Hegel's Philosophy and It’s Influence on Marxism

byJames Profestas, April 2000

“Hegelian logic suited Marx’s purpose so well because it already contains the unique elements that later appeared in his own social theory.”[1]. Hegel’s various philosophies influenced the entire world, but most importantly the work of Marx and Engels. Without Hegel’s work Marx would have never come to the various social and historical assumptions that resulted in changing the geo-political face of the world. 

George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was one of the most influential philosophers of the nineteenth century. Born in Stuttgart, Germany he studied at Tubingen where his colleagues included Schelling and the poet Holderlin. Many of his professional positions included teaching positions and writing positions, for example he was director of the Gymnasium in Nurnberg from 1807 to 1815, and in 1816 he became a professor of philosophy at Heidelberg. Through out his life one of his greatest deeds was the development of dialectics, and his concept of alienation and estrangement.  Hegel was the central philosophical influence on Marx and Engels, providing them with a start for their communist ideology.[2]

Hegel’s alienation view is the situation in which there is opposition between the Idea’s/Sprit’s existence and essence – the essence of the Spirit is freedom. The entire development of Hegel’s Phenomenology and the principle of history is the resolution of this opposition. Resolution is attained by Absolute Knowledge, which results in “the consciousness of freedom.”[3] With this consciousness the phenomenal existence and the given essence of Sprit coincide.

Absolute Knowledge is a Hegelian term, it is the “realization that all forms of objectivity are identical to those essential to the thinking subject, so that in construing the world conceptually it is seeing everything in the form of self, the self being simply the ever-active principle of conceptual universality, of categorical synthesis. In its conceptual grasp of objects it necessarily grasps what it itself is, and in grasping itself it necessarily grasps every phase of objectivity”[4].  Absolute Knowledge is self-realization, with the individual regarding everything in the form of the individual the “spirit that knows itself in the shape of Spirit, or a comprehensive knowing”.[5]

For Marx, alienation is a fact of political economy not of phenomenology. Thus under capitalism a man is estranged from the product of his work which in turn estranges him from his own nature as a sensuous and social being. In this situation the meaning of work becomes merely a way of subsistence for satisfaction of purely animal needs and loses its nature as a human need which is to work creatively even in the absence of physical needs. 

Hegel’s entire system can be seen as an endeavor to overcome the alienation of human self-consciousness. Hegel attempted to show how in the object, in social relations, in the state objective, and in God (or religion) the undeniable self-consciousness of man is externalized and finally alienated. The main difference with Marx (like Kierkegard) is he contended that Hegel only suppresses alienation in thought while the contradiction reappears between man’s actual state and philosophy as a system of ideas. Marx’s critique of Hegel appears to have backfired and that Hegel’s original concept of alienation is an ontological experience, the more general concept that Marxists now need for the understanding of the unhappy socialist consciousness.

Hegel’s dialectic is one of his greatest contributions to philosophy; an outgrowth of this was Marx’s dialectical materialism in which the Hegelian dialectic is interpreted in a Materialist sense. In Hegel’s dialectic each stage (or period of history) is evolved by the contradiction between opposing sides. The reason negation drives change is that it is the source of action that forces progressive improvement. In this sense Hegel regards that “the negative is just as much positive”, and that the “negative constitutes the genuine dialectical element[6]. In Hegel’s dialectics there is the thesis, which is the starting society, this is negated and turned into the anti-thesis, which is then negated and turned into the synthesis.  Hegel’s dialectics are “the teleogical self-movement of Reason in which that which is posited (thesis) engenders its necessary limitation and negation (antithesis) which is overcome through the development of a new thesis (synthesis) which sublates (overcomes while preserving) the prior moments”[7].

 Hegel’s dialectics is a complex theory, which contains more then the negation of the negation. In his dialectics Hegel explains the system of relations, that objects should be seen as related to other objects, not just seen as isolated.  Hegel also believed that the world and its entire contents are in a state of constant flux, with nothing remaining static; due to the negation of the negation everything is constantly changing.  This movement and constant flux is fueled by the struggle of two contrasting sides, which can be seen universally.  In Hegel’s ever changing and evolving world, change starts with small steps first then evolves into larger ones eventually leading to the destruction of the system and the institution of a new one with new and distinct contradictions.  One last component of Hegel’s dialectic is substance versus appearance. Hegel believed that substance (essence) was the genuine spirit of things and was created by inner oppositions; in order to view this one must study and understand the inner negations. It is impossible to view these from the appearance of the object. 

Marx in his creation of dialectical materialism blended philosophies form Hegel and from Feuerbach; Hegel’s theory of alienation and ‘dialectics’ were combined with Feuerbach’s humanism.  Marx believed in the evolution of society through six basic stages, primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and then communism (proper). The first of these stages composed the thesis, the next three antithesis, the last two the synthesis.  Like Hegel he also attributed conflict as necessary to facilitate changes in society. 

In conclusion Marx’s various ideas and assumptions rest heavily on an inspiration derived from Hegel. “Marx’s theory of modern capitalist society owes much more to Hegel than is generally recognized.”[8]

Bibliography

Breekman, Warren. The Young Hegelians, and the Origins of Radical Social Theory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK. 1999

Colletti, Cueio. Marxism and Hegel. NLB, London UK. 1973

Desmond, William. Beyond Hegel and Dialectic. State University of New York Press, New York. 1984

Harris, Errol. The Spirit of Hegel. Humanities Press, New Jersey. 1993

Hook, Sidney. From Hegel to Marx. University of Michigan Press. Michigan. 1962

Hyppolite, Jean. Studies on Marx and Hegel. Basic Books, New York. 1969

MacGregor, David. The Communist Ideal in Hegel and Marx. University of Toronto, Toronto Canada, 1984


[1] MacGregor, David. The Communist Ideal in Hegel and Marx. University of Toronto, Toronto Canada, 1984 p3

[2]http:// www.baylor.edu/`Scott_Moore/hegel.htm

[3]http://www.ets.uidaho.edu/mickelson/texts/Hegel%20Glossary.htm

[4] http://www.ets.uidaho.edu/mickelson/texts/Hegel%20Glossary.htm

[5] http://www.ets.uidaho.edu/mickelson/texts/Hegel%20Glossary.htm

[6] http://www.ets.uidaho.edu/mickelson/texts/Hegel%20Glossary.htm

[7] http://www.ets.uidaho.edu/mickelson/texts/Hegel%20Glossary.htm

[8] MacGregor, David. The Communist Ideal in Hegel and Marx. University of Toronto, Toronto Canada, 1984 p11

 

 

 

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