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Friday, November 14, 2014

Only Marx understood Hegel

"No individual did more to promulgate the dignity of the Prussian state after 1815 than Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the Swabian philosopher who took up Fichte's vacant chair at the new University of Berlin in 1818... There was a theological core to Hegel's reflections on the state: the state had a quasi-divine purpose; it was 'God's march through the world'; in Hegel's hands it became the quasi-divine apparatus by which the multitude of subjects who constituted civil society was redeemed into universality...

'Hegelianism' was not the stuff that popular identities are made of. The master's work was notoriously difficult to read, let alone understand. Richard Wagner and Otto von Bismarck were among those who attempted without success to make sense of him...

For Marx, the first true encounter with Hegel's thought was a revelatory shock akin to a religious conversion. 'For some days', he told his father in November 1837, his excitement made him 'quite incapable of thinking'; he 'ran about madly in the garden by the dirty water of the Spree', even joined his landlord on a hunting excursion, and found himself overpowered by the desire to embrace every street corner loafer in Berlin"

--- Iron Kingdom: The Rise And Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 / Christopher M. Clark

"Nietzsche, as far as I can tell, did not study Hegel's texts in any depth and relied mainly on secondary sources for his interpretation and his evaluation of Hegel's thought. Furthermore, his understanding of Hegel‘s philosophy was in my view superficial and largely misconceived. The purpose of the present chapter, therefore, is to explain how Nietzsche understood Hegel and what the sources of that understanding might have been.

In general, Nietzsche seems to have relished criticising great philosophers rather than actually reading them. He studied at first hand almost none of the major philosophers in whose tradition he followed and whose thought he sought to surpass — with the exception, that is, of the ancient Greek philosophers and of Schopenhauer. The only explicit reference Nietzsche makes to having read any texts by Hegel comes in a letter to Hermann Mushacke of 20 September 1865. However, the flippant tone of Nietzsche's comment does not suggest that he was applying himself very seriously to the study of Hegel's philosophy: ‘with coffee I eat a little Hegelian philosophy which spoils my appetite, so I take some Straussian pills such as The Wholes and the Halves. Various comments Nietzsche made about Hegel's style also imply that he read sections of Hegel's original texts, but of course Nietzsche's opinions in this matter were probably gleaned from other writers such as Schopenhauer as well. Even what seem like direct quotations from Hegel do not necessarily testify to any detailed knowledge on Nietzsche's part of the passages in which they appear in Hegel's work. In the preface to Daybreak, for example, Nietzsche cites Hegel's ‘celebrated dialectical principle . . . "contradiction moves the world, all things contradict themselves", and whereas he may well have talcen this quotation directly from Hegel's work, the very word ‘celebrated' suggests that he could have learnt of Hegel's principle from any popular source.

Although of course it is difficult to prove that Nietzsche did not study Hegel in depth, nothing in his work suggests that he accorded more than cursory attention to Hegel's texts. Nor, pace Deleuze, can we assume that Nietzsche was well acquainted with the works of Hegel's immediate successors either, except perhaps Feuerbach and D. F. Strauss. Nowhere does he mention having read either Marx or Engels; his comments on Bruno Bauer suggest that he was concerned more with Bauefs reading of his own work than with his reading of Bauer's... he only decided to read Kierkegaard towards the end of his active life and never, as far as is known, actually read him; there is uncertainty about whether he had any first-hand knowledge of the work of Max Stirner, and his only connection with Arnold Ruge seems to have been that Ruge‘s second wife was a Nietzsche. lt seems, therefore, that Nietzsche's understanding of Hegel was not founded on a close study of either Hegel's own works or of the works of those who might most obviously be expected to have known Hegel's philosophy well, but that it was derived rather from other secondary sources.

--- Hegel, Nietzsche and the Criticism of Metaphysics / Stephen Houlgate

So others who acknowledge a debt to Hegel - including, for example, Nietzsche - have little firsthand knowledge of his philosophy, preferring instead to rely on commentaries or histories of philosophy.
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