Saturday, 10 December 2011

Hegel in Berne and Frankfurt

Here is a further summary of Karl Rosenkranz' Life of Hegel (1844), starting from Hegel's time as a tutor in Switzerland from 1793-96 (covering Part 1, chapters 12-18). As the book is not available in English and my German is not (yet) up to the job, I work from the French translation of Pierre Osmo.

Book One 

 Chapter 12

Hegel Tutor in Switzerland Autumn 1793 - 1796

[I focus on matters that are overlooked in the dated English biographies (particularly Walter Kaufmann's) with which I am most familiar.]

The main thing missing from this chapter is reference to Hegel's
German translation of the revolutionary book about the rights of the
citizens of Vaud that later biographers refer to. I'm not sure if
Rosenkranz knew about this and doesn't mention it or if it was only
discovered later - and of course, perhaps he mentions it later on.

Rosenkranz explains how Hegel knew a politically active lawyer in Stuttgart and a painter in Berne in Switzerland, where he tutored. He observes that Hegel lived in many interesting towns and was not settled in one. In 1795, he visited Geneva, which is in the French speaking part of Switzerland, and also the Bernese Alps. The material on Hegel's response to the Swiss mountains thus goes back to 1844 when Rosenkranz' book appeared. I didn't know he had been to Geneva. He did not admire the sublimity or grandeur or calmness of the mountains - they are dead, he said, and do nothing for the imagination. He liked the streams though, as an eternal becoming and Rosenkranz relates this to his philosophy, as he often tries to do, more or less plausibly. However, Rosenkranz also reports Hegel as saying that 'physico-theology has nothing to say in the presence of such mountains' which I would have said is really the thought of the sublime appearing under another guise.

Referring to other fragments of the Berne period, Rosenkranz cites Hegel as contrasting the "Christian legend" with "Greek myth". This suggests to me that he was still uncertain in his religious opinions at this time. Rosenkranz interprets the text as indicating that "his faith is yet troubled". Of course it is reasonable that Hegel's opinions would develop over time and this seems to have been the case. Laurence Dickey has another more orthodox interpretation of this early text (I think it's the 'Fragments on folk-religion' that is being referred to). In the next chapter, he discusses Hegel's reading at this time.

Chapter 13

Theological and Historical Studies of the Swiss Period

Rosenkranz remarks that Hegel's works are products of an artistry that places an individual fact in a universal context; Schelling's in contrast are more spontaneous effusions of the joy of discovery. He intersperses his narrative with interesting comments of this kind. He discusses theology and history turn about.

Rosenkranz notes that in Switzerland Hegel "emancipated himself completely from the dead theology of Tübingen". Of course, this isn't very flattering about Tübingen. Rosenkranz glosses this by saying that the idea of "love" became central to Hegel, which he conceived as a "being with oneself in another" (meaning love as identification I guess) as indicated by Christ.  The "Kingdom of Love" (the Church) was too contracted and mistaken in so far as it cut itself off from science, art and the state, he thought, which is presumably by implication a critique of Tübingen.

Hegel develops the idea of a "positive" religion, in which an external authority pronounces on expressions of piety. This refers to the material since published in English in Hegel's Early Theological Writings (ed. Knox, OUP). However, Rosenkranz also describes some of Hegel's background reading, which included:
- Mosheim (Ecclesiastical History, presumably)
- Kant
- Fichte
- Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus)
- Marivaux' Novels
Mosheim's was the standard Protestant church history of its day and also available in English. Spinoza's work is more valuable than his Ethics in my view and was widely read in Protestant circles (though not uncritically).

In the light of the absence of reference to the Old Testament in the Phenomenology, it is interesting to note Rosenkranz's observation that Hegel's opinions on Jewish history fluctuated wildly. Thus he writes on Abraham and Moses in The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, ignores it in the Phenomenology, sees it as close to the German spirit in the Philosophy of Right, likens it to Greece and Rome in the Philosophy of Religion and to Persia in the Philosophy of History. Some of this is explicable by the development of his own views.

On Christianity proper, Rosenkranz notes that Klopstock's Messiah had appeared in 1773 along with many similar writings and Hegel too writes a Life of Jesus that sees him as a moral teacher with miraculous matter excluded and ignoring Paul's Letters. At Tübingen Hegel had preferred Socrates to Jesus for Socrates inaugurated no ceremonies and did not bind his disciples to himself, but in Berne he changes his mind. He writes a 'Critique of Positive Religion' (In English 'Positivity of the Christian Religion') between November 1795 and April 1796 that asks: how is a popular religion possible? how can imagination and understanding both be satisfied? what is the balance of public and private religion? how are Church and State to be related? The deeper his love for the "historical Christ" says Rosenkranz, the more frustrated he  became with doctrine. Of course, this makes Hegel an originator of the whole "historical Jesus" line of thought, as indeed he was. Hegel writes of not forcing sensibility in line with fixed doctrine, or having a Sunday and a week-day self out of relation. He thinks the early Christian community of goods inapplicable in a modern state and asserts that "Christian equality" is often an empty symbol.

Turning to history, Hegel at this time read:
- Gibbon - Decline and Fall (famous for its account of Christian origins)
- Montesquieu, L'Esprit des Lois
- Hume - History of England (a conservative account of its subject)
- Schiller - Thirty Years War (lest we forget that Schiller was also a historian)
- Reynal - Histoire des Deux Indes
Alongside the above he read church history and less well known German texts. He drew a sketch of what he saw as the principal passions at work in history (ambition and the like, presumably). Many aphorisms he wrote at this time have been published in a book Hoffmeister Dok[umente...]. I'm not aware of this material appearing in English. Rosenkranz notes that Hegel's greatest stylistic influence was Kant. Hegel also nurtured some political plans and read Benjamin Constant, whom he continued to read till his last days. Constant was a critic of the revolution and this may have informed the more conservative aspects of Hegel's thinking.

Chapter 14

Correspondence of Hegel and Schelling (1794-95)

This chapter features four early letters of Hegel to Schelling from  Hegel’s Berne period, that is, before the famous one shortly before he joined Schelling in Jena. Part 1 of Rosenkranz’s book covers the period prior to the move to Jena around 1800 when his public life began. One interesting thing about these chapters is the degree to which they reproduce material often thought of as not printed until the 20th century by Nohl and others in Germany. In fact, much of it was available in Rosenkranz, either in summary or in the original. The other main interesting point is Rosenkranz’s own take on Hegel’s development, often in pithy remarks at the start of the chapters.

Rosenkranz begins by observing that, while Hegel was deepening his knowledge by reflecting on his reading, he did this at this time without outward violence of changes of direction. Hegel progresses, rather than skipping from extreme to extreme, he puts it. To my mind, this indicates some mix of a historical method and a placid or scholarly temper in Hegel that stays close to the facts he is absorbing. Rosenkranz also expresses this by saying that Hegel ‘made himself a stranger to himself’, proceeding by observation.

Whilst in Berne, Hegel absorbed Schelling, Kant and Fichte, Plato, Aristotle and Spinoza. Of course, many of Fichte and more so Schelling’s works were still to appear at this point. Next, Rosenkranz illustrates his view of Hegel by a comparison with Schelling, citing a Carl Bachmann who in 1810 compared Schelling to Plato and Hegel to Aristotle.

This was taken up in English by Hutcheson Stirling in his Secret of Hegel (1865). Rosenkranz says Schelling broke with subjective idealism, but often only by way of presentiment: quoting poets and using scholastic terms (often in Latin). Schelling was awarded a doctorate in 1792 and published in 1793. Hegel wrote to him the following year. Rosenkranz reproduces Hegel’s letters but not Schelling’s replies – Schelling was still alive at this point of course and still harboured some resentment against Hegel and may not have permitted this. Of the four letters:

The first letter (Dec 1794) amounts to little. Hegel writes to renew  acquaintance, asks about a position and about responses to Kant on  religion, news of the French guillotine, etc. Schelling replies.

The second (Jan 1795) observes that he (Hegel) has been studying Kant and thinks it would be ‘interesting’ to disturb ‘the theologians’ in their ‘gothic temple’ with Kantian ideas. He mentions Fichte’s Critique of All Revelation (1792) that was at first mistaken for a work of Kant’s. He asks how far, starting from the Kantian moral law we might revise the idea of God. He still speaks of reason, freedom and the ‘invisible church’ as watchwords. Schelling replies.

The third letter (April 1795) turns to politics and speaks contemptuously of a self-electing ‘sovereign council’. He predicts that Kant will cause a revolution of ideas in Germany, though the idea of God as ‘absolute self’ will remain esoteric. He has been studying Kant’s ‘postulates of practical reason’ (that is, God, freedom and immortality) along with some printed sheets of Schelling and intends to go further into Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre (1794), saying that people will be taken by vertigo by the extreme altitude from which Fichte writes. The ideas of human dignity and freedom have taken root and in this sense he relates his political experiences to the significance he attributes to Kant’s philosophy. Here philosophical proof, religion and politics go hand in hand. He disapproves of the fact that the Church taught human depravity to the benefit of despotism. (If I might interject a comment here, this is early evidence of the ‘revolution of ideas’ mentioned in the Science of Logic and elsewhere being that inaugurated by Kant and which he associates political reform. It also strikes me as a bit hard on the Church, given that the rulers were subject to original sin as much as the ruled, but we must allow Hegel to speak to his own experience.)  Hegel also refers to Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man and mentions that Hölderlin has been studying under Fichte at Jena.

The fourth letter (August 1795) mentions Schelling’s early writings ‘The Self as Principle of Philosophy’ and ‘The Possibility of a Form of Philosophy in General’ and is worried that people will not give up the idea of a not-self readily even when Kant’s ideas hit home. (If I might interject again, this seems plausible enough and has been one of the central weaknesses of the German idealist tradition from then to now.) Hegel mentions rumblings against Fichte in Jena and interestingly describes himself as being weak on Church history. The chapter breaks off with the end of this fourth letter.

Chapter 15 

Correspondence of Hegel with Hölderlin

Rosenkranz recounts how Hölderlin found another tutoring job for Hegel at Frankfurt-an-Main in Western Germany which Hegel accepted on Hölderlin’s word – a bit of a hostage to fortune you would think and the reader is left waiting to see how things turn out in Frankfurt.

Rosenkranz reproduces a letter from Hegel in this connection that he dates to summer 1796, but Osmo thinks this should be corrected to November 1796 as it replies to one dated October 1796 from Hölderlin. In the letter, Hegel writes that a teacher should form character, but can only do so in harmony with the parents and he comes across as quite insightful and speaking from experience, which of course he was. He is happy to rely on Hölderlin as regards salary, which sounds like naivety speaking. The family with whom he is to stay are the Gogels.

Finally, Rosenkranz reproduces Hegel’s poem Eleusis which he dates to August 1796 and interprets it in the context of his affection for Hölderlin. Osmo notes that Jacques d’Hondt disputes this interpretation and sees the significance of the poem as ‘free-masonic’, which strikes me as a bit far fetched as a contrast given that it’s inscribed “To Hölderlin”. (Osmo cites d’Hondt’s  Hegel: a biography (1998) for this and thinks D'Hondt ‘profoundly reworked’ our ideas of Hegel over many years.) Osmo notes also that the revised date of the letter might separate it from the poem.

In the lines of the poem itself, Hegel refers to the freedom and leisure that night gives him from the busy-ness of the daylight world (an echo of his overburdened working hours at Berne, perhaps). He wants ‘free truth’ and not peace with dogmas – the scholar may seek only love and wisdom, rather than being a toy of the merchant or sophist – and Hegel worries over his ability to speak what he has
discerned of the infinite. Again, the chapter breaks off with the end of the poem.

Chapter 16

Life as a Tutor in Frankfurt-am-Main: New Year 1797 to end of 1800

After his period in Berne in Switzerland, Hegel returned to his family in
Stuttgart where, we have it from his sister, he was withdrawn and morose. He
then proceeded on northwards up to Frankfurt, hoping for more leisure, books
and stimulating companionship. He stayed with a merchant family the Gogels
in the Roßmarkt – I daresay the RAF bombed this flat in the war, but I think
Goethe’s house survived, so you never know. Rosenkranz points out that the
same town was the cradle both of Goethe’s poetry and Hegel’s philosophy.
However, it appears later that he misallocates some texts from the Jena
period to Frankfurt, so that conclusion is not quite sound. Nor is his
conclusion that Hegel did indeed have more leisure in Frankfurt for the same
reason, though it may be true nonetheless. The fact that his sister’s view
is not corroborated might allow for a more favourable view of the Berne
period too, but Beat & Kai say that the Berne period has been investigated
on its own account subsequently.

In Frankfurt, says Rosenkranz, Hegel’s speculative talent took wing and his
political ambitions were kept alive. However, again the misallocation of
texts casts doubt on the former of these assertions. Politically, a friend
died at the battle of Wagram fighting Napoleon in a Hessian regiment.

Hegel met Hölderlin again and witnessed his “catastrophic” affair with
Suzette. He also met a Herr Sinclair who expressed concern about the
subjectivity of idealism. He also met many other people who are less
remembered. Sinclair later expressed his ideas in a book Truth and Certainty
(1811). Hegel was receptive to such “Christian romanticism” as Rosenkranz
describes it. I don’t think Sinclair has ever been much discussed in

Rosenkranz describes Hegel’s thought as having moved on from rationalism and
Fichte to a “speculative mysticism” at this time. Again the apparent
misdating of texts vitiates the reliability of this conclusion. Hegel spoke
of Ceres, goddess of grain (fertility) in his early poem Eleusis and now
turns to nature-poetry. In one striking image, he says “spring menaces...”;
and in another that nature in winter is in mourning. This perhaps presages
his willingness to read meanings into natural phenomena, though of course it
doesn’t justify it.


Chapter 17

Political Studies

Rosenkranz summarises Hegel’s political experience at this time by noting that he was
from a civil service family and had seen a university town at Tübingen and
then a patriarchal hereditary aristocracy at Berne. Frankfurt in contrast,
was run by a monied merchant aristocracy. Hegel admired the (mixed) English
constitution, as was then common, and also the development of commercial
relations there. He followed debates on the English poor law in journals (R
doesn’t mention which ones, which is a shame as they’re mostly available
online these days) and the Prussian civil code. He also knew of arguments on
penal sanctions including solitary confinement. (If I might interject here,
this is very probably a reference to the English prison reformer Howard, who
sought to reform prisons by instituting solitary confinement, which proved
worse for prisoners than some of the punishments it replaced, though it was

In Frankfurt, Hegel wrote a commentary on Steuart’s Principles of Political
Economy (1767) using the German translation (Tübingen, 1769-72). Osmo says
this commentary is now lost. It is important that not all Hegel’s writings
have come down to us and Rosenkranz is a valuable source of information on
the lost material. For example, this lost commentary justifies Laurence
Dickey’s use of a comparison with Steuart that is also developed in P
Chamley ‘Economie Politique et Philosophie chez Steuart et Hegel’ (Paris,
1963). It suggests to me that Hegel was perhaps out of step with the main
line of liberal thought on the subject deriving from Adam Smith. The lost
commentary addressed several aspects of civil society that reappear only in
the Philosophy of Right (1821) including:
- division of labour
- state power
- poor relief and police
- taxation.
There also dates from this time summaries of Kant’s  Critique of Practical
Reason (1788) and Kant’s other late legal and moral writings (i.e. the
‘Metaphysic of Morals’). As in his later published views, Hegel thought
there was an original unity of morality and positive law which he expressed
by the terms Leben (‘life’) and Sittlichkeit (usually translated as ‘ethics’).
He disliked the degradation of nature implied in absolutism of Kant’s
morality of duty. He also takes issue with Kant’s doctrines of law and
morality that leave state and church mutually independent. For Hegel the
church is all-encompassing and to see church and state as unrelated is
simply not to take one of them seriously. (If I might interject here, this
strikes me as completely mistaken as it confuses a principled refusal of the
church to operate by force with a lack of seriousness. This was a live issue
in much of Europe at this time.)

Also in the Frankfurt period, Hegel worked on an essay on ‘The German
Constitution’. Here he vaguely contrasts an indeterminate outward hope with
an enduring outward political reality that is inadequate to it. The German
emperor has ceased to be a source of law (‘Recht’) and has declined to a
particular amongst particulars; whereas the character of law is to be
universal. This universal in Germany is thus present only as thought, not as
effective reality. (To interject again: this was translated by TM Knox and
if I recall rightly also contains quite a bit of empirical material.)

Finally, Hegel also wrote in a more practical political vein an essay ‘That
the Württemberg Magistrates should be elected by the People’. However,
friends suggested revisions and then advised against publication. Rosenkranz
describes him as wavering between Plato and Rousseau (I’m note sure what
that means). He evokes general images of hypocrisy setting aside justice
through self-interest – that sounds like the the sort of youthful idealism
that he later characterised in ‘Virtue and the Way of the World’. However,
the text has been more adequately commented on elsewhere, so I will hold my

Chapter 18

Return to the Critique of Positive Religion

In 1799 and 1800, politics gives way again to religion in Hegel’s thoughts,
but this time in a more moderate spirit in which there is a role for
‘positivity’, which is to say for the intrusion of outward fact in the form
of both traditional doctrinal content and public expression. The precise
autobiographical validity of this chronology has since been subject to doubt
owing to questions over the dating of texts, however, I here recite the
story as presented by Rosenkranz. The main text he deals with is in fact dated.

Hegel thus now takes the standpoint of a ‘philosophy of religion’ within
which the concept of religion is developed and in the light of which its
historical expressions are interpreted. Rosenkranz cites the ‘system-fragment’ of
1800 to back this up. This was later published by Hermann Nohl in Hegels Theologische Jugendschriften (1907) and is  available in English at the back of TM Knox’s Early Theological Writings  (1948).

Hegel’s concept of religion now goes something like this: we place God
outside ourselves and relate to him, though LOVE, as of something infinite,
unified and alive. The finite as LIFE (I capitalise some of the key terms)
thereby raises itself above oppositions and thus sees or discerns the
infinite. Hegel’s vocabulary here validates (practical, mental) ‘life’ as a
basic context in which concrete concepts arise and make sense. Here,
continues Rosenkranz, even the oppositions of life (in the limited biological sense)
and death, or of thought and what-is-thought must be abandoned; the true
infinite is not to be held at a distance as one term in an opposition that
WE have conceived. At this point Hegel opposes reason (that holds onto the
infinite) and understanding (that draws distinctions). Rosenkranz describes
this description of Hegel’s as an ‘abstract characterisation’ of religion.

Developing the theme of ‘positivity’ (outwardness), Hegel now thinks that
religion needs an ‘objective focus’ (culte/cultus) – as e.g. in a temple –
that is connected to a subjectivity (that is, a religious consciousness
imbued with the significance of the outward facts of ceremony, etc). The
conditions of religion, he says, are to be freed from ‘absolute objectivity’
and the concerns of finite life. In this context, the meaning of SACRIFICE
consists of a giving up of the finite, setting nothing finite aside as real.
In addition to this, what is not sacrificed loses its particularity by being
SHARED. (If I might interject here, the theme of ‘sacrifice’ is often noted
as something assumed and omnipresent in the ancient world, from Abraham to
that Greek bloke who sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia at the start of the
Trojan war to the Atonement itself - on some interpretations. Even we speak
of ‘sacrificing ourselves’ to a goal, which is both the same and different
to my mind. In addition, Hegel’s insightful interpretation of sharing was
new to me and seems highly plausible.)

Song, dance and joyful feeling bring subjectivity into play. Hegel here
cites phrases from Fichte’s ‘Appeal to the Public’ (1799), the essay that
ended his tenure at Jena; and also the lines ‘What the heaven of heavens
does not encompass finds its place in Mary’s heart.’ This text (the
system-fragment) is dated September 1800.

The chapter includes in this mystical way with the observation that ‘the
infinite is not the totality of the finite’ (for that is only a ‘finite
infinite’, so to speak). This sounds like the sort of thing Bob Wallace
sometimes says and sounds like a significant development of the ideas both
of infinity and totality, both of which are fairly key for Hegel sating back
to his ‘hen kai pan’ (all and one) days.

The next chapter is particularly interesting and much longer than the
others. More on it to follow.

[I partially reproduce here some comments from Beat Greuter on Carl Bachmann occasioned by my chapter 14 above in the public domain at and my reply in acknowledgement:
Beat Greuter:
"Bachmann wrote a book on "System der Logik" (1828) based on Aristotelian logic. After Hegel's death he wrote another book "Ueber Hegel's System und die Notwendigkeit einer nochmaligen Umgestaltung der Philosophie" (1833) where he repeated that the system of philosophy by Hegel has not yet come to an end. [....] It is very interesting that it was just Karl Rosenkranz - 10 years before he wrote his Hegel biography - who replied to Bachman's "Ueber Hegel's System und die Notwendigkeit einer nochmalige Umgestaltung der Philosophie". Bachmann was at this time - what an irony of destiny - a professor for philosophy at the university of Jena while Rosenkranz had the same position in Königsberg, one of Kant's successor. Rosenkranz entitled his reply a "Sendschreiben an den Hofrath und Professor der Philosophie, Herrn Dr. Carl Friedrich Bachmann in Jena" (1834). [...] On the following website you can find the Google books written by Bachmann. I do not think that there are English translations.
I also find out that Bachmann's "Anti Hegel" (1835) was an answer to
Rosenkranz's "Sendschreiben" I mentioned before. [...] " ]
Stephen Cowley replied:
"Many thanks for the corrections and supplementary information. Pierre Osmo gives a certain amount of information about Karl Friedrich Bachmann (1785-1855) who is mentioned several times in Rosenkranz’s book. In addition to citing the comparison with Aristotle, Rosenkranz particularly mentions Bachmann as one of 30 students attending Hegel’s Winter 1804 course in Jena that covered his whole system. He later notes Hegel’s gratitude for Bachmann’s early positive account of the Phenomenology in the Heidelberger Jahrbücher (1810). In 1858 in his reply to Haym, Rosenkranz also names Bachmann as one of five protestant polemicists which Osmo takes to refer to his book ‘Anti-Hegel’ (1835) which provoked a reply from Feuerbach as his earlier one did from Rosenkranz himself.
All this adds to my knowledge of the richness of early German reactions to Hegel. Bachmann’s use of ‘formal logic’ sounds similar to the early work of Trendelenberg on Aristotle that took an anti-Hegelian line. Frege comes at things from a more abstract, Meinongian angle, as far as I remember. Rosenkranz’s own view (which I will come to later) is that mind is a central concept for Hegel with propositional thinking an offshoot of this. Bachmann seems to have moved from comparing Hegel with Aristotle on the grounds of his interest in worldly matters of fact to contrasting him with Aristotle for not doing justice to the meaning of fixed terms – but as I don’t have access to the original texts I can’t usefully comment further." ]