Hegel-by-HyperText Resources

Hegelianism in the Twentieth Century

by Mario Rossi (from Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Today one has to speak not of the presence of Hegelianism as an operating philosophical current but only of studies on Hegel and of an experience of the Hegelian philosophy, to which, however, almost none of the present-day orientations in philosophy is foreign. The repeated encounter of Western culture with Marxist thought after World War II has brought to the fore the political, ethical, and religious implications of Hegelianism; and a marshalling into opposing camps analogous to that of the earlier crisis of the school is taking shape. Today there are no orthodox Hegelians, but there are denominational critics of Hegelianism, especially Catholic, whose cognisance of Hegel's painful development invokes, despite their differences, a certain fellow feeling with him.

In the centre are found scholars of a liberal and radical frame of mind but with varying orientations with respect to historical interpretations. Karl Löwith, a German philosopher of history and culture, sees Hegel as the initiator of the "historicist" crisis in modern thought, culminating in Marx and in Kierkegaard; and to this he contrasts the metahistorical perspective reflected in the Nietzschean motif of the "eternal return," based on the ideal of a Goethean serenity. In France, Alexandre Kojève, noteworthy for his effort to harmonise Hegel with Martin Heidegger, proposes a reinterpretation of the Phänomenologie as a manifesto of the emancipation of "man the servant" from all alienations. Jean Hyppolite, author of an outstanding commentary on the Phänomenologie, usually presents a restrained humanistic interpretation of the Hegel of Jena. This renaissance of the study of Hegel has conditioned the thought of some of the major thinkers of France. Particularly notable, however, is the Hegelian conditioning of German philosopher-sociologists such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. The former is sometimes regarded as the most Hegelian thinker of the mid-20th century because he sought to bring again to the fore Hegel's dialectic, understood in a new anti-intellectualistic sense, as a method for the solution of present-day social problems. Marcuse, a partisan of a Diltheian interpretation, approaches the position of the first Hegelian left, ending up in what critics see as a neo-romantic anarchism. The major merit of both of these thinkers lies in their incisive analyses of aspects of modern consumer societies, especially American - though their proposed remedies remain uncertain.

The major interest, however, in the contemporary interpretation of Hegel is displayed by the Marxist camp. Marxist interpretation of Hegel had permeated the entire history of Hegelianism (notwithstanding the fact that the critical activity of young Marx against Hegel had been vehemently conducted and had led to various effects). This interpretation had settled upon the distinction made by Friedrich Engels between the method and the system of Hegel's philosophy - i.e., between the dialectic considered as a revolutionary "principle of movement" that achieves fulfilment in human culture, and the system, regarded, on the other hand, as reactionary because idealistic and conservative. With varying emphases on critical issues, this interpretation was continued in subsequent Marxist thinkers - from the Russians Georgy Plekhanov and Lenin to Mao Tse-tung and Joseph Stalin - the latter of whom affirmed the complementariness of historical and dialectical Materialism.

Today many Marxist scholars, especially in the countries of eastern Europe, remain favourable to the traditional line of Engels; and above all György Lukács, a Hungarian philosopher and literary critic and author of a volume on the young Hegel, does so. With the intention of revealing the romantic and irrationalistic presuppositions of Naziism, Lukács re-evaluates, in German culture, the tendency of the Enlightenment and of democracy, which he recognises in the young Goethe, in Schiller, in Hölderlin, and in the young Hegel - in whom he sees, however, a reactionary involution.

A secondary tendency, which is drawing attention in France, with the work of Louis Althusser, draws Marx close to Structuralism, a recent school that seeks through a "human science," to probe the systematic structures evinced in cultural life. In this school Marx's humanism is viewed as a temporary, Feuerbachian phase, surpassed by commitment to the scientific observation of the structure of bourgeois society. Such Structuralistic interpretation of Marxism thus runs the risk of departing from a due emphasis on the historical substance of Marxian Materialism.

The latter motive is, on the other hand, the essential aim of a third Marxist current, in Italy, initiated by Galvano della Volpe, a critical aesthetician who discusses the relationship between bourgeois and Socialist democracy and champions, in aesthetics, a critical and anti-romantic Aristotelianism. This current has been continued by Mario Rossi, who asks one to read again in full the texts of Hegel and Marx, to reconstruct the related movements, and to compare the Materialistic conception of history with more recent philosophical currents such as Structuralism, present-day sociology, and the logic of the sciences.

A conclusion of a theoretical-systematic nature concerning Hegelianism has today become not only impossible but also inopportune, because its possible interest has been effectively replaced by that of the sheer history of the movement. The latter has shown how the substantial ambiguity of the philosophy and dialectic of Hegel can be resolved only when its claim to be able to solve all problems on a theoretical level and to achieve a "circular" decisiveness in its arguments - which violates the conditioning specificity of historical facts - is refuted. It is then the scholar's task to explore the limits of Hegel's thought as well as its conditioned inadequacies - but also its merits, which are above all those of having expressed and documented the major part of the cultural problems of modern civilisation.