Comprehending Hegel from a Straussian Viewpoint

This book offers an account of Hegel that will surprise numerous readers– a minimum of it amazed me. The political thinker Leo Strauss frequently criticized “historicism,” the view that people do not have a set nature or essence. Rather, as José Ortega y Gasset put it, “Male, in a word, has no nature; what he has is– history.” G.W.F. Hegel was one of the primary historicists, so you may anticipate Strauss to assault him. But, although he does recommend that Hegel’s approach has issues, his discussion is supportive.

In this week’s column, I’m going to discuss a couple of points of interest, however first I need to say something about the book itself. It is a transcript of a seminar on Hegel’s Philosophy of History that Strauss used at the University of Chicago in 1965, often supplemented with notes from a comparable course Strauss gave in 1958.

In his earlier Natural Right and History, Strauss argues that historicism had no adequate defense to the barbarism of Nazism and communism, but here he is keen to acquit Hegel of being a precursor of these wicked regimes. Hegel, he states, thought in the guideline of law:

Perhaps you are a victim of those individuals who call Hegel a deifier of the state and a precursor of totalitarianism, which is just not true. Hegel accepted the constitutional monarchy of the 19th century, which was rather authoritarian however the opposite of totalitarian. The flexibility of the economic sphere was considered approved. It had to be secured, of course, by prohibitions against scams, the defense of property, and so on. That was clear. In this sense, then, Hegel is a liberal.

If Hegel is a historicist, however, doesn’t this mean that he turns down natural rights? Strauss doesn’t believe so:

What he would say is, for example, that the concepts of property, the principles of the inviolability of the person, all that example, are things that do not depend upon human arbitrariness or legal enactment but are the truly natural, rational principles, which, for Hegel can not have been known always … Hegel is not a relativist; on the contrary, he is a huge bogey for all relativists– you understand, the absolutist par excellence!

Amongst the most important of the rights that Hegel protected is civil liberty. Hegel thinks that the state can need individuals to sign up with a church but everyone is complimentary to choose which one:

To put it simply, the modern state is tolerant. That is absolutely necessary. And therefore in this sense the state is indifferent to the inner life. Whether a male is a philosopher and his peculiar religious approach is the approach of religion which Hegel provides, or whether he is a nonphilosophic Protestant, Catholic, or Jew, or whatever it might be, this doesn’t make any distinction to the state … The acknowledgment of the rights of male, the acknowledgment of the unlimited value of the individual, this is much more essential than the other things, because, according to Hegel, this is the complete realization of Christianity.

Strauss explains that he isn’t a Hegelian, in spite of his defense of Hegel against the common representation of him as an amoral precursor of the overall state. To comprehend Strauss’s rejection of Hegel, an excellent place to start is with an expression in an earlier quote. According to Hegel, as Strauss interprets him, the rational principles of right “can not have been understood constantly.” Factor pertains to awareness of itself in the progress of human history. Nature is a development of mind; it is not, as classical approach held it to be, an independent world or universes. “And in Hegel there is no universes. You can state there is no universes appropriate. The material universe, as it is called, is of no excellent value to Hegel, but the place– I speak now provisionally– of physis or universes is taken in Hegel by the historic procedure.”

You might challenge Hegel’s account of the development of factor in this way:

Hegel claims that reason establishes historically. But if what he declares holds true, how can he know that we have reached the final stage in which the generally real concepts of right have been discovered? How do we understand that our belief to that effect isn’t just another historic stage?

As Strauss explains, Hegel is totally familiar with this question. His answer to it is that we can see by taking a look at the liberal bureaucratic state that it leaves open no fundamentally brand-new possibilities. History has pertained to an end: events of course will continue to occur, however these won’t require that we go beyond the liberal governmental state.

This is a challenging concept to understand, but an example might make it clearer. Ludwig von Mises argues that there are only 2 forms by which an intricate economy can be organized: capitalism and socialism. No intermediate system is steady, and socialism will collapse into chaos. In Mises’s view, we can understand that his list exhausts the possibilities. In like fashion, Hegel states we remain in a position to see that the liberal administrative state is last. (I hasten to include that Mises is not a Hegelian– rather the contrary.)

Strauss’s reaction to Hegel’s contention is striking. He does not argue straight that Hegel is wrong, trying to show that there are possibilities Hegel has actually ignored. Rather, he suggests that if Hegel is right, human existence would become unheroic:

In Hegel’s sense, I believe we can see that there will no longer be historic people. There will be basically excellent administrators, however no longer historic individuals. I duplicate the sentence [from Hegel] “Science and the corruption of an individuals are always inseparable from each other.”.. this is the terrific problem of Hegel. What is the end of history, and what does this suggest? Is it possible to survive on that basis? One might state that this was the beginning of Nietzsche’s criticism of Hegel.

I have not tried to examine Strauss’s account of Hegel’s philosophy of history, simply to outline some of its highlights. Readers accustomed to really different analyses might find Leo Strauss on Hegel important. I hope that I don’t get messages informing me that there is no requirement to check out the book due to the fact that Leonard Peikoff has told us in Ominous Parallels all we need to understand about Hegel.

About the author

Click here to add a comment

Leave a comment: