From Hegel to Marx: the transformation of philosophy from reason to Revolution (Part-I)

From Hegel to Marx: the transformation of philosophy from reason to Revolution (Part-I)

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Reviewing famous work of Philosopher Herbert Marcuse

Marcuse, H. (1960). Reason and revolution: Hegel and the rise of social theory. Boston: Beacon Press.

Hegel and the rise of Marxism image © The Radical Outlook

By Shahzada Rahim

Background

It was the struggle between the negative (Hegelian) and positive philosophy (Post-Hegelian) that gave birth to the discourse of social theory in Europe. On the contrary, some contexts especially the context of misinterpretation of Hegelian philosophy gave rise to fascism and Nazism in Europe. Moreover, it was Fascism that created a rift between the philosophers, some of whom sided with Hegel while others went against him.

Introduction

1. The socio-Historical setting

Basically, German idealism is often called the theory of French philosophy because famous German philosophers such Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel wrote their response to the French revolution and revolutionary wars by suggesting that state and society must be recognized on a rational basis especially with the freedom and interest of the individuals. The European philosophers called the French revolution the dawn of a new era in the history of Europe. Moreover, the ideals of the French revolution were recognized within the conceptual framework and structure by the continental philosophers of that time.[1] Basically, the French Revolution gave birth to the new era in the following way:

1. It ended absolutism

2. It ended harsh Feudal structure

3. It gave birth to a new economic model and the rise of new middle class

4. It paved the way for the reformation across the European continent

Within a span of decades, the ideals of the French revolution made themselves compatible with Industrial capitalism. In France, it was Saint Simon who had exalted industries as the sole power that could lead mankind to a free and rational society. However, as compared to France and Great Britain, Germany lagged behind in industrial development because it was hard for the scattered demography to contemplate a revolution like the one in France. Moreover, at that time the whole German idealism was preoccupied with its own idea but there was no contemplation of the revolution. [2] For Hegel, the whole course of human history deals with reason and reason alone and the very essence of the state is the realization of reason. The leaders of Jacobins, William Robespierre deified reason as ‘Estre Supreme’ which later became the counterpart to the Hegelian glorification of reason.

From the Hegelian Standpoint, the reason could not govern reality until reality has become rational itself. In this way, irrationality can be subordinated by thoroughly overhauling the content of nature and history. The objective is thus nothing but the realization of the subject, the subject that goes through the content of nature and history. Hegel also gave the concept of substance as a subject that refers to the fact that all beings contain certain contradictory forces in themselves

For instance, Hegelian structural concepts such as freedom, subject, mind, and notion, all are derived from reason and reason alone. The revolution demanded; nothing will be accepted to the constitution except those of the reason. While celebrating and elaborating the triumph of the French Revolution, Hegel said:

It is the human thought that can govern the spiritual reality. This the glorious mental dawn. All thinking beings shared the jubilation of the epoch”. (Excerpts from the lectures on the Philosophy of History)

According to Hegel, the most decisive turn that took place in human history was the French revolution when the men came to rely on reason and dare to submit the standards of reason. Before the French revolution, the reality was according to the existing order and prevailing values. For the philosophers, we must subject everything to the highest standards of reason in order to deduce reality. It is because, most of us still today rely on the ‘unreasonable realities’ — in this regard, the French revolution declared that thought is ought to govern reality. But among philosophers, Hegel in the context of western philosophy calls reason as a totality.

For Hegel, it is the power of reason that can propagate a powerful glorious revolution. Basically, it is the virtue of the power of reason through which we can overthrow the oppressors of mankind. What Hegel once said: “All fictions will disappear before truth and all follies fall before reason”. In contrast, in the view of Hegel, the reason could not govern reality until reality has become rational itself. In this way, irrationality can be subordinated by thoroughly overhauling the content of nature and history. The objective is thus nothing but the realization of the subject, the subject that goes through the content of nature and history. Hegel also gave the concept of substance as a subject that refers to the fact that all beings contain certain contradictory forces in themselves. [3] The subject further carries some inherent contradictions e.g. Stone; a stone is a stone when it remains stone, it resists ax, it gets wet in remain, and if it remains stone both in action and reaction, that means, it is the continuous process of becoming and being stone.

The famous German word ‘Geist’ designates reason as ‘History is mind’, which denotes history in relation to the relational progress of mankind. Basically, history is divided into different periods and each period marked different levels of development with the representation of the stages of realization of reason. Likewise, each development marks reason in accordance with the level of freedom.

But the process of becoming is not subject because the stone has changed in its different interaction with rain, ax, and load, but it does not change itself. But the fact cannot be denied that the concept of ‘true subject’ only lies within the existence of men. Because man alone has the power of self-realization — he is not influenced by the external forces in the process of becoming — because he has the power to be a self-determining subject in the process of becoming. His very existence is the actualization of his potentialities of molding his life according to the notions of reason — one of the most important categories of reason here is freedom. Freedom means the power to act in accordance with the knowledge of the truth, then the power shapes the reality in the line with potentialities. Basically, the fulfillment of these ends only belongs to the ‘true subject’, who is the master of his own development, who understands his own potentialities and the potentialities of things around him.

Both plants and stone lack comprehension knowledge because only humans have this knowledge. Here the lack of comprehending knowledge means they lack subjectivity. In this regard, it can be said that reason and freedom are nothing without comprehending knowledge. Whereas, freedom is the existence of a subject while reason is the realization that ceases it to exist while the subject in itself is a subject because all types of beings as the ‘Comprehensive subjects’ deal with reason via freedom — Reason is essentially a historical force.

The famous German word ‘Geist’ designates reason as ‘History is mind’, which denotes history in relation to the relational progress of mankind. Basically, history is divided into different periods and each period marked different levels of development with the representation of the stages of realization of reason. Likewise, each development marks reason in accordance with the level of freedom. The immediate union of reason and reality has never existed throughout the history of mankind because the unity can only be achieved through a lengthy process that begins with the lowest level of nature and reaches to the highest level of existence, by acting free according to potentialities. Moreover, the preliminary form of state does not exist or is real because it does not act in accordance with reason.

Hegel while describing the decaying days of German Reich by referring to the strong censorship operating to repress the slightest trace of enlightenment said: “Without law and justice, without protection from the arbitrary taxation, uncertain of the lives of our sons, and of our freedom and rights, the important prey of despotic power, our existence lacking unity and national spirit…this is the status quo of our nation.”

Hegel does not accept this because the ‘Spirit’ of contradiction is a central force in the Hegelian dialectical method. In the latter context, the God of the earth must disappear in order to invent the true God. Likewise, for Hegel, the owl of Minerva will not spread his wings and fly without the realization of freedom and reason. In this regard, both religion and politics have played the same role throughout history. Both have taught, what despotism wants to teach, contempt for humanity, and the incapacity of man to achieve good and to fulfill his essence through his own efforts — perhaps, both have bound human reason and freedom.

On the contrary, Hegel believed that the realization of reason requires a social scheme to contrivance the existing order. Moreover, the state cannot be called an idea unless it is the object of freedom — if the state is bound to treat free man as a cog in the machine then it must disappear and perish. In contrast, it is a fact that reality changes within the conceptual structure of the Hegelian system. Similarly, the conceptual structure of German idealism is centered within the principles of the Liberal system of government and prevents any crossing beyond it.

Soon after the German reformation, the people became aware that liberty has internal value, which was compatible with every form of bondage. Social reality becomes indifferent as far as the true essence of man is concerned because man always searches within himself for potentialities and life fulfillment.

Hegel declared in the opening pages of his pamphlet on the German constitution (1802) that the German state of the last decade was no longer a state. Perhaps, it is the Feudal despotism that has split into a multitude of petty despotism each competing with the other. Likewise, Hegel while describing the decaying days of German Reich by referring to the strong censorship operating to repress the slightest trace of enlightenment said: “Without law and justice, without protection from the arbitrary taxation, uncertain of the lives of our sons, and of our freedom and rights, the important prey of despotic power, our existence lacking unity and national spirit…this is the status quo of our nation.”

At the time, both Germany and France had no strong politically conscious educated middle class to lead the struggle against absolutism — the nobility ruled without opposition. During this time, someone in Germany hardly remarked Goethe; “thought of envying this tremendous privileged mass or of begrudging them their happiness advantage”. Soon after the German reformation, the people became aware that liberty has internal value, which was compatible with every form of bondage.[4] Social reality becomes indifferent as far as the true essence of man is concerned because man always searches within himself for potentialities and life fulfillment.

Notes

[1] The world was to be the order of reason — men’s mode of labor and enjoyment was now dependent upon his own rational activity.

[2] Moreover, the fact cannot be denied that the concept of reason was central to the Hegelian philosophy. For Hegel, the French revolution was nothing but a triumph of reason over absolutism.

[3] In the Hegelian discourse, the subject also refers not only to the epistemological ego or consciousness but also the mode of existence.

[4] Hegel’s early philosophical concepts were preserved and formulated during the decaying days of the German Reich.


Author

Shahzada Rahim is a geopolitical analyst with a keen interest in writing on history, politics, and Philosophy.


Republishing is allowed with copyright credit to the Radical Outlook.

About Post Author

The Radical Outlook

The Radical Outlook is an online news web Portal designed for in-depth news analysis from the Eurasian region and beyond. It is Founded by a geopolitical analyst Shahzada Rahim.
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