Why Hegel today? If there’s at least one thing regarding Hegel with which the philosophical community seems to agree it’s that his importance just won’t abate. Each generation incessantly defines itself over and against the enigmatic, elusive, and difficult work of this 19th Century German philosopher. Young Hegelians, Left Hegelians, British Hegelians, Pittsburgh Hegelians, Ohio Hegelians, Rational Choice Theory Hegelians, Hegelian Hegelians. Markus Gabriel would seem to get it right when he claims,
“I do not venture to repeat what Schelling and Hegel said in a different languate. I do not even believe that this is possible. There is no such thing as Schelling’s or Hegel’s philosophy out there in the texts ready to be discovered by the historian of philosophy. Such a view of the relation between the text and its meaning is predicated on a variety of naive hermeneutical and metaphysical presuppositions I fortunately do not share. Philosophical ideas are not out there like stones, they are discursively created. Philosophy is a thoroughly creative business, an insight carried out by Nietzsche and Deleuze in an irreducible manner.” Then, quoting Deleuze: “It is enough to say that we understand in a different way, if we understand at all”.
Indeed, the doxa regarding Hegel, the textbook Hegel, runs something like the following, nicely depicted by Terry Pinkard:
“Hegel is one of those thinkers just about all educated people think they know something about. His philosophy was a forerunner to Marx’s theory of history, but unlike Marx, who was a materialist, Hegel was an idealist in the sense that he thought that reality was ultimately spiritual, and that it developed according to the process of thesis/antithesis/synthesis. Hegel also glorified the Prussian state, claiming that it was God’s work, was perfect, and was the culmination of all human history. All citizens of Prussia owed unconditional allegiance to that state, and it could do with them as it pleased. Hegel played a large role in the growth of German nationalism, authoritarianism, and militarism with his quasi-mystical celebrations of what he pretentiously called the Absolute.”
The development of American philosophy, surprising as it may seem today (indeed about as surprising as William James’ comments in Pluaristic Universe at Cambridge where he claims that the illustrious school has been the seedbed for Hegelian thought), worked itself out via a vexed relationship with the work of Hegel. Dewey, Peirce, James, and Royce each engaged intensely with Hegel’s work. Indeed Dewey, probably the most influential American philosopher, prior to his turn to Darwin, began his life as a disciple of Hegel. He describes his attraction to Hegel thus:
“There were subjective reasons for the appeal that Hegel’s thought made to me; it supplied a demand for unification that was doubtless an intense emotional craving, and yet was a hunger that only an intellectualized subject matter could satisfy. It is more than difficult, it is impossible, to recover that early mood. But the sense of divisions and separations that were, I suppose, borne in upon me as a consequence of a heritage of New England culture, divisions by way of isolation of self from the world, of sould from body, of nature from God, brought a painful oppression–or, rather they were an inward laceration. My earlier philosophic studyhad been an intellectual gymnastic. Hegel’s synthesis of subject and object, matter and spirit, the divine and the human, was however no mere intellectual forumla; it operated as an immense release, a liberation. hegel’s treatment of institutions and the arts, involved the same dissolution of hard-and-fast dividing walls, and had a special attraction for me”.
Hegel’s work, today, even spans the much-belaboured split constitutive of today’s philosophical community, analytic and continental philosophy, as the spirit, if not the letter, of Hegel’s work can be traced in such diverse thinkers as Zizek, Badiou, Ranciere, Brandom, Bernstein, Gabriel, McDowell, Pippin, Houlgate, Rockmore, etc.
Why does Hegel continue to ground so much philosophical thought despite the arguments and rhetoric pitted against him presumably from the very emergence of his thought. In addition, it seems quite counterproductive for many analytic thinkers to engage directly with Hegel’s work given the discipline’s apparent marriage to naturalism and scientism. Isn’t Hegel’s work beyond the pale of such enlightened commitments? Isn’t Hegel’s mysticism something from which we should run as quickly as possible and as far away as possible? Why waste our time with Hegel? The torturous prose, confused thoughts, religious imagery, naive modernist optimism, eurocentricism, Absolute meta-narratives, closure, etc. Didn’t Popper popularize (definitively) the argument that Hegel was the enemy of all open societies, an arch-conservative and totalitarian?
Again, why Hegel today? “Today”? What is it about today’s world, both philosophical and non-philosophical, that seems ripe for a return to Hegel? Zizek’s contribution to the Speculative Realism text asks the question, Is it still possible to be an Hegelian Today? And, Harris asked the question Whould Hegel be an Hegelian today?
Here’s Errol Morris on the relevance of Hegel “today”:
“Hegel’s writings have so long been shunned and despised, and his theories so
commonly ridiculed as mere fantasy and paradox, that few are likely to approach withtolerance any attempt to rehabilitate him. The term “Hegelian” applied to anyphilosophical essay has become one of opprobrium and almost of abuse in some philosophical circles, and many academic philosophers would shrink from research into, or serious criticism of, Hegel’s philosophy, as endangering their professional reputations.”
On this blog, I will seek to record my musings and explorations of Hegel’s work, starting with the Logic (and interspersed with some thoughts on the prolegomena to the Greater Logic, the Phenomenology of Spirit) and, subsequently, letting curiosity and improvisation guide me. In addition, I hope to engage the speculative realism movement on an Hegelian basis, especially the work of Graham Harman. I would also like to explore the work of Brandom and McDowell; to the extent that it’s possible I’d like to challenge the popular image of Hegel, already alluded to above, adopted and promoted by post-structuralism, postmodern, and Continental philosophers…the Hegelian doxa is ripe for rotting.
Hope you enjoy.