Imagine studying the political and social developments of the 20th century without ever considering Communism or evaluating the idea of Fascism. Envision a Russia without the effects of Joseph Stain or a Germany untouched by the doctrine of Adolph Hitler. The above statements seem incredible because these systems created so much of the political and social turmoil throughout this century. Just as politics seems incomplete without the prevalence of these ideas, it is also incomplete without the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
G. W. F. Hegel stands as one of the most influential philosophers of the past three centuries. Unlike philosopher before him, his all-embracing metaphysical systems attempt to uncover the fundamental nature and meaning of the universe and human interaction. The philosophies Hegel developed are so complex that many people confuse what he actually believed and what has been attributed to him. Therefore, three main areas must be analyzed in order to best understand what Hegel believed and the origin of his beliefs.
The first main area includes a biographical sketch, which serves as an analysis of his upbringing and how this later influenced his work. Next Hegels theories of Absolute Spirit and Dialectical Forces must be analyzed in order to understand their influence on the third and final area his contribution to political thought. The popular opinion of Hegel holds firm roots in his political influence, making it imperative that this side of his philosophy be analyzed in order to gain a complete understanding of what Hegel stood for throughout his life as a philosopher.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born in August of 1770 in Stuttgart, Germany, to a low-income civil servant and an educated homemaker. The oldest of three children, Hegel was raised in a strong Protestant home where he grew very attached to his family, especially his sister Christiane. This sister, although afflicted with psychological disorders, influenced many of Hegels ideas of psychiatry based on dialectics, which greatly influenced his lifetime work. Hungry for knowledge, Hegel learned not only German literature and science, but he also immersed himself in the Greek and Roman classics.
These readings introduced Hegel to the Greek city-states, which he later used to formulate his opinion of the perfect government. When, at 18 years of age, Hegel entered school to become a clergyman upon the wishes of his father, his true devotion stood with the support of the French Revolutionaries. During this time of political struggle, Hegel was inspired to write his first influential novel, The Phenomenology of Mind. This book reflects like no other Hegels interpretation of freedom and his thoughts concerning what constitutes a perfect society.
Although Hegel wrote many books throughout his lifetime, historians focus on two in particular The Phenomenology of Mind and the Philosophy of History. From these two books, nearly all of Hegels philosophical developments can be systematically traced, educating the reader about Hegels philosophies yet also creating uncertainty as to what these theories really mean. Viewed as one of the most influential philosophers in modern history, Hegel made many significant offerings to the world of philosophical theory. The major contribution of Hegel to philosophical theory is Absolute Spirit.
This spirit encompasses all truth in its totality and wholeness. Many scholars have likened this theory with that of Platos Idea, but they fail to observe one essential difference in the two. The Idea portrays a static, timeless, and unchanging truth that exists in a higher world, while Hegels Spirit changes with the chronicles of history. In order to understand the change and development of the world, according to Hegel, one must seek to aspire to a higher realm of human experience. The main avenue one may approach this realm is through the strict study of history.
History plays an essential role in this philosophy because Hegel viewed the Absolute Spirit not as fixed and static but evolving and developing with the people of the world. The second major philosophical theory of Hegel contains the Dialectic Struggle. This theory contains the ideas of Hegel that later instigated Communism and Fascism. The Dialectic Struggle represents the way in which society evolves to a higher state through the clash of two opposing forces. The combination of this thesis and antithesis achieves a higher level of truth and wholeness, thus pushing society toward a more perfect form.
Hegel believed that each higher level of history precluded another step in the evolution of freedom, which lead to the next scope of his influence political thought. By the time of his death, Hegel had become the most beloved philosopher in Germany. Hegels precepts fit perfectly into the puzzle that was Germany at this time, a small group of independent states searching for political unification. Hegel felt the will of the people must be in harmony with their needs, and this ideal spread throughout Germany, gaining him immense popularity in a nation struggling to find a way to gain strength under the oppression of stronger nations.
Hegel believed the aggressive search for freedom could give the Germans what they truly desired, and the only true freedom came from within an organized social group and a cohesive political community. This brings back the influence of the Greek city-states on Hegels philosophy as to what makes a good social structure. Because he felt the nation-state represented the supreme achievement of the Absolute Spirit, Hegel likened true freedom with the peoples obedience to the states commands.
Furthermore, he felt the state could only be bound by self-preservation and believed war became fundamentally necessary to achieve this goal. As a result of this blatant justification of government control and conquest, some regarded Hegel as the spiritual precursor of Fascist Totalitarianism. Although Hegel did not believe in the ideas of Communism or Fascism himself, these doctrines have been prescribed to him due to a radical interpretation of his work by a group of men called the Young Hegelians.
These men, most prominently Karl Marx, manipulated Hegels work in order to justify Communist and Fascist ideals, such as the formation of a classless society and cultural dominance of one race over another. The distinguishing feature between the products of Hegel and that of other philosophers remains the exceptional historical sense that underlies his work. By borrowing from the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the tenets of the Romantic Movement, Hegel combined the scientific method with a general understanding of human nature.
He analyzed not only the steps leading up to a historical event, but also how people shaped the event, thus increasing the wholeness of the Absolute Spirit of humanity. Hegels works are often widely misunderstood because of their mystical, complex nature. Not all people can grasp the idea of Absolute Spirit of the Dialectic Struggle theory, but those who can understand the true philosophical genius that was G. W. F. Hegel and the numerous contributions he made to his profession during his time and into the modern day.