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Hegel and Nationalism

  • Shlomo Avineri

Hegel was a resident of Jena when the Battle of Jena, a shattering defeat for Prussia, took place. On October 13, 1806, the day on which the French entered the town and deployed for the engagement fought the next day, Hegel wrote to his friend Niethammer:

As I wrote to you earlier, all of us here wish the French victory and success. The Prussians are suffering the defeats they deserve… This morning I saw the Emperor Napoleon, that World Soul (diese Weltseele), riding through the town to a parade. It's a marvelous feeling to see such a personality dominating the entire world from horseback … He is capable of doing anything. How wonderful he is!

Three months later, in a letter to another friend, Zelmann, Hegel summed up the historical lesson of the Battle of Jena: “There is no better proof than the events occurring before our eyes, that culture is triumphing over barbarism and the intellect over spirit-less mind.”

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1 This is an extended version of a paper read before the Israel Historical Association in Jerusalem. I am deeply indebted for the help I was privileged to receive from Professor J. L. Talmon, under whom this study was conducted. I am further indebted to Professor Karl Popper of the London School of Economics, Dr. J. Rodman of Harvard University, Dr. Z. A. Pelczynski of Pembroke College, Oxford, and Mr. R. Friedman of Johns Hopkins for the stimulating discussions I had with them. That we sometimes had to agree to differ did not diminish the value of those discussions in clarifying my own ideas.

2 Briefe von und an Hegel, ed. Hoffmeister, J. (Hamburg, 1952), I, 120.

3 Ibid., I, 137.

4 Ibid., II, 6.

6 Ibid., II, 27.

7 Ibid., II, 14–15.

7 Ibid., II, 23.

8 Hegels Schriften zur Politik und Rechtsphilosophic, ed. Lasson, G. (Leipzig, 1913), p. 159.

9 Hegel, G. W. F., Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Weltgesehiehte, ed. Lasson, G. (Leipzig, 1920), p. 937 (subsequently referred to as Weltgesehiehte).

10 Hegel's Philosophy of Right, trans. Knox, T. M. (Oxford, 1945), § 322.

11 Ibid., § 209; cf. also § 270. See Avineri, , “The Hegelian Position on the Emancipation of the Jews,” Zion (Jerusalem, 1960), XXV, No. 2, 134136 (in Hebrew).

12 Hegel, G. W. F., Die Vernunft in der Geschichte — EinUitung zur Geschichtsphilosophie, ed. Hoffmeister, J. (Hamburg, 1955), p. 159 (subsequently referred to as Einleitung).

13 Popper, K. R., The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton, 1950), pp. 255273.

14 Heller, H., Hegel und der nationale Machtstaatsgedanke in Deutschland (Leipzig & Berlin, 1921).

15 Carritt, E. F., “Hegel and Prussianism,” Philosophy, XV (01 1940), 5156; Bowie, J., Politics and Opinion in the 19th Century (London, 1954), pp. 3450; McGovern, W. M., From Luther to Hitler (New York, 1940), pp. 317355. Cf. also the recent work by Hacker, A., Political Theory: Philosophy, Ideology, Science (New York, 1961), pp. 438445. This view, however, ia by no means unchallenged. Cf. Lukacs, Georg, “Der deutsche Faschismus und Hegel,” in his Schicksalswende: Beitrāge zu einer neuen deutschen Ideologic (Berlin, 1948), pp. 3767; Marcuse, H., Reason and Revolution, 2nd ed. (London, 1955); Kaufmann, W., From Shakespeare to Existentialism (New York, 1960); also Meinecke, F., Weltbürgertum und Nationalstaat, 3. Aufl. (Munich and Berlin, 1915), pp. 275ff.

16 Haym, R., Hegel und seine Zeit (Berlin, 1857).

17 Treitschke, H. v., Politics, trans. Dugdale, B. and de Bille, T. (London, 1916), I, 2223, 53.

18 Köstlin, K., Hegel in philosophischer, politischer und nationaler Beziehung (Tübingen, 1870), pp. 158165, 174.

19 Hegels Schriften zur Politik und Rechtsphilosophie, pp. 24–25.

20 Hegel, G. W. F., On Christianity: Early Theological Writings, trans. Knox, T. M. and Kroner, R. (New York, 1961), p. 69.

21 Ibid., p. 77.

22 Ibid., p. 152.

23 lbid., pp. 158–159.

24 Ibid., p. 146.

25 Ibid., p. 149.

26 Quoted by Köstlin, , op. cit., p. 170 (my italics).

27 For the connection between the Historical School and political romanticism and nationalism, cf. Schmitt, C., Politische Romantik, 2. Aufl. (Munich, 1925), pp. 46ff. For the indebtedness of the Nazi lawyers to this tradition, see Dietrich, O., Die philosophische Grundlagen des Nationalsozialismus (Breslau, 1935); Nicolai, H., Die rassengesetzliche Rechtslehre (Munich, 1933).

28 Rexius, G., “Studien zur Staatslehre der historischen Schule,” Historische Zeitschrift, Vol. 707 (1911), 520; H. V. Kantorowicz, “Volksgeist und historische Schule,” ibid., Vol. 108 (1912), 303ff; Brie, S., Der Volksgeist bei Hegel und in der historischen Rechtsschule (Berlin and Leipzig, 1909), pp. 25ff.

29 §§ 33, 331, addition to 259.

30 Cf. Loewenstein, J., Hegels Staatsidee — Ihr Doppelgeschichte und Einfiuss im 19. Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1927), pp. 4142.

31 Reason and Revolution, p. 237.

32 Philosophy of Right, §§ 349–350.

33 Ibid., § 211.

34 Ibid., Introduction, p. 10; §§ 258–259.

35 Ibid., § 211. The unreformed English Common Law is frequently used by Hegel as an example of the anxiety, irrationality and eventual cruelty of uncodified customary law. He kept a whole collection of press-cuttings illustrating some of the more blatant absurdities of early nineteenth-century Common Law. These cuttings have been published in Hegels Berliner Schriften, ed. Hoffmeister, J. (Hamburg, 1956), sec. VIII, ch. 31, pp. 718724.

36 Philosophy of Right, § 213. Hegel's disciple, Eduard Gans, held the same position in his Introduction to his master's Philosophy of Right, pp. xiii–xiv, as well as in his own work, Erbrecht in weltgeschichtlicher Entwicklung (Berlin, 1824), I, vi.

37 This has been characteristically criticized as being contradictory to Hegel's system by Ferdinand Lassalle, System der erworbenen Rechte, 2. Aufl., I, xv xvii, 58–61. Lassalle, in spite of his Hegelianism, was very much influenced by the Historical School (his book was dedicated to one of its leading members), and his concept of Volksgeist is identical with their and with the general romantic outlook. Those interested in the involved problem of Lassalle's nationalism may find this of some interest.

38 Hegels Schriften zur Politik und Rechtsphilosophie, p. 199. That this attitude is very far from a Burkean one should be borne in mind, especially by those who tend to see in Hegel strong traces of Burke's influence. The fact that Hegel accepted rational criteria for a critique of social conditions should make his attitude quite distinct from Burke's, in spite of the fact that Hegel did not go very far in applying those criteria to immediate reality.

39 Philosophy of Right, addition to § 211.

40 Op. cit., p. 275. Cf. also Rosenzweig, F., Hegel und der Staat (Berlin, 1920), II, 5.

41 Einleitung, p. 250; Weltgeschichte, pp. 705, 711.

42 Philosophy of Right, § 347.

43 Einleitung, p. 174.

44 Weltgeschichte, pp. 533–542.

45 Hegel's Philosophy of History, trans. Sibree, J., new edition (New York, 1956), pp. xv, 341. I have refrained from using this translation, and rendered my own translation of the passages quoted from the various parts of the Philosophy of History, because of the rather unreliable and fragmentary German edition which served as a basis for Sibree's translation. See Hoffmeister's Appendix to his edition of the Einleitung for a detailed account of these problems.

46 Weltgeschichte, p. 758.

47 Ibid., p. 775.

48 Ibid., pp. 774ff.

49 Ibid., p. 761.

50 Philosophy of Right, addition to § 339. A similar note is voiced by Hegel in his Aesthetics: “In contemporary Europe, every nation is limited by another one, and cannot, therefore, embark on a course of war against another European nation” (Werke, ed. , Glockner, XIV, 355). Cf. Weltgeschichte p. 761 and Avineri, , “The Problem of War in Hegel's Thought,” Journal of the History of Ideas, XXII (1961), 463474.

51 The Modern Democratic State (London, 1943), I, 146149.

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