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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Excerpts from Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837)

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As already remarked, the reconciliation is at first implicit (i.e. in itself), but it still has to become explicit (i.e. for itself). Consequently, the principle must begin with the greatest possible antithesis; and it must also be the most abstract of antitheses, for the reconciliation is absolute. As we have seen, this antithesis consists on the one hand of the spiritual principle in its ecclesiastical form, and on the other of wild and barbarous secularity. The first stage in this historical development is one of hostility between the two, although they are allied to one another inasmuch as the ecclesiastical principle is recognised by the secular realm; yet the latter does not accord with the former, although it ought, by its own admission, to do so. The secular realm, which is now forsaken by the spirit, is oppressed by the ecclesiastical authority; and the primary form of ecclesiastical authority is such that it itself lapses into secularity, thereby losing its spiritual determination and subsequently also its power. The decline of both worlds culminates in the disappearance of barbarism, and the spirit then discovers a higher form which is in general worthy of it, i.e. the form of rationality, of free and rational thought. The spirit, driven back upon itself, comprehends its own principle and produces it within itself in its free form, in the form of thought, in an intellectual shape. It is now able to coexist in harmony with external reality at large, to insinuate itself into it, and to realise the principle of rationality through the secular world itself.

Only after it has gained its objective (i.e. intellectual) form can the spiritual principle become truly congruent with external reality; only then can the spiritual aim be realised in the secular world. It is the form of thought which brings about the fundamental reconciliation: the profundity of thought is the agent by which the reconciliation is effected. This profundity of thought will then manifest itself in the world of appearance, and this subjectivity is the source of knowledge and the point at which appearance and existence coincide. Thus, the principle of reconciliation between Church and state has emerged, and the ecclesiastical world thereby discovers and possesses its concept and rationality in the secular world. In this way, the antithesis between the Church and the so-called state vanishes; the state is no longer inferior and subordinate to the Church, and the Church retains no special prerogative; the spiritual world is no longer alien to the state. Freedom has found the means of realising its concept and its truth. Thus it has happened that, through the activity of thought – i.e. universal determinations of thought whose substance is this concrete principle or the nature of the spirit itself – the realm of reality or concrete thought has come into conformity with substantial truth. Freedom discovers its concept in reality, and has developed the secular world into the objective system of a specific and internally organised state. It is this triumphant progress which gives history its interest, and the point at which reconciliation and existence for itself are reached is now an object of knowledge: reality is transformed and reconstructed. This is the goal of world history: the spirit must create for itself a nature and world to conform with its own nature, so that the subject may discover its own concept of the spirit in this second nature, in this reality which the concept of the spirit has produced; and in this objective reality, it becomes conscious of its subjective freedom and rationality. Such is the progress of the Idea in general; and this must be our ultimate point of view in history. The more detailed process whereby the Idea is realised is history proper; and that work still remains to be done in it is a purely empirical matter. In our study of world history, we have to cover more circumstantially that long route which we have just surveyed in outline, the path which history follows in realising its aim. But temporal duration is something entirely relative, and the spirit belongs to eternity. Duration, strictly speaking, does not exist for it. The further labour of history is that this principle should develop and unfold, and that the spirit should attain its reality and become conscious of itself in the real world.




Source of English translation: Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, translated by H.B. Nisbet. Cambridge Studies in the History and Theory of Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975, pp. 25-32, 196-98, 202-3, 205-9.

© 1975 Cambridge University Press. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.

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