On the 14th of November 1831 the greatest Romantic philosopher of the worldwide history of thought, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), died. Along with Nietzsche Heidegger considered him to be one of the philosophers who completes the history of the philosophy of the Western logos and is the peak of the history of philosophy and philosophy in general. If Plato is the philosopher of the beginning, then Hegel and Nietzsche are the philosophers of the end. In this sense Hegel is the total philosopher.
Everything is the other-being of the Other
Hegel’s political philosophy is highly complex. Its foundations lie in his general picture of philosophy. As we have seen, every philosophy always has the possibility to birth a political dimension. Like Plato, Hegel makes this move in Philosophy of Right: he takes his philosophy and applies it to politics, that is to say he finds an explicit place for political philosophy in the whole of his philosophical views. Through philosophy he explains political philosophy while at the same time explaining politics through its metaphysical dimension.
In this context Hegel is a classical philosopher, one who implicitly creates a political philosophy. Heidegger is completely right when he says, that when we understand Phenomenology of the Spirit, we can extract everything else from it. Two fundamental works by Hegel are usually given as reading: Phenomenology of Spirit and Philosophy of Right.
Hegel’s main idea is that first there exists a Subjective Spirit, a ‘Spirit for itself’ (Ger. der subjektive Geist). This point coincides with the theological thesis about the existence of God: the Subjective Spirit is God for himself. To expand himself for the Other, this Subjective Spirit projects itself into the Objective Spirit (Ger. der objektive Geist), in which it becomes nature and matter. This means that the subject projects itself into the object.
Pay attention to the fundamental difference between Hegel’s idea and the Cartesian topic, the latter of which decided the structure of the New Era. For Descartes there exists a dualism between the subject and object: Hegel on the other hand tries to remove this dualism and conquer the gnoseological pessimism of Kant by explaining matter or the object from the Spirit. Actually, this is nothing other than the development of the Kantian model of the absolute ‘I’, but taken in a dynamic, dialectical model. If Fichte is a reaction to Kant, then Hegel is a reaction to Fichte but in a constant dialogue with Kant and Cartesianism.
Thus, Hegel contends that there exists a Subjective Spirit, which expands itself into the Objective Spirit through dialectical alienation. The Thesis is the Subjective Spirit, the Antithesis the Objective Spirit or nature. Because nature isn’t nature. According to Hegel, nothing is identical to itself, everything is the other-being of the Other, which is why his philosophy is dialectical.
The cycle of emanation and return: the Absolute Spirit
In other words, there exists a Subjective Spirit an sich, which projects itself as Antithesis. The consequence is history. For Hegel the philosophy of history has a fundamental meaning, because history is nothing different than the process of the expansion of the Objective Spirit, which embarks to new stages through its spiritual component, which, in turn, lies in its foundations. But the first act of the Objective Spirit is to hide its spiritual characteristics and present itself as nature or matter; through history the other-being of Subjective Spirit is interwoven, and through the human being and human history it returns to its foundations.
But this is already a new foundation, not that of the Subjective Spirit (‘the Spirit for itself’), but of the ‘Spirit within itself’. That is to say, it returns to itself through its own alienation. A cycle of emanation and return appears; according to Hegel, the return carries more meaning than the emanation. The emanation creates the prerequisites for the return and the return, in turn, having completed the cycle, returns the Subjective Spirit, which becomes the Third Spirit, the Absolute Spirit (Ger. der absolute Geist). That is to say, first is the Subjective Spirit, then the Objective Spirit and then the Absolute Spirit.
According to Hegel, the Absolute Spirit expands through human history and ascends to the end of history. The meaning of history is the Spirit recognizing itself through matter.
First the Spirit has itself but does not recognize itself, later the Spirit recognizes itself but does not have itself. Nature an sich has historical antecedents, because it is an element of history. From here come the history of religion and the history of society, and as a result of the Spirit expanding through history it ascends to its culmination in the end of history, when the Spirit fully recognizes and has itself: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. This is why history has ended.
This is a broad picture of Hegel’s philosophy, which has many nuances and complexities. Thus, according to Hegel, history moves positively, but this is a different positivism from that of the philosophy of the Great Mother. The Titanic beginning assumes that first there was less and now there is more. Marx removed the Subjective Spirit in his reading of Hegel and said that nature is nature perfecting itself. In doing this he re-established the philosophy of the Great Mother, according to which everything grows from matter, from nature.
But Hegel is not Marx. In Hegel this progress, this upwards movement is based on an earlier jump down. At first the Spirit jumps and falls in nature, and this is why nature begins to grow; nature is nothing other than the other-being of the Spirit. The Antithesis of the Spirit is not just its opposition, it is also it in a negated way. The concept of ‘withdrawal’ is very important to Hegel: the Antithesis does not destroy the Thesis, it negates it, draws it into itself, and then demonstrates it via Synthesis.
This is why the Thesis and Antithesis aren’t absolute. They are dialectically dependent. Only their Synthesis is absolute, through which the withdrawal of the Thesis and Antithesis occurs. This is the idea of Hegel’s concept of history as the expansion of the spirit through phases: the Subjective Spirit (pre-historical), the Objective Spirit (which appears through history), and finally the Absolute Spirit, which appears above the tension of history through the creation of a socio-political peak, a pyramid of the Spirit, which has become Absolute at last.
Hegel and the conception of the German state
What role does political philosophy play in all of this? It is clear that history becomes political in a certain sense. That is why Hegel writes about the concept of the evolution of political systems, models, and regimes as the moment of the becoming of the Absolute Spirit. Politics is the crystallization of Synthesis. Political history is the movement of the Spirit in its quest to become Absolute. Politics is the history of the absolutization of the Spirit.
Hegel creates a hierarchy out of the different political forms. On the one hand it is an evolutionist hierarchy, because each regime is better than the one before it. But, in contrast to Marx’s idea, this evolution is not just a reflection of the Antithesis or the development of matter or nature. This is the revelation of the Spirit which was initially bound in matter and nature. Accordingly, there is no materialism here. We are dealing with a complex structure, which includes the Platonic option (in the beginning there was the Spirit and no matter) and the evolutionist model (when we start examining history from point of view of the Antithesis, and this already points to the Great Mother). Marx removed the Platonic element, and this is why he reinterpreted Marx in a purely materialist way. But everything is more complex when Hegel is concerned.
There is another key point when reading Hegel: it is when he determines the political end of history. This is the peak of the becoming of political history and the expression of the Absolute Spirit. And here he says something interesting about Prussia and the German state. The Germans didn’t have a state, this concept was not expressed in history; this is why the Germans absorb the logic of world movements in themselves and the Prusso-German state is an expression of the Absolute Spirit. All of history is the preamble to the becoming of Germany in the 19th century. Hegel said that great peoples are those who have either a great state or a great philosophy. He said that the Russians had a great state, and that the Germans had no state at all in the 19th century. Accordingly, the Germans should have a great philosophy, which would bring about a great state.
The most striking fact is that Hegel created a philosophy of the great German state before Germany appeared. He thought up such a version while living in the variegated princely Germany, whose princedoms were all but powerful states. Hegel collected Germany, gave it an intellectual mission, created together with Fichte and Schelling an idealistic, romantic conception of German statehood as an expression of the Spirit which had become Absolute. The peak and end of history, according to Hegel, will become the German state.
In addition, he thought the most optimal form of government to be an enlightened monarchy where Hegelian philosophers who would know the logic of world history would rule. He considered himself a prophet of philosophy and humanity in Germany, and, in a certain sense, he was a mystic. Methodologically his philosophy was absolutely rational, but its premises are irrational. He provided the foundations for the idea that civil society, the French revolution and the Enlightenment in general were just another dialectical moment in the becoming of enlightened monarchy. The civil society is that from which monarchy grows by sublimating civil society. He was a mystical monarchist, who saw the idea of the logic of history as the roads of different political forms towards Russian monarchy.
It is not surprising that this idea was taken up by representatives of Italian fascism; in part it was used for the theory of the Italian state of Giovanni Gentile, who was himself a Hegelian. That is why, paradoxical as it may be, neither fascism nor Nazism can be seen as representations of classical nationalism. In these two worldviews there were certain elements, which make it so that they cannot be regarded as classical and even radical forms of European bourgeois nationalism, because in this case the addition of the Hegelian instance by way of the Subjective Spirit (which was taken by Gentile as the basis for the theory of Italian fascism) is just Hegelianism, applied to Italy.
Hegel, disregarding that fact that he is considered a classic of political philosophy, is a fairly difficult case, a composite. That is why his philosophy does not deny the ideology of the Third Way, on whose basis of metaphysically clipped Hegelianism Marxist theory is built. That is to say, ‘left’ Hegelianism was the basis of the Second Political Theory, and ‘right’ Hegelianism influenced several aspects of the Third Theory. What is more, the Hegelian idea of the end of history was applied by his student Alexandre Kojéve, the latter’s successor Francis Fukuyama, and other philosophers to the liberal model. Marks applied the ‘end of history’ to communism, Gentile to the state, several other Hegelianists to the triumph of the liberal world order. This is why, they say, civil society is not the prolegomena to monarchy (as Hegel himself thought), but the peak of the development of human civilisation.
This idea was taken as a base by Francis Fukuyama, who has used the term ‘end of history’. This term had a fundamental meaning for Hegel, for it means the final moment of the achievement by the Spirit of its absolute phase through history, the dialectical moment of the return of the Spirit to itself while already being in itself and for itself: this is Synthesis.
Thus, we find Hegelianism in all three classical ideologies of modernity. But this does not mean that it can be qualified from the point of one of them. Hegel is wider than all Modern political theories, and this is why he doesn’t fall under any one of them. Accordingly, in him is that which was ripped to fragments by the three Modern political ideologies, and something which didn’t make it into any of them; for example, the idea of the Subjective Spirit, which is the forerunner of all downward movement. This element of the primordial Platonic jump, of Neoplatonism, which then transitions to more or less progressive-evolutionist topics, makes it possible not to see Hegel neither as a Modern philosopher, neither as a Modern political philosopher. This is because the Modern paradigm, as we have seen, does not include any component coming before matter.
A reading of Hegel (neither liberal, Marxist nor fascist in character) makes it possible for us to discover the components of an alternative to the Modern and to integrate them into the Fourth Political Theory. Thus, through these motions me move Hegel from the era of Modernity in which he lived and worked to a certain different context. This is a different Hegel, a different Hegelian political philosophy, where the focus is on the Platonic jump down. This part of his philosophy of political becoming did not, could not receive attention in the Modern paradigm. But, nonetheless, it can receive the consideration it is due in the context of the Fourth Political Theory.