Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Hegel, the world spirit, and the absolute ideal--about philosophy,

Hegel's philosophy has consistently been the hairiest bear for the English speaking world. Even though it's regarded as essential in continental Europe, people in the United States tend to think that Hegel is incoherent, insane, incomprehensible, and not worth their time. I don't agree.

Central to these criticisms is Hegel's concept of the Absolute Ideal, and the idea of history and of the World Spirit.

Now, to lay it out there, the Absolute Ideal is the sum of all potentials both in human culture and in the relationship of humanity to nature. The world spirit, which isn't spirit so much in a metaphysical sense as it is the sort of spirit referred to in the word "Zeitgeist", is the constant moving of humanity through the action of repeated generations towards complete and finer human self realization on both a personal and collective level; also, this self realization includes technical production, economic activity, and social structure. Through having all of these potentials realized the Absolute Ideal or substrate underlying society, humanity, parts of nature...is completely actualized and brought into true manifestation.

Partially, the realization of the Absolute Ideal is a retelling of the idea of Utopia, where Utopia was originally a play on words in Greek meaning both "good place" and "no place". The realization of all of the potentials of humanity in a social structure that allows the full collective flourishing of all of them, that uses the potentials of technology to bring about the best standard of living possible, where the economic system is set up so that it's subordinated to human needs.... all of this can be considered part of the realization of the Absolute Ideal through the completion of the work of the World Spirit through history...but, even in writing this I'm bringing up some problems.

The fundamental problem that presents itself is that my idea of what the realization of the Absolute Ideal and the fulfillment of the World Spirit, or of the historical force of humanity towards collective self improvement, is obviously very much influenced by Marxism and by Marx's interpretation of what Hegel's fulfilled ideal would mean. Add in some New Left ideas and you've pretty much gotten the gist, (geist!), of what I'm saying. In fact, what I've just said has been said many times before in different formats. Obviously, it's not the only interpretation of what said paradisical or Utopistic state would consist of.

Hegel himself was an ultra-conservative, and his idea of what the realization of the Absolute Ideal and the fulfillment of the World Spirit consisted of was something resembling the Prussian state of the late 19th century, the same state that World War I was fought against. The things that Hegel admired in Prussia were things that were in a sense proto-fascist--the union of individual and corporate power under the guidance of an overarching state. In fact, Giovanni Gentile, the court philosopher of Mussolini's fascist regime, was an ardent Hegelian and expressed his justifications of Fascism in an explicitly Hegelian tone.

But Marx stood Hegel on his head...

The contest of whose ideal of what the realization of the Absolute Ideal and the fulfillment of the World Spirit means is correct is one that adds another layer of complexity to the mix, and I'm not going to wade into those waters except to say that the bourgeois ideal can be proven to conceal meaning that would cast doubt on the intentions of those who adopt Hegel's stance without criticism.

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