It is generally held that 19th and early 20th century British Idealism was fundamentally Hegelian in character and the term ‘the British Hegelians’ has long been in common usage. Yet, particularly in recent years, it has been argued that some of the most influential British idealists were not Hegelians at all. T H Green may still be an idealist, and F H Bradley an ‘absolute idealist’ but, despite traces of Hegelian vocabulary or principles in their work, several scholars now hold that neither ought to be considered a disciple of Hegel. One might well wonder whether this is also true of Bernard Bosanquet, who has generally been regarded as the most Hegelian of the major idealists.
It is unlikely that Bosanquet would be offended in being called a Hegelian. In his metaphysics, his political philosophy and, particularly, his logic, Bosanquet draws on Hegel's insights and arguments. He saw his work as indebted to Hegel (specifically, to a tradition that traced its roots through Hegel, back to Kant, Rousseau and, ultimately, Plato) and, at the beginning of his philosophical career, Bosanquet criticised F H Bradley's logic for not having respected the principles laid out by Hegel beforehand. It is no surprise, then, that Bosanquet described Hegel as one of the two “great masters who 'sketched the plan’” (the other being Kant).
Still, it is hard to say what, precisely, is it that makes an author a ‘Hegelian’. Is it the use of Hegel's categories and terminology? Is it that the author is explicitly indebted to Hegel? Is it that the author's work shows an allegiance to Hegel's conclusions and that he sees himself as, at most, completing and extending what Hegel did? One might also ask, what type of Hegelian we have in mind – there are ‘left Hegelians’, ‘right Hegelians’ and so on. Of course, in attempting to trace such an intellectual debt, one must, as far as possible, try to distinguish what is distinctively Hegelian from what is to be found in earlier authors, but taken up by Hegel.