Hegel’s Philosophy of History
The mutations which history presents have been long characterised in the general, as an advance to something better, more perfect. The changes that take place in Nature — how infinitely manifold soever they may be — exhibit only a perpetually self-repeating cycle; in Nature there happens “nothing new under the sun,” and the multiform play of its phenomena so far induces a feeling of ennui; only in those changes which take place in the region of Spirit does anything new arise. This peculiarity in the world of mind has indicated in the case of man an altogether different destiny from that of merely natural objects — in which we find always one and the same stable character, to which all change reverts; — namely, a real capacity for change, and that for the, better, — an impulse of perfectibility. This principle, which reduces change itself under a law, has met with an unfavourable reception from religions — such as the Catholic — and from States claiming as their just right a stereotyped, or at least a stable position. If the mutability of worldly things in general — political constitutions, for instance — is conceded, either Religion (as the Religion of Truth) is absolutely excepted, or the difficulty escaped by ascribing changes, revolutions, and abrogations of immaculate theories and institutions, to accidents or imprudence, — but principally to the levity and evil passions of man. The principle of Perfectibility indeed is almost as indefinite a term as mutability in general; it is without scope or goal, and has no standard by which to estimate the changes in question: the improved, more perfect, state of things towards which it professedly tends is altogether undetermined.
The principle of Development involves also the existence of a latent germ of being — a capacity or potentiality striving to realise itself. This formal conception finds actual existence in Spirit; which has the History of the World for its theatre, its possession, and the sphere of its realisation. It is not of such a nature as to be tossed to and fro amid the superficial play of accidents, but is rather the absolute arbiter of things; entirely unmoved by contingencies, which, indeed, it applies and manages for its own purposes. Development, however, is also a property of organised natural objects. Their existence presents itself, not as an exclusively dependent one, subjected to external changes, but as one which expands itself in virtue of an external unchangeable principle; a simple essence, — whose existence, i.e., as a germ, is primarily simple, — but which subsequently develops a variety of parts, that become involved with other objects, and consequently live through a continuous process of changes; — a process nevertheless, that results in the very contrary of change, and is even transformed into a vis conservatrix of the organic principle, and the form embodying it. Thus the organised individuum produces itself; it expands itself actually to what it was always potentially: So Spirit is only that which it attains by its own efforts; it makes itself actually what it always was potentially. — That development (of natural organisms) takes place in a direct, unopposed, unhindered manner. Between the Idea and its realisation — the essential constitution of the original germ and the conformity to it of the existence derived from it — no disturbing influence can intrude. But in relation to Spirit it is quite otherwise. The realisation of its Idea is mediated by consciousness and will; these very faculties are, in the first instance, sunk in their primary merely natural life; the first object and goal of their striving is the realisation of their merely natural destiny, — but which, since it is Spirit that animates it, is possessed of vast attractions and displays great power and [moral] richness. Thus Spirit is at war with itself ; it has to overcome itself as its most formidable obstacle. That development which in the sphere of Nature is a peaceful growth, is in that of Spirit, a severe, a mighty conflict with itself. What Spirit really strives for is the realisation of its Ideal being; but in doing so, it hides that goal from its own vision, and is proud and well satisfied in this alienation from it.
Its expansion, therefore, does not present the harmless tranquillity of mere growth, as does that of organic life, but a stern reluctant working against itself. It exhibits, moreover, not the mere formal conception of development, but the attainment of a definite result. The goal of attainment we determined at the outset: it is Spirit in its completeness, in its essential nature, i.e., Freedom. This is the fundamental object, and therefore also the leading principle of the development, — that whereby it receives meaning and importance (as in the Roman history, Rome is the object — consequently that which directs our consideration of the facts related); as, conversely, the phenomena of the process have resulted from this principle alone, and only as referred to it, possess a sense and value. There are many considerable periods in History in which this development seems to have been intermitted; in which we might rather say, the whole enormous gain of previous culture appears to have been entirely lost; after which, unhappily, a new commencement has been necessary, made in the hope of recovering — by the assistance of some remains saved from the wreck of a former civilisation and by dint of a renewed incalculable expenditure of strength and time, — one of the regions which had been an ancient possession of that civilisation. We behold also continued processes of growth; structures and systems of culture in particular spheres, rich in kind, and well developed in every direction. The merely formal and indeterminate view of development in general can neither assign to one form of expansion superiority over the other, nor render comprehensible the object of that decay of older periods of growth; but must regard such occurrences, — or, to speak more particularly, the retrocessions they exhibit, — as external contingencies; and can only judge of particular modes of development from indeterminate points of view; which — since the development as such, is all in all — are relative and not absolute goals of attainment.
Universal History exhibits the gradation in the development of that principle whose substantial purport is the consciousness of Freedom. The analysis of the successive grades, in their abstract form, belongs to Logic; in their concrete aspect to the Philosophy of Spirit. Here it is sufficient to state that the first step in the process presents that immersion of Spirit in Nature which has been already referred to; the second shows it as advancing to the consciousness of its freedom. But this initial separation from Nature is imperfect and partial, since it is derived immediately from the merely natural state, is consequently related to it, and is still encumbered with it as an essentially connected element. The third step is the elevation of the soul from this still limited and special form of freedom to its pure universal form; that state in which the spiritual essence attains the consciousness and feeling of itself. These grades are the ground-principles of the general process; but how each of them on the other hand involves within itself a process of formation, — constituting the links in a dialectic of transition, — to particularise this may be reserved for the sequel.
Here we have only to indicate that Spirit begins with a germ of infinite possibility, but only possibility, — containing its substantial existence in an undeveloped form, as the object and goal which it reaches only in its resultant — full reality. In actual existence Progress appears as an advancing from the imperfect to the more perfect; but the former must not be understood abstractly as only the imperfect, but as something which involves the very opposite of itself — the so-called perfect — as a germ or impulse. So — reflectively, at least - possibility points to something destined to become actual; the Aristotelian is also potentia, power and might. Thus the Imperfect, as involving its opposite, is a contradiction, which certainly exists, but which is continually annulled and solved; the instinctive movement — the inherent impulse in the life of the soul — to break through the rind of mere nature, sensuousness, and that which is alien to it, and to attain to the light of consciousness, i.e. to itself.
We have already made the remark how the commencement of the history of Spirit must be conceived so as to be in harmony with its Idea — in its bearing on the representations that have been made of a primitive “natural condition,” in which freedom and justice are supposed to exist, or to have existed. This was, however, nothing more than an assumption of historical existence, conceived in the twilight of theorising reflection. A pretension of quite another order, — not a mere inference of reasoning, but making the claim of historical fact, and that supernaturally confirmed, — is put forth in connection with a different view that is now widely promulgated by a certain class of speculatists. This view takes up the idea of the primitive paradisaical condition of man, which had been previously expanded by the Theologians, after their fashion, — involving, e.g., the supposition that God spoke with Adam in Hebrew, — but remodelled to suit other requirements. The high authority appealed to in the first instance is the biblical narrative. But this depicts the primitive condition, partly only in the few well-known traits, but partly either as in man generically, — human nature at large, — or, so far as Adam is to be taken as an individual, and consequently one person, — as existing and completed in this one, or only in one human pair. The biblical account by no means justifies us in imagining a people, and an historical condition of such people, existing in that primitive form; still less does it warrant us in attributing to them the possession of a perfectly developed knowledge of God and Nature. “Nature,” so the fiction runs, “like a clear mirror of God's creation, had originally lain revealed and transparent to the unclouded eye of man.” [Fr. von Schlegel, Philosophy of History p. 91, Bohn's Standard Library.]
Divine Truth is imagined to have been equally manifest. It is even hinted, though left in some degree of obscurity, that in this primary condition men were in possession of an indefinitely extended and already expanded body of religious truths immediately revealed by God. This theory affirms that all religions had their historical commencement in this primitive knowledge, and that they polluted and obscured the original Truth by the monstrous creations of error and depravity; though in all the mythologies invented by Error, traces of that origin and of those primitive true dogmas are supposed to be present and cognisable. An important interest, therefore accrues to the investigation of the history of ancient peoples, that, viz., of the endeavour to trace their annals up to the point where such fragments of the primary revelation are to be met with in greater purity than lower down.
We have to thank this interest for many valuable discoveries in Oriental literature, and for a renewed study of treasures previously known, in the department of ancient Asiatic Culture, Mythology, Religions, and History. In Catholic countries, where a refined literary taste prevails, Governments have yielded to the requirements of speculative inquiry, and have felt the necessity of allying themselves with learning and philosophy. Eloquently and impressively has the Abbé Lamennais reckoned it among the criteria of the true religion, that it must be the universal — that is, catholic — and the oldest in date; and the Congregation has laboured zealously and diligently in France towards rendering such assertions no longer mere pulpit tirades and authoritative dicta, such as were deemed sufficient formerly. The religion of Buddha — a god man — which has prevailed to such an enormous extent, has especially attracted attention. The Indian Timūrtis, as also the Chinese abstraction of the Trinity, has furnished clearer evidence in point of subject matter. The savants, M. Abel Remusat and M. Saint Martin, on the one hand, have undertaken the most meritorious investigations in the Chinese literature, with a view to make this also a base of operations for researches in the Mongolian and, if such were possible, in the Tibetan; on the other hand, Baron von Eckstein, in his way (i.e., adopting from Germany superficial physical conceptions and mannerisms, in the style of Fr. v. Schlegel, though with more geniality than the latter) in his periodical, Le Catholique, — has furthered the cause of that primitive Catholicism generally, and in particular has gained for the savants of the Congregation the support of the Government; so that it has even set on foot expeditions to the East, in order to discover there treasures still concealed; (from which further disclosures have been anticipated, respecting profound theological questions, particularly on the higher antiquity and sources of Buddhism), and with a view to promote the interest of Catholicism by this circuitous but scientifically interesting method.
We owe to the interest which has occasioned these investigations, very much that is valuable; but this investigation bears direct testimony against itself for it would seem to be awaiting the issue of an historical demonstration of that which is presupposed by it as historically established. That advanced condition of the knowledge of God, and of other scientific, e.g., astronomical knowledge (such as has been falsely attributed to the Hindus); and the assertion that such a condition occurred at the very beginning of History, — or that the religions of various nations were traditionally derived from it, and have developed themselves in degeneracy and depravation (as is represented in the rudely-conceived so-called “Emanation System,”); — all these are suppositions which neither have, nor, — if we may contrast with their arbitrary subjective origin, the true conception of History, — can attain historical confirmation.
The only consistent and worthy method which philosophical investigation can adopt, is to take up History — where Rationality begins to manifest itself in the actual conduct of the World's affairs (not where it is merely an undeveloped potentiality), — where a condition of things is present in which it realises itself in consciousness, will and action. The inorganic existence of Spirit — that of abstract Freedom — unconscious torpidity in respect to good and evil (and consequently to laws), or, if we please to term it so, “blessed ignorance,” — is itself not a subject of History. Natural, and at the same time religious morality, is the piety of the family. In this social relation, morality consists in the members behaving towards each other not as individuals - possessing an independent will; not as persons. The Family therefore is excluded from that process of development in which History takes its rise. But when this self-involved spiritual Unity steps beyond this circle of feeling and natural love, and first attains the consciousness of personality, we have that dark, dull centre of indifference, in which neither Nature nor Spirit is open and transparent; and for which Nature and Spirit can become open and transparent only by means of a further process, — a very lengthened culture of that Will at length become self-conscious. Consciousness alone is clearness; and is that alone for which God (or any other existence) can be revealed. In its true form — in absolute universality — nothing can be manifested except to consciousness made percipient of it. Freedom is nothing but the recognition and adoption of such universal substantial objects as Right and Law, and the production of a reality that is accordant with them — the State. Nations may have passed a long life before arriving at this their destination, and during this period, they may have attained considerable culture in some directions. This ante-historical period — consistently with what has been said — lies out of our plan; whether a real history followed it, or the peoples in question never attained a political constitution. — It is a great discovery in history — as of a new world — which has been made within rather more than the last twenty years, respecting the Sanskrit and the connection of the European languages with it. In particular, the connection of the German and Indian peoples has been demonstrated, with as much certainty as such subjects allow of. Even at the present time we know of peoples which scarcely form a society, much less a State, but that have been long known as existing; while with regard to others, which in their advanced condition excite our especial interest, tradition reaches beyond the record of the founding of the State, and they experienced many changes prior to that epoch. In the connection just referred to, between the languages of nations so widely separated, we have a result before us, which proves the diffusion of those nations from Asia as a centre, and the so dissimilar development of what had been originally related, as an incontestable fact; not as an inference deduced by that favourite method of combining, and reasoning from, circumstances grave and trivial, which has already enriched and will continue to enrich history with so many fictions given out as facts. But that apparently so extensive range of events lies beyond the pale of history; in fact preceded it. In our language the term History unites the objective with the subjective side, and denotes quite as much the historia rerum gestarum, as the res gestae themselves; on the other hand it comprehends not less what has happened, than the narration of what has happened. This union of the two meanings we must regard as of a higher order than mere outward accident; we must suppose historical narrations to have appeared contemporaneously with historical deeds and events. It is an internal vital principle common to both that produces them synchronously. Family memorials, patriarchal traditions, have an interest confined to the family and the clan. The uniform course of events which such a condition implies, is no subject of serious remembrance; though distinct transactions or turns of fortune, may rouse Mnemosyne to form conceptions of them, — in the same way as love and the religious emotions provoke imagination to give shape to a previously formless impulse. But it is the State which first presents subject-matter that is not only adapted to the prose of History, but involves the production of such history in the very progress of its own being. Instead of merely subjective mandates on the part of government, — sufficing for the needs of the moment, — a community that is acquiring a stable existence, and exalting itself into a State, requires formal commands and laws — comprehensive and universally binding prescriptions; and thus produces a record as well as an interest concerned with intelligent, definite — and, in their results — lasting transactions and occurrences; on which Mnemosyne, for the behoof of the perennial object of the formation and constitution of the State, is impelled to confer perpetuity. Profound sentiments generally, such as that of love, as also religious intuition and its conceptions, are in themselves complete — constantly present and satisfying; but that outward existence of a political constitution which is enshrined in its rational laws and customs, is an imperfect Present; and cannot be thoroughly understood without a knowledge of the past.
The periods — whether we suppose them to be centuries or millennia — that were passed by nations before history was written among them, — and which may have been filled with revolutions, nomadic wanderings, and the strangest mutations, — are on that very account destitute of objective history, because they present no subjective history, no annals. We need not suppose that the records of such periods have accidentally perished; rather, because they were not possible, do we find them wanting. Only in a State cognisant of Laws, can distinct transactions take place, accompanied by such a clear consciousness of them as supplies the ability and suggests the necessity of an enduring record. It strikes every one, in beginning to form an acquaintance with the treasures of Indian literature, that a land so rich in intellectual products, and those of the profoundest order of thought, has no History; and in this respect contrasts most strongly with China — an empire possessing one so remarkable, one going back to the most ancient times. India has not only ancient books relating to religion, and splendid poetical productions, but also ancient codes; the existence of which latter kind of literature has been mentioned as a condition necessary to the origination of History — and yet History itself is not found. But in that country the impulse of organisation, in beginning to develop social distinctions, was immediately petrified in the merely natural classification according to castes; so that although the laws concern themselves with civil rights, they make even these dependent on natural distinctions; and are especially occupied with determining the relations (Wrongs rather than Rights) of those classes towards each other, i.e., the privileges of the higher over the lower. Consequently, the element of morality is banished from the pomp of Indian life and from its political institutions. Where that iron bondage of distinctions derived from nature prevails, the connection of society is nothing but wild arbitrariness, — transient activity, — or rather the play of violent emotion without any goal of advancement or development. Therefore no intelligent reminiscence, no object for Mnemosyne presents itself; and imagination — confused though profound — expatiates in a region, which, to be capable of History, must have had an aim within the domain of Reality, and, at the same time , of substantial Freedom.
Since such are the conditions indispensable to a history, it has happened that the growth of Families to Clans, of Clans to Peoples, and their local diffusion consequent upon this numerical increased series of facts which itself suggests so many instances of social complication, war, revolution, and ruin, — a process which is so rich in interest, and so comprehensive in extent, — has occurred without giving rise to History: moreover, that the extension and organic growth of the empire of articulate sounds has itself remained voiceless and dumb, — a stealthy, unnoticed advance. It is a fact revealed by philological monuments, that languages, during a rude condition of the nations that have spoken them, have been very highly developed; that the human understanding occupied this theoretical region with great ingenuity and completeness. For Grammar, in its extended and consistent form, is the work of thought, which makes its categories distinctly visible therein. It is, moreover, a fact, that with advancing social and political civilisation, this systematic completeness of intelligence suffers attrition, and language thereupon becomes poorer and ruder: a singular phenomenon — that the progress towards a more highly intellectual condition, while expanding and cultivating rationality, should disregard that intelligent amplitude and expressiveness — should find it an obstruction and contrive to do without it. Speech is the act of theoretic intelligence in a special sense; it is its external manifestation. Exercises of memory and imagination without language, are direct, [non-speculative] manifestations. But this act of theoretic intelligence itself, as also its subsequent development, and the more concrete class of facts connected with it, -viz. the spreading of peoples over the earth, their separation from each other, their comings and wanderings — remain involved in the obscurity of a voiceless past. They are not acts of Will becoming self-conscious — of Freedom, mirroring itself in a phenomenal form, and creating for itself a proper reality. Not partaking of this element of substantial, veritable existence, those nations — notwithstanding the development of language among them — never advanced to the possession of a history. The rapid growth of language, and the progress and dispersion of Nations, assume importance and interest for concrete Reason, only when they have come in contact with States, or begin to form political constitutions themselves.
After these remarks, relating to the form of the commencement of the World's History, and to that ante-historical period which must be excluded from it, we have to state the direction of its course: though here only formally. The further definition of the subject in the concrete, comes under the head of arrangement.
Universal history — as already demonstrated — shows the development of the consciousness of Freedom on the part of Spirit, and of the consequent realisation of that Freedom. This development implies a gradation — a series of increasingly adequate expressions or manifestations of Freedom, which result from its Idea. The logical, and — as still more prominent — the dialectical nature of the Idea in general, viz. that it is self-determined — that it assumes successive forms which it successively transcends; and by this very process of transcending its earlier stages, gains an affirmative, and, in fact, a richer and more concrete shape; — this necessity of its nature, and the necessary series of pure abstract forms which the Idea successively assumes — is exhibited in the department of Logic. Here we need adopt only one of its results, viz. that every step in the process, as differing from any other, has its determinate peculiar principle. In history this principle is idiosyncrasy of Spirit — peculiar National Genius. It is within the limitations of this idiosyncrasy that the spirit of the nation, concretely manifested, expresses every aspect of its consciousness and will — the whole cycle of its realisation. Its religion, its polity, its ethics, its legislation, and even its science, art, and mechanical skill, all bear its stamp. These special peculiarities find their key in that common peculiarity, — the particular principle that characterises a people; as, on the other hand, in the facts which History presents in detail, that common characteristic principle may be detected. That such or such a specific quality constitutes the peculiar genius of a people, is the element of our inquiry which must be derived from experience, and historically proved. To accomplish this, presupposes not only a disciplined faculty of abstraction, but an intimate acquaintance with the Idea. The investigator must be familiar a priori (if we like to call it so), with the whole circle of conceptions to which the principles in question belong — just as Kepler (to name the most illustrious example in this mode of philosophising) must have been familiar a priori with ellipses, with cubes and squares, and with ideas of their relations before be could discover, from the empirical data, those immortal “Laws” of his, which are none other than forms of thought pertaining to those classes of conceptions. He who is unfamiliar with the science that embraces these abstract elementary conceptions, is as little capable — though he may have gazed on the firmament and the motions of the celestial bodies for a life-time — of understanding those Laws, as of discovering them. From this want of acquaintance with the ideas that relate to the development of Freedom, proceed a part of those objections which are brought against the philosophical consideration of a science usually regarded as one of mere experience; the so-called a priori method, and the attempt to insinuate ideas into the empirical data of history, being the chief points in the indictment. Where this deficiency exists, such conceptions appear alien — not lying within the object of investigation. To minds whose training has been narrow and merely subjective, — which have not an acquaintance and familiarity with ideas, — they are something strange — not embraced in the notion and conception of the subject which their limited intellect forms. Hence the statement that Philosophy does not understand such sciences. It must, indeed, allow that it has not that kind of Understanding which is the prevailing one in the domain of those sciences that it does not proceed according to the categories of such Understanding, but according to the categories of Reason - though at the same time recognising that Understanding, and its true value and position. It must be observed that in this very process of scientific Understanding, it is of importance that the essential should be distinguished and brought into relief in contrast with the so-called non-essential. But in order to render this possible, we must know what is essential; and that is — in view of the History of the World in general — the Consciousness of Freedom, and the phases which this consciousness assumes in developing itself. The bearing of historical facts on this category, is their bearing on the truly Essential. Of the difficulties stated, and the opposition exhibited to comprehensive conceptions in science, part must be referred to the inability to grasp and understand Ideas. If in Natural History some monstrous hybrid growth is alleged as an objection to the recognition of clear and indubitable classes or species, a sufficient reply is furnished by a sentiment often vaguely urged, — that “the exception confirms the rule;” i.e., that it is the part of a well-defined rule, to hew the conditions in which it applies, or the deficiency or hybridism of cases that are abnormal. Mere Nature is too weak to keep its genera and species pure, when conflicting with alien elementary influences. If, e.g., on considering the human organisation in its concrete aspect, we assert that brain, heart, and so forth are essential to its organic life, some miserable abortion may be adduced, which has on the whole the human form, or parts of it, — which has been conceived in a human body and has breathed after birth therefrom, — in which nevertheless no brain and no heart is found. If such an instance is quoted against the general conception of a human being — the objector persisting in using the name, coupled with a superficial idea respecting it — it can be proved that a real, concrete human being, is a truly different object; that such a being must have a brain in its bead, and a heart in its breast.
A similar process of reasoning is adopted, in reference to the correct assertion that genius, talent, moral virtues, and sentiments, and piety, may be found in every zone, under all political constitutions and conditions; in confirmation of which examples are forthcoming in abundance. If in this assertion, the accompanying distinctions are intended to be repudiated as unimportant or non-essential, reflection evidently limits itself to abstract categories; and ignores the specialities of the object in question, which certainly fall under no principle recognised by such categories. That intellectual position which adopts such merely formal points of view, presents a vast field for ingenious questions, erudite views, and striking comparisons; for profound seeming reflections and declamations, which may be rendered so much the more brilliant in proportion as the subject they refer to is indefinite, and are susceptible of new and varied forms in inverse proportion to the importance of the results that can be gained from them, and the certainly and rationality of their issues. Under such an aspect the well known Indian Epopees may be compared with the Homeric; perhaps — since it is the vastness of the imagination by which poetical genius proves itself — preferred to them; as, on account of the similarity of single strokes of imagination in the attributes of the divinities, it has been contended that Greek mythological forms may be recognised in those of India. Similarly the Chinese philosophy, as adopting the One as its basis, has been alleged to be the same as at a later period appeared as Eleatic philosophy and as the Spinozistic System; while in virtue of its expressing itself also in abstract numbers and lines, Pythagorean and Christian principles have been supposed to be detected in it. Instances of bravery and indomitable courage, — traits of magnanimity, of self-denial, and self-sacrifice, which are found among the most savage and the most pusillanimous nations, — are regarded as sufficient to support the view that in these nations as much of social virtue and morality may be found as in the most civilised Christian states, or even more. And on this ground a doubt has been suggested whether in the progress of history and of general culture mankind have become better; whether their morality has been increased, — morality being regarded in a subjective aspect and view, as founded on what the agent holds to be right and wrong, good and evil; not on a principle which is considered to be in and for itself right and good, or a crime and evil, or on a particular religion believed to be the true one.
We may fairly decline on this occasion the task of tracing the formalism and error of such a view, and establishing the true principles of morality, or rather of social virtue in opposition to false morality. For the History of the World occupies a higher ground than that on which morality has properly its position, which is personal character — the conscience of individuals, — their particular will and mode of action; these have a value, imputation, reward or, punishment proper to themselves. What the absolute aim of Spirit requires and accomplishes, — what Providence does, — transcends the obligations, and the liability to imputation and the ascription of good or bad motives, which attach to individuality in virtue of its social relations. They who on moral grounds, and consequently with noble intention, have resisted that which the advance of the Spiritual Idea makes necessary, stand higher in moral worth than those whose crimes have been turned into the means — under the direction of a superior principle — of realising the purposes of that principle. But in such revolutions both parties generally stand within the limits of the same circle of transient and corruptible existence. Consequently it is only a formal rectitude — deserted by the living Spirit and by God — which those who stand upon ancient right and order maintain. The deeds of great men, who are the Individuals of the World's History, thus appear not only justified in view of that intrinsic result of which they were not conscious, but also from the point of view occupied by the secular moralist. But looked at from this point, moral claims that are irrelevant, must not be brought into collision with world-historical deeds and their accomplishment. The Litany of private virtues — modesty, humility, philanthropy and forbearance — must not be raised against them. The History of the World might, on principle, entirely ignore the circle within which morality and the so much talked of distinction between the moral and the politic lies — not only in abstaining from judgments, for the principles involved, and the necessary reference of the deeds in question to those principles, are a sufficient judgment of them — but in leaving Individuals quite out of view and unmentioned. What it has to record is the activity of the Spirit of Peoples, so that the individual forms which that spirit has assumed in the sphere of outward reality, might be left to the delineation of special histories.
The same kind of formalism avails itself in its peculiar manner of the indefiniteness attaching to genius, poetry, and even philosophy; thinks equally that it finds these everywhere. We have here products of reflective thought; and it is familiarity with those general conceptions which single out and name real distinctions without fathoming the true depth of the matter, — that we call Culture. It is something merely formal, inasmuch as it aims at nothing more than the analysis of the subject, whatever it be, into its constituent parts, and the comprehension of these in their logical definitions and forms. It is not the free universality of conception necessary for making an abstract principle the object of consciousness. Such a consciousness of Thought itself, and of its forms isolated from a particular object, is Philosophy. This has, indeed, the condition of its existence in culture; that condition being the taking up of the object of thought, and at the same time clothing it with the form of universality, in such a way that the material content and the form given by the intellect are held in an inseparable state; — inseparable to such a degree that the object in question -which, by the analysis of one conception into a multitude of conceptions, is enlarged to an incalculable treasure of thought — is regarded as a merely empirical datum in whose formation thought has bad no share.
But it is quite as much an act of Thought — of the Understanding in particular — to embrace in one simple conception object which of itself comprehends a concrete and large significance (as Earth, Man, -Alexander or Caesar) and to designate it by one word, — as to resolve such a conception — duly to isolate in idea the conceptions which it contains, and to give them particular names. And in reference to the view which gave occasion to what has just been said, thus much will be clear, — that as reflection produces what we include under the general terms Genius, Talent, Art, Science, — formal culture on every grade of intellectual development, not only can, but must grow, and attain a mature bloom, while the grade in question is developing itself to a State, and on this basis of civilisation is advancing to intelligent reflection and to general forms of thought, — as in laws, so in regard to all else. In the very association of men in a state, lies the necessity of formal culture — consequently of the rise of the sciences and of a cultivated poetry and art generally. The arts designated “plastic,” require besides, even in their technical aspect, the civilised association of men. The poetic art — which has less need of external requirements and means, and which has the element of immediate existence, the voice, as its material — steps forth with great boldness and with matured expression, even under the conditions presented by a people not yet united in a political combination; since, as remarked above, language attains on its own particular ground a high intellectual development, prior to the commencement of civilisation.
Philosophy also must make its appearance where political life exists; since that in virtue of which any series of phenomena is reduced within the sphere of culture, as above stated, is the Form strictly proper to Thought; and thus for philosophy, which is nothing other than the consciousness of this form itself — the Thinking of Thinking,- the material of which its edifice is to be constructed, is already prepared by general culture. If in the development of the State itself, periods are necessitated which impel the soul of nobler natures to seek refuge from the Present in ideal regions, — in order to find in them that harmony with itself which it can no longer enjoy in the discordant real world, where the reflective intelligence attacks all that is holy and deep, which had been spontaneously inwrought into the religion, laws and manners of nations, and brings them down and attenuates them to abstract godless generalities, — Thought will be compelled to become Thinking Reason, with the view of effecting in its own element, the restoration of its principles from the ruin to which they had been brought.
We find then, it is true, among all world-historical peoples, poetry, plastic art, science, even philosophy; but not only is there a diversity in style and bearing generally, but still more remarkably in subject-matter; and this is a diversity of the most important kind, affecting the rationality of that subject-matter. It is useless for a pretentious aesthetic criticism to demand that our good pleasure should not be made the rule for the matter — the substantial part of their contents — and to maintain that it is the beautiful form as such, the grandeur of the fancy, and so forth, which fine art aims at, and which must be considered and enjoyed by a liberal taste and cultivated mind. A healthy intellect does not tolerate such abstractions, and cannot assimilate productions of the kind above referred to. Granted that the Indian Epopees might be placed on a level with the Homeric, on account of a number of those qualities of form — grandeur of invention and imaginative power, liveliness of images and emotions, and beauty of diction; yet the infinite difference of matter remains; consequently one of substantial importance and involving the interest of Reason which is immediately concerned with the consciousness of the Idea of Freedom, and its expression in individuals. There is not only a classical form, but a classical order of subject-matter; and in a work of art form and subject-matter are so closely united that the former can only be classical to the extent to which the latter is so. With a fantastic, indeterminate material — the Rule is the essence of Reason -the form becomes measureless and formless, or mean and contracted. In the same way, in that comparison of the various systems of philosophy of which we have already spoken, the only point of importance is overlooked, namely the character of that Unity which is found alike in the Chinese, the Eleatic, and the Spinozistic philosophy — the distinction between the recognition of that Unity as abstract and as concrete — concrete to the extent of being a unity in and by itself — a unity synonymous with Spirit. But that co-ordination proves that it recognises only such an abstract unity; so that while it gives judgment respecting philosophy it is ignorant of that very point which constitutes the interest of philosophy.
But there are also spheres which, amid all the variety that is presented in the substantial content of a particular form of culture, remain the same. The difference above mentioned in art, science, philosophy, concerns the thinking Reason and Freedom, which is the self-consciousness of the former, and which has the same one root with Thought. As it is not the brute, but only the man that thinks, he only — and only because he is a thinking being — has Freedom. His consciousness imports this, that the individual comprehends itself as a person, that is, recognises itself in its single existence as possessing universality, — as capable of abstraction from, and of surrendering all speciality; and, therefore, as inherently infinite. Consequently those spheres of intelligence which lie beyond the limits of this consciousness are a common ground among those substantial distinctions. Even morality, which is so intimately connected with the consciousness of freedom, can be very pure while that consciousness is still wanting; as far, that is to say, as it expresses duties and rights only as objective commands; or even as far as it remains satisfied with the merely formal elevation of the soul — the surrender of the sensual, and of all sensual motives — in a purely negative, self-denying fashion. The Chinese morality — since Europeans have become acquainted with it and with the writings of Confucius — has obtained the greatest praise and proportionate attention from those who are familiar with the Christian morality. There is a similar acknowledgment of the sublimity with which the Indian religion and poetry, (a statement that must, however, be limited to the higher kind), but especially the Indian philosophy, expatiate upon and demand the removal and sacrifice of sensuality. Yet both these nations are, it must be confessed, entirely wanting in the essential consciousness of the Idea of Freedom. To the Chinese their moral laws are just like natural laws, — external, positive commands, — claims established by force, — compulsory duties or rules of courtesy towards each other. Freedom, through which alone the essential, determinations of Reason become moral sentiments, is wanting. Morality is a political affair, and its laws are administered by officers of government and legal tribunals. Their treatises upon it (which are not law books, but are certainly addressed to the subjective will and individual disposition) read, — as do the moral writings of the Stoics — like a string of commands stated as necessary for realising the goal of happiness; so that it seems to be left free to men, on their part, to adopt such commands, — to observe them or not; while the conception of an abstract subject, “a wise man” [Sapiens] forms the culminating point among the Chinese, as also among the Stoic moralists. Also in the Indian doctrine of the renunciation of the sensuality of desires and earthly interests, positive moral freedom is not the object and end, but the annihilation of consciousness — spiritual and even physical privation of life.
It is the concrete spirit of a people which we have distinctly to recognise, and since it is Spirit it can only be comprehended spiritually, that is, by thought. It is this alone which takes the lead in all the deeds and tendencies of that people, and which is occupied in realising itself, — in satisfying its ideal and becoming self-conscious, — for its great business is self-production. But for spirit, the highest attainment is self-knowledge; an advance not only to the intuition, but to the thought — the clear conception of itself. This it must and is also destined to accomplish; but the accomplishment is at the same time its dissolution., and the rise of another spirit, another world-historical people, another epoch of Universal History. This transition and connection leads us to the connection of the whole — the idea of the World's History as such — which we have now to consider more closely, and of which we have to give a representation.
History in general is therefore the development of Spirit in Time, as Nature is the development of the Idea in Space.
If then we cast a glance over the World's History generally, we see a vast picture of changes and transactions; of infinitely manifold forms of peoples, states, individuals, in unresting succession. Everything that can enter into and interest the soul of man — all our sensibility to goodness, beauty, and greatness — is called into play. On every hand aims are adopted and pursued, which we recognise, whose accomplishment we desire — we hope and fear for them. In all these occurrences and changes we behold human action and suffering predominant; everywhere something akin to ourselves, and therefore everywhere something that excites our interest for or against. Sometimes it attracts us by beauty, freedom, and rich variety, sometimes by energy such as enables even vice to make itself interesting. Sometimes we see the more comprehensive mass of some general interest advancing with comparative slowness and subsequently sacrificed to an infinite complication of trifling circumstances, and so dissipated into atoms. Then, again, with a vast expenditure of power a trivial result is produced; while from what appears unimportant a tremendous issue proceeds. On every hand there is the motliest throng of events drawing us within the circle of its interest, and when one combination vanishes another immediately appears in its place.
The general thought — the category which first presents itself in this restless mutation of individuals and peoples, existing for a time and then vanishing — is that of change at large. The sight of the ruins of some ancient sovereignty directly leads us to contemplate this thought of change in its negative aspect. What traveller among the ruins of Carthage, of Palmyra, Persepolis, or Rome, has not been stimulated by reflections on the transience of kingdoms and men, and to sadness at the thought of a vigorous and rich life now departed — a sadness which does not expend itself on personal losses and the uncertainty of one's own undertakings, but is a disinterested sorrow at the decay of a splendid and highly cultured national life! But the next consideration which allies itself with that of change, is, that chance while it imports dissolution, involves at the same time the rise of a new life — that while death is the issue of life, life is also the issue of death. This is a grand conception; one which the Oriental thinkers attained and which is perhaps the highest in their metaphysics. In the Idea of Metempsychosis we find it evolved in its relation to individual existence; but a myth more generally known, is that of the Phoenix as a type of the Life of Nature; eternally preparing for itself its funeral pile, and consuming itself upon it; but so that from its ashes is produced the new, renovated, fresh life. But this image is only Asiatic; oriental not occidental. Spirit — consuming the envelope of its existence — does not merely pass into another envelope, nor rise rejuvenescent from the ashes of its previous form; it comes forth exalted, glorified, a purer spirit. It certainly makes war upon itself — consumes its own existence; but in this very destruction it works up with existence into a new form, and each successive phase becomes in its turn a material, working on which it exalts itself to a new grade.
If we consider Spirit in this aspect — regarding its changes not merely as rejuvenescent transitions, i.e., returns to the same form, but rather as manipulations of itself, by which it multiplies the material for future endeavours — we see it exerting itself in a variety of modes and directions; developing its powers and gratifying its desires in a variety which is inexhaustible; because every one of its creations, in which it has already found gratification, meets it anew as material, and is a new stimulus to plastic activity. The abstract conception of mere change gives place to the thought of Spirit manifesting, developing, and perfecting its powers in every direction which its manifold nature can follow. What powers it inherently possesses we learn from the variety of products and formations which it originates. In this pleasurable activity, it has to do only with itself. As involved with the conditions of mere nature — internal and external — it will indeed meet in these not only opposition and hindrance, but will often see its endeavours thereby fail; often sink under the complications in which it is entangled either by Nature or by itself. But in such case it perishes in fulfilling its own destiny and proper function, and even thus exhibits the spectacle of self-demonstration as spiritual activity.
The very essence of Spirit is activity; it realises its potentiality — makes itself its own deeds its own work — and thus it becomes an object to itself; contemplates itself as an objective existence. Thus is it with the Spirit of a people: it is a Spirit having strictly defined characteristics., which erects itself into an objective world, that exists and persists in a particular religious form of worship, customs, constitution and political laws, — in the whole complex of its institutions, — in the events and transactions that make up its history. That is its work — that is what this particular Nation is. Nations are what their deeds are. Every Englishman will say: We are the men who navigate the ocean, and have the commerce of the world; to whom the East Indies belong and their riches; who have a parliament, juries, &c.- The relation of the individual to that Spirit is that he appropriates to himself this substantial existence; that it becomes his character and capability, enabling him to have a definite place in the world — to be something. For he finds the being of the people to which he belongs an already established, firm world — objectively present to him — with which he has to incorporate himself. In this its work, therefore — its world — the Spirit of the people enjoys its existence and finds its satisfaction. — A Nation is moral — virtuous — vigorous — while it is engaged in realising its grand objects, and defends its work against external violence during the process of giving to its purposes an objective existence. The contradiction between its potential, subjective being — its inner aim and life — and its actual being is removed; it has attained full reality, has itself objectively present to it. But this having been attained, the activity played by the Spirit of the people in question is no longer needed; it has its desire. The Nation can still accomplish much in war and peace at home and abroad; but the living substantial soul itself may be said to have ceased its activity. The essential, supreme interest has consequently vanished from its life, for interest is present only where there is opposition. The nation lives the same kind of life as the individual when passing from maturity to old age, — in the enjoyment of itself, — in the satisfaction of being exactly what it desired and was able to attain. Although its imagination might have transcended that limit, it nevertheless abandoned any such aspirations as objects of actual endeavour, if the real world was less than favourable to their attainment — and restricted its aim by the conditions thus imposed. This mere customary life (the watch wound up and going on of itself) is that which brings on natural death. Custom is activity without opposition, for which there remains only a formal duration; in which the fullness and zest that originally characterised the aim of life is out of the questions merely external sensuous existence which has ceased to throw itself enthusiastically into its object. Thus perish individuals, thus perish peoples by a natural death; and though the latter may continue in being, it is an existence without intellect or vitality; having no need of its institutions, because the need for them is satisfied, — a political nullity and tedium. In order that a truly universal interest may arise, the Spirit of a People must advance to the adoption of some new purpose: but whence can this new purpose originate? It would be a higher, more comprehensive conception of itself — a transcending of its principle — but this very act would involve a principle of a new order, a new National Spirit.
Such a new principle does in fact enter into the Spirit of a people that has arrived at full development and self-realisation; it dies not a simply natural death — for it is not a mere single individual, but a spiritual, generic life; in its case natural death appears to imply destruction through its own agency. The reason of this difference from the single natural individual is that the Spirit of a people exists as a genus, and consequently carries within it its own negation, in the very generality which characterises it. A people can only die a violent death when it has become naturally dead in itself, as e.g., the German Imperial Cities, the German Imperial Constitution.
It is not of the nature of the all-pervading Spirit to die this merely natural death; it does not simply sink into the senile life of mere custom but — as being a National Spirit belonging to Universal History — attains to the consciousness of what its work is; it attains to a conception of itself. In fact it is world-historical only in so far as a universal principle has lain in its fundamental element, — in its grand aim: only so far is the work which such a spirit produces, a moral, political organisation. If it be mere desires that impel nations to activity, such deeds pass over without leaving a trace; or their traces are only ruin and destruction. Thus, it was first Chronos — Time — that ruled; the Golden Age, without moral products; and what was produced — the offspring of that Chronos — was devoured by it. It was Jupiter — from whose head Minerva sprang, and to whose circle of divinities belong Apollo and the Muses — that first put a constraint upon Time, and set a bound to its principle of decadence. He is the Political god, who produced a moral work — the State.
In the very element of an achievement the quality of generality, of thought, is contained; without thought it has no objectivity; that is its basis. The highest point in the development of a people is this, — to have gained a conception of its life and condition, — to have reduced its laws, its ideas of justice and morality to a science; for in this unity [of the objective and subjective] lies the most intimate unity that Spirit can attain to in and with itself. In its work it is employed in rendering itself an object of its own contemplation; but it cannot develop itself objectively in its essential nature, except in thinking itself.
At this point, then, Spirit is acquainted with its principles — the general character of its acts. But at the same time, in virtue of its very generality, this work of thought is different in point of form from the actual achievements of the national genius, and from the vital agency by which those achievements have been performed. We have then before us a real and an ideal existence of the Spirit of the Nation. If we wish to gain the general idea and conception of what the Greeks were, we find it in Sophocles and Aristophanes, in Thucydides and Plato. In these individuals the Greek spirit conceived and thought itself. This is the profounder kind of satisfaction which the Spirit of a people attains; but it is “ideal,” and distinct from its “real” activity.
At such a time, therefore, we are sure to see a people finding satisfaction in the idea of virtue; putting talk about virtue partly side by side with actual virtue, but partly in the place of it. On the other hand pure, universal thought, since its nature is universality, is apt to bring the Special and Spontaneous — Belief, Trust, Customary Morality — to reflect upon itself, and its primitive simplicity; to show up the limitation with which it is fettered, — partly suggesting reasons for renouncing duties, partly itself demanding reasons, and the connection of such requirements with Universal Thought; and not finding that connection, seeking to impeach the authority of duty generally, as destitute of a sound foundation.
At the same time the isolation of individuals from each other and from the Whole makes its appearance; their aggressive selfishness and vanity; their seeking personal advantage and consulting this at the expense of the State at large. That inward principle in transcending its outward manifestations is subjective also in form — viz., selfishness and corruption in the unbound passions and egotistic interests of men.
Zeus, therefore, who is represented as having put a limit to the devouring agency of Time, and staid this transience by having established something inherently and independently durable — Zeus and his race are themselves swallowed up, and that by the very power that produced them — the principle of thought, perception, reasoning, insight derived from rational grounds, and the requirement of such grounds.
Time is the negative element in the sensuous world. Thought is the same negativity, but it is the deepest, the infinite form of it, in which therefore all existence generally is dissolved; first finite existence, — determinate, limited form: but existence generally, in its objective character, is limited; it appears therefore as a mere datum — something immediate — authority; — and is either intrinsically finite and limited, or presents itself as a limit for the thinking subject, and its infinite reflection on itself [unlimited abstraction].
But first we must observe how the life which proceeds from death, is itself, on the other hand, only individual life; so that, regarding the species as the real and substantial in this vicissitude, the perishing of the individual is a regress of the species into individuality. The perpetuation of the race is, therefore, none other than the monotonous repetition of the same kind of existence. Further, we must remark how perception, — the comprehension of being by thought, — is the source and birthplace of a new, and in fact higher form, in a principle which while it preserves, dignifies its material. For Thought is that Universal - that Species which is immortal, which preserves identity with itself. The particular form of Spirit not merely passes away in the world by natural causes in Time, but is annulled in the automatic self-mirroring activity of consciousness. Because this annulling is an activity of Thought, it is at the same time conservative and elevating in its operation. While then, on the one side, Spirit annuls the reality, the permanence of that which it is, it gains on the other side, the essence, the Thought, the Universal element of that which it only was [its transient conditions]. Its principle is no longer that immediate import and aim which it was previously, but the essence of that import and aim.
The result of this process is then that Spirit, in rendering itself objective and making this its being an object of thought, on the one hand destroys the determinate form of its being, on the other hand gains a comprehension of the universal element which it involves, and thereby gives a new form to its inherent principle. In virtue of this, the substantial character of the National Spirit has been altered, — that is, its principle has risen into another, and in fact a higher principle.
It is of the highest importance in apprehending and comprehending History to have and to understand the thought involved in this transition. The individual traverses as a unity various grades of development, and remains the same individual; in like manner also does a people, till the Spirit which it embodies reaches the grade of universality. In this point lies the fundamental, the Ideal necessity of transition. This is the soul — the essential consideration — of the philosophical comprehension of History.
Spirit is essentially the result of its own activity; its activity is the transcending of immediate, simple, unreflected existence, — the negation of that existence, and the returning into itself. We may compare it with the seed; for with this the plant begins, yet it is also the result of the plant's entire life. But the weak side of life is exhibited in the fact that the commencement and the result are disjoined from each other. Thus also is it in the life of individuals and peoples. The life of a people ripens a certain fruit; its activity aims at the complete manifestation of the principle which it embodies. But this fruit does not fall back into the bosom of the people that produced and matured it; on the contrary, it becomes a poison-draught to it. That poison-draught it cannot let alone, for it has an insatiable thirst for it: the taste of the draught is its annihilation., though at the same time the rise of a new principle.
We have already discussed the final aim of progression. The principles of the successive phases of Spirit that animate the Nations in a necessitated gradation, are themselves only steps in the development of the one universal Spirit, which through them elevates and completes itself to a self-comprehending totality.
While we are thus concerned exclusively with the Idea of Spirit, and in the History of the World regard everything as only its manifestation, we have, in traversing the past, — however extensive its periods, — only to do with what is present; for philosophy, as occupying itself with the True, has to do with the eternally present. Nothing in the past is lost for it, for the Idea is ever present; Spirit is immortal; with it there is no past, no future, but an essential now. This necessarily implies that the present form of Spirit comprehends within it all earlier steps. These have indeed unfolded themselves in succession independently; but what Spirit is it has always been essentially; distinctions are only the development of this essential nature. The life of the ever present Spirit is a circle of progressive embodiments, which looked at in one respect still exist beside each other, and only as looked at from another point of view appear as past. The grades which Spirit seems to have left behind it, it still possesses in the depths of its present.
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