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In the preface to his book on Hegel, Charles Taylor recognized two ways that every Hegel commentator can go wrong: “Either one can end up being terribly clear and sounding very reasonable at the cost of distorting, even bowdlerizing Hegel. Or one can remain faithful but impenetrable, so that in the end readers will turn with relief to the text in order to understand the commentary.” While it is hard to imagine ever turning to the Phenomenology with relief, Taylor's cautionary remark draws attention to the indirect relationship between the form and content of Hegel critique: either one attains formal clarity at the expense of material complexity or material complexity at the expense of clarity. The task of the critic, according to Taylor, is to find a balance between these two extremes. The various “Hegel revivals” of the past century, like that of Lukács and the Marxist humanists in the interwar years or Kojève and the existentialists in postwar France, have all struggled to find this balance. The latest Hegel revival is no exception, but both Rebecca Comay's Mourning Sickness: Hegel and the French Revolution and Susan Buck-Morss's Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History remind us that insight also comes from the extremes.

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Charles Taylor , Hegel (Cambridge and New York, 1975), vii

Frederick C. Beiser , Enlightenment, Revolution, and Romanticism: The Genesis of Modern German Political Thought, 1790–1800 (Cambridge, MA, 1992)

Shlomo Avineri , Hegel's Theory of the Modern State (London, 1972)

Susan Buck-Morss , “Hegel and Haiti,” Critical Inquiry, 26/4 (Summer 2000), 821–65

Lisa Herzog , Inventing the Market: Smith, Hegel, and Political Theory (Oxford, 2013)

C. A. Bayly et al., “AHR Conversation: On Transnational History,” American Historical Review, 111/5 (December 2006), 1441–64

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-intellectual-history
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