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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hegel today

What Can Hegel Tell Us About Terror After 9/11?

by David MacGregor
King’s University College, University of Western Ontario
Paper delivered March 31, 2007

2007 Ontario Hegel Organization Annual Meeting
“Hegel on Conflict, Terror and War”
March 30-April 1, 2007, York University
Harry Crowe Room, 109 Atkinson

I suggest that Hegel’s political philosophy offers a unique standpoint for an examination of modern terror. His contribution revolves around the notion of a dual state – a growing, democratic social state emerging from the external state that characterizes civil society. In times of national peril the social state may face dissolution. At such periods, powerful interests from within the external state may establish a “state of exception,” an authority capable of dissolving the social state, and imposing its own mode of terror. As Schmitt said, “sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”

1. French Terror and The State of Exception

Hegel’s analysis of terror in the Phenomenology of Spirit may have a singular, though perhaps unnoticed, relevance for the terrorist strikes on New York and Washington. Hegel was looking at the horrific series of arrests and massacres initiated by Robespierre during the French Revolution. In the turmoil of destruction, intermediary bodies, such as the guilds, were abolished. The national emergency posed by the prospect of invading foreign armies, and national uprisings against the Revolution, sparked fear of internal subversion. The original democratic arrangement ensuring liberty with a weak executive power evaporated. “In this crisis, no basis for a real ‘separation of powers’ existed.” (Harris, Hegel’s Ladder, v 2, p. 393). The National Convention, elected by the people, assumed absolute power. The line between individual will and the universal will of the state had disappeared. Absolute Freedom and the Nation became identical, “an undivided substance”. As noted in John Russon’s talk last night, with nothing to connect the extreme of individual will and the will of the Nation, there could be only one result of universal freedom represented by government: death.

The sole work and deed of universal freedom is . . . death, death too which has no inner significance or filling, for what is negated is the empty point of the absolutely free self. It is thus the coldest and meanest of deaths, with no more significance than cutting off the head of a cabbage or swallowing a mouthful of water (Phenomenology, p. 360).

The state of emergency trumped individual rights, “security against arbitrary arrest, and presumption of innocence until found guilty by due process of law.” (Harris, p. 390). Robespierre, as head of the Committee of Public Safety, had abrogated public authority to himself. To borrow from Schmitt, he became sovereign through a state of exception. The sovereign, says Schmitt, is the individual who

Decides in a situation of conflict what constitutes the public interest, or interest of the state, public safety and order . . . The exception, which is not codified in the existing legal order, can at best be characterized as a case of extreme peril, a danger to the existence of the state, and the like (Political Theology, 2005, p. 6).

We find a similar statement in the Philosophy of Right (I owe this observation to H.S. Harris and also to Renato Cristi’s excellent, though wrong, Hegel on Freedom and Authority, p. 192).

In a case of exigency, however, whether at home or foreign affairs, the organism of these particular spheres of which these particular spheres are members fuses into the single concept of sovereignty. The sovereign is entrusted with the salvation of the state at the sacrifice of these particular authorities whose powers are valid at other times, and it is then that ideality comes into proper actuality. (para 278, p. 181)

The state was identical with Robespierre’s unrestrained self-will, and as Hegel observes elsewhere a key characteristic of evil is unimpeded self-will. When Sophie Scholl of the White Rose anti-violent movement, and Mildred Harnack of the Red Orchestra resistance, among others, vainly opposed the self-will of Adolf Hitler during the Nazi terror they were condemned in 1943, after trials that made a mockery of justice, to have their heads cut off with the same terrible instrument employed by Robespierre in the Terror (See, for example, Shareen Blair Brysac, Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra , Oxford University Press, 2000).

But what is the relevance of Hegel’s analysis of the Terror to September 11? I am not going to discuss the use by so-called “Islamic militants” of videotaped beheadings as a means to pursue absolute freedom, nor will I discuss mass arrests and “extraordinary rendition” employed by U.S. authorities against suspected terrorists. One commentator has already labeled these U.S. practices, instances of a state of exception (Agamben, State of Exception, 2005)

Indeed, as I have written elsewhere, government is history’s most frequent source of terror (“September 11 as Machiavellian State Terror,” The Hidden History of 9-11, 2001, Research in Political Economy, 2006.) Accordingly, Hegel’s analysis of the Terror is relevant in a way not often considered. Hegel surveyed terror committed by a state perverted into an instrument of evil, of unmitigated self-will.

In other papers, I have suggested, following Machiavelli (one of Hegel’s favourite philosophers), that the state frequently conceals its own malevolent role in acts of terror (e.g. The Deep Politics of September 11: Political Economy of Concrete Evil, in Confronting 9-11, Ideologies of Race, and Eminent Economists, Research in Political Economy, Vol 20, 2002.) Hegel himself was personally familiar with state terror, or what I would like to call, Machiavellian State Terror. His close friends, the poet Holderlin and political writer Isaak von Sinclair, were framed in a supposed attempt to assassinate the rector of Wurttemberg. To escape a trumped-up trial for treason and certain death, some say Holderlin feigned madness, spending the remainder of his life in a wooden tower (See my discussion in Hegel and Marx After the Fall of Communism, University of Wales Press, 1998, pp. 95-98 and passim)

Holderlin’s experience with government informers that led to his arrest may lie behind Hegel’s sardonic remarks (in the 1818/19 Heidelburg lectures on Natural Right and Political Science) about the practice of using underworld spies to pursue state objectives. “These people, or police spies, hunt around, without being officials, or out of subjective interest, and they seek themselves to make criminals or to impute crimes falsely.” Hegel describes a case where innocent Irishmen were deceived into a phony counterfeiting operation in London by government spies, and then arrested as counterfeiters—one of the most serious crimes of the period. Such operations, where underworld figures or police spies covertly carry out the business of the state, can lead, says Hegel, “to the abyss of depravity.” Lectures on Natural Right and Political Science: The First Philosophy of Spirit, p. 212 quoted in Hegel & Marx After the Fall of Communism, p. 194).

Examples of Hegel’s “abyss of depravity” are not hard to find in our own period. Thus, European commentators on peace and security have recently pointed to activities of state agents in fomenting terror disguised as actions by extreme left or right groups. In the early 1990s, Italian investigators uncovered a network of “Stay Behinds,”called Operation Gladio—secret intelligence operatives linked with NATO who bombed railway stations—killing hundreds of Italian civilians—and assassinated high-level politicians while posing as rightwing or leftwing extremists. The terrorist attacks under the rubric of “a strategy of tension” deliberately created—through largely US direction—a “state of exception” in Italy. Accordingly, Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped (and later murdered) March 16, 1978, on the very day that he was to announce a “historic compromise” with the Italian Communist Party. (See, e.g. Daniel Genser, Nato’s Secret Armies, 2006).

In the next section I connect the “state of exception” to Hegel’s notion of the dual state—the state external and the social state.

2. Terror and the Dual State: A Wrong Turn on Civil Society

The dual concept of the state in Hegel may be the most seriously neglected aspect of his political philosophy. On one side is the universal state, public authority connected by complex arrangements of representation to the will of a diversity of individuals in civil society, and devoted to concrete actualization of individual freedom. This state, though still only nascent, already exists, and is embodied in the growing democratic arrangements of modern government.

But there is a more sinister aspect to the state in Hegel, one underwritten by what Hegel called, the Understanding consciousness: the notion that the state is merely an instrument of civil society. From the Understanding’s perspective, the state may be either a tool of dominant groups (Marxist and elite theory) or a democratic reflection of organic diversity in civil society (pluralist and liberal theory). From a Hegelian point of view, it is both. Thus, Hegel’s article on the English Reform Bill reflected on the unrepresentative character of the British state, which for the most part blatantly served the interests of a corrupt aristocracy (see Chapter 2 Hegel Marx and the English State; the article on which this chapter is based is anthologized in David Lamb, Hegel, volume 1). This surely was, to quote Hegel, “the state external, the state based on need, the state as the Understanding perceives it.” Yet Hegel also saw glimmerings of rationality in the debate on the Reform Bill, elements that could strengthen a democratic community.

The turn to “civil society” as a benevolent counter to the state that has entranced so many commentators (and lives on in the misplaced notion of “non-governmental organizations”) was a dreadful mistake. Indeed, I was surprised by the new version of “civil society” that was partly inspired by the exciting events in Poland during the 1980s. My own analysis of Hegel’s concept of civil society in The Communist Ideal in Hegel and Marx , University of Toronto Press, 1984) made me much less optimistic about the fate of civil society. Civil society, as Hegel said, is a jungle, attuned to the most voracious and powerful actors. Certainly, there are progressive social forces that must be fostered, but these are always and everywhere linked to government, or direct their legitimate appeals to the state. Indeed, effectiveness of non-governmental organizations concerns precisely their impact on the state system, their ability to make a difference outside the predatory realm of civil society.

Ruling powers within the external state can at times totally overcome those of a fledgling universal or social state. Returning to Hegel’s analysis of the sovereign, and viewing it from the point of view of the negative, a state of exigency could exterminate the social state, replacing it with a security apparatus representing the interests of the powerful. Accordingly, Hegel warned against a “strong state”—one that relies on security operations, shutdown of constitutional rights, etc., to safeguard so-called national interests.

To take the merely negative as a starting point and to exalt to the first place the volition of evil and the mistrust of this volition, and then on the basis of this presupposition, slyly to construct dikes whose efficiency simply necessitates corresponding dikes over against them, is characteristic of the negative Understanding and in sentiment of the outlook of the rabble.

Ola Tunander, Senior Research Fellow at the International Peace Research Centre in Oslo, has opened up a new dialogue on the nature of the dual state (see for example. “Geopolitical Traditions: Swedish Geopolitics: From Rudolf Kjellen to a Swedish Dual State,” Geopolitics, 10: 546-566, 2005.) He notes how political theorist Carl Schmitt in face of growing democratic forces in the Weimar Republic considered ways in which this development might affect the sovereignty of government. Schmitt urged the existence of two forms of the state, a public state and—as we have seen— a “state of exception.”

US political scientist Hans Morgenthau, who was influenced by Carl Schmitt, studied the American political administration and proposed in the late 1950s the existence of a dual state, a regular state hierarchy that acts according to the rule of law, and a more or less hidden security hierarchy that not only acts in parallel to the former but also monitors and exerts control over it. The Nazis employed a dual state but this doubleness was overt: an autocratic emergency state operated above and outside the German legal system. Similarly, Chile under Pinochet made little effort to conceal the existence of a dual state. Says Tulander, “Morgenthau draws a parallel between Nazi Germany and the U.S. Dual State. Indeed, in his view, the autocratic ‘security state’ may be less visible and less arbitrary in democratic societies such as the USA, but it is no less important.”

It is interesting that in Professor Adelman’s paper (coming up next!) he speaks of the terror of the Algerian insurgency. He reveals that the terror of the Algerian liberation, where bombs were planted among innocent civilians, was difficult for him to forgive. But it is known that the Secret French Army (OAS) opposing the Algerian liberation forces frequently bombed French citizens in order to lay blame on the Arab insurgency. Of course, the OAS also attempted to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle

Tunander has studied how the U.S. government disguised its submarines as Russian nuclear subs, sending them to the coast of Sweden in order to panic the neutral Swedes into support for America’s belligerent nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union in the 1980s (The Secret War Against Sweden: US and British Submarine Deception in the 1980s, London: Frank Cass, 2005). Swedish popular support for anti-nuclear politics fell steeply amidst worries about aggression from the USSR. The assassination of Olaf Palme, Tunander suggests, likely resulted from the Swedish leader’s opposition to U.S. military installations in Sweden. Tunander suggests there are two Swedish governments, the public democratic state (the “political Sweden”), and a secret, deep state (the “military Sweden”) reflecting the union between the military and the rich.

Liberal theory, notes Tunander, denies the existence of a dual state. Law defines the democratic polity, and applies to all within it. But this is an illusion. In western democracies there is a covert security state parallel to the democratic state. To use Hegel’s language, the rational state glimmers behind the external state of civil society, but it is always in danger of being manipulated or dissolved.

Copyright David MacGregor, 2007

(contact MacGregor for re-publishing permission)


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (IPA: [ˈgeɔʁk ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈheːgəl]) (August 27, 1770November 14, 1831) was a German idealist philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. His influence has been widespread on writers of widely varying positions, including both his admirers (F. H. Bradley, Sartre, Hans Küng, Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner, Karl Marx), and his detractors (Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Schelling). He introduced, arguably for the first time in philosophy, the idea that History and the concrete are important in getting out of the circle of philosophia perennis, i.e., the perennial problems of philosophy. He also stressed the importance of the Other in the coming to be of self-awareness (see master-slave dialectic).

Hegel was born in Stuttgart on August 27, 1770. As a child he was a voracious reader of literature, newspapers, philosophical essays, and writings on various other topics. In part, Hegel's literary childhood can be attributed to his uncharacteristically progressive mother who actively nurtured her children's intellectual development. The Hegels were a well-established middle class family in Stuttgart. His father was a civil servant in the administrative government of Württemberg. Hegel was a sickly child and almost died of smallpox before he was six. He had a close relationship with his sister, Christiane, which would remain a strong bond throughout his life.

He received his education at the Tübinger Stift (seminary of the Protestant Church in Württemberg), where he met the future philosopher Friedrich Schelling and the poet Friedrich Hölderlin. Sharing a dislike for what was regarded as the restrictive environment of the Tübingen seminary, the three became close friends and mutually influenced each other's ideas. The three watched the unfolding of the French Revolution and immersed themselves in the emerging criticism of the idealist philosophy of Immanuel Kant. To be more precise, Hölderlin and Schelling immersed themselves in theoretical debates on Kantian philosophy; Hegel's interest in theory came later, after his own abortive attempts to work out a Kant-inspired popular philosophy — which was his original ambition. The Popularphilosophen were writers who introduced and debated issues of the day, as a way of promoting the values of the Enlightenment. Most of them were influenced by English or Scottish thinkers such as Locke or Reid; Hegel wanted to "complete" the critical philosophy of Kant in the mode of a Popularphilosoph. At Tübingen he was skeptical of the highly theoretical (and technical) discussions that Hölderlin and Schelling engaged in. It was only in 1800 that Hegel admitted the need to resolve the difficulties of the Kantian system before it could hope to be put into practice.

In 1801 Hegel secured a place at the University of Jena as a privatdozent. He gave a course of lectures which became immensely popular. The university promoted Hegel to the position of Extraordinary Professor, perhaps due to the influence of Goethe on the authorities. However, with the conquest of Prussia by Napoleon in 1806, the University had to close. Hegel worked as a journalist for a few years, marrying Marie von Tucher in 1811. After publishing The Science of Logic, Hegel attained a post at the University of Heidelberg in 1816. He published The Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sentences in Outline, a summary of his philosophy for students attending his lectures. In 1818 he accepted a job at the University of Berlin as a full professor of philosophy. Frederick William III decorated Hegel for his service to the Prussian regime and appointed him rector of the university in 1830. He was deeply disturbed by the riots for reform in Berlin. In 1831 a cholera epidemic broke out in Berlin and Hegel fled; but he returned prematurely, caught the infection, and a few days later died in his sleep at the age of 61.

Hegel published only four books during his life: the Phenomenology of Spirit (or Phenomenology of Mind), his account of the evolution of consciousness from sense-perception to absolute knowledge, published in 1807; the Science of Logic, the logical and metaphysical core of his philosophy, in three volumes, published in 1811, 1812, and 1816 (revised 1831); Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, a summary of his entire philosophical system, which was originally published in 1816 and revised in 1827 and 1830; and the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, his political philosophy, published in 1822. He also published some articles early in his career and during his Berlin period. A number of other works on the philosophy of history, religion, aesthetics, and the history of philosophy were compiled from the lecture notes of his students and published posthumously.

Hegel's Grave in Berlin
Hegel's Grave in Berlin

Hegel's works have a reputation for their difficulty and for the breadth of the topics they attempt to cover. Hegel introduced a system for understanding the history of philosophy and the world itself, often described as a progression in which each successive movement emerges as a solution to the contradictions inherent in the preceding movement. For example, the French Revolution for Hegel constitutes the introduction of real freedom into European societies for the first time in recorded history. But precisely because of its absolute novelty, it is also absolutely radical: on the one hand the upsurge of violence required to carry out the revolution cannot cease to be itself, while on the other, it has already consumed its opponent. The revolution therefore has nowhere to turn but onto its own result: the hard-won freedom is consumed by a brutal Reign of Terror. History, however, progresses by learning from its mistakes: only after and precisely because of this experience can one posit the existence of a constitutional state of free citizens, embodying both the benevolent organizing power of rational government and the revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality. Hegel's remarks on the French revolution led German poet Heinrich Heine to label him "The Orléans of German Philosophy".

Hegel's writing style is difficult to read; he is described by Bertrand Russell in the History of Western Philosophy as the single most difficult philosopher to understand. This is partly because Hegel tried to develop a new form of thinking and logic, which he called "speculative reason" and which includes the more famous concept of "dialectic," to try to overcome what he saw as the limitations of both common sense and of traditional philosophy at grasping philosophical problems and the relation between thought and reality.


The obscure writings of Jakob Böhme had a strong effect on Hegel. Böhme had written that the Fall of Man was a necessary stage in the evolution of the universe. This evolution was, itself, the result of God's desire for complete self-awareness. Hegel was fascinated by the works of Spinoza, Kant, Rousseau, and Goethe, and by the French Revolution. Modern philosophy, culture, and society seemed to Hegel fraught with contradictions and tensions, such as those between the subject and object of knowledge, mind and nature, self and Other, freedom and authority, knowledge and faith, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Hegel's main philosophical project was to take these contradictions and tensions and interpret them as part of a comprehensive, evolving, rational unity that, in different contexts, he called "the absolute idea" or "absolute knowledge".

According to Hegel, the main characteristic of this unity was that it evolved through and manifested itself in contradiction and negation. Contradiction and negation have a dynamic quality that at every point in each domain of realityconsciousness, history, philosophy, art, nature, society—leads to further development until a rational unity is reached that preserves the contradictions as phases and sub-parts by lifting them up (Aufhebung) to a higher unity. This whole is mental because it is mind that can comprehend all of these phases and sub-parts as steps in its own process of comprehension. It is rational because the same, underlying, logical, developmental order underlies every domain of reality and is ultimately the order of self-conscious rational thought, although only in the later stages of development does it come to full self-consciousness. The rational, self-conscious whole is not a thing or being that lies outside of other existing things or minds. Rather, it comes to completion only in the philosophical comprehension of individual existing human minds who, through their own understanding, bring this developmental process to an understanding of itself.

(Note: “Mind” and “Spirit” are the common English translations of Hegel’s use of the German “Geist”. Some Hegelian scholars have argued that either of these terms overly “psychologize” Hegel,[citation needed] implying a kind of disembodied, solipsistic consciousness like "ghost" or "soul,". Geist combines the meaning of spirit, as in god, ghost or mind, with an intentional force.[citation needed])

Central to Hegel's conception of knowledge and mind (and therefore also of reality) was the notion of identity in difference, that is that mind externalizes itself in various forms and objects that stand outside of it or opposed to it, and that, through recognizing itself in them, is "with itself" in these external manifestations, so that they are at one and the same time mind and other-than-mind. This notion of identity in difference, which is intimately bound up with his conception of contradiction and negativity, is a principal feature differentiating Hegel's thought from that of other philosophers.

There are views of Hegel's thought as a representation of the summit of early 19th century Germany's movement of philosophical idealism. It would come to have a profound impact on many future philosophical schools, including schools that opposed Hegel's specific dialectical idealism, such as Existentialism, the historical materialism of Karl Marx, historicism, and British Idealism. At the same time, modern analytic and positivistic philosophers have considered Hegel a principal target because of what they consider the obscurantism of his philosophy (though some Germans, notably Schopenhauer, shared that criticism of his thought).[citation needed] Hegel was aware of his 'obscurantism' and saw it as part of philosophical thinking that grasps the limitations of everyday thought and concepts and tries to go beyond them. Hegel wrote in his essay "Who Thinks Abstractly?" that it is not the philosopher who thinks abstractly but the person on the street, who uses concepts as fixed, unchangeable givens, without any context. It is the philosopher who thinks concretely, because they go beyond the limits of everyday concepts to understand their broader context. This can make philosophical thought and language seem mysterious or obscure to the person on the street.

Hegel's influence was immense both within philosophy and in the sciences. Throughout the 19th century many chairs of philosophy around Europe were held by Hegelians, although Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels were all opposed to the most central themes of Hegel's philosophy. After less than a generation, Hegel's philosophy was suppressed and even banned by the Prussian right-wing, and was firmly rejected by the left-wing in multiple official writings.

After the period of Bruno Bauer, Hegel's influence did not make itself felt again until the philosophy of British Idealism and the 20th century Hegelian Neo-Marxism that began with Georg Lukács. The more recent movement of communitarianism has a strong Hegelian influence, although a Hegel specialist would argue that that influence is not strong enough, since communitarianism suffers from relativism, which Hegel's philosophy does not.

Hegel's legacy

Some of Hegel's writing was intended for those with advanced knowledge of philosophy, although his "Encyclopedia" was intended as a textbook in a university course. Nevertheless, like many philosophers, Hegel assumed that his readers would be well-versed in Western philosophy, up to and including Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. For those wishing to read his work without this background, introductions to Hegel and commentaries about Hegel may suffice. However, even this is hotly debated since the reader must choose from multiple interpretations of Hegel's writings from incompatible schools of philosophy. Presumably, reading Hegel directly would be the best method of understanding him, but this task has historically proved to be beyond the average reader of philosophy. This difficulty may be the most urgent problem with respect to the legacy of Hegel.

One especially difficult aspect of Hegel's work is his innovation in logic. In response to Immanuel Kant's challenge to the limits of Pure Reason, Hegel developed a radically new form of logic, which he called speculation, and which is today popularly called dialectics. The difficulty in reading Hegel was perceived in Hegel's own day, and persists into the 21st century. To understand Hegel fully requires paying attention to his critique of standard logic, such as the law of contradiction and the law of the excluded middle, and, whether one accepts or rejects it, at least taking it seriously. Many philosophers who came after Hegel and were influenced by him, whether adopting or rejecting his ideas, did so without fully absorbing his new speculative or dialectical logic.

Left and Right Hegelianism

Another confusing aspect about the interpretation of Hegel's work is the fact that past historians have spoken of Hegel's influence as represented by two opposing camps. The Right Hegelians, the allegedly direct disciples of Hegel at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (now known as the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), advocated a Protestant orthodoxy and the political conservatism of the post-Napoleon Restoration period. The Left Hegelians, also known as the Young Hegelians, interpreted Hegel in a revolutionary sense, leading to an advocation of atheism in religion and liberal democracy in politics.

In more recent studies, however, this old paradigm has been questioned. For one thing, no Hegelians of the period ever referred to themselves as Right Hegelians. That was a term of insult that David Strauss (a self-styled Left Hegelian) hurled at Bruno Bauer (who has most often been classified by historians as a Left Hegelian, but who rejected both titles for himself). For another thing, no so-called "Left Hegelian" described himself as a follower of Hegel. This includes Moses Hess as well as Karl Marx. Several "Left Hegelians" openly repudiated or insulted the legacy of Hegel's philosophy. The critiques of Hegel offered from the "Left Hegelians" radically diverted Hegel's thinking into new directions—and form a disproportionately large part of the literature on and about Hegel.

Perhaps the main reason that so much writing about Hegel emerges from the so-called Left-Hegelians is that the Left-Hegelians spawned Marxism, which inspired a global movement lasting more than 150 years, encompassing the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution and even more national-liberation movements of the 20th century. Yet that isn't, to be precise, any direct result of Hegel's philosophy.

20th century interpretations of Hegel were mostly shaped by one-sided schools of thought: British Idealism, logical positivism, Marxism, Fascism and postmodernism. However, since the fall of the USSR, a new wave of Hegel scholarship arose in the West, without the preconceptions of the prior schools of thought.

Walter Jaeschke and Otto Pöggeler in Germany, as well as Peter Hodgson and Howard Kainz in America, are notable for their many contributions to post-USSR thinking about Hegel as published by the Hegel Society of America. Perhaps the most challenging publication from that source has been the new English edition of Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (1818-1831) which has challenged most 20th century views about Hegel.


In previous modern accounts of Hegelianism (to undergraduate classes, for example), Hegel's dialectic was most often characterized as a three-step process of "Thesis, antithesis, synthesis", namely, that a "thesis" (e.g. the French Revolution) would cause the creation of its "antithesis" (e.g. the Reign of Terror that followed), and would eventually result in a "synthesis" (e.g. the Constitutional state of free citizens). However, Hegel used this classification only once, and he attributed the terminology to Immanuel Kant. The terminology was largely developed earlier by Johann Fichte the neo-Kantian. It was spread by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus in a popular account of Hegelian philosophy, and since then the misfit terms have stuck.

Believing that the traditional description of Hegel's philosophy in terms of thesis-antithesis-synthesis was mistaken, a few scholars, like Raya Dunayevskaya have attempted to discard the triadic approach altogether. According to their argument, although Hegel refers to "the two elemental considerations: first, the idea of freedom as the absolute and final aim; secondly, the means for realising it, i.e. the subjective side of knowledge and will, with its life, movement, and activity" (thesis and antithesis) he doesn't use "synthesis" but instead speaks of the "Whole": "We then recognised the State as the moral Whole and the Reality of Freedom, and consequently as the objective unity of these two elements." Furthermore, in Hegel's language, the "dialectical" aspect or "moment" of thought and reality, by which things or thoughts turn into their opposites or have their inner contradictions brought to the surface, is only preliminary to the "speculative" (and not "synthesizing") aspect or "moment", which grasps the unity of these opposites or contradiction. Thus for Hegel, reason is ultimately "speculative", not "dialectical".

To the contrary, scholars like Howard Kainz explain that Hegel's philosophy contains thousands of triads. However, instead of "thesis-antithesis-synthesis," Hegel used different terms to speak about triads, for example, "immediate-mediate-concrete," as well as, "abstract-negative-concrete." Hegel's works speak of synthetic logic. Nevertheless, it is widely admitted today that the old-fashioned description of Hegel's philosophy in terms of "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" was always inaccurate. At the same time, however, those same terms survive in scholarly works, such is the persistence of this misnomer.

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