Before WW I, when most traces of German culture have been crushed in the english world, Hegel is said to have been the major Philosopher at Oxford and Cambridge. The following long quote from the “Hegelianism” article in the “Encyclopedia Britannica” of 1911, written by an english Hegelian, may shed some light on this time:
On the continent of Europe the direct influence of Hegelianism was comparatively short-lived. This was due among other causes to the direction of attention to the rising science of psychology, partly to the reaction against the speculative method. In England and Scotland it had another fate. Both in theory and practice it here seemed to supply precisely the counteractive to prevailing tendencies towards empiricism and individualism that was wanted. In this respect it stood to philosophy in somewhat the same relation that the influence of Goethe stood to literature. This explains the hold which it had obtained upon both English and Scottish thought soon after the middle of the 19th century.
The first impulse came from J.F. Ferrier and J.H. Stirling in Edinburgh, and B. Jowett in Oxford. Already in the 1870s there was a powerful school of English thinkers under the lead of Edward Caird and T.H. Green devoted to the study and exposition of the Hegelian system. With the general acceptance of its main principle that the real is the rational, there came in the 1880s a more critical examination of the precise meaning to be attached to it and its bearing on the problems of religion.
The earlier Hegelians had interpreted it in the sense that the world in its ultimate essence was not only spiritual but self-conscious intelligence whose nature was reflected inadequately but truly in the finite mind. They thus seemed to come forward in the character of exponents rather than critics of the Western belief in God, freedom and immortality.
As time went on it became obvious that without departure from the spirit of idealism Hegel’s principle was capable of a different interpretation. Granted that rationality taken in the sense of inner coherence and self-consistency is the ultimate standard of truth and reality, does self-consciousness itself answer to the demands of this criterion? If not, are we not forced to deny ultimate reality to personality whether human or divine? The question was definitely raised in F.H. Bradley’s ‘Appearance and Reality’ (1893; 2nd ed., 1897) and answered in the negative. The completeness and self-consistency which our ideal requires can he realized only - in a form of being in which subject and object, will and desire, no longer stand as exclusive opposites, from which it seemed at once to follow that the finite self could not be a reality nor the infinite reality a self. On this basis Bradley developed a theory of the Absolute which, while not denying that it must be conceived of spiritually, insisted that its spirituality is of a kind that finds no analogy in our self-conscious experience.
More recently J.M.E. McTaggart’s ‘Studies in Hegelian Dialectic’ (1896), ‘Studies in Hegelian Cosmology’ (1901) and ‘Some Dogmas of Religion’ (1906) have opened a new chapter in the interpretation of Hegelianism. Truly perceiving that the ultimate metaphysical problem is, here as ever, the relation of the One and the Many, McTaggart starts with a definition of the ideal in which our thought upon it can come to rest. He finds it where (a) the unity is for each individual, (b) the whole nature of the individual is to he for the unity. It follows from such a conception of the relation that the whole cannot itself be an individual apart from the individuals in whom it is realized, in other words, the Absolute cannot be a Person. But for the same reason—viz, that in it first and in it alone this condition is realized — the individual soul must be held to he an ultimate reality- reflecting in its inmost nature, like the monad of Leibniz. The complete harmony of the whole. In reply to Bradley’s argument for the unreality of the self, Hegel is interpreted as meaning that the opposition between self and not-self on which it is founded is one that is self-made and in being made is transcended. The fuller our knowledge of reality the more does the object stand out as an invulnerable system of ordered parts, but the process by which it is thus set in opposition to the subject is also the process by which we understand and transform it into the substance of our own thought. From this position further consequelices followed. Seeing that the individual soul must thus be taken to stand in respect to its inmost essence in complete harmony with the whole, it must eternally be at one with itself a change must be appearance. Seeing, moreover, that it is, and is maintained in being, by a fixed relation to the Absolute, it cannot fail of immortality. No pantheistic theory of an eternal substance continuously expressing itself in different individuals who fall back into its being like drops into the ocean will here he sufficient. The ocean is the drops. “The Absolute requires each self not to make up a sum or to maintain an average but in respect of the self’s special and unique nature”. Finally as it cannot cease, neither can the individual soul have had a beginning. Pre-existence is as necessary and certain as a future life. If memory is lacking as a link between the different lives, this only shows that memory is not of the substance of the soul.
In view of these differences (amounting almost to an antinomy of paradoxes) in interpretation, it is not surprising to find that recent years have witnessed a violent reaction in some quarters against Hegelian influence. This has taken the direction on the one hand of a revival of realism, on the other of a new form of subjective idealism. As yet neither of these movements has shown sufficient coherence or stability to establish itself as a rival to the main current of philosophy in England. But they have both been urged with sufficient ability to arrest its progress and to call for a reconsideration and restatement of the fundamental principle of idealist philosophy and its relation to the fundamental problems of religion. This will probably be the main work of the next generation of thinkers in England.