Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, or G.W.F. Hegel, lived from 1770 to 1831. He was one of the greatest of the German idealist philosophers and was a disciple of Immanuel Kant. He insisted that revolutions were essential to human destiny and that revolutionary leaders were heroes in promoting reform.
Hegel's chief works were:
- Phenomenology of the Mind (1807)
- Philosophy of Right (1821)
His most important follower was Karl Marx.
Hegel held an extraordinarily high view of the State and thought of it as the supreme institution in the human experience. He infamously claimed that "All the worth which the human being possesses—all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State." Hegel's view of the State stemmed from his belief that it represented the objective will of the people. Hegel, a historicist, also dismissed the idea of transcendent, universal truths. Truth could not be found at all apart from one's historical context. As he argues in his Philosophy of Right: "...every one is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world, as that an individual could leap out of his time or jump over Rhodes. If a theory transgresses its time, and builds up a world as it ought to be, it has an existence merely in the unstable element of opinion, which gives room to every wandering fancy."
In a scathing critique of the American commitment to private property rights, Hegel complained that "Universal protection for property, and a something approaching entire immunity from public burdens, are facts which are constantly held up to commendation. We have in these facts the fundamental character of the community—the endeavor of the individual after acquisition, commercial profit, and gain; the preponderance of private interest, devoting itself to that of the community only for its own advantage."
For Hegel and his followers, it is imperative that we move beyond fixed ideas about the purpose of government, such as those espoused at the time of the American Founding. Though they may have been appropriate for their own time, they offer little for people today, who have progressed beyond their insights. For these reasons, Hegel can be considered one of the preliminary founders of progressivism, alongside Francis Bacon, Auguste Comte, Herbert Croly, and Hegel's own follower, Karl Marx.
The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Penguin Group, 1989
- G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. New York: Dover Publications, 1956, 39.
- Hegel, G. W. F. 2012. Philosophy of Right. Translated by S. W. Dyde. New York: Dover Publications, xxx..
- G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. New York: Dover Publications, 1956, 85.
- American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, eds. Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer, and Jeffrey O. Nelson. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006, p. 680.
- (1896) Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic, 1.