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HEGEL AND THE REVOLUTIONS REVISITED

  • TERENCE RENAUD (a1)
Abstract

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

2 Comay Rebecca, Mourning Sickness: Hegel and the French Revolution (Stanford, CA, 2011), 5.

3 Ibid., 7.

4 Ibid., 67. Mills Jonexplores the connections between Hegel's philosophy and psychoanalysis in The Unconscious Abyss: Hegel's Anticipation of Psychoanalysis (Albany, NY, 2002).

5 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 65.

6 Hegel G.W.F., Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Miller A.V. (Oxford, 1977), 332–4 (§547). Although he acknowledged that Robespierre's cult of the supreme being functioned as a replacement religion, Hegel dismissed it as empty formalism, i.e. worship of a God without content.

7 On the ambiguous politics of the German Romantics see Beiser Frederick C., Enlightenment, Revolution, and Romanticism: The Genesis of Modern German Political Thought, 1790–1800 (Cambridge, MA, 1992). On Hegel's relation to German Romanticism see Toews John E., Hegelianism: The Path toward Dialectical Humanism, 1805–1841 (Cambridge and New York, 1980), 3067.

8 Hegel, Phenomenology, 349 (§573).

9 She may also be alluding to Marie-Hélène Huet's book on the cultural and political post-history of the Terror, Mourning Glory: The Will of the French Revolution (Philadelphia, 1997).

10 Hegel G.W.F., The Philosophy of History, trans. Sibree J. (Mineola, NY, 1956), 447.

11 Marx Karl, “From ‘Contributions to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction’,” in The Portable Karl Marx, ed. Kamenka E. (New York, 1983), 115–24, 118, emphasis in original.

12 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 129.

13 Hegel, Phenomenology, 407 (§669).

14 Löwith Karl, From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought, trans. Green D. E. (New York, 1964); Marcuse Herbert, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (Boston, MA, 1960).

15 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 134.

16 Marx Karl, Preface to the Second Edition, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, ed. Engels F. (Chicago, 1906), 25.

17 Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, 169. Marcuse did also acknowledge the critical and progressive aspects of Hegel's thought, which according to him were consummated by Marx.

18 Habermas Jürgen, Theory and Practice, trans. Viertel J. (Boston, 1973), 121.

19 Ritter Joachim, Hegel and the French Revolution: Essays on the Philosophy of Right, trans. Winfield R. D. (Cambridge, MA and London, 1982). In a similar line of reasoning, Steven B. Smith presented Hegel's theory of the modern state as the consequence of his critique of Revolutionary republicanism. Smith Steven B., “Hegel and the French Revolution: An Epitaph for Republicanism,” in Fehér Ferenc, ed., The French Revolution and the Birth of Modernity (Berkeley, 1990), 219–39, and Smith, Hegel's Critique of Liberalism: Rights in Context (Chicago, 1989). For what is still the best analysis of Hegel's political theory see Avineri Shlomo, Hegel's Theory of the Modern State (London, 1972).

20 Hegel G. W. F., Philosophy of Right, trans. Dyde S. W. (Kitchener, ON, 2001), 194–8 (§§257–9). While Hegel's position may seem like a philosophical justification of the Prussian state, Toews reminds us that Hegel himself was not actually Prussian. He spent his early life in Stuttgart and Tübingen in the duchy of Württemberg, where the patrician–intellectual elite partook of a long tradition of community spiritual leadership embodied in the idea of Ehrbarkeit, or respectability. When Hegel and his generation matured during the years of the Revolution, they claimed to favor “radical cultural transformation.” But while they may have rebelled against their fathers’ traditions, they could not shake off the old mantle of respectability. They continued to prefer institutional reform to democratic revolution and tended to dignify civil service as a means of protecting their class interests. Toews, Hegelianism, 13 ff. See also Pinkard Terry, Hegel: A Biography (Cambridge and New York, 2000).

21 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 26 ff. For an excellent narrative of the king's flight, arrest, trial, and execution see Tackett Timothy, When the King Took Flight (Cambridge, MA, 2003).

22 According to Comay, abstract individualism manifested itself for Hegel in three ways: revolutionary decisionism, social contractarianism, and free-market liberalism (68–9). This broad definition of abstract individualism was why he could dismiss Rousseau's distinction between the will of all (volonté de tous) and the general will (volonté générale). Both were fundamentally the same to him insofar as both were abstractions of individual will (69). Comay notes that Hegel might have willfully distorted Rousseau's distinction in order to fit his argument. For a different interpretation of Hegel's debt to Rousseau see Neuhouser Frederick, Foundations of Hegel's Social Theory: Actualizing Freedom (Cambridge, MA, 2000).

23 Hegel, Phenomenology, 360 (§590). On the provenance of this peculiar phrase see James Schmidt, “Cabbage Heads and Gulps of Water: Hegel on the Terror,” Political Theory, 26/2 (Feb. 1998), 2–32.

24 For more on this theme see essay Comay'sHegel's Last Words: Mourning and Melancholia at the End of the Phenomenology,” in Swiffen A. and Nichols J., eds., The Ends of History: Questioning the Stakes of Historical Reason (Abingdon, 2013), 141–60.

25 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 128.

26 Ibid., 4.

27 Ibid., 96.

28 For a balanced treatment of the promise and pitfalls of using a synoptic language of clarity versus an exaggerative “deconstructionist” style see Jay Martin, “Two Cheers for Paraphrase: The Confessions of a Synoptic Intellectual Historian,” in Jay, Fin de Siècle Socialism and Other Essays (London; New York, 1988), 5263.

29 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 128.

30 Ibid., 4, original emphasis.

31 Ibid., 5. In this regard, Comay would agree with Gadamer's hermeneutical idea of the “fusion of horizons.” See Gadamer Hans-Georg, Truth and Method, trans. Weinsheimer J. and Marshall D. G. (London and New York, 2004).

32 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 86.

33 See Lefort Claude, Democracy and Political Theory (Minneapolis, 1988).

34 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 79.

35 Ibid., 89, 90.

36 Baczko Bronisław, Ending the Terror: The French Revolution after Robespierre, trans. Petheram M. (Cambridge and New York, 1989).

37 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 90. See also her article “Dead Right: Hegel and the Terror,” South Atlantic Quarterly, 103/2–3 (Spring–Summer 2004), 375–95.

38 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 30 ff.

39 Petry M. J., ed. and trans., Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, vol. 2 (London and New York, 1970), 50–1 (§288).

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

41 For an excellent historical overview of the Haitian Revolution see Dubois Laurent, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge, MA, 2004).

42 Buck-Morss Susan, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (Pittsburgh, 2009), 42.

43 Fischer Sibylle, Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (Durham, NC, 2004), 2.

44 In his lectures on The Philosophy of History, Hegel outlined a historical progression from the Oriental world, to the Greek world, to the Roman world, and finally to the Germanic world, which encompassed all of Christian Europe. “In the Frigid and in the Torrid zone”—e.g. Africa and much of Latin America—he thought, “the locality of World-historical peoples cannot be found.” For him, the northern half of the temperate zone was “the true theatre of History.” Hegel, Philosophy of History, 80.

45 Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 42 ff.

46 Ibid., 48 ff. To support her claim, Buck-Morss points out that while everyone agrees that the section “Absolute Freedom and Terror” referred to the French Revolution, Hegel never actually mentioned the Revolution or any of its specific details in the text—cabbage heads and gulps of water aside (ibid., 50 n. 83). Buck-Morss draws on Terry Pinkard's biography of Hegel to argue that Hegel's precarious professional situation and concern about censorship c.1806 played an important role in deciding which explicit references he omitted from the Phenomenology (ibid., 19). Sybille Fischer, in contrast, interprets Hegel's silence in psychoanalytical terms as “a story of deep ambivalence, probably fascination, probably fear, and ultimately disavowal.” Fischer, Modernity Disavowed, 32; Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 19 n. 36.

47 Buck-Morss provides an excellent analysis of the influence on Hegel of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations in this respect. Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 4 ff., 52–3 n. 90–91). See also Herzog Lisa, Inventing the Market: Smith, Hegel, and Political Theory (Oxford, 2013).

48 Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 138, original emphasis. That is, modern capitalism was the product of the colonial system, not the other way around (ibid., 100). Even the term “factory” has colonial origins (ibid., 101 ff.). Inverting the relationship between colonial periphery and metropole is a familiar move in subaltern studies. For example, see Chakrabarty Dipesh, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, NJ, 2000).

49 Her reading of the master–slave dialectic is probably closer to the text than that of Kojève, who in his 1930s lectures mapped the dialectic onto proletarian liberation. Kojève Alexandre, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, ed. Bloom Allan, trans. Nichols James H. Jr (Ithaca, NY, 1980).

50 Hegel, Phenomenology, 111–12 (§§178–82).

51 Ibid., 113–14 (§187). The dialectic of mutual recognition has become the centerpiece of Honneth's moral and political philosophy. See Honneth Axel, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, trans. Anderson Joel (Cambridge, 1995); and more recently Honneth, The I in We: Studies in the Theory of Recognition, trans. Joseph Ganahl (Cambridge, MA, 2010).

52 Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 52–3 n. 90, claims that Hegel used the German words Knecht (“servant,” “bondsman”) and Sklave (“slave”) interchangeably.

53 Hegel, Phenomenology, 117 (§193).

54 Ibid., 119 (§196).

55 Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 74.

56 Ibid., 116–17.

57 See Bayly C. A.et al., “AHR Conversation: On Transnational History,” American Historical Review, 111/5 (December 2006), 1441–64. For a concise overview of how this trend has affected Germanists see Pence Katherine and Zimmerman Andrew, “Transnationalism,” German Studies Review, 35/3 (October 2012), 495500.

58 Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 104 ff. Linebaugh Peter and Rediker Marcus, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston, MA, 2000). Their broad definition of global protest movements recalls Eric Hobsbawm's somewhat more patronizing surveys of bandits and “primitive rebels.”

59 Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 106.

60 Ibid., 107–8. She has a curious notion of vanguard politics, grouping together such disparate examples as Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, V. I. Lenin, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines (143).

61 Ibid., 111. See Gilroy Paul, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA, 1993).

62 Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 111–12 n. 63, original emphasis.

63 Ibid., 114.

64 Comay, Mourning Sickness, 118.

65 Jacoby Russell, The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy (New York, 1999); Moyn Samuel, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, MA, 2010).

66 Samuel P. Huntington's “clash of civilizations” thesis is an object of particular contempt for Buck-Morss. Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, 13.

67 Ibid., 149.

68 Ibid., 118.

69 Ibid., 134, original emphasis.

70 Ibid., 150.

71 Ibid., 139.

72 Ibid., 16, original emphasis.

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
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