Friday, 4 November 2016

Rudolf Haym on Hegel's System and English Political Reform

House of Commons, 1833, by George Hayter.
This post analyzes the concluding chapter of Rudolf Haym's Hegel and his Time (1857), which contains discussion of Hegel's essay On the English Reform Bill (1831) and his general conclusions on Hegel's philosophical system and method.


Introduction (Stephen Cowley)


The concluding chapter of Rudolf Haym's Hegel und seine Zeit [Hegel and his Time] (1857) contains Haym's views on Hegel's essay On the English Reform Bill, on the fate of the Hegelian school and on the future of German philosophy. I add my own comments in square brackets. Page references are to the French translation of Pierre Osmo (Gallimard, 2008), except where otherwise indicated. 

After his analysis of the Phenomenology, which we have covered in detail, Haym deals with Hegel's later works. He points out that, whilst the Science of Logic purports already to deal with reality, it ends by passing over to another reality, namely that of the philosophies of nature and spirit found in the Encyclopaedia. A progressive spirit of system takes over Hegel's initially realistic thinking. Consequently openness to conceptual revision in the light of new experience is stifled by the retention of fixed concepts embodied in his previous publications. This culminates in the Philosophy of Right (1821), which Haym considers an expression of the "philosophy of the Restoration". This latter interpretation has been challenged by later Hegel scholars, to whom we shall shortly turn. However, opposition to the idea of a final "system" remains a common feature of subsequent Hegel interpretations. 

Haym goes on to evaluate the lectures published in the first edition of Hegel's Werke (Works). He considers that the spirit of system blocks the way to living religious experience in the lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. This problem is less in evidence in the lectures on the Philosophy of History and Aesthetics, where the analysis is less constrained by prior conceptual commitments and presuppositions, but even here it progressively inhibits Hegel's response to his subject matter. 

My own view is that what is at stake here is a proper understanding of the relation between stable and unstable aspects of experience. Both are genuine aspects of experience, though their relationship is a legitimate matter of debate. Haym lived at a time of great technological change and social upheaval and his leanings to empiricism and social activism led him to estimate the need for conceptual revision highly. His admiration for Ludwig Feuerbach (who also admired English empiricism) is at the root of his reductive view of religion. The distorting effects of his passionate interest in German unification shows the danger in an excessively activist approach to philosophy, though the view of it as irrelevant to practical questions is a countervailing danger. I may discuss this further if I have time to analyze Karl Rosenkranz's reply to Haym.


Hegel and his Time: Concluding Chapter


According to Haym, the overall effect of Hegel’s systematizing philosophical work is of an “aesthetically optimistic structure, penetrated by the spirit of the Restoration.” (521) Even the philosophy of history borrows the greyness of the rest of the system. In the end, it ratifies the conclusion of the Philosophy of Right. It is “a defence of the political and governmental practices in the immediate vicinity of the philosopher, and the justification of the best of worlds coincides with the justification of the best of states.” (521)

In the winter of 1830/31 Hegel lectured for the last time on the philosophy of history. Revolution was again knocking at the door  of history. Glowing embers were again cast beyond the borders of France. The Bourbon monarchy fell. Haym writes: “Panic fear took hold of the politician members of the Congress [of Vienna?]: a boundless malaise gripped also the philosopher of the Restoration.” (522) [This reflects Rosenkranz’s account, though it has since been questioned. – SC] Perhaps he felt not only the foundations of the state shake, but also those of absolute idealism. The revolution this time was more house-trained and pacific, with some socially leveling tendencies. Hegel claimed that [in Haym’s words]:

“It is not the sins of the Restoration, but the sins of liberalism that France expiates with its July revolution. Freed from this principle – the principle that gives free course to the atomism of the individual will – the German state [meaning Prussia] is above the fatality of French revolutionary crises. Here the great principles of freedom, property and person are applied; every citizen, on condition that he has the required knowledge and aptitudes, takes part in the government; this last rests on the world of civil servants, and whilst the personal decision of the monarch takes place at the peak, it is in fact the best and wisest who govern.” (522)
In his last essay though, Hegel turned instead to the case of England.

The English Reform Bill


Hegel saw a spirit of disorder at work even in Britain and wrote [what turned out to be] his last article in the Allgemeine Preußische Staatszeitung, a critique On the English Reform Bill. [This came into effect in the 1832 reform Acts and the election of the 1832 reform parliament. – SC] Haym sees Lord Russell (1792-1878) as a key figure riding a wave of popular agitation. Haym comments:
“If the motive of this article is the disquiet that the shaking of the circumstances of the Restoration arouse, in the position he takes there are mixed the extreme perspicacity of the theoretician and the illusions proper to the Prussian civil servant.” (523)
[The civil service on the continent is sometimes reckoned a privileged class compared to much of the English speaking world. The German term is Beamtschaft. – SC] Hegel does not disapprove of the direction and content of the Reform Bill. Haym says: “it is in the fact of reform in itself that he perceived a danger. For the English state is, if we believe the German philosopher, in a situation that requires more than all other to be improved, but supports being so less than all others.” (523) This position is supported by a respectable knowledge of the details of English politics. Hegel outlines its defects. Haym comments:
“one cannot acquiesce without reservations in the propositions of the critique concerning for example the exploitation of primogeniture, the scandal of sinecures and other privileges, the position of the Anglican church, the bad government of Ireland and its social and economic consequences.” (523)
Some of these arrangements are of interest to antiquaries and represent the rust of centuries. As Hegel says, the English constitution is “an aggregate of positive arrangements unrelated to each other.” (523) To attend more to principles and modern constitutional forms might thus be an improvement. It would be quite one-sided though, says Haym, to dwell on these shadows without recognizing the powerful forces gathered in England under the banner of freedom. He says: “It is clear, once again, that the living process of freedom is nothing for our philosopher.” (524)

This essay makes Hegel’s view clear: freedom must be objectively constituted, regulated, constrained by bureaucracy and police. Haym says:
“Nowhere has the principle of self-government received such broad application, as grandiose and at the same time as measured, nowhere are its blessings as strikingly proven as in English parliamentarism. According to Hegel, this parliamentarism is the quintessence of corruption and political irrationality.” (524)
Hegel calls it “the noise and pomp of formal freedom” (524) that does not allow real freedom to flourish. Under the colors of freedom an egoistic and cupiditous oligarchy reigns. Hegel’s view, according to Haym, is that:
“Arbitrary privileges, traditions of private interest and, behind that, the stupidity of numbers and the passion of the rabble, such are the ingredients of which English constitutional life is composed. All the narrowness of view, full of prejudices, all the ill-humor charged with passion that characterize the judgment of political parties on the opposing party are given free reign in the verdict that Hegel passes on  the English parliament. Prussian bureaucratism in league with German idealism make common cause against the nature of English political reality and the practical-empirical intellect of the countrymen of Bacon.” (524)
Hegel speaks dismissively of the basic institution [the House of Commons] of English freedom as the Brandenburg Juncker speaks of the “nation of shopkeepers”. He describes the corruption of elections, but also lambasts parliamentary debates as a poor substitute for their Prussian equivalents. Haym says: “Mostly, in that assembly the time is passed with declarations made by the members of their personal position, and it is not as businessmen, but as individuals and privileged speakers that they expound their views. The eloquence of these orators is [for Hegel] a “verbosity that approaches self-ostentation”.” (525) Only the speeches of the Duke of Wellington (1769-1850) find favor with him – “a man after his heart as Tory statesman”. Hegel's main positive refrain is: “the effusive praise of the German and Prussian state.” (525) What England awaits, Germany has achieved. What England expects from popular representation, Germany accomplishes through the intellect, wisdom, love of justice and scientific culture. 

The Duke of Wellington, by Fransisco Goya.
According to Hegel, says Haym: "The principal fault of this backward England against the civilized states of the continent lies in the weakness of the monarchical power.” (525) Their jealousy of the Crown’s powers is “the most stubborn English prejudice” (525) according to Hegel. What is wanted is a mediating intermediary power capable of containing the opposed interests in the struggle between privilege and popular power. Haym expounds Hegel’s view:
“Only the power of government could realize successfully the rational principles of right and freedom. In England, power is in the hands of a privileged class. It follows that the defenders of these more just principles can only enter on the scene as opponents of the government and the existing order of things.” (525-26)
Hence the true principles can only prevail in England in the dangerous form of French abstractions. Thus, says Haym, expounding Hegel again: “The realization of reforms goes against the English political principle: it can [only] with difficulty be carried through successfully without major shudders to social and political unity.” Haym comments: “It is superfluous to refute this reasoning of a self-satisfied bureaucrat filled with anxiety.” (526) History itself soon showed his prophecies to be groundless, as was his idealized vision of the Restoration. Hegel died on 14 November 1831, before he saw the reform.

[Hegel read the British Whig press (e.g. Morning Chronicle), but perhaps underestimated the ability of the British people to organize resolutely outside parliament through public meetings and petitions in the cause of reform once the Whigs and Radicals had decided to co-operate. This was a slow process, but once achieved, the system became more responsive to popular opinion. There were separate Bills for Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish Reform Act had a similar overall effect, but with less broadening of the franchise. I discuss the role of Hegel’s Scottish contemporary, James Mylne, in the Reform movement in my book Rational Piety and Social Reform (2015). – SC]

The Hegelian School


Hegel died when he was still active and at the height of his glory, venerated by numerous disciples. He left behind a school. Haym says: “this school was also essentially his work and a part of his philosophy. A system such as this was not thinkable without formal, committed and organized followers. Encyclopaedic in terms of its content, it had to have, in its outward manifestations, a propagandistic side.” (526)

Only a division of labor could allow it to realize its universal scope, as broad as science itself. Haym says: “Its movement and expansiveness carried it to infinity: its dialectic and its ambiguity made it possible for men of the most opposed sensibilities to befriend it, adepts in good or bad faith to hide behind its formulae.” (526) It was monarchic in principle, with disciples in a circle around a fixed central point. The personality of Hegel operated in aid of this. Haym says: “Just as he admired Richelieu and Napoleon because they understood how to breach the private sphere of men, so he was personally hostile to the private character of opinions and philosophizing.” (527)

Hegel rejected Kant's idea of teaching “to philosophize” without content. As religion requires a church, so “absolute knowledge” requires a community of scholars. Truth for Hegel thus had an objective existence in alliance with the state. There was a “living reciprocity” between scholarship and the state.

Already in the 1820s, Hegel had proposed the idea of an official philosophical journal to the Minister of Religion (Suhrkamp, Vol 11). It was to be a critical journal, a counterpart to the French Journal des Savants. According to Hegel, it would gain authority from the fact: “that what was there distinguished, was delivered under the oversight of a high state authority and perhaps considered, so to say, as beneficiary of an expert review.” (528)

This would have allied state and philosophy even more closely. As it was, Hegel was close to Altenstein, the Prussian minister. The Berlin Annual for Scientific Criticism began in 1827. It reflected Hegelian standpoints, where the school reviewed its own strengths and evaluated discordant voices.

More powerful than these scholarly initiatives though, is the voice of “living history” [a phrase taken up by Jacques D’Hondt] and the mobilizing spiritual forces it contains. In comparison, the system-forming impulse “belongs to a perishable form of culture”. (528) What is true must by its nature develop. To survive you must pursue life. The systematic form does violence to scientific content. Hegelianism is an attempt to absolutely reconcile thought and reality. This works well in art, where it creates beauty. Haym says:
“It [Hegelianism] is, to say it all, by ruse and artifice the expression in the form of peace of the war of all against all. It wants to be an absolute reconciliation of thought and reality; it is in truth a psychological volatilization of reality and a methodical corruption of pure thought.” (529)
It gives an illusory mediation between freedom and necessity, understanding and intuition, subject and substance, but it only plays a game with them. It mystifies the aesthetic standpoint with by criticism and the critical standpoint by aesthetics. Far from reconciling pantheism and theism, it equivocates between them. In Haym’s word: “It vaunts itself for having reconciled the pantheist and theist world views; it is in truth only the poor equivocation of recognizing itself neither in one nor the other, and in one as much as in the other.” (529) Sometimes it claims no idea of spirit other than a historical one, but then it turns this development back into a fixed circle. Haym says: “As a whole as in detail, its method of mediation is an aesthetic-formalist illusion. But this formalism is at the last in the service of the laziness and lack of truth of a period that exploits the preceding vitality of German life to inaugurate the worst of practices.” (529) It conjoins the ethical powers of the Liberation with those of the Restoration.

The Dissolution of the Hegelian School


The time for such an aesthetic flight of fancy combined with political exhaustion has passed. The new movement in Germany has worked since the 1830s to dissolve the school. [Osmo notes that two major figures in this movement, Arnold Ruge and Johann Erdmann, were known personally to Haym at Halle. He recommends Yvon Belaval’s discussion of the principal Left and Right, Young and Old Hegelians in Histoire de la Philosophie, Vol 2 893-99.]

Haym notes: “The beginning of the end happened at those points where absolute spirit most made common cause with the spirit of the time and had expressly conceded power over itself to it.” (530) This was in theology and ethics-politics. Rationalism and historical inquiry were empowered again first in theology. “The entrenched dialectic of the system broke through its artificial barriers. [...] If [David] Strauss and the Young Hegelian journalists see in criticism and freedom the true soul of the system, Feuerbach for his part reduces the entire content of the Hegelian metaphysics to sensible existence, to man and nature.” (530-31) Here is not the place to present this scientific movement in detail, nor the work of those who oppose it, trying in vain to restore the equilibrium of the system. In practice, says Haym:
“The living materials prevailed over the forms. The principles, scarcely under the yoke, jostle each other in full anarchy and prove themselves one-sided in the extreme in science as in practice. It was thus that they appeared in connection with the history of our time. In the revolution that we have lived through [i.e. 1848 and after], the abstract feeling of freedom was translated into reality and stymied. In the reaction that followed, and in the materialist current that reigns over a great part of the science and life of today, it is the other one-sidedness that establishes itself: realism deprived of ideality.” (531)
Hegel's system was unable to contain the driving tendencies of the age. [After 1848, Haym lived to see the achievement of German unification by Prussia under Bismarck's chancellorship. - SC]

Future Perspectives on Germany

Today, we inherit the ruins of the Hegelian system. It is as if, in sight of the advancing enemy, we have fled the last trench where faith in the rights of reason and freedom found refuge. Haym comments:
“The great metaphysical edifices can succeed solely with a race of men aesthetically in unison, great discoveries in the domain of transcendental philosophy only in eras where the pulse of the life of the nation beats more strongly, where the awakening of a new courage allows the depths of the soul to open unto a world that is enlarged. Our era – do not mistake it – is not of this sort.” (532)
Haym repeats his view [and Marx and Engels’] that the German spirit was driven to heights of expression through being stymied politically. Haym says: 
“The Germans accomplished this miracle, amidst the most extreme poverty of public life, of drawing from the prose and the aridity of all the circumstances a pure and powerful poetry. The spirit that developed from this poetry was promptly put, in line with its origin, in the service of abstraction and exhausted itself on this territory. A new metaphysics – in some ways the poetry of science – can only be reborn amongst us when the German spirit will have completed itself in reality and gained for itself a new ground in the element of political freedom.” (532)
Hence we must join those who struggle for “the one thing necessary, for a shaping of our political life that is more conformable to reason and that is more ethical.” (532). Science or scholarship in general [Wissenschaft] has a role in this struggle. Thus far science “has demolished this system to restore fluidity to the coming powers which had become rigid and ineffective under the form of a dogmatism that concentrated itself finally on the practical interests of our present.” (532) We have the same culture that produced Hegel’s system at our fingertips. Haym says: “The future of German science rests in the first place on the same factors that gave rise to the development of German idealism: on the Enlightenment purified by Kant, on the knowledge of antiquity, on the aesthetic urge and the flight of a national ethics.” (533) But we have besides that the development of our minds through the new philosophy. We are richer in experience and reflection than was Germany in Hegel’s day.

It is not good for a nation to dwell too long on the summits of science. Hegelianism itself always maintained an interest in history alongside that in logic. Haym reminds us: “The fact that the history of the world is the spirit of the world constitutes the fundamental thought of the Phenomenology." (533-34)

Hegel both identifies and distinguishes the developing human spirit and absolute spirit developing from eternity. Haym says: “Hegel’s conception of history is metaphysical, and his metaphysics is historical.” (534) In a time that has rejected poetry and romanticism as illusory and which has practical contradictions to face, he continues: “only one step remains to be taken. It is the dialectic of our practical and theoretical development that pushes us beyond absolute idealism towards the ideal richness of an exploration and treatment of human history. The truth of absolute teleology is the understanding of the practical aspiration of our race for the ever more complete achievement of its destiny [Bestimmung].” (534) [This understanding is the program pursued by Haym in his biographical explorations of German history. - SC] 

Haym on the Future of German Philosophy


The story of the absolute thus becomes living history [lebendige Geschichte]. If the spirit of the Hegelian system realizes itself above all in historical science, its method can be displayed in all other sciences. We look at the “dialectic of the thing itself" as our model of inquiry and understanding. Thus we acquire concrete, individualized knowledge. Haym says: “The absolute method is only truly absolute when it is willing to exchange its constructive character for a heuristic character, when it renounces its scholastic form and with it its leanings for sophistry.” (534)

Haym thinks that a more intuitive mode of thought with all the mental faculties in play is a fitting destiny for Hegelian thought. We might draw higher syntheses and generalizations from incorporating the content of modern scholarship in this spirit. He is not hopeful of a new metaphysics of universal validity, certainly not in the near future, for the mass of new knowledge precludes it. We must look instead to human nature for our philosophy. Haym says:
“To grasp in a living and concrete way the spirit that is its eternal theme, it [philosophy] will be able to seek it nowhere else than in the depths of human nature and the real process of its development. The philosophy of the future will be once again a critical and transcendental philosophy. [...] To establish the general formula of the philosophy of the future poses no difficulty. It is a question of transcribing the dogmatic metaphysics of the last system into the transcendental register. The truth of the absolute idea is the living man in all the concreteness of his appearance and historical development.” (535-36)
[This program of a reliance on philosophical anthropology seems to owe its justification to Feuerbach, with whom the phrase "philosophy of the future" was associated. It was carried on by Wilhelm Dilthey. To me the transient, temporal contribution seems overstated, with the religious aspect thoroughly misconceived. – SC] 

Modern philosophy excelled ancient philosophy only when it returned from transcendent objects to those of the senses and reflective consciousness. Only Kant took us beyond the philosophy of Leibniz and Wolff. We do not need a more audacious metaphysics to go beyond Hegel, but a reconsideration of science that measures his system, including its idea of the living subject, its dialectical art and the creative power of that art. Kant discovered the laws of abstract knowledge in its functions of intuition, judgment and reasoning. We must look at a larger version of this project. Haym says:
“Man in the wholeness of his nature is the object of this critique. [...] It is with the living deeds where the energy of man expresses itself in the wholeness of its nature and where it joins together with itself and the real world that it will be incumbent on the new critique to discover the concrete laws of human nature.” (536)
The question about the possibility of synthetic a priori judgments will be answered only by a broader consideration of the possibility of the synthesis of language, art, religion and legal, ethical and scientific practice.

Yet while this is being done, further facts are being amassed by empirical studies. The one thing still to be wished is that empirical research should not be hampered by metaphysical constructions of a precipitous nature, not by principles devoid of thought, not by the superstition of materialism. [In my view, this last concession to religious orthodoxy (rejection of materialism) is of slight account compared to the metaphysical doubts cast over the Christian doctrine of man as a “ruined temple” in need of divine agency for salvation. This may apply more broadly to the rationalist school of theology that Haym allied himself with. – SC]

Haym wishes to focus on history, particularly the history of ideas and the history of nations. The study of great men and their creative role is part of this. Haym hopes that he has given an instance of this worthy of its subject.

[In general, Haym seems to me to lack a clear concept of philosophy independent of or above empirical inquiries. He also seems to forget at times that Hegel was also writing for ages yet to come and that this was part of his significance, even for his contemporaries. Thus the Hegelian idea of an overarching unity of consciousness has continued to draw the attention of readers after Haym and his reflections on German unification have been largely forgotten.

Osmo refers the reader to Haym’s biography of von Humboldt for further development of these reflections. I would recommend Walter Jaeschke's essay "Hegel's Last Year in Berlin" in Hegel's Concept of Action (ed. Stepelevich & Lamb. NJ: Humanities, 1983) for an informed, recent discussion. There is an interesting brief critique of Haym’s treatment of the Phenomenology in Lukacs’ The Young Hegel (1954; English 1975, 450). Two selections from Haym can be found in Robert Stern (ed.) G.W.F. Hegel: Critical Assessments, Volume 1 (London: Routledge, 1993), including a full translation of part of the above and his negative chapter on Hegel's Philosophy of Right. - SC]