Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hegel gets credit for Fukuyama's End of History

Francis Fukuyama wrote an essay back in the 80s titled "The End of History" for the neoconservative journal The National Interest. In it he claimed that democracy has won over other forms of governments. But as he puts it, "Liberal Democracy may constitute the endpoint of mankind's ideological evolution."

Fukuyama cited Hegel, for whom the concept of an "End of History" derives. History had to have an end-purpose, Hegel believed, or it lead to what he called a "bad infinity." But Fukuyama took his view from a Russian philosopher named Alexandre Kojevi, who called himself a "Marxist of the Right." So this is Hegel as filtered through Fukuyama, through Kojevi, through Marx.

Democracy may be the Hegelian End of History, but some have made Hegel the cause of both Marxism and Fascism.

He's also been called a metaphysician, a pantheiest, a post-minor-Spinozist, a precursor to existentialism, a gnostic, a closet-atheist pandering as a Lutheran professor, the first holistic philosopher, a forerunner to Marx--and worst--Karl Popper said that his philosophy was bombastic and mystified Kant. Bertrand Russel said he was the hardest to understand among the great philosophers.

Hegel's contemporary, Schopenhauer, said, "The height of audacity in serving up pure nonsense and streaming together senseless and extravagant words, such as only previously known only in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel." (He might have been jealous: Hegel was a popular professor, Schopenhauer was not.)

His former friend, Friedrich Schelling, said after his death that his philosophy was shallow and superficial. (Schelling also harbored resentment towards Hegel, whose reputation far surpassed his own.) Schelling students, by the way, included Friedrich Engels, Soren Kierkegaard, and the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakhunin--all of whom came up with their own views on Hegel.

After he died, Hegel's followers split into two basic camps: the Left Hegelians (the "Young Hegelians", and atheists) and the Right Hegelians (the "Old Hegelians," Xian fundamentalists, and statists.) Hegel is like the elephant being described by the blind man: how could one philosopher mean so many things to so many people?

Well, for one, Hegel was the exact opposite of tabula rasa. He wrote a lot of words, in other words, basically trying to come up with a theory for everything--in prose that was both opaque and obscure. In fact, there are dozens of competing Hegel glossaries out there, which are necessary, it seems, for the reader to relate to his work.

One of his concepts, for example, is aulfhaven. In English, sublation. To sublate is to simultaneously supercede and preserve something. Don't we see how tricky Hegel is? He used it to explain how once an old idea is refuted, it is still contained in the new idea.

Maybe that's what happens with Hegel: his readers cherrypick what they want from him, declare that the cherry is now an apple, and then either ignore the rest of the fruit or question the motives of those who pick it.

But for the rest of us to know what Hegel really thought that would require, you know, reading him.

All of him.

With the glossaries.

In German.