BR devotes chapter XXII of his A History of Western Philosophy to Hegel. He doesn’t much like Hegel— all his doctrines are “false” but he has historical significance and is the best representative of “ a certain kind of philosophy” and also Marx was influenced by some of his views. When BR wrote the HWP Hegel’s influence was “diminishing” but since the last half of the 20th century there has been a Hegel revival and he is once again a formidable philosophical presence.
BR seems to think Hegel is a mystic because he denies that “things” (objects externally existing in space and time) do not have completely independent existences but that reality is a big interconnected whole and that we know a thing x only when we know all of its relations and connections with the other things in the whole. Our knowledge of things is therefore partial and relative and we can't absolutely know everything about a thing but for all practical purposes we can know enough about the connections and relations of things of the world that we interact with that we can function and basically, through science and using our understanding and reason we can know all we need to know to function in our environment. It’s an organismic viewpoint— we can’t really understand the heart if that is all we study, we have to know its relations with the brain, lungs, etc. The more we can fit a thing into the knowledge we have of the totality, the whole which makes up the universe, the more we know about it.
There is no reason for BR to say that this viewpoint naturally becomes “a disbelief in the reality of time and space as such, for these, if taken as completely real involve separation and multiplicity,” But Hegel is not denying the multiplicity of things, there are many different things in space and time, but the more we know of their relations to each other and to the whole spacetime continuum the more we know about them.
For Hegel space and time wouldn’t exist if there were no real material physical objects existing because the spacetime continuum is where motion between objects takes place— he is thinking in terms of early 19th century physics and the science of mechanics. These “mystic” ideas are put forth in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature but Hegel is not trying to ignore what scientists say about space and time. He writes, “Not only must philosophy be in agreement with our empirical knowledge of nature, but the origin and formation of the Philosophy of Nature presupposes and is conditioned by empirical physics” [PN 246, Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences]. This quote should be kept in mind whenever Russell says that Hegel rejects empirical knowledge or considers it “unreal.”
Russell nexts turns his attention to a statement Hegel makes in the introduction to his Philosophy of Right: “The real is rational and the rational is real.” Sometimes “actual” is substituted for “real.” This does not mean, as Russell suggests, that anything that exists, that is real (actual) is also rational. You might make a stupid move in chess that exposed your king to an immediate checkmate. This goes against the whole point of a chess game from your point of view — which is to protect your king and checkmate your opponent. But that is the move that exists on the board.
Hegel does not think things are just isolated existents, they are related to other things and everything is ultimately, in one way or another, related to every other thing. This move I mentioned was not rational according to the rules of chess and was not a real move a chess player who knew what he or she was doing would make— it may have been “legal” by the rules (laws) of chess but it was a blunder not a rational or real chess move that anyone would recognize as such.
This is what Hegel means when he speaks of the un-realness and irrationality of states, actions, ethical and moral behaviors, etc. So, Russell is missing Hegel’s point when he remarks that, “the identification of the real and the rational leads unavoidably to some of the complacency inseparable from the belief that ‘whatever is, is right’.” This is unavoidable only if you go out of your way to misrepresent Hegel’s intention.
Here is another misrepresentation by Russell: “The whole in all its complexity is called by Hegel ‘the Absolute’. “The Absolute is spiritual; Spinoza’s view, that it has the attribute of extension as well as that of thought, is rejected.” When Hegel says the Absolute is the whole he means it is everything— it is the sum total of existence, the whole universe (both of Spinoza’s attributes Matter and Mind/Spirit included )—there is nothing outside of it, no separate “spiritual” (I.e., supernatural realm).
Another way to explain the Absolute would be to say “The world is all that is the case.” It is not a “thing” it is the Ground of all other things.Think of the butterfly effect in chaos theory—a butterfly spreads its wings in the Amazon moving the air a bit and later there is an avalanche in the Alps as the movement spreads and contributes its little bit to the whole that finally causes the avalanche. Everything in the Whole relates and influences, to a greater or lesser degree, everything else. The Absolute is the whole shebang, ground and grounded.
Now,Russell tells us there are two distinguishing features of Hegel’s philosophy. First, is his use of logic to deduce the nature of Reality which must not be “self-contradictory.” What he actually does is use logic to show that when you come across apparent self-contradictions you are probably viewing your subject out of context— isolating it from the whole to which it belongs and thus not really being able to understand it properly. Second, is his use of “the triadic movement called the ‘dialectic’.” This is part of his logic and we must understand his Logic to understand his system. Let’s see if Russell fairly presents it.
Russell proceeds to give an exposition of Hegel’s Logic and he gives some quotes that reflect Hegel’s views He concludes by observing, as we have already done above, that Hegel believes “the truth is the whole” and we only can know more about something the more we we know of its relations to the rest of reality. We may know 99.9% about some things but as finite intellects we won’t know 100%. We can’t know the Absolute which contains everything. So far he has stated Hegel’s view but not given any argument against it.
We will see most of the objections to Hegel’s views result from not quite getting his meaning and so they miss the mark. Hegel is partially responsible for this because of his horrible writing style and use of neologisms which make it difficult to follow his arguments. Specialists argue back and forth over what certain passages mean and most specialists take issue with Russell’s reading of Hegel. Hopefully we will avoid these technical conundrums in this article. Another problem is taking quotes out of context from different works by Hegel.
Here is an example. Russell is supposed to be explaining the Logic to us and he observes that Hegel holds that “Reason is the conscious certainty of being all reality.” Russell says since the Real is the Absolute (as the whole) the more we know the more real we are. This sounds like metaphysical nonsense — for any x if x exists it is real (period). But what is Hegel saying in this sentence taken out of context?
In the first place, it’s not from the Logic at all, it’s from the Phenomenology. The Phenomenology traces the development of our consciousness (‘our’ being the human race, the ground on which the Absolute comes into existence) through time. This sentence reaches a conclusion made by philosophers at a certain time in the past. It’s a stage that was reached, but Hegel says, it is much too abstract to actually mean anything to us today. It doesn’t explain HOW Reason can be all reality. It doesn’t tell us how Reason works in the world.
Hegel says we have a problem that leads to contradictory views about what such an abstract pronouncement means. Consciousness must move on to a more concrete, less abstract idea, and etc. Reading Russell, however, could easily give the wrong impression that the sentence in question is a belief held by Hegel, as if it were similar to a belief in one of the 39 Articles of the Anglican Communion. This is misleading.
Russell now addresses himself to Hegel’s concept of the “Absolute Idea.” This is the all encompassing concept at the end of the Logic. What it amounts to, according to Russell, is that: “The Absolute Idea is pure thought thinking about pure thought.” This is Hegel’s ‘God’ for Russell who quotes Hegel: “This unity is consequently the absolute and all truth, the Idea which thinks itself.”
What is this mumbo-jumbo all about? The following is based on the article “Absolute” in Glenn Alexander Magee’s The Hegel Dictionary, an indispensable tool in translating Hegel’s prolix language style into intelligible English.
Philosophy seeks to understand the nature of reality. Humans can only understand things by using ideas and concepts in their brains to order their perceptions and experiences into some kind of intelligible structure. This is what Hegel’s Logic attempts. What are the concepts we have to use to order and understand reality? Starting with the very first logical concept “Being” Hegel derives with logical necessity a schematic description of all the the concepts that logically follow from considering the concept of“Being” — each logically implied new concept necessarily implies additional concepts, and these new ones other new ones etc. until you end up with a complete interlocking set of concepts that will describe all reality.
This set is the Absolute as it appears in human consciousness (especially Hegel’s consciousness). It’s not ‘God’ as that concept is traditionally thought. There is no transcendent Being existing outside of the Being that human thought has figured out to be logically necessary— these thought determinations are all dependent on the deductions from the concept of Being—however they are only thought determinations— but what of the real external physically existing world of Nature?
Well, Nature is the real world existing in space and time. Time is not unreal or just a human illusion. The Absolute Idea of the Logic is just an Idea arrived at by human thinking— it is empty and unless there were really existing external material examples of the ideas in the Logic they wouldn’t represent anything. Hegel thinks his construction of the logically necessary concepts used to understand reality really represent the world as it is actually like and the stages of development developed in the Logic have real world space and time manifestations. Hegel is pre-Darwin and doesn’t believe in “evolution” so Nature just IS and the world is eternal in time, not that time is “unreal.” The discovery that evolution is in fact the case does not have negative consequences for Hegel’s philosophy which can easily be adapted to an evolutionary perspective (Marxism).
The totality of existence is the ABSOLUTE as it has eternally existed. The conceptual scheme of the Logic leading to the Absolute Idea is a mental creation for us by which we can know about the world (AKA the Absolute). Nature has existed before us and will after us and, Hegel says, philosophy must be based on the knowledge of the external world empirically presented to us by physics. As we acquire additional scientific knowledge, science and Logic will harmonize more.
So, the idea that thinks itself boils down to this. You read Hegel’s Logic and you get an idea about reality, and then you think about this idea which is an idea about an idea— this only takes place in human consciousness (AKA ’Spirit’) it’s all going on in your brain, or, in Hegelese: “This unity [the Logic used to understand Nature] is consequently the absolute and all truth, the Idea [the Logic as understood in your brain] which thinks itself [your brain thinking about the thinking described by the Logic].”The Absolute (the knowledge of Reality) is all confined to human consciousness— there is no self-reflective consciousness, so far as we know, anywhere external to the brains of humans— no ‘God’, ‘Angels’, or ‘Spirits’ outside of human thought. If we ever meet the little green men from outer space they will have with them a version of Hegel’s Logic discovered by their own philosophers.
Russell next turns his attention to Hegel’s philosophy of history (Lectures on the The Philosophy of History).
He begins with a long paragraph of ad hominem insults against Hegel’s philosophy and we are told Hegel and Marx among others who have theories of history are both ignorant and distorters of the facts. While Hegel claims to have arrived at his theories about history from studying the history of the world Russell says he just had his theory and made the “facts” conform to the theory. Russell gives no arguments in favor of his judgments of Hegel, he just dumps on Hegel.
After this lame performance he does provide some quotes from Hegel but he doesn’t interpret them properly. This is partially Hegel’s fault for being both prolix and using poetic similes and his own peculiar use of words with a slightly different meaning than they usually have. Some of this he does to avoid the Prussian censorship which was on the lookout for comments that might be critical of religion or the government.
Hegel states that he studies history using the hypothesis that Reason rules the world and history is the record of the advance of Reason in time. Russell really doesn’t like this hypothesis, but Hegel says it is justified as he proved that Reason rules the world in his Logic. In the Logic he showed that Nature and self-consciousness (Spirit) are governed by laws that philosophy and science can discover. We expect the universe to be law-like and that events have causes that can be studied— otherwise science would be impossible. That’s what he means by Reason and if you study history you can detect that there is Reason (law like behavior) behind the events studied by historians.
Prehistory ends and History begins when humans are at a stage of self-consciousness when they reflect on their actions and begin to wonder about what they are and what kind of life humans are capable of living. This is a long drawn out process, but basically humans want to increase their agency and freedom so each historical advance has been marked by humans expanding their concepts of human freedom and rights from ideas about slavery, serfdom, aristocrats and kings and queens and peasants, etc., until we get to Hegel’s day when the concept has developed that humans should all be equal before the law— this principle of human equality was hidden in the concept of agency from the very beginning of history but it took thousands of years before philosophy recognized it applied to all humans and realized history was a blind struggle of this concept to make itself known— this desire for freedom was the secret motivating force behind history and Hegel has discovered it.
Hegel was before Marx but he would say that the statement that all hitherto existing history has been the history of class conflict was an instantiation of his theory as the desire for freedom and equality was at work unconsciously behind the class struggle at first and was now recognized.This is why Hegel says “The world of intelligence and conscious volition is not abandoned to chance, but must show itself in the light of the self-cognizant idea.” The “self-cognizant idea” is an idea we are self consciously aware of— the idea of “freedom.” An individual self-consciousness is aware of itself, and understands the concept of freedom and acts accordingly— this would be a self-cognizant idea.
Russell has a problem with the following two quotes from Hegel. What does Hegel mean? “Spirit is self -contained existence.” Remember, “Spirit” is human self-consciousness for Hegel. So, the next thing he says (left out by Russell) is: “Now this is Freedom exactly. For if I am dependent, my being is referred to something which I am not; I cannot exist independently of something external. I am free, on the contrary, when my existence depends on myself.” No one is absolutely free of all externality so it is a relative concept we are dealing with. History is the progressive enlargement through time of the things we are free from.
“But what is Spirit? It is the one immutable homogeneous Infinite —pure Identity— which in its second phase separates itself from itself and makes this second aspect its own polar opposite, namely, as existence in and for Self as contrasted with the Universal.” OK, it’s true Russell has a point— this is an example of Hegel’s prolixity and most people would have no clue about what he is saying. But Russell is a philosopher and he should have explained what Hegel means, instead he uses this quote to make the reader think that there is something wrong with Hegel.
Hegel’s language is difficult, but here is what he means. “Human being” is a Universal concept, it applies to all human beings. You don’t learn much about Socrates by being informed he was a human being. So separate the self (your self) from this Universal and think that humans really exist as particulars, particular human beings, and more so as an individual self. The particular individual self is the polar opposite of the Universal concept and you can predicate a lot of things to it. Your individual self-identity is unique and separate from the immutable homogeneous Infinite represented by the Universal. Now the individual self confronts itself with the idea of freedom.
Now it is time to go over Russell’s outline of Hegel’s discussion of the growth of the idea of freedom. I am not going to discuss the merits of Hegel’s philosophy. I only want to clear up some of the misrepresentations of Hegel that abound in Russell’s discussion.
We have to give Hegel the benefit of the doubt on some of his assertions. He was writing 200 years ago and the progress that has been since his day in the advance of the concept of freedom has outdistanced Hegel’s concept. He was Euro-centric but the study of other non-European civilizations was not very far advanced in his time but his philosophy is expansive enough to include all of the advanced views we now hold and those of the future as well which will make our time also look backward.
Here is the first big quote Russell presents from the philosophy of history:”The history of the world is the discipline of the uncontrolled natural will, bringing it into obedience to a universal principle and conferring subjective freedom. The East knew, and to the present day knows only that One is free [the absolute ruler, emperor, pharaoh, sultan, etc.] ; the Greek and Roman world, that some are free [citizens, masters, they had slavery]; the German world knows that All are free.”
This isn’t as bad as it sounds. The German world is the medieval European world that replaced the Western Roman Empire with what became the modern states of Western Europe most, if not all, of which were founded by different tribes of German (Teutonic) peoples speaking different dialectics of German. They were converted to Christianity which taught that all were equal In the sight of God. The Pope and his priests were more equal than the lay Christians but this was corrected by Luther and the rise of Protestantism (everyman a priest).
The problem faced by philosophy is how to get this concept that all are free and equal in the sight of God (I.e., in Heaven) down to earth so that it applies to living breathing souls not the souls up in heaven. Hegel seems to have only believed in actually existing breathing souls—no Heaven to go to anyway. History is the record of the struggle for this concept of freedom to become known to all peoples and instantiated in the world.
Russell seems upset that Hegel did not think the best way to bring about “freedom” would be democracy. But Hegel wasn’t interested in democracy— after all Rome was a Republic of slave owners, and Greek democracy also supported slavery (not to mention the USA which was I/2 slave 1/2 free at the time).
Hegel identified “freedom” with “self-consciousness “ and this would lead us to to live under a system of laws in a state that furthers these goals, a state that we rationally choose to live in and under whose laws we choose to follow because they allow us the maximum of self-consciousness and self-control and thus of freedom. That’s what Hegel thinks.
We can disagree about what type of state that will be— his views are not written on stone and we can decide on what kind of state we want— or even a stateless organization of living together. We need not waste our time going over Russel’s attacks on Hegel’s “Germanness” which was a product of the way the Absolute Spirit was expressing itself 200 years ago (i.e., was the way educated Europeans were consciously discussing philosophy as Absolute Spirit only exists within human consciousness. It expresses itself in 3 ways, according to Hegel, as Art (sensuously) Religion (imaginatively) and Philosophy (rationally).
It is important to clear up some of Russell’s misunderstandings. Russell is right to say that Hegel thinks it is important to have laws to live under and that freedom is enhanced by laws. But Russell misinterprets Hegel when he says , “Freedom,” for Hegel, “means little more than the right to obey the law.” Human freedom is enhanced when the laws are those we choose for ourselves, not some foreign set of rules imposed on us from without. Hegel thinks it is possible for people to agree on the most rational way to conduct themselves and what a rational state would be like and insofar as we can construct and live in a state whose laws are those we internalize and desire to live under, then we are-self conscious of our freedom and are actually free to that extent. So, in saying that “is little more” rather than that “is a big deal” is where Russell errs.
Here is the next quote that Russell doesn’t approve of: “The German spirit is the spirit of the new world. Its aim is the realization of absolute Truth as the un-limited self-determination of freedom— that freedom which has its own absolute from itself as its purport.” Russell thinks this is against “liberalism” and won’t keep you out of a ”concentration camp” or support “freedom of the press.” But is this correct?
Let’s translate the above quote into a modern version of what Hegel is saying: “The contemporary consciousness developed in the Reformation by the birth of Protestant [after Luther] thinking [ the German spirit] aims at arriving at complete Truth based on free intellectual speculation using reason [Logic] not authority as its justification.” This is a claim made by Hegel but it is doubtful if the majority of Protestants even in his time were acting this way.They still used the Bible and thus were submitting their self-consciousness to outside control independent of Reason. Only those higher critics who used the Bible no differently than any other secular source (such as Aristotle or Tacitus) would exemplify Hegel’s claim. This has nothing to do with concentration camps or freedom of the press.
Complete truth, Absolute Truth, about what? About the nature of what it means to be a human being, a self-conscious being, Hegel says it is a für sich [Sartre: pour soi] — a being for-itself not just a being in-itself [an sich, en soi]. A consciousness that is (or potentially is) conscious of its freedom and responsible for it. Russell is correct, this will not lead to doctrines such as liberalism as Russell understands it (nor conservatism for that matter). A consciousness stuck in either of these two views (there are many other views as well) has not reached the level of Absolute Truth as it appeared to Hegel in his day.
The next point involves Russell backtracking a bit. He has suggested that Hegel thought history stops with him and that Germany is considered by him to be the best state. None of which can really be found in Hegel’s writings. Russell points out that Hegel also thought that both Russia and the United States had vast territories to expand in and that the next century (the 20th) would be dominated by the rise of these two countries. This shows that Hegel did not think history had come to end with his day and age.
The Weltgeist (World Spirit) had reached the Absolute point in its development however— I.e., human consciousness had reached the point of understanding all human beings were free and equal (equal before the law) qua being human beings— this is the Absolute pinnacle of philosophical development of the concept of human being. The problem is to translate this abstract idea into concrete reality— to bring it into objective existence in historically developed institutions. Hegel is well aware that this is not yet the case. Russell seems to think Hegel is not aware of this and his criticisms of Hegel are misguided and, for a philosopher of his stature, inexplicable.
Russell now moved on to criticize Hegel’s views on the State. Russell dislikes Hegel’s ”glorification of the state.” Here is Russell’s brief summary of how this came about. The state began to be seen as sacred due to the deification of the emperors. With Christianity in the Middle Ages the Church claimed priority over the state [at least in Western Europe]. Luther broke with the Church and with the birth of the Protestant Reformation the state, especially the nation state, took precedence over the national churches. Hobbes, a nominal protestant, advocated the supremacy of the state (The Leviathan 1651) as did Spinoza.
Russell says that Hegel was “vehemently Protestant” (although no Christian theologian of any stripe could accept Hegel’s view of “God” as a non transcendent being existing only in human consciousness) and (his employer) the Prussian state “was an Erastian absolute monarchy.” Erastianism is the view that the State should have the last word over the churches even in religious affairs and doctrines — named after Thomas Erastus 1524-1583 whose views were not that extreme. For the record, Hegel was not for absolute monarchy a la Prussia; he believed in a constitutional monarchy in which the Monarch only crossed the ’t’s and dotted the ‘i’s of submitted legislation— I.e., like Charles III rather than Frederick William III of Prussia (r. 1797-1840).
Now for some quotes from Hegel that Russell thinks are highly objectionable and “would justify every internal tyranny.” Let us see. 1. “The State is the actually existing realized moral life.” Let’s just take the U.S. for example. We all have some kind of moral life, a mixture of good and bad moral actions , etc. These are all subjective. What actually exists outside of our subjective consciousness are the laws that have been established by our Congress and they are supposed to adhere to the Constitution. Whatever we preach and say about morality, justice, fairness, etc., it is a fact the State sends prisoners to Guantanamo Bay prison and tortures them. That is an actually existing place and the actions there are moral (or immoral). For all our talk, that is the actually existing moral life of the U.S. State. Hegel is merely saying that actions speak louder than words. The U.S. State’s actions either positively or negatively bring into existence the values which otherwise are mere phantoms in our noggins.
2. Our spiritual life contains our morals; A person’s “spiritual life consists of this, that his own essence — Reason — is objectively present to him, that it possess objective immediate existence for him….For truth is the unity of the universal and subjective Will, and the universal is to be found in the State, in its laws, its universal and national arrangements.The State the Divine Idea as it exists on earth.”
With regards to the first part of the quote ending with the ellipsis, when this objective unity doesn’t happen you are alienated from your essence, Reason, is unfulfilled. Why is this objectionable? It is just a statement of Hegel’s view on morals. If you agree with what goes on at Guantanamo your essence and objective reality are in harmony, if not, you are alienated by your Reason from the State. I don’t see any problem with this statement.
The universal Will is a heuristic concept —all people would will that justice and rightness always be done (the universal Will) and the subjective Will is what each individual wants, and the State is supposed to represent the universal Will by means of the laws and rules it enforces— applied equally to all. Hegel understands this is the rational State as it should be via logic but real States are in various stages of development. History shows a progressive evolution towards this logically perfect State but no real State has attained this but the best State at any one time is the one that is closest to it. The rational State is the one that provides the most freedom for its citizens.
God is not an independent objective being. God appears in the human consciousness and is not independent of it and as human consciousness develops and awakens to the concept of freedom so to does God (the concept of God = God = the Absolute Idea which is that of the whole interconnections of reality topped by the human consciousness of it and of its freedom —this is not an orthodox use of the word “God” but Hegel thinks it is the proper use and that’s why he says the State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth— it gets more “divine” as the awareness of the Idea develops through time. Russell himself is a Hegelian without realizing it because he too believes in the progress of the growth of freedom through time. It is better to just ignore Hegel’s views on the “Divine Idea”, etc., as his philosophy can be explained without having to employ “god-talk”.
3.”The State is the embodiment of rational freedom, realizing and recognizing itself in an objective form ….The State is the idea of Spirit in the external manifestation in the human Will and its Freedom” . You get to go vote every 4 years for your leader— you have a voting card in your hand, its rational at this stage of bourgeois democracy to be able to freely vote and the card is the objective embodiment of that freedom and you realize and recognize it— don’t lose that card! Spirit, as you know, is just your self-consciousness, a democratic State is an ideal and your State, the U.S. of A is a manifestation of your Will and Freedom (unless you are alienated from the Rationality represented by the laws of the State). For Hegel if there is a more rational State possible than the one you are in, then human consciousness will eventually become aware of it and it will come about—that is the story of history—history will end when the Absolute Idea is fully manifested in humanity and becomes objectified (it’s doubtful our species will last long enough for this to come about).
4.”The State is the reality of the moral idea — the moral spirit, as the visible substantial will, evident to itself, which thinks and knows itself, and fulfils what it knows in so far as it knows it.” If I have freedom, rights, and a happy life it’s all due to the kind of State I live in. Do I own a slave or am I a slave, or are no slaves allowed? That depends on the State you live in and the level of rational consciousness the citizens and rulers have. If you’re a woman in Afghanistan, Iran, or even the USA where the Equal Rights Amendment can't get passed — you are not in a state where the moral idea is at the highest level, but the government is the objectified substantial existing expression of the moral consciousness of the people or its ruling class. This is the reality of the visible substantial will— or what you see is what you get. Hegel is only describing what is going on in history he is not prescribing but he says a better world is possible as more freedom and a better State is in the future as spirit self-educates. Russell is not warranted in saying Hegel’s views ``justify” tyranny.
5. States are individual entities and relate to one another as individual people do in the hypothetical “state of nature” before any states exist. “Since in this independence the being-for-self of real spirit has its existence, it is the first freedom and highest honour of a people.”
If you are Greek your self-consciousness recognizes this as you enter childhood and discover you speak Greek not Turkish and your culture, values, your whole conscious life is Greek. You find your freedom and choices are predicated on being in this culture. The same happens in all the other cultures and the natural consequence is a pride in being in/of your culture. The negative as well as the positive determines our reality. You are Greek, not Italian, not Turkish etc. Unfortunately, nations, just as individuals, succumb to negative relations and there are wars and conflicts. Hegel thinks the negative and positive are permanent features of reality and so a one united human nation is not possible, there will always be wars.
Since these conflicts are inevitable Hegel tries to put a good spin on it and says at least the wars make us aware of a greater purpose than just our own selfish desires and we can participate in the universal rather than just the particular consciousness. Russell blames Hegel for these sentiments but Hegel is just stating what he thinks the nature of reality is— it is not his fault that the negative exists. No philosophers today are pure Hegelians anyway. Scientific advances make possible an understanding of the causes of war (mostly economic) and it is not impossible that some world organization such as the U.N. could work in the future.
We come now, Russell says to a fundamental point by which to judge Hegel’s philosophy. “Is there more reality, and is there more value in a whole than in its parts?” Hegel says “yes” to both these questions according to Russell and the first is “metaphysical” the second “ethical.” Hegel doesn’t stress this separation but Russell thinks he should have and he will deal with them one at a time.first with the metaphysical.
Hegel thinks every x in the universe is related to every other x in the universe and all the x’s related together make up the universe (=God, the Absolute) and the universe is all that is the case. Russell says Hegel thinks an x alone is less real than the whole of which is part, that it is less true etc— that “nothing is quite real except the whole.” What is Hegel saying? Think of Newton: every bit of matter in the universe attracts every other bit by the law of gravity. The Sun attracts the Earth but the Earth also attracts the Sun. The Sun’s attraction is not ”more real” but we know more about what is going on when we know about both attractions.
Hegel is saying the more we know about x and its Interconnections the more we know about the other x’s it is related to and etc., the more we also know about the whole. Statements are not “more true” as a result, they are just more comprehensive. I don’t think of this as particularly “metaphysical” in any negative sense.
Next, Russell turns to value with respect to the whole and parts. Hegel’s theory of the State is the paradigm.
“The real question we have to ask in connection with Hegel is…whether the state is good per se , as an end: do citizens exist for the sake of the State or the State for the sake of the citizens? Hegel holds the former view; the liberal philosophy that comes from Locke holds the latter.”
This is too simple and undialectical, as was discussed above. No man is an island. The relation is one of codependency. Locke’s State existed not for the sake of the citizens but for the sake of the protection of private property. The State would sanction the killing of the poor if they tried to seize private property in order to live. Hegel’s State would sanction just the opposite - so whose State cares more about its citizens? This is a case of the right of private property versus the right to life. This is thoroughly discussed in D. Losurdo”s Hegel and the Freedom of Moderns where it is concluded that “”Hegel’s superiority, or greater modernity, becomes evident when compared to the liberal tradition.``
In the last part of his chapter on Hegel, Russell gets down to brass tacts. The real issue is which kind of philosophy should one use to try and understand things— one like Hegel’s or one favored by Russell which he denominates as “Analysis”— analytic philosophy or philosophical analysis, logical analysis. He takes an example from Smuts to explain Hegel’s philosophy at work. [Jan Smuts 1870-1950 was a philosopher (psychologist) who wrote Holism and Evolution and a major racist segregationist political and military leader in South Africa just before full apartheid was enacted in1948. He was one of the founders of the British Commonwealth, League of Nations and the United Nations. In 1925 W.E.B. DuBois said of him “Jan Smuts is today, in his world aspects, the greatest protagonist of the white race.” That’s Joe Biden’s job today as the leader of Euro-American world hegemony.]
Russell: “Suppose I say ‘John is the father of James.’ Hegel and all who believe in what [Field]Marshal Smuts calls ‘Holism,’ will say: ‘Before you can understand this statement, you must know who John and James are.’” This requires that you know everything about them, their ages, marital status, who their relatives are, their preferences in food. what planet they are on, etc., and all those things all those other things relate to and “you will be led to take into account the whole universe.” In the end your statement is not about John and James but the universe. Russell says, “If the above argument were sound, how could knowledge ever begin.”
First, the above was not an argument, it was a claim about Hegel et al. Second, I don’t know about Smuts, but Hegel would not say you have to begin with this knowledge of the universe, but since everything is related to everything else if you begin with “John is the father of James” (which Hegel would understand immediately) and you keep going asking questions you will end up (in theory but not in real time—it would take to long) with the universe. So this claim about Hegel is bogus. The remaining two paragraphs of the article, devoted to refuting this bogus Hegelian position can be skipped in so far as they concern Hegel. You can read them to see how Russell does analysis.
Finally, what is living in Hegel’s philosophy has been sublated into Marxist theory, especially the dialectic and lives on as Dialectical Materialism. The purpose of reading Hegel today is because we think he has many important insights that we need to think about unlike Russell who, it seems, would have been happy to commit his works to the flames.
This article is a prelude to Russel’s chapter in HWP on Karl Marx.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association. He is the author of Reading the Classical Texts of Marxism.