to mind, as it develops along the way. Now, to some people listening to the discussion, this might already begin to sound like a very bizarre idea. So I think it's worth pointing out that, in fact, we're all very familiar with something similar to this in the case of religious beliefs, even if we ourselves are not religious people. I mean, many religious believers, including many Christians, believe that all of reality is ultimately spiritual. And that all of reality ultimately has a spiritual significance or meaning. And I suppose Hegel is saying something very closely related to that, is he? Though not necessarily religious in the conventional sense. Yes, but the difference might be that the Orthodox Christian view I think holds that God is spiritual but separate from the world and the world is mundane and material, although it has a spiritual significance certainly, but it's separate from it. But for Hegel, there's a closer union between the two. You could present the opposite of the Christian view by saying that Hegel was a pantheist, that he believes that God is in the world and in everything. That's perhaps not quite true either. But it's somewhere between the traditional Christian conception and the pantheistic one, that reality is part of God, everything is a manifestation of God, if you want to call it that. In fact, it would be true to say that ever since Hegel, there has been a dispute between Hegel scholars or philosophers about precisely this question relating to Hegel's philosophy: Is Hegel's philosophy ultimately religious or not? There are some who have said that it is. There are some who've maintained that it isn't. Which side of that debate do you come down on? I think that it is immensely valuable to try and interpret Hegel as if he were not religious. Because then you find you can make good sense of a large part of Hegel's philosophy in a non-religious way, just interpreting him as talking about mind and the common element in mind being our common ability to reason -- the fact that our minds are structured in similar principles. But I think I have to admit that though you can push that a long way, you don't really make 100% sense of Hegel in that way. The last 10% perhaps has to assume that there is some religious or quasi-religious view of mind or spirit that lies behind what he's saying. Now, we've talked about the view of reality as a historical process, which he introduced into Western thought. It's a major idea. And we've talked about this notion of dialectical change, which he introduced, and which is a living idea to this day. Another important concept which I think I'm right in saying he coined--certainly he made it famous--and which has come back again into what one might call intellectual fashion in recent decades, is the concept of alienation. Hegel had a great deal to say about alienation, didn't he? Now, what exactly did he mean by that term? By alienation, Hegel meant the idea that something which is in fact us, or part of us, seems to us foreign, alien, and hostile. Let me give you an example. He presents a picture of what he calls the unhappy soul, which is an alienated form of religion. The unhappy soul is the person who prays to a God whom he regards as all-powerful, all-knowing & all-good, and who sees himself by contrast as powerless, ignorant, and base. So this person is unhappy because he demeans himself and puts all those qualities into some being which he sees as separate from himself. Hegel says that this is wrong. We are in fact part of God, or if you like, we are projecting our qualities into God and we should take that back. The way to overcome that kind of alienation would be to realize that we and God are one, and that we have those qualities. They are not something separate and foreign to us. I was gonna say, he would say specifically that these are human and perhaps only human qualities which we are projecting onto an all-powerful being, denying them to ourselves, when it is, in fact, we who have them. I mean, they originate with humanity. The claim that they are only human was actually made by one of his later disciples, Ludwig Feuerbach. He wouldn't have said that, but he would've said that we and that kind of divine spirit are all part of the same reality, Geist or Mind. Now, you've explained very clearly I think how Hegel saw total reality as being a process of change which was moving forward in a certain way, the dialectical movement. What is it going towards? What is the goal? What's the end of this movement? The endpoint of the dialectical process is mind coming to know itself as the ultimate reality, and thus as seeing everything that it took to be foreign and hostile to itself as in fact part of itself. And that for Hegel is simultaneously a state of absolute knowledge, when mind knows, recognizes at last, itself as the ultimate reality. And also a state of absolute freedom when mind instead of being controlled by external forces is able to order the world in a rational way, because now it sees that the world is in fact itself. And it only has to implement its own principle of rationality onto the world to organize the world rationally. Now the interesting thing about this culminating process is that because it occurs once mind understands that it is the reality of everything, if you ask the question "when does this actually happen?" well, it happens when Hegel's mind, Hegel's own mind in his philosophical writings and thoughts, grasps the idea that mind is everything. And then he's achieved this. It's not just that Hegel describes the goal, the culmination of all this process, but Hegel's philosophy actually is the very culmination of the whole process he's describing. So when Hegel published his main works, that was total reality at last achieving awareness of itself, achieving self-knowledge. Yes. It's an amazing piece of, sort of, grandiose self-projection on the part of a philosopher. I'm not sure quite that Hegel realized that it could be seen in this light. Now, one thing that strikes one about the aim towards which all this is moving in the way you've just put it, is that it's sometimes seen as freedom, sometimes seen as self-knowledge. And Hegel clearly did think that those were, in some sense, the same thing. And I think a little more needs to be said about that because it's not at all clear I think to most people how self-knowledge can itself constitute freedom. Well, self-knowledge becomes freedom because of the particular nature of mind and of Hegel's idea that mind is the ultimate reality of the world. You see, in the historical process up to the point at which we recognize that, if you like, it's our world, that we are all---up to that point, we have really been pawns in the game. We haven't been controlling the game, we haven't been controlling the historical stage because things have been happening to us without us realizing or understanding why they happened. Because what we take to be foreign and hostile aspects of the world are, in fact, part of us. But once we come to see that we are everything in the world, then we understand the process, we grasp, if you like, the laws of historical development. And we see that those laws are in fact our own reason. They are the very laws of our mind and our thinking. Was this behind the famous quotation that's often made from Hegel: "The real is the rational and the rational is the real"? That what exists does correspond to what is rational? That's right. And when we come to see that, then we are free because we see the rationality of reality, and it no longer strikes us as something contrary to our interests. We no longer struggle against it. We understand it as, in fact, our own rational principle. And we are free to flow along with it, and indeed, to order it and direct it in accordance with those laws of reason. Now, one characteristic of Hegel's thought which you've made very clear is that he always sees ideas not just as existing in the abstract and certainly not being timeless and unchanging in the way that, say, Plato saw them, but as being embodied in societies and institutions and historical realities which change. Now, given that fact, what sort of society does Hegel see this whole process as culminating in? What sort of society is it leading towards? Well, as you'd expect from what we've been saying, it's a rational society, a rationally ordered society. But I must make clear what that is for Hegel because it's not the society of pure reason. Hegel saw the society of pure reason as typified by the kind of thing that the French revolutionaries wanted to do. You know, they didn't just get rid of the king and the nobles and of religion, but they tried to make everything rational. They said: Why have months of irregular days? Why not make them all the same number of days? Why have weeks of 7 days? Let's make them 10, like our decimal system of measurement and so on. Now Hegel saw that as leading to a kind of madly abstract notion of reason, rather like, for instance, the view of a town planner who might look at a map of London and say: Well, you're streets all run crooked and traffic has to make detours and so on. Let's get rid of this. Let's tear all the buildings down, make nice straight streets. In each block, we'll put a big high-rise apartment, we can fit more people in. You can have a smooth green lawn outside for the children to play, and it'll all be beautiful, ordered and rational. Well, we've actually had that in London and it's been catastrophic. That's right. And Hegel would have predicted that it would've been catastrophic because it was abstract reason taken to an extreme. For Hegel, what a rational ordering of London town planning would be would be to look at the real--that is, London as it exists--find what's rational in the real, and of course, it has developed the way it did for certain reasons, and there's the rational element. And then try and follow those reasons through in a way that fulfills the rationale behind London's development without trying to raze it down and start anew, to get rid of some of the arbitrary and capricious points perhaps that are particular problems. But basically, to find what's rational in what's real and enhance it and develop it and allow it to fulfill itself. One criticism that's always been brought forward against this conception of the state--- the rational state--by liberal philosophers in the Anglo-Saxon tradition especially is that by seeing the state as an organic whole which behaves rationally and orders everything rationally, Hegel leaves no room at all for individual dissent, criticism, freedom one could say, eccentricity. There's no room in the system for the individual to behave as he likes. What's your comment on that? I don't think there's any evidence that Hegel was opposed to some individual freedoms. But what is true is that his view of freedom was not the standard Anglo-Saxon liberal view of freedom. To look at the difference between the two, let's shift to a somewhat different area, economics and the idea of freedom in the economic sphere, in the market. According to one view, the liberal view, freedom consists simply in people able to do as they prefer. If I prefer to wear an orange shirt this spring, for instance, then I'm free if I can do that. If I prefer to buy deodorant, I'm free if I can do that. And that's all the liberal economists will ask: are you free to choose the preferences that you have, to fulfill them? But some of the more radical economists have questioned that. They've said that's a very superficial notion of freedom. You should ask: why do you want to wear an orange shirt this season? Why do you want to use a deodorant? Why don't you accept that a certain amount of natural body odor isn't a problem or whatever? And the radical economists will say: the reason is that you've been manipulated. There are people who want to make a profit out of you buying their deodorant, out of you thinking that the clothes and the colors you wore last season are no longer good enough this season. So you've been manipulated, you are not free. You have to ask not only can you do what you prefer, but why do you prefer what you prefer? Are they rational preferences? Are they preferences that satisfy your needs? Now, Hegel would've been in the latter camp. He would've said freedom is more than just ability to follow your own caprice. Freedom must consist in fulfilling yourself as a rational individual. Well, that sounds all very well, but surely what it's going to mean in practice is that I think I know what I want, I want to wear an orange shirt this spring and I want to go out and buy deodorant in hot weather. But we have a state, perhaps, which says, no no. You think you want those, but those are not rational preferences on your part. We know what's best for you, we know even what you would want if your preferences were rational. In other words, you get a state that not only knows what's good for you better than you do yourself, you actually get a state that knows what you want better than you know yourself. And surely, that's authoritarian in the extreme in its relation to the individual. I think in practice you're probably right. And I don't know that Hegel has any reply to that objection. The only thing he can say is that, while it might be very difficult in practice to work out how you could have a society in which individuals genuinely realize their rational self without an authoritarian state, that doesn't mean you overcome the problem by the liberal laissez-faire notion. I mean, we still do have to face that problem that people's wants and desires might be being manipulated, and to the extent that they are, it's perhaps misleading to say they're really free. In other words, it's still a problem even if Hegel doesn't necessarily have the right answer to it. Let's just take stock for a moment where we've got in the discussion. Right at the very beginning, I asked you what you thought was the easiest way into an understanding of Hegel's philosophy as a whole, and you replied that you thought the best starting point was with the philosophy of history. So we started there and in fact we've continued our discussion in a straight line, so to speak, to the point that we've now reached. Well now, are we now in a better position to understand other aspects of Hegel's philosophy than we were? I think we've already, in fact, grasped some of the essentials of Hegel's logic, for instance, one of his most abstract points. Because we've grasped the dialectic which is part of logic, the idea of the thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Now, in the Logic, one of the points Hegel makes is that logic is not just a matter of form as separate from content, which is the way the traditional logic of Aristotle was interpreted. He says that form and content are together. And we can see why he says that because he thinks that this dialectic is something that is realized in the actual process of history. In logic, he says, you study that, in the sense of you study truth without a tusk, he put it. That is, the eternal, immutable form of it irrespective of a particular historical content. But in fact, it's always linked to that content. So that's one of the key ideas of the logic. And another point that we've also just touched on is this notion of ultimate reality, and the way in which it's, in some sense, a matter of mind rather than a matter of material things. It seems to me, looking at the exposition of Hegel's ideas that you've put forward up to this point, that there's one central concept out of which almost all the important other ideas naturally arise. The central concept is that understanding reality isn't understanding a given state of affairs, it's understanding a process, a process of perpetual change. The other concepts arise in the following natural order, it seems to me. If one asks oneself "What is it that's changing?" Hegel's answer is: It is Geist which is changing, and you've explained what he means by that rather difficult concept: mind, spirit, whatever it may be. If one says "Why is it changing?" the answer is because to begin with it's in a state of alienation, and you've explained that. If one says "What is the process of change, what is the pattern of change?" the answer is it's the dialectical process. If you ask "Where is all this change heading?" the answer is: At the political and social level, it's heading towards an organic society, which we've discussed. At the philosophical level, it's all heading towards absolute knowledge, which you at least touched on. So in this way, all these central concepts of Geist, alienation, dialectical change, the organic society, all arise out of a consideration of this central idea of reality as a process, as a historical process of change. Now, we've been able to put this very clearly and the next question I want to ask you is: Why didn't Hegel? We said right at the beginning that he's notoriously obscure. Sometimes philosophy students read out passages of Hegel aloud just to make everybody laugh, because it sounds like such gobbledy gook. You can read page after page of Hegel sometimes and think: What the hell is he saying? Now, why wasn't he clear, when it's possible to be clear about his ideas, as you indeed in your book have shown? Some of his less charitable critics thought that he was deliberately obscure in order to appear more profound, in order to cover what they took to be the shallowness of his ideas. But I don't think his ideas are shallow. I think they're very deep and profound. And that, in fact, the difficulty comes from the nature of the ideas. One of his students said that whereas an eloquent lecturer might have had everything off by heart, and would arrange it well and trot it out clearly, Hegel was always dredging up difficult ideas as he went along, as he lectured. He was bringing these ideas to the surface with great difficulty. And that's the style. The style is one of someone who is thinking aloud and having difficulty with the material. We may very well regret that he didn't then revise and polish it, but in the context of German philosophical style at the time, it's not so surprising that he didn't feel the need for clarity that you just mentioned. Because, after all, Kant and Fichte, other contemporaries, were also very obscure. And they were still regarded as great philosophers. The next question that that gives rise to is: How did it come about that a philosopher who was so obscure and so difficult to understand acquired even in his lifetime such immense influence? I think that's partly due to his situation at the University of Berlin, which was the capital of Prussia, which was then the rising state in Germany at the time. And also due to the fertility of his ideas in a variety of fields. You see, the influence that Hegel had is not just an influence in philosophy, it's an influence in theology, in history, in politics, in economics even, in law. Now, the fact that Hegel's ideas could be applied in those ways shows how fruitful his approach, and particularly, the historical elements of his approach were. Because it was that historical idea of things as having developed, as being a process, that could be applied by scholars in all these different areas. Let's comes now to the immediate afterlife of Hegel's ideas. One of the first things that happened when he died was that his followers split into two movements, didn't they? They were known as the young Hegelians and the old Hegelians, or alternatively, the left Hegelians and the right Hegelians. Can you tell us something about this division? The right Hegelians were the people who thought that Hegel's philosophy implied that something like the Prussian state was the organic state which Hegel was pointing to. They thought that Hegel had himself said this in The Philosophy of Right, his most explicitly political work. He described the state, a constitutional monarchy not very different from the Prussian state. And so they thought that there was no need really for further change. They were the conservative or right-wing Hegelians. The left Hegelians said, the basic thrust of Hegel's philosophy is much more radical than that. You see, Hegel talked, as we said at the beginning, about overcoming the division between reason and desire, or between morality and self-interest. That's a very fundamental change to bring about. You can't say that that's occurred in the Prussia of 1830 or whatever. So, they said the thrust of Hegel's philosophy is for a much more far-reaching change, a revolutionary change. Now they had to admit that in the Philosophy of Right, Hegel hadn't written as if he were a revolutionary. But they pointed out the fact that Hegel's salary was paid by the state of Prussia. So they said Hegel compromised, he sold out. But we must be truer to Hegel than Hegel was to himself. We must carry the ideas forward, until we get to the point at which these thesis-antithesis of reason and desire, morality and self-interest, are overcome. And we reach the synthesis of a harmonious society in which those gulfs and divisions in human nature are reconciled. And of course, as soon as you talk about the revolutionary followers of Hegel, onto the scene marches the greatest revolutionary thinker of the modern era, Karl Marx, because he was one of the young Hegelians. And I think it's very striking, after the whole of our discussion up to this point, to list the fundamental ideas of Hegelianism that we've talked about, which Marx simply took over and incorporated into Marxism. Among these are, first, the idea that reality is a historical process. Second, that this process changes by a dialectical movement, dialectical change, historical dialectic. Third, that it's all going towards a goal. Fourth, that that goal is a conflict-free society. And fifth, that until we get there, to the conflict-free society, we are condemned to remain in one form or another of alienation. Now, all these absolutely central ideas of Marxism were taken over lock, stock, and barrel from Hegel. One has to say that there's one huge difference, and it's this: Whereas Hegel, as we've been saying all along was an idealist, and to Hegel, all these things were seen as happening to mind or spirit, to Geist as you said. In the case of Marx, he saw all these things as happening to something material. Marx was a materialist. But the whole pattern of ideas remains the same. It's as if Marx has taken over a great long set of equations from Hegel, substituted a different value for x in the equations--matter instead of mind--but kept the whole set of equations in every other respect the same. That's right. And you can see this, for instance, in Marx's materialist conception of history, the key thing in Marxist thought, where history develops by the economic base--the material side, the forces of production-- as dominating the mental. So that our ideas, our religion, our politics all flow from the kind of economic structure that we have in our society. And that's an inversion of Hegel's idea. Marx himself said he stood Hegel on his head. Because for Hegel, it was the development of ideas--of ideas of freedom and so on--that led to the formation of particular societies and particular historical epochs. Do you think that Karl Marx could be said to have made any important original contribution of his own to philosophy? I don't think Marx made important contributions to philosophy in the narrow sense in which we talk about problems of the ultimate nature of reality. I think that Marx was certainly a materialist, but he didn't argue for his materialism as a philosophy. He really accepted it as something that was pretty obvious, that what mattered was the material world, this kind of thing, and not something remote like Geist, which he more or less dismissed as a kind of speculative German metaphysical abstraction. So, he didn't argue for that. And he didn't, therefore, make contributions to that philosophical discussion. But what he did do was give us a kind of a vision, a vision of a world in which we are controlled by our economic circumstances, and in which we are therefore not free. It's still rather like Hegel in that we are pawns in the game of history. And, in order to become free, we must control the economic forces, which after all, are our own forces. What is economics, after all, but our own ways of providing for food, providing for shelter, and so on. So it's a vision in which the things that we do control us. And we instead must control them. That's a powerful and broadly philosophical vision of the human situation. But it's not an important philosophical discovery in the narrow or academic sense of the word philosophy. Now taking the two very closely linked philosophies of Hegelianism and Marxism together, what would you say has been their most important or some of their most important positive contributions to human thought? What have they given us that's really useful in our understanding of the world? Well, it's clear from what we've said that the idea of history as a process, which affects every aspect of our thinking and our ideas, is a crucial thing that's come from Hegel and Marx. It became almost a dominant thing in the 19th century, didn't it, as with evolution, seeing everything as having evolved, having developed? We can't now imagine looking at societies or ideas as timeless entities independent of their histories. And that's something that we owe to Hegel and Marx. So that's one very important thing. The other thing is this notion of freedom, the idea that is distinct from the liberal notion, that we cannot be free unless we control our destiny, unless we, instead of being blown about by the winds of economic circumstances for Marx, or the unseen hand of reason for Hegel, unless we actually take control of it, realize our own power, realize the capacity of human beings collectively to control our destiny and grasp that. That may, as you said, have some dangerous tendencies in it, but it's a very important idea and I don't think it's one that we can ever give up once we've been presented with it by Hegel and Marx. Now, I do have to ask you about the minuses as well as the pluses. The ideas of both these philosophers have become associated in the 20th century since their deaths with totalitarianism: Hegel with German nationalism, culminating in Hitler, and Marx with communism, which was seen at its most horrific in the state created by Stalin. Both of these societies were societies that murdered millions of their own people. Now, I'm not suggesting that either of the two philosophers would ever have expected that or certainly not that they would have wanted it. But they were both philosophers who regarded the embodiment of ideas in history, in institutions, in social reality as being an essential feature of ideas, yet when their own ideas were so embodied, they had these catastrophic results. Why was that? Well, I think their own ideas were mis-embodied. I don't think you can really trace Hegelian ideas at all in Hitler's kind of racist nationalism. You can't find that kind of racism. They said so, but you think that was a complete misrepresentation. It was a complete misrepresentation of Hegel in that case, certainly. And also, it's perhaps the ultimate irony in what happened to Marx. Marx, as I've been saying, was a philosopher of freedom. He cherished freedom. He hated subordination. He was once asked by his daughter to write down what the vice that he most detested was. He replied: servility. Servility, the very thing you needed to survive in Stalin's totalitarianism. And yet, it's true that these ideas did get misapplied, did get distorted. Well now, why? What is there about the ideas that led to this outcome? I think, in the end, there's a faulty view of human nature. Partly, there's an attempt to show a greater unity than really exists between human beings. And we could trace this to Hegel's notion of mind or Geist, as something which is above and beyond the differences between individual minds. But we find it also in Marx, and in the idea that if you change the economic circumstances, you'll change human nature. And then, we will all overcome the divisions between one and another, the division between my interests and your interests, and our individual interests and the interests of society. They will all disappear once we get rid of the economic structure, which leads us to compete in the marketplace for money and wealth, and so on. Now, it seems, unfortunately, that that has proven false, that you can change the economic basis, but you don't get rid of the divisions between reason and desire, between my interest and yours, or between individual and society. That in fact, what happens once you make it impossible or very difficult for people to compete with each other for wealth, is they then start competing for status or for power, or something of that sort. And that's not better than it used to be. In fact, you could say that, in the case of Stalin's society, it proved to be worse. So I think that Marx was mistaken in thinking that human nature would change. Thank you very much, professor Singer.


Left and Right Hegelianism

The German philosophers who wrote immediately after the death of Hegel in 1831 can be roughly divided into the politically and religiously radical 'left', or 'young', Hegelians and the more conservative 'right', or 'old', Hegelians. The Right Hegelians followed the master in believing that the dialectic of history had come to an end—Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit reveals itself to be the culmination of history as the reader reaches its end. Here he meant that reason and freedom had reached their maximums as they were embodied by the existing Prussian state. And here the master’s claim was viewed as paradox, at best; the Prussian regime indeed provided extensive civil and social services, good universities, high employment and some industrialization, but it was ranked as rather backward politically compared with the more liberal constitutional monarchies of France and Britain.

The Young Hegelians drew on both Hegel's veneration of Reason and Freedom (as the guiding forces of history) and his idea that the 'Spirit' overcame all that opposed reason and freedom. They felt Hegel's apparent belief in the end of history conflicted with other aspects of his thought and that, contrary to his later thought, the dialectic was certainly not complete; this they felt was (painfully) obvious given the irrationality of religious beliefs and the empirical lack of freedoms—especially political and religious freedoms—in existing Prussian society.

It is important to note that the groups were not as unified or as self-conscious as the labels 'right' and 'left' make them appear. The term 'Right Hegelian', for example, was never actually used by those to whom it was later ascribed, namely, Hegel's direct successors at the Fredrick William University (now the Humboldt University of Berlin). (The term was first used by David Strauss to describe Bruno Bauer—who actually was a typically 'Left', or Young, Hegelian.)


It was the outcry caused by David Strauss' The Life of Jesus in 1835 which first made the 'Young Hegelians' aware of their existence as a distinct group, and it was their attitude to religion that distinguished the left and right from then onwards (August Cieszkowski is a possible exception to this rule). Despite the lack of political freedom of speech in Prussia at the time, King Wilhelm III, under the influence of his relatively enlightened minister of religion, health and education Altenstein, allowed pretty much anything to be said about religion so long as there was practical obedience to his enforced merging of Calvinism and Lutheranism and spreading of Protestantism in Catholic areas.[1] Thus the Young Hegelians at first found it easier to direct their critical energies towards religion than politics.

A major consolidator of the Young Hegelian movement was the journal Hallische Jahrbücher (1838–41) (later Deutsche Jahrbücher (1841–43)) which was edited by Arnold Ruge and received contributions from many of the other Young Hegelians (and, in its infancy, Old Hegelians). It attacked Catholicism and orthodox Protestantism but was initially politically moderate, taking the line that Prussia was the embodiment of historical reason, which required that it evolve by peaceful reform towards a bourgeois egalitarian state with a constitutional monarchy, Protestant religion (though without a dominating state church) and freedom of speech. Another nucleus of the Young Hegelian movement was the Doctor's Club in Berlin (later known as 'the Free'), a society of intellectuals founded in 1837 and led by Bruno Bauer who, by 1838, was writing the most anti-Christian pamphlets in Germany at the time.[2]

The radicalization and politicization of the movement occurred when the new king, Frederick William IV, upon whom the Young Hegelians had pinned their hopes of political reform, came to power in 1840 and curtailed political freedom and religious tolerance more than before. In philosophy the radicalization took the form of a breach with Hegel’s doctrine of the Prussian state as the fulfillment of history. In religion it manifested as a rejection of Christianity even in its most diluted pantheistic form and an adoption of atheism (led by Bauer and Feuerbach). In politics the Young Hegelians dropped much of Hegel's political theory and for the most part turned to republicanism – the exceptions being Moses Hess, who mixed Hegelianism with communism, and of course Marx and Engels. In all these areas a central change was the adoption of certain ideas of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, especially the notion that the self-transcendence of the world by man was a possibility and duty, but one that could never be conclusively fulfilled.

Although they spread democratic ideas throughout Germany to some extent, the intellectual exertions of the Young Hegelians failed to connect with or stir any wider social movement, and when the Deutsche Jahrbücher was suppressed in 1843 the movement started to disintegrate.


The Young Hegelians interpreted the entire state apparatus as ultimately claiming legitimacy based upon religious tenets. While this thought was clearly inspired by the function of Lutheranism in contemporary Prussia, the Young Hegelians held the theory to be applicable to any state backed by any religion. All laws were ultimately based on religious tenets.

As such, their plan to undermine what they felt was the corrupt and despotic state apparatus was to attack the philosophical basis of religion.

Main members

David Strauss

David Strauss wrote Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus/The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined) in 1835, in which he argued – in a Hegelian framework – against both the supernatural elements of the Gospel and the idea that the Christian church was the sole bearer of absolute truth. He believed the Gospel stories were mythical responses to the situation the Jewish community at the time found themselves in. The idea that 'infinite reason' or 'the absolute' (i.e. broadly Hegelian notions of God) could be incarnated within a finite human being was particularly absurd. Moreover, the original teachings of Jesus, which were aimed at aiding the poor and downtrodden, had slowly been perverted and usurped by the establishment to manipulate and oppress the populaces of the world by promising them a reward in the afterlife if they refrained from rebellion against the powers that be in this life.

Bruno Bauer

Bruno Bauer went further, and claimed that the entire story of Jesus was a myth. He found no record of anyone named "Yeshua of Nazareth" in any then-extant Roman records. (Subsequent research has, in fact, found such citations, notably by the Roman historian Tacitus and the Jewish historian Josephus, although these citations are not contemporaneous with Jesus' life and are viewed by some as forgeries.) Bauer argued that almost all prominent historical figures in antiquity are referenced in other works (e.g., Aristophanes mocking Socrates in his plays), but as he could not find any such references to Jesus, it was likely that the entire story of Jesus was fabricated.

Ludwig Feuerbach

Ludwig Feuerbach wrote a psychological profile of a believer called Das Wesen des Christentums (The Essence of Christianity). He argues that the believer is presented with a doctrine that encourages the projection of fantasies onto the world. Believers are encouraged to believe in miracles, and to idealize all their weaknesses by imagining an omnipotent, omniscient, immortal God who represents the antithesis of all human flaws and shortcomings.

Carl Nauwerck

Carl Nauwerck [de] was a German orientalist, theologian and lecturer of Hegelian philosophy in Berlin who lost his teaching license along with Bruno Bauer in 1842.[3]

Arnold Ruge

As an advocate of a free and united Germany, Arnold Ruge shared Hegel's belief that history is a progressive advance towards the realization of freedom, and that freedom is attained in the State, the creation of the rational general will. At the same time he criticized Hegel for having given an interpretation of history which was closed to the future, in the sense that it left no room for novelty.[4]

Max Stirner

Max Stirner would occasionally socialize with the Young Hegelians, but held views much to the contrary of these thinkers, all of whom he consequently satirized and mocked in his nominalist masterpiece Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum (The Ego and Its Own).

Younger members

Karl Marx

Another Young Hegelian, Karl Marx, was at first sympathetic with this strategy of attacking Christianity to undermine the Prussian establishment, but later formed divergent ideas and broke with the Young Hegelians, attacking their views in works such as The German Ideology. Marx concluded that religion is not the basis of the establishment's power, but rather ownership of capital—processes that employ technologies, land, money and especially human labor-power to create surplus-value[5]—lie at the heart of the establishment's power. Marx (and Engels) considered religion as a component of the ideological superstructure of societies, and a pre-rational mode of thought, which nonetheless was wielded by ruling elites to obscure social relationships including the true basis of political power. In this latter sense, he described religion as "the opium of the people."[6]

August von Cieszkowski

August Cieszkowski focused on Hegel's view of world history and reformed it to better accommodate Hegelian Philosophy itself by dividing it into Past, Present, and Future. In his Prolegomena to Historiosophy, Cieszkowski argues that we have gone from Art (the Past), which was a stage of contemplating the Real, to Philosophy (the Present), which is a contemplation of the Ideal, and that since Hegel's philosophy was the summing-up and perfection of Philosophy, the time of Philosophy was up, and the time for a new era has dawned – the era of Action.[7]

Karl Schmidt

In The Realm of Understanding and the Individual (Das Verstandestum und das Individuum), Karl Schmidt examined the history of Hegelianism and derived the truth that, "I am only myself." At the end of the dialectic, where the individual exists "by grace of spirit, the law of spirit is applied to spirit itself, and is dragged to its grave". The individual remains as the evidence of the dialectic, and where the physical and psychical worlds merge, the individual stands atop the rubble. The Individual is different from Stirner's Unique One in that whilst the Unique One's unique nature is derived from comparison, The Individual exists for itself, and is the existence of all ideas- it is nothing more than peculiarity and uniqueness itself.

Karl Schmidt was the last notable Young Hegelian, and arguably the most obscure of the notable Young Hegelians.

Edgar Bauer

Edgar Bauer, 1820–1886, was the younger brother of Bruno Bauer. According to Lawrence S. Stepelevich, Edgar Bauer was the most anarchistic of the Young Hegelians, and " is possible to discern, in the early writings of Edgar Bauer, the theoretical justification of political terrorism."[8]

Die Freien

Die Freien by Friedrich Engels
Die Freien by Friedrich Engels

Die Freien (The Free Ones) was a 19th-century circle of Young Hegelians formed at the University of Berlin and gathering for informal discussion over a period of a few years. Its leader was Bruno Bauer, a student who had attended Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's lectures and was then asked to defend the position of the Old Hegelians against the claims of David Strauss's Life of Jesus. After reviewing the book, Bauer was converted and became even more radical than Strauss, becoming an atheist and arguing that Christianity was not only historically baseless, but it was also irrational and a barrier to progress.

Later in his life, he would disassociate himself from the group.


Attendees included Max Stirner, Bruno Bauer, Arnold Ruge, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, among others. Although not much is known about the group, with John Henry Mackay's biography of Max Stirner appearing to be the most authoritative source, involvement appears to have been a formative period for Marx and Engels (who wrote The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Wage-Labour and Capital and The German Ideology shortly after involvement) and Stirner (who wrote The Ego and Its Own around the same time). Consequently, the overall influence of the group to modern political thought can be considered monumental. As a cartoon by Engels shows, their small meetings were also attended by a "secret policeman", reporting on their activities to the authorities. The members of Die Freien held widely diverging views and met for the purpose of debate. They did not represent a unified political or ideological outlook, though most of them have subsequently been seen as Young Hegelians.

They usually met at Hippel's Wine Bar in central Berlin. According to John Henry Mackay's biography of Max Stirner, they were well known for using foul language, at one point resulting in Arnold Ruge chastising them before storming out. Reportedly, there were many women involved with the group, although information only survives for Stirner's second wife, Marie Dähnhardt. Moreover, after the owner stopped lending them money to drink, they resorted to jokingly begging on the street. However, Mackay claims that they drank little and drunkenness was uncommon.


Marx would not accept that the state was the seat of universality and rationality, i.e. that it was inherently rational; and made it his goal to prove that the difference between civil society, which Hegel held to be the sphere where individual interest is pursued in conflict with the interests of others and the state, where such conflicts are transcended, was in fact misplaced, the goal of the proletariat being in fact to abolish such differences.

Other Young Hegelians had other qualms about Hegel’s philosophy. David Strauss did not accept Hegel’s claims of Christian historicity renouncing any historical basis to Christianity in favour of its demythization, claiming that the stories found in the Bible should be understood as myths "constructed not by individuals but by the earliest Christian communities in response to the teaching of Christ and the Messianic tradition which they had inherited from the Old Testament".[9]


The Young Hegelians were not popular at the university due to their radical views on religion and society. Bauer was dismissed from his teaching post in 1842, and Marx and other students were warned that they should not bother submitting their dissertations at the University of Berlin, as they would certainly be poorly received due to their reputations.[citation needed]

Dudley Knowles argues that the Young Hegelians secularised Hegel's idea of Geist (spirit), removing the religious link. The resulting philosophy ultimately replaces spirit as the subject of history with that of man.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Stedman-Jones, Gareth, introduction to Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Penguin Classics, 2002
  2. ^ Kolakowski, Leszek, Main currents of Marxism: the founders, the golden age, the breakdown, Norton, 2005.
  3. ^ Toews, John (Becoming Historical – Cultural Reformation and Public Memory in Nineteenth-Century Berlin) [1]
  4. ^ Copleston, Frederick (A History of Philosophy, volume VII, p. 301)
  5. ^ Marx, K. 1967. Capital: A critical analysis of capitalist production. ed. F. Engels. New York.
  6. ^ Marx, K. 1976. Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Collected Works, v. 3. New York.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Stepelevich, Lawrence S. (1983). The Young Hegelians: An Anthology. Cambridge
  9. ^ Nola, Robert. The Young Hegelians, Feuerbach, and Marx in Routledge History of Philosophy Vol. 6 - The Age of German Idealism. p. 291.
  10. ^ Knowles, Dudley (2002). Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hegel and the Philosophy of Right. London and New York: Routledge. p. 19. ISBN 0415165784.


Further reading

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