I frequently buy old books at yard sales, and try to read them.Anyway, I bought an old copy of G.W.F.Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Mind”, and actually tyried to read it! I actually did take a philosophy course as an undergrad, but nothing prepared me for this turgid sludge! I can’t imagine that anyone could read more than a few pages without falling asleep! To all you philiosophers out ther: how is Hegel regarded today? and-do any modern philiosophers follow his systems?

Oooh, a Hegel question!!! grins

Hegel’s fundamental concept is the dialectic, which is essentially a view of change as a process of interaction between the mind and its environment. Hegel’s view was that the goal of change was Enlightenment - in other words, the only real change coming about was in people’s minds. The world was just a vehicle towards that goal. Hardly surprising, since Hegel lived in a time when everybody thought Reason was the motor for progress.
Hegel himself was, at least in his younger years, a staunch advocate of progress. He welcomed the French Revolution with open arms and was a harsh critic of Prussian society. Later on he started getting conservative and used his philosophical logic to defend the Prussian monarchy.
His ideas, however, had a great effect on the thinking of a number of students who came into their own after his death, including two philosophers you might have heard of - Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. They took the dialectic and gave it a material basis, meaning that the motor of progress became, at least as far as humanity is concerned, the conflicts that arose in society due to the fact that it’s divided into classes. (Which it is. The U.S. has class divisions, whether you like it or not. So does the rest of the world.)
From Marx and Engels we get the connection with Lenin and Trotsky, and so on down to anyone who’s serious about making real changes in society. Not all of them philosophers, to be sure, but we owe Hegel a large debt for the way we view and understand society.
Which is not to say Hegel was a model of clarity. He was working under conditions of censorship to some degree, and the fact that he took abstractions as the bases for his arguments didn’t help a whole heck of a lot. Lenin once said Hegel’s Logic was “the surest way to give yourself a good headache.”
If you really want a good understanding of Hegel’s thinking and the basis for the dialectic - both idealist and materialist - I recommend The Algebra of Revolution by John Rees, published by Routledge. It takes some chewing, but definitely nowhere near as much as Hegel’s Phenomenology or Logic.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

IMOHP, I find it unfair that Nietzsche takes the blame for Nazism because of his superman theory. Hegel should be held to even greater responsibility due to his belief in the supremacy of the state over the individual. In either case, I hope we can agree that these ivy-tower scribblers can truly leave a big wake (memo to Ayn Rand in Hell: thank you for the '94 Rebublican “revolution”).

Your deep sea diving suit is ready, me brave lad.

Plenty wrong with that line of thought there, Tove. Hegel wouldn’t have had the slightest idea what a ‘state’ was, in the first place - at least as people today know it. Germany was still forty years away from unifying by the time Hegel had died - same with Italy - and England and France were still only beginning to emerge into the modern industrial era.
He may have defended the Prussian monarchy as the best example of governing people (again this was at the end of his life, not all the way through it) but he had no philosophical or material basis for championing any sort of overarching political entity at the expense of individual.
Nazism wasn’t a product of centuries of political thought, either - it was the product of a modern state in deep economic and political crisis, desperately trying to keep its hold on society and maintain the order that had kept a handful of people on top. The methods the Nazis used to destroy Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and others were the direct product of capitalist industrial development - methods even Adam Smith hadn’t dreamed of.
I can’t vouch in the least for how the Nazis felt about Hegelian philosophy or thought, but it’s quite clear to me that Hegelian thinking gave rise to a political philosophy that expressly criticized a political and economic system so prone to crisis and collapse that its rulers could see Nazism as a viable solution to keeping their hold on things.
Hegel may have held university lecturing jobs throughout his life but he surely wasn’t as detached from reality like some ‘ivory-tower scribblers’ like Kant. Or Nietzsche.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

But I ask: did Hegel require an actual modern, unifed state to exist, for him to be held accountable for its possible excesses? (I here insist that excesses were foreseable to him during his lifetime, and not only due to post-Hegel conveniences such as electrified wire and Xyclon-B). For a philosopher the working models of nation-states models, such as Plato’s Republic or Lockes’ Leviathan would’ve done in a pinch, and both were in place long before Hegel.

  Obviously, Olentzero is far more familiar than I am with Hegel, so my opinions admitedly stand on sparse planking. But can you explain what I've received from hearsay (via Brownowski's "Ascent of Man): "In 1800 Hegel presented a thesis, if you please, proving that although the definition of planets had changed since the Ancients, there could only be, philosophically, seven planets." Did he really say that? That kind of thinking scares me out of my wits! Is it really that far a step from there to then, as you say he did not "championing any sort of overarching political entity at the expense of (the)individual.

 I'm not interested in, and here I again quote you: "the The methods the Nazis used to destroy Jews,gypsies, homosexuals, and others were the direct product of capitalist industrial development - methods even Adam Smith hadn't dreamed of." Methods are simply what's handy - attitudes are what determine action. Both the Assyrians before the Nazis and the Hutus after them killed their victims at a faster pace than the Nazis, both using the old method of cold steel on flesh.

 I will agree with you that Nazism wasn't created out of political thought - centuries old or less - but out of centuries of cultural resentments and  pure humbuggery. I strongly believe any political philosopher should always be aware of these cultural components into which he drops his models for other hands to explore.

At any rate, thanks for a good thread! These current “Stone Cold Steve Austin vs $6-million Steve Austin” type-threads only make me feel even guiliter about the money my parents wasted on my education.

Your deep sea diving suit is ready, me brave lad.

Without Commenting on Hegel’s relationship to Nazism, I think Tove is correct when he says Nietzche is unfairly blamed for Nazism.

First Nietzche was the opposite of an anti-semite. In fact he loved Jews almost to the point of fetishism. He praised them often in his wrtings as the only profound people broke with Wagner over Wagner’s anti-semitism, and even denounced his sister when she married a prominent anti-semite. Even when he went mad he maintained his admiration for Jewish people. He is reported to have threatened to go out and shoot all the anti-semites. (would only that he had.)

Second, while his philosophy of the superman is disturbing, I can’t see how it directly leads to Nazism. It’s been a while since I read Nietzche, but I think he was reacting against the mind-numbing conformity he saw dulling the minds of humanity.

In fact Nietzche worried that the conformist sheep like masses were all too likely to follow the call of a strong rutheless leader. In a sense he predicted Nazism, but blaming him for it is like blaming the weatherman when it rains.

Also, a lot of Bad German Philosophical writing is the result of the doctrine at the time, which would not take you seriously unless you wrote badly. Supposedly Kant began with a crystal clear style which was destroyed by years of exposure to Germanic Academia. Nietzche is readable in large part because he avoided Academia and lived most of his life in bitter poverty.

BTW, Olentzero, if there is any Philosopher who is not an ivory tower scribbler, it is Nietzche.

Having an open mind means you put out a welcome mat and answer the door politely. It does not mean leaving the door open with a sign saying nobody’s home

Tove: Of course Hegel didn’t require the modern state to exist to be held accountable for its excesses. He could be held accountable if his philosophy explicitly asserted that the best possible order of things was a political entity that subsumed every interest of its individual constituents to its own interests. Admittedly I haven’t read much Hegel directly, but from what I understand of him he did no such thing.
Hegel’s great fault was that he reduced everything to a philosophical abstraction before attempting to justify its reason for existence. He started from the idealist side of things and worked his way back to the material world from there. You can argue anything if you start with an idea rather than material circumstances.
Regarding Brownowski’s assertion on Hegel: even at the time of Hegel’s death in the 1830s neither Neptune or Pluto had been discovered so even the best scientists were pretty sure there were only seven. They’d conjectured about the possibility of more(and would be proven right in 1846) but Hegel arguing there couldn’t be was certainly not illogical. Hearsay or no, arguing something that may have made sense at the time but doesn’t now certainly does not throw his entire philosophy out the window.
I totally disagree with your assertion that Nazism, the slaughter in Rwanda, and whatever stunts the Assyrians pulled were the results of centuries of cultural differences. The Hutus and Tutsis were not rigid castes set in stone but fluid economic roles which Rwandans could easily move between. The Belgian colonizers were the ones who firmed up the division and played them off against each other to keep them divided, thereby heading off a challenge to colonial rule. After independence the economy ticked along for a while but once the crisis hit people started looking for a scapegoat. The Tutsi minority, being the favored caste of the Belgians, occupied a lot of prominent positions and so provided a convenient, if totally wrong, target.
My whole point is that the world really has never before seen anything like the kinds of slaughter committed in the past hundred years. Rulers have played up divisions among people, and anti-Semitism has been around for a long time. But it’s generally had the focus of exclusion, not extermination. Until the emergence of a modern state. And especially not until that state was wracked by such a great crisis that its rulers turned to a group that promised to crush the serious working-class challenge emerging from the crisis and to absorb the remnants. Being vicious anti-Semites the Nazis of course set the Holocaust in motion but they had to claw their way to power over the bodies of the workers they killed first.
Hegel obviously couldn’t have possibly envisioned any of this. But at the same time, as I’ve said before, his thinking paved the way for thinkers in a completely different direction and can in no way be held responsible, even philosophically, for the barbarity of Nazism.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

but to answer the original question…Hegel only has an indirect influence in contemporary philosophy, and then almost exclusively in the so-called “continential” tradition…however, he may have had a more lasting influence in historiographical traditions, but i’m not a philosopher of history, so i couldn’t be certain…it’s probably the case that his philosophy only bears a tenuous relationship with the subsequent course of german history–i don’t think the nazi leaders were spending a lot of their time reading hegel…but i do wonder what sort of influence his thinking had on the subsequent cultural atmosphere…still, it is too bad his writing is so impenetrable, b/c he did nevertheless have some interesting ideas which remain relevant today, though i think he is seen as somewhat dated even by the continentals, and downright kooky by many philosophers of a more analytic bent…but he’s still an important figure, and will remain so, even if only in a historical sense

Absolutely not, philosof. Marx and Engels and explicit in their debt to Hegelian logic and his discovery of the dialectic to their thinking and political analysis. Other political figures such as Lenin and Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Georg Lukacs, and Antonio Gramsci were also dialecticians and were emphatic that Hegel was the original source for their methods.
Understanding, commenting on, and taking a position on changing society is the essential nature of philosophy. Hegel has had a large and direct influence on contemporary philosophy.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

Olentzero: what’s your take on Machiavelli? I’m not baiting you - its just that not too many posters of you erudition come upon the scene. Voltaire, who I truly admire, hated Machiavelli - it was the usual “you heartless, cynical bastard.” response. But hey, N.M. was just laying out the mechanics of statecraft (or your local schoolboard, for that matter). When your auto repair guy says "you better change your timing bands at 60,000 miles, do you say to him “you heartless, cynical bastard?”

Your deep sea diving suit is ready, me brave lad.

Macchiavelli was a product of his times. Europe was just coming out of the Dark Ages and feudal states were beginning to increase economic output. As in any class society, the various rulers lived off the surplus produced. However it was still very little and its supply was always threatened. People like the Borgias and the de Medicis needed not only to hold on to what they had but also needed to try to muscle in on the goods of the people next duchy over. Not to mention the fact that the Church demanded a cut as well, and they did jack squat to contribute anything back, except guarantee you got a berth in Heaven. (Can anyone say ‘indulgences’?)
Nicolo Macchiavelli basically had a very good perspective on all of this and wrote it all down in “The Prince”.
I don’t think he was a heartless, cynical bastard. He was telling it like it was for the people running things at the time. In that vein, I think you and I are in agreement. But that doesn’t imply, as far as I’m concerned, that what was good for early Renaissance Europe is applicable to global society at the threshold of the third millennium.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!


I have to repectfully disagree in part with your assessment of Machiavelli. Not just 'cause my Name is Borgia :slight_smile: (Not my real name, of course)

First, I think its a little to simplistic to say that the Italian city states of the Renaissance were feudal states emerging from the dark ages. They had highly developed mercantile systems and many were quite wealthy by any standard.

Second, I think what really alarmed Machiavelli was Italian disunity. While France and England, and even the Holy Roman Empire of that time, were becoming unified Nations, Italy was split into warring principalities, and made a weak and tempting target for other European powers. The spanish, for example, ruled all of southern Italy for a while.

If you take Machiavelli’s writings as a whole, I believe you will find a plea and a plan for Italian Unification. The Prince is basically advice for the would be unifier on how to set himself up in the first place. However, even the Prince contains a long disquisition on the uselessness of mercenairies and the need for a national army. The Italians relied on Swiss and other mercenaries to fight their battles, and these were no match for invading french and Habsburg troops. Machiavelli saw in Cesar Borgia the man to put his plan into action. He knew Borgia was unscrupulous, but thought such a man was the only one who could get the job done.

Unfortunately for Italy it did not, perhaps could not, heed his advice. The Italians were destroyed by the Hapsburgs, largely due to the inept diplomacy of Pope Clement VII.

Machiavelli shocks now as he did then by his relentless cynicsm. He was one of the first modern philosophers who talked about how a state did function not how it should. (ethically I mean). However, I’m not certain its not relevant today. Although our democracy is different from Machiavelli’s autocratic dictatorships, I think modern political gunslingers like Lee atwater and James Carville operate straight out of Machiavellian principles. I mean, how many recent presidential candidates have done there best to seem good without being so.

Also, a minor point. Indulgences were not really a problem for Italy, especially Rome, since this was where the money was coming and it was often used for public works. They did piss the bejeezus out of the rest of Europe and helped pave the way for the Reformation.

Perked Ears indicate curiosity - Know Your Cat