The common representations of the “system collapse” of Hegelian philosophy are superficial and false.
There were many local Hegel renaissances outside Germany during Hegel’s time and afterwards (in all Scandinavia until about 1870, in Poland and Russia in the 19th century, in the UK6 and the USA 7 in the second half of the 19th century, in Italy from Hegel’s time uninterruptedly until the end of the 20th century etc.)
However, all these Hegel receptions were only partially and also partially deficient, we are in a better situation today.
Personally, I assume that in future Hegel will get the status Plato and Aristotle had in the previous 2500 years.
Chronological listing (1830-1850)
In the following I will try to summarise some of the facts there together with many other single observations from various sources chronologically:
The following should be read against the background of the circumstances of Hegel’s last years in Berlin, as described on the Hegel.net Hegel Biography, in the section about Berlin8.
The romantic, anti-Hegelian Crown Prince was already getting more and more influence in Hegel’s last years. This tendency continues to grow…
In November 1831 Hegel died unexpectedly, barely 61 years old. His designated successor, Gabler, did not have his authority, knowledge, prudence and perspective, and could not hold the Hegelian movement together.
In the course of the publication of Hegel’s works9, which are now organised by the association of the “Friends of the Deceased”, not only his books but his lectures are now also published10, which are more easily accessible, but also easier to misunderstand and easier to attack. Anyone can now take Hegel’s results, without having to consider their derivation from logic etc., and compare them with his own desired / expected results. This makes it easier for his enemies to find points of attack, especially in the religious (in their view too little according to their orthodox ideas) and in the political (in their view too liberal). At first, the religious criticism will begin the further we move in the pre-March, but the political criticism will also become stronger.11
The criticism of religion, which begins 1835 with Strauss work “Das Leben Jesu”12 in the Hegelian school13 (previously already by Heine14, but apparently less noticed there), makes Hegelian philosophy vulnerable in public. A dispute for which the Hegelian movement is too weak and which Hegel avoided for good reason.
1838, the only protector of Hegelian philosophy in the administration, the minister of education Karl vom Stein zum Altenstein, loses his post due to health problems and dies 1840 (before that, he was still thinking about how he could protect Hegelian philosophy from the religious attacks in connection with Strauß). His successor 1840-1848, Friedrich Eichhorn, a former liberal, acts as an enemy of the Hegelians (He appoints the Hegel enemies Schelling and Stahl and fires the Hegelain Professors Bruno Bauer Nauwerck).
In 1841 the crown prince becomes the new Prussian king Frederic Wiliam IV 15. He does everything to hinder Hegelianism or, best of all, to eradicate “the dragon seed of Hegelian pantheism” (from his letter of appointment to Schelling16).
Schelling’s lectures in Berlin (on Hegel’s former chair!), 1841 are ostensibly rejected unanimously by the Hegel followers still dominating Berlin at that time, but in retrospect influences among the prominent attendees of his lecture (Carl von Savigny, Friedrich A. Trendelenburg, Sören Kierkegaard, Friedrich Engels, Alexander von Humboldt, Michael Bakunin, Ferdinand Lassalle, Johann Gustav Droysen, Henrik Steffens, Jacob Burckhardt and Leopold Ranke17) can be noticed (known for instance by Kierkegaard, whose image of Hegel is strongly influenced by Schelling).
In Prussian Education matters, Trendelenburg will establish itself as a grey eminence18, an Aristotelian who still took his exams with Hegel but rejected Hegel. His book “Logical Investigations” in 184019 (and the more specific follow-up volume “The Logical Question in Hegel’s System” in 184320), devastatingly criticises Hegel in the eyes of many contemporaries (essentially Trendelenburg misunderstands the transitions in logic, and - among others - believes Hegel would try to prove creation from nothing, whereas he puts forward the old saying “from nothing becomes nothing”. Refutations by the Hegelians of that time are no longer taken into account by the public).
in the further process of the “Vormärz” (literally “pre March”, the period before the revolution in March 1848, approximately the time from 1841-1848) the Young Hegelians are formed, who in a mutually reinforcing process (nicely described by Eßbach21) become more and more radical. Sociologically, they are mainly composed of the Hegelians, who are no longer given professorships. Fatally, they lead to a double discretisation of Hegel: in the first phase, they refer to Hegel (most radically Bruno Bauer22 in his “Posaune”23), thus discrediting him with the authorities and conservatives; in the second phase, they criticise Hegel as not radical enough and thus discredit Hegel with the radical left.
The further intensification towards 1848 (revolution) also leads to a focus away from philosophy towards politics (the occupation with Hegel therefore diminishes in the period 1846-48).
After the failure of the 1848 revolution, in which many Hegelians took part, mostly on the side of the insurgents or in some parts also on the side of the governments (but there they tried to mediate, like Hegel’s son Karl in Mecklenburg 24), many Hegelians emigrated to the USA, either to escape punishment or out of resignation. Those who stay behind have a hangover mood and do not want to know anything more about the Hegelian ideas that were generally associated with the revolution and which are now considered to have failed and surpressed (Köhnke25 describes this process in detail. The part of this article that deals with the period from 1848 onwards, is in most parts based on his investigation and can be followed up more closely in his book, where you will also find the detailed references).
The hangover leads, now more than 20 years late, to a friendly reception of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, who now has a late opportunity to criticise Hegel.
In 1857 the influential Hegel biography of the right-wing liberal Rudolf Haym “Hegel und seine Zeit”26 is published. It has been written that his biography can not be overestimated in its influence on the further Hegel picture. For more details see Losurdo27. In this 2nd Hegel biography after that of Rosenkranz28, Hegel is portrayed as the conformist reactionary Prussian state philosopher etc. Many false Hegel images can be traced back directly or indirectly to this Hegel biography. These have all been refuted by the modern Hegel research of the last 40 years.
Further negative developments in 2nd half of the 19th century, adding to a climate negative to Hegel
The emerging natural sciences see Hegel discredited. On the one hand, legends surrounding Hegel’s alleged denial of the discovery of the asteroid Ceres in his dissertation29 play a role here, on the other hand, it is also important to note that with the inclusion of Hegel’s lecture notes and manuscripts from 30 years in the additions of natural philosophy, it is now easy for scientists to pick out individual “obviously absurd” and/or incomprehensible quotations from Hegel’s natural philosophy without understanding their backgrounds/concepts/concerns.
Historically, historicism is beginning to assert itself. Either the idea of development is denied and every epoch is seen as equally interesting or the previous epochs are automatically inferior (here you can find a connection to the emerging Darwinism). This position is also attributed to Hegel and his own work is thus regarded as implicitly refuted, as it has been overtaken by the new development.
Philosophically the time of the 19th century is rather sterile (and also not particularly critical/free), the post-Hegelian scientific philosophy, as it is practiced at the universities, loses influence in the public sphere (and is also largely forgotten today). The more recent philosophy takes place in German public primarily through Schopenhauer and materialists (and on the other hand warnings against too much materialism, including various romantic/esoteric/spiritualist/irrational movements).
in Marxism, largely unnoticed by the public of the 19th century, the work of Hegel is continued, but the mixing of this tradition with an explicit criticism of Hegel, especially an anti-Hegelian understood materialism (“putting Hegel from the head to the feet”) etc, leads to a non-employment and rejection of Hegel by many Marxists, and to an incorrect and shortened Hegel reception by those who are nevertheless concerned with Hegel. This will then still have fatal consequences in the 20th century.
All this leads to the fact that Hegel is a “dead dog” in the public consciousness (but also at the universities, where in the 19th century the process of the separation of the individual sciences from philosophy is taking place anyway - another point!
Summary of the biggest problems in the environment
In principle, at least three hostile tendencies come together from the surrounding area, which the Hegelians could no longer sufficiently oppose after Hegel’s death:
Romanticism’s criticism of the Enlightenment (partly born of the spirit of the Enlightenment itself, partly by church, especially Catholic, circles etc. - Hösle writes well about this in his essay30): this movement grew and grew, it continues in a certain sense even today.
The Germanism and criticism of the French Revolution in the wake of the wars of liberation, and the accompanying criticism of international and especially French things, including the ideas of the French Revolution, were not only a source of criticism, but also a source of inspiration. Revolution and Enlightenment (as written in the hegel.net Hegel biography in the section on the Berlin period, the democracy movement in Germany was unfortunately mixed up with this movement).
The fear of the princely houses and governments of a revolution and the corresponding suppression of everything in this direction (Carlsbad decisions after the Kotzbue murder, later the fear of an expansion/repeat of the revolts of 1830 and 1848) and the promotion of opposite directions. The wind here had radically turned against the enlightened rococo (as described in Hegel’s phenomenology).
Philosophical-historical - inner philosophical explanation
From the point of view of the history of philosophy, of course, it should also be possible to explain the whole thing from an inner-philosophical point of view; that would be most interesting.
Vittorio Hösle has dealt with the problem in connection with the historiography of philosophy in part 1 of his book “Wahrheit und Geschichte”31. According to him, the conclusion of a cycle in a great system of objective idealism (as with Hegel) is followed by a phase of dogmatism, then empiricism, criticism, etc.
On the other hand, it can also be said, purely in terms of content, that after Hegel’s great, all-encompassing synthesis, only two paths actually remained:
- the further expansion, into the individual sub-areas (this happened to a great number after Hegel’s death by his pupil, hegel.net archives are full of dozens of works from the Hegel school applying Hegel’s thoughts and principles to a myriad of topics32. But overall the Hegel school could not consolidate itself sufficiently for the reasons already mentioned, so this would be a catch-up
- The other path, of course, is a transgression also of the limits of Hegel’s system, hence in the following the special emphasis on everything irrational, not reasonable (Marx: “Being determines consciousness”, “fetish” etc., Freud: “sub consciousness”, Darwin: “evolution”, Nietzsche: “will for power”, already with Schopenhauer: “will” etc.). So, what would have to be examined and shown is either to what extent these topics were already taken into account in Hegel’s work - which is actually the case at least in nuance in an astonishing number of “post-Hegelian” positions - otherwise, of course, these would also have to be included. The latter would then probably be the project of a new objective idealism that Vittorio Hösle is trying to work on.
For a detailed examination and refution of the critiques that appeared at Hegel’s lifetime, see Burkhardt, Bernd: “Hegels ‘Wissenschaft der Logik’ im Spannungsfeld der Kritik - Historische und systematische Untersuchungen zur Diskussion um Funktion und Leistungsfähigkeit von Hegels”Wissenschaft der Logik" bis 1831", Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim, 1993↩︎
For an examiniation and refutuion of the critiques of Hegel’s logic in the works of the German 19th century Philosophy books on Logic, see Frank-Peter Hansen “Geschichte der Logik des 19. Jahrhunderts. Eine kritische Einführung in die Anfänge der Erkenntnis- und Wissenschaftstheorie”, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg, 2000.↩︎
Very detailed, with lot of further literature at Wolfgang Eßbach: “Die Junghegelianer - Soziologie einer Intellektuellengruppe”, Wilhelm Finck Verlag, München 1988. Regarding which place hosted which Young Hegelians, see the useful overview at pp.40-42 (Online Version of pp.40-41).↩︎
The development of the Hegelian school from a philosophical context is described in details in German at Michelet “Geschichte der letzten Systeme der Philosophie” (Band 1, 1837, Band 2, 1838) and Erdmann “Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie”, Band 2 (1. Auflage, 1866, 2. Auflage, 1870). An English version of Erdmann’s decription is his “History of Philosophy”, Vol.3↩︎
I am thinking of Heine 1830 “Reisebilder, Vierter Teil, Die Stadt Lucca, Kapitel 2” and Heine 1834 “zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland”, Drittes Buch.↩︎
On the disappointed expectations of the young Hegelians in connection with the new king see Eßbacher pp.121ff.↩︎
The list of the prominent attendees of Schelling in Berlin I took from http://www.hs-augsburg.de/~harsch/germanica/Chronologie/19Jh/Schelling/sch_intr.html↩︎
on Trendelenburg see Klaus Christian Köhnke 1986 “Untersuchung zu Entstehung und Aufstieg des Neukantianismus”; pp.35-57, on his greatly underestimated role in the politics of philosophy in Prussia, see in particular p.43: "Not as a philosophical author, but as a long-standing professor at Germany’s largest university, as its multiple rector and above all as a Prussian cultural politician and ‘man of school supervision’, Trendelenburg, like the reform pedagogue Paul Petersen said ‘a full human age dominated the Berlin university’ and the ‘Prussian school system was largely under his influence can assume’. Köhnke also presents Trendelenburg’s philosophy and his critique of Hegel and criticises it, similarly to Frank-Peter Hansen, loc. cit, pp.46-52.↩︎
Wolfgang Eßbach: “Die Junghegelianer - Soziologie einer Intellektuellengruppe”, Wilhelm Finck Verlag, München 1988↩︎
Klaus Christian Köhnke “Untersuchung zu Entstehung und Aufstieg des Neukantianismus”↩︎
Domenico Losurdo “Hegel und das deutsche Erbe. Philosophie und nationale Frage zwischen Revolution und Reaktion”, Pahl Rugenstein Verlag↩︎
Vittorio Hösle: “Wahrheit und Geschichte”. Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart 1986.↩︎