In conclusion, some bare suggestions must suffice to indicate the reason for Hegel’s great influence. Hegel has partly, if not wholly, created the modern historical spirit. Reality for him, as even this inadequate sketch has shown, is not static, but is essentially a process. Thus until the history of a thing is known, the thing is not understood at all. It is the becoming and not the being of the world that constitutes its reality. And thus in emphasizing the fact that everything has a “past,” the insight into which alone reveals its significant meaning, Hegel has given metaphysical expression and impetus to the awakening modern historical sense. His idea of evolution also epitomizes the spirit of the nineteenth century with its search everywhere for geneses and transformations—in religion, philology, geology, biology. Closely connected with the predominance of the historical in Hegel’s philosophy is its explicit critique of individualism and particularism. According to his doctrine, the individual as individual is meaningless. The particular—independent and unrelated—is an abstraction. The isolation of anything results in contradiction. It is only the whole that animates and gives meaning to the individual and the particular. This idea of subordinating the individual to universal ends, as embodied particularly in Hegel’s theory of the State, has left its impress upon political, social, and economic theories of his century. Not less significant is the glorification of reason of which Hegel’s complete philosophy is an expression. Reason never spoke with so much self-confidence and authority as it did in Hegel. To the clear vision of reason the universe presents no dark or mysterious corners, nay, the very negations and contradictions in it are marks of its inherent rationality. But Hegel’s rationalism is not of the ordinary shallow kind. Reason he himself distinguishes from understanding. The latter is analytical, its function is to abstract, to define, to compile, to classify. Reason, on the other hand, is synthetic, constructive, inventive. Apart from Hegel’s special use of the term, it is this synthetic and creative and imaginative quality pervading his whole philosophy which has deepened men’s insight into history, religion, and art, and which has wielded its general influence on the philosophic and literary constellation of the nineteenth century.
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GEORG WILHELM FRIEDRICH HEGEL
INTRODUCTION TO THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY (1837)
TRANSLATED BY J. SIBREE, M.A.
The subject of this course of lectures is the Philosophical History of the World. And by this must be understood, not a collection of general observations respecting it, suggested by the study of its records and proposed to be illustrated by its facts, but universal history itself. To gain a clear idea, at the outset, of the nature of our task, it seems necessary to begin with an examination of the other methods of treating history. The various methods may be ranged under three heads: