Josiah Royce on Hegelianism

“If we turn to the study of the special phases through which consciousness passes, as these are depicted in the Phaenomenologie, we find that the defects of the imperfect phases are such as, according to the doctrine, tend of themselves to make clear the structure of the absolute consciousness. For as you have just heard, the imperfections of the finite are all of them aspects of the complete expression of the infinite or perfect self or Absolute. Let us enumerate, then, some of these defects as they come out in the course of the book. The lower stages of consciousness, whether individual or social, may first be viewed as divided into two types. They are stages where the finite subject, or knower of the process in question, is either too exclusively theoretical or too exclusively practical in his attitude towards his life and towards his world. The Absolute alone combines in one both of these aspects. In finite life the too exclusively practical stages may be described as in general ‘blind.’ Those who are confined to these stages are active, earnest, enthusiastic, fanatical, hopeful or heroic. But they do not rightfully grasp what it is they are trying to do. The too exclusively theoretical stages of consciousness may be described as relatively ‘empty.’ One looks on the world, but finds in it little of significance, of the ideal, of the valuable. One becomes skeptical. One mercilessly exposes the contradictions of his own abstract conceptions. One thinks; but one has so far not learned to live.

“From another point of view the lower stages are distinct from the absolute consciousness. The finite self finds its world, whether this be theoretical or practical, as if it were something foreign. It fails to recognize its own unity with its world. Viewed theoretically, its facts then ppear accidental or unexplained, or as if due to mysterious power. Viewed practically, the world seems to the mind uncanny or hostile. The finite self is not at home. It becomes a wanderer. It sees its destiny elsewhere. Perhaps it is in the desert, guided only by the pillar of cloud by day and by fire by night. Perhaps it is amongst its foes who must be defeated. Perhaps, like Kant, it is dealing with the mysterious thing in itself. However the foreign world appears, the defect is that the self here does not recognize this world as its own. Or again, although on higher stages it may be thoroughly sure, as heroic and confident reformers are sure, that its world is its own and truly belongs to it, or as Hegel expresses it, is an sich, the self, the subject, does not yet see how this is true. Obviously the defective stages may here be, as we have said, either theoretical or practical. They may also be either individual or social. Israel in the wilderness, which Hegel himself does not mention as an illustration, would stand for a society whose world is foreign and whose laws are, consequently, supposed to be merely an ideal legislation for a future commonwealth.

“But the imperfect life of the finite self may be characterized in still another way. In general the finite stages of consciousness are those in which the subject assumes some special form — is, as Hegel often says, bestimmt, that is determined to a particular way of living or of thinking. Dialectical considerations, then, always insure that over against this special form of self-consciousness, and in so far contemporaneous with it, there must be other opposed forms of subjectivity. These opposed forms of subjectivity are, then, to any one of the determinate subjects, his enemies. And so the world assumes the type which we characterized a moment ago. From this point of view finite life appears not merely as a passing away of each stage but as a conflict upon each stage with its own enemies, who are after all identical in nature with itself.

“The imperfect stages of finite consciousness may be also viewed thus: The self, anticipating its own absolute calling and destiny, confident that it does know the world, may try to express the still unclear consciousness of its absoluteness either by affirming itself as this ego, this person, or on the other hand, by sacrificing all its personality and surrendering itself to a vague Absolute. In other words, the self may be thus a conscious individualist, or a self-abnegating mystic. In its social forms, this opposition between two imperfect types of self-consciousness would be expressed, for instance, in anarchy on the one hand and despotism on the other. That is, the theory of society might be founded on the maxim, Everyone for himself; or it might be founded on the maxim, All are subject to one. Whether individual or social, this type of finite imperfection is found exemplified all the way through the series of stages.

“If one contrast with these types of imperfection the type of an absolute consciousness, of the consciousness that views itself, and rightly views itself, as world-possessor and as self-possessor, this fulfilled self of the absolute knowledge must, according to Hegel, possess the following characteristics:

“(1) It must be an union of theoretical and practical consciousness. It must see only what is its own deed, and must do nothing except what it understands. Precisely this, according to Hegel, is what occurs, to be sure in a highly abstract form, in the philosophical theory of the categories such as he afterwards embodied in his logic. For the categories of the Hegelian logic are at once pure thoughts and pure deeds.

“(3) Somewhat more important still is the consideration that the Absolute must be a self that by virtue of its inmost principle appears to itself as an interrelated unity of selves without being the less one self. From this point of view Hegel calls the Absolute, Geist. Spirit in its complete sense is a consciousness, for which the individual exists only in social manifestation and expression, so that an individual apart from other individuals is meaningless, and so that the relations of individuals have been so completely expressed that each finds his being in all the others and exists in perfect unity with them. In his later system of philosophy this view of the nature of spirit lies at the foundation of Hegel’s interpretation of the positive theory both of society and of religion. In the Phaenomenologie, the highest form of spirit which appears concretely expressed in the life of humanity is the form assumed by the church, in so far as the church is in possession of a perfectly rational religion. The Holy Spirit, identical with and present in the true life of the church, is for Hegel, in the Phaenomenologie, the living witness to this essentially social character of the absolute consciousness. That there appears considerable doubt whether the church as Hegel conceives it in this book is precisely identical with any one of the forms which the Christian church has assumed, is a consideration which does not here further concern us.

“(4) Possibly the most notable feature of the absolute consciousness is that which unites completely finite and infinite. It saves its absoluteness by assuming special embodiments. Hegel always laid very great stress upon this thesis. It is a failure to grasp it which has so often made the religious conception of the deity what Hegel regards as abstract and relatively fruitless. To conceive God as first perfect by Himself and then, so to speak, capriciously creating a world of imperfection, this is not to conceive the divine consciousness as it is; it is perfect through the infinite imperfections of its finite expressions, and through the fact that these imperfections are nevertheless unified in its complete life. In the Phaenomenologie, this view is repeatedly insisted upon, and is expressed in connection with that phase of consciousness which Hegel calls the forgiveness of sin.

“The thesis, then, in terms of which Hegel defines his Absolute is that the absolute self is aware of itself as a process involving an inner differentiation into many centers of selfhood. Each one of these centers of selfhood is, when viewed as a particular center and taken in its finitude, theoretically self-contradictory, practically evil. On the other hand, each of these finite expressions of the self is theoretically true, in so far as it represents the Universal and is related thereto; and it is practically justified, in so far as it aims at the Universal in deed and in spirit. In the religious consciousness of the forgiveness of sin, the Absolute, both as forgiving infinite and as forgiven finite, reaches this consciousness in a form which expresses the absolute process. The absolute process is, however, further expressible, apart from such images and allegories. To Hegel’s mind it is inseparably associated with religion in the form of a philosophical or scientific consciousness. This philosophical consciousness explains, justifies, makes clear the existence of finitude, actuality, imperfection, sin. In the form of the dialectical method, philosophy emphasizes that contradictory and imperfect expression is necessary to the life of the infinite. In assigning to each special category its place, exhibiting its defect, and justifying this defect by its place in the whole system, philosophy expresses in the form of a rational consciousness what the religious consciousness discovers in the form of the union of the finite and infinite through the forgiveness of sin.

“I turn from this indication of a very remarkable attempt to solve the problems of that time and of this type of philosophy, to a mention of some of the special illustrations. Let us confine ourselves for the moment to illustration of individual rather than of social types of consciousness. The first Gestalt of individual consciousness which Hegel considers is, as we said at the last time, the savage consciousness of the warrior, practically viewing himself as the only real self in the world, boasting his prowess as such, and consequently seeking to destroy whatever pretentious fellow may attempt falsely to be the self. It is because of the assurance, dim of course and purely practical, on the part of each man that he is the Absolute — it is because of this that the universal war of all against all appears. This primitive state of universal war, a conception which Hegel in so far accepts from the seventeenth-century theories of human nature, is to his mind a phase of human nature as transient as is irrational. The reason for this transiency lies in the fact that killing a man proves nothing, except that the victor, in order to prove himself to be the self, needs still another man to kill, and is therefore essentially a social being. Even head hunting implies dependence upon one’s neighbor who is good enough to furnish one more head for the hunter. Let one note this element of mutuality, and mere destruction gives way to a higher form of social consciousness. This higher stage of individual self-realization is reached in the still primitive type of society which is represented by the master and his slave. The master essentially recognizes that he needs somebody else in order that this other may prove him, the master, to be the self. The best proof that I am the self, so the master thinks, is given when another is subject to my will. Because he is another, and in so far a self, he by contrast assures me of my own selfhood; for with Hegel as with Schelling individual self-consciousness is a social contrast effect. For after all, I can only know myself as this individual if I find somebody else in the world, by contrast with whom I recognize who I am. But the master essentially hopes to prove himself to be the true self, by making the slave his mere organ, the mirror of his own functions, his will objectified. The world of the master and slave is therefore explicitly two-fold, and is not like the world of the head-hunting warriors, the world in which each man lived only by denying that the other had any right to live. The slave, to be sure, has no rights, but he has his uses, and he teaches me, the master, that I am the self. Unfortunately, however, for the master, the master hereby becomes dependent upon the slave’s work. The master after all is merely the onlooker and is self only so far as he sees the other at work for him. The master’s life is therefore essentially lazy and empty. Of the two, the faithful slave after all comes much nearer to genuine selfhood. For self-consciousness is practical, is active, and depends upon getting control of experience. The slave, so Hegel says, works over, reconstructs the things of experience. Therefore by his work he, after all, is conquering the world of experience, is making it the world of the self, is becoming the self. The slave is potentially, or in embryo — is an sich, as Hegel would say — the self-respecting man, who in the end must become justly proud of the true mastery that his work gives him. Let this essential character of the slave, — the fact that he, as worker, is the only true man in this primitive society — let this fact come to his own consciousness, and the self becomes transformed from slavery to a higher phase of consciousness. This new phase is represented in Hegel’s account, curiously enough, by a form which in history appears as a stage of philosophical consciousness, namely, by stoicism.

“Stoicism, however, is here viewed in its practical, and not in its theoretical, aspects as a doctrine of the world. Practically stoicism is the attitude of the man who regards all things with which he deals as necessarily subject to his own reason, whether he can control them physically or not; because he has found that the self, through its own rational ideal, needs no slaves, no conquest at war, to prove its independence. He is still a member of a society, but it is now an ideal society, composed of the stoic and of his ideal Reason, his guide. Through the discipline of life the stoic has become entirely indifferent to whether he is master or slave. Whether on the throne or in chains or in service, the self, and just the individual self, is self-possessed if it ideally declares itself so to be. Its social relation, its relation to another, is now simply its relation to its own ideal. I and my reason constitute the world. The dialectical defect of the stoic’s position is that the actual world of the stoic’s life — the world of activity, of desire, of interest — is meanwhile going on in its own accidental way. The self in order to attain independence has resigned all definite plans of control over fortunes. Its concrete life is therefore empty. If it hereupon becomes aware of this fact it turns from the stoic into the skeptic, and learns to doubt even its own present ideal. Hegel here has in mind the practical aspect of the forms of older ancient skepticism, which undertook to retain the term of rational self-consciousness by a reflection upon the vanity of all special doctrines, ideals, dogmas, assurances, concerning common life. The skeptic, a Diogenes in a tub, proves his independence by destroying convictions, by being entirely indifferent to conventions, by being essentially restless, and merely dialectical. The result of a thoroughgoing adoption of this point of view is that life gets the sort of vanity which has been well suggested to our own generation by Fitzgerald’s wonderful paraphrase of the Omar Khayyam stanzas. The self is now indeed free, but life is vain; and the world has once more fallen, seemingly in a hopeless way, into chaos. The Weltgeist, recognizing its failure so far to win its own, must once more transmigrate.

“Hereupon Hegel introduces as the next Gestalt of individual consciousness a very remarkable one entitled, ‘The Unhappy Consciousness.’ That the consciousness of the Omar Khayyam stanzas is unhappy we shall all remember. And that this unhappiness results from skepticism concerning the worth of every concrete human life, is also obvious. What Hegel notes is the substantial identity between a consciousness which is unhappy for this reason, and the consciousness which, like that expressed in well-known devotional books, such as The Imitation of Christ, or in the practical life of solitary religious devotees of all faiths, views its unhappiness as due to its estrangement from a perfection of life, which ought to be its own but which in this world of conflicting motives and transient activities seems hopelessly remote. Whether you express your unhappy consciousness in purely skeptical or in devout form, that is, with emphasis upon a cynical or upon a mystical attitude, is to a certain degree a matter of accident. But of course the devotional expression is the deeper one and looks more in the direction in which the solution of the problem, according to Hegel, is to be found. The unhappy consciousness is therefore depicted in its religious form, and with a constant use of metaphors derived from mediaeval Christianity. In fact Hegel is here unquestionably treating one aspect of the religious consciousness. It is however very notable, and characteristic of the method of the Phaenomenologie that Hegel does not regard this form of consciousness as a genuine expression of religion in its wholeness. Religion as such appears in the Phaenomenologie as a social and not as an individual life. The unhappy consciousness is here expressly what William James would call a variety of religious experience; it is not a concrete form of religion. It may appear in connection with the most various phases of faith. Viewed, so to speak, metaphysically, it involves a distinctly individual interpretation of one’s relation to the universe. That which the unhappy consciousness seeks, can therefore indeed be named God. It might also be named just Peace, or the Ideal Self.


“Hegel depicts this form of individual self-consciousness with a rather excessive detail but with a very profound insight into the sentimentality, the hopelessness, and the genuine meaning of the entire process. The dialectic situation depends upon the pathetic fact that the unhappy consciousness always actually has its salvation close at hand, but is still forbidden by its own presuppositions to accept that salvation. What it seeks is nothing whatever but an inner self-confidence, which it apparently ought to win by a mere resolution — an act of manly will. Yet, by hypothesis, it is estranged from every resolute inner self-consciousness, since it conceives all good solely as belonging to its object, the Changeless. It prays to the Changeless, it longs for the Changeless. It tries to see its Lord face to face. But it always finds, says Hegel, only the empty sepulchre whence the Lord has been taken away. ‘Nay, if I find the Holy Grail itself, it too will fade and crumble into dust.’

“Under these circumstances, however, the consciousness in question does indeed learn to make a transition, which is in so far positive and which is due to taking over the lesson that the slave learned from the master. After all, the very emptiness of the sepulchre shows that if the Lord is not here he is arisen. Seek not the living among the dead. One’s seeking must become an activity; one must do something even as the risen Lord does. And so the mere sentiment of the first stage of this unhappy consciousness changes into service. But the service is not a control of natural phenomena; it is not essentially any social business. It is the doing of what is pleasing in the sight of the Changeless; it is the life of self-sacrifice as such — the self-chastisement of the devotee. But once more the division recurs. What is done is, after all, but the transient deed of a poor sinner. The Changeless, the perfect, cannot be realized hereby. One’s work is but vain. One’s righteousness is as rags. The true self is not satisfied. One’s best work gets all its value, (when it gets any value at all), from the fact that the foreign and changeless self somehow kindly inspires this deed of righteousness and permits the poor sinner to do something for his Lord. But the doer himself still remains worthless, whatever he does. He wishes to be meet for the master’s service, but after all he is but a broken and empty vessel, and this is all that he has to offer for the master’s service. And under these circumstances the only hope must indeed come from the other side. After all, the changeless self is concerned in the salvation of this poor sinner, makes its own sacrifice for him, communion with the Changeless, gradually sanctifies the poor soul through the higher life, means in the end to bring the imperfect into union with itself. Quantus labor ne sit cassus, and so at length perhaps, through self-discipline, self-abnegation, endless self-chastisement, the imperfect self does come to some consciousness of a new and sanctified and redeemed nature. The Changeless perchance has come to live in it. It has now become, through the ineffable grace of the Changeless, the instrument of the divine.

“But hereupon, for the unhappy consciousness the enemy appears, as Hegel says, in his worst form. The former self-abnegation changes into spiritual pride. The sanctified person becomes the home of vanity, and needs a constantly renewed casting down into the depths of humility, until this very pride in its own expertness in the art of self-humiliation becomes the inspiring principle of its life. It becomes intensely overcareful as to every detail of its fortunes and of its functions. Its existence is one of painful conscientiousness, of fruitless dreariness. And yet, after all, if it could only reflect, it would see that through its despair it has already found the essential experience. For what it has essentially discovered is that if a man will reasonably submit himself to the conditions of the true life, he must attain, through activity, a genuine unity with his ideal world. In other words, the unhappy consciousness is simply seeking in its lonesomeness what the civilized man is finding in his concrete relations, not to the enemies whom he kills, nor to the slaves whom he controls, nor to the abstract ideals that he follows, but to the humane life in which he finds his place. Whenever consciousness reaches, says Hegel, a stage of genuine reason, it becomes sure of itself and rests from the vain labors of all this suspicious self-questioning. It finds indeed a new field of work, and of intense and absorbing work, but not the labor of conquering these fantastic spiritual foes. It becomes assured that the practically humane life is, in meaning, one with the whole of reality. The unhappy consciousness, however, can in and for itself never recognize this fact. It will not wake up to its own truth.


“The types of consciousness which here immediately follow, are depicted with a marvelous union of sympathetic detail and of merciless dialectic peculiarly characteristic of Hegel. They are, one might say, renaissance types of character — ethical and not theoretical — interpreted, however, from the point of view which German romanticism had determined. Common to them all is the explicit recognition that without actively pursuing its ideal in a world of life, in a world of objective fortune, in an organized and social order, the self cannot win its own place, cannot be a self at all. Common to them all is the further fact that the self, despite this recognition, tries to center this acknowledged social world about just that individual man in whom the self, by chance, conceives itself, in each new incarnation, to be embodied. The conception of the social universe is thus, each time, characteristically that of vigorous and ambitious youth, confident that in him the absolute ideal has found an incarnation, nowhere else attained. ‘I will show you, O world, that you are my own,’ he says. Yet he speaks not as the savage. He is the civilized youth, with powers, talents, training, and a love of emulation. He must conquer his world; but he knows that he needs a world to conquer, and is so far dependent. Not the killing of his enemies, but spiritual mastery of the universe is his aim. Moreover, he has behind him, in essence although perhaps not in memory, the experience of the unhappy consciousness. A merely sentimental and lonely religion seems to him vanity. He is beyond all that. For the time, he has no religion whatever. He is not afraid of life. He sets out to win and to enjoy. He recognizes that the truth of things is the human, the social truth. But he is resolved that whatever any man can experience, possess, attain, is by right his, so far as his ideal demands such possession

“He begins this sort of life by taking form as Faust. The Faust-ideal in question is due to so much of that poem as was at this time known to Hegel, and is not the Faust-ideal that Goethe later taught us to recognize as his own. Hegel conceives the Faust of the poem, as it was then before him, simply as the pleasure seeker longing for the time when he can say, ; ‘O moment stay, thou art so fair.’ The outcome of Faust’s quest, as far as it goes, is for Hegel the discovery that the passing moment will neither stay nor be fair; so that the world where one seeks merely the satisfaction of the moment, proves rather to be the foreign world of a blind necessity. This necessity, in the guise of cruel fate, ruthlessly destroys everything that has seemed, before the moment of enjoyment, so entrancing. Pleasure seeking means, then, the death of whatever is desirable about life; and Hegel foresees, for Faust himself, so far as just his incarnation of the Geist can go, no escape from the fatal circle. At all events, the self is not to be found in this life of lawless pursuit of that momentary control over life which is conceived as pleasure. Such is Hegel’s reading of the first part of Faust. He entitles the sketch, ‘Pleasure and Destiny.’

“The next form or incarnation of our hero is entitled, ‘The Law of the Heart.’ In making the transition from the pleasure-seeking consciousness with its inevitable discovery of a world of blind necessity, where every pleasure fades, Hegel shows a very fine comprehension of tendencies which the romantic movement had already notably exemplified, and which it was, in later literature, still further to exemplify. For the lesson of the defeated and romantic pleasure seeker’s experience is indeed not, in strong and free natures, mere repentance, nor yet a mere reversion to the ‘unhappy consciousness.’ Hegel does not send his disillusioned worldling back to the cloister. The lesson rather is the discovery that the hero had been really seeking, not pleasure as such at all, but something so potent, so full of appeal to his heart that he would be as ready to die as to live for such an ideal; something in brief that could fill him with enthusiasm and devotion.


“This transformation of the love of pleasure into the longing for a passionate ideal, is something much deeper than mere remorse. The outcome of the search for the satisfying moment of experience is the discovery of the law that all passes away and turns into the sere and yellow leaf. The lesson is that if one adopts this very law as one’s own, if one scorns delight and lives laborious days, simply because all else fades, while the inmost desire of the heart may outlast all transient contentment, then one is nearer to one’s own true expression. Choose your ideal then, choose it anyhow, and be ready to die for it. Then for the first time you learn how to live. Living means having something dear enough to fill the heart.

“Thus Hegel suggests his diagnosis of the remarkable transition from passionate pleasure seeking to vehement self-surrender which is so notable in romantic periods and in youthful idealism.

“The next type, the hero of the ‘law of the heart,’ hereupon appears as an enthusiast for an ideal — what ideal is indeed indifferent except so far as his own mere feeling is his guide. His heart tells him that this is his ideal. He is ready to die for it. That is enough. He has found himself. All about him, of course, is the vain world of the people who do not comprehend this ideal. But the hero is an altruist. His heart beats high for the good of mankind. What mankind needs is to learn of his ideal. He is therefore a reformer, a prophet of humanity, one of whom, as his own heart infallibly tells him, the world is not worthy. He is good enough, nevertheless, to be ready to save this so far ruined world.


“Since in a similar fashion all other hearts, if once awakened, are laws unto themselves, the realm of such a company of romantic reformers is a renewal, upon a higher level, of the primal warfare of all against all. It is a world of mad prophets, each the fool of his own vanity.


“The result of the dialectic of these successive types is so far obvious. The individual in order to come to himself needs a world, and a social one, to win over and to control. But control can only be won through self-surrender. Hence the individual needs a world where he may find something to which he can devote himself as to an objective truth — something quite definite which he can serve unhesitatingly so as to be free from the querulousness of the restless reformer, and free too from the idle vanity of the knight-errant. The true world must become for me the realm of my life task, of my work, of my objectively definite and absorbing pursuit. Only so can I truly come to myself and to my own. Is not then, after all, the artist who pursues art for art’s sake, the scholar, who loves learning just for learning’s sake, the man, in brief, who is completely given over to a laborious calling just for the sake of the absorbing conseiousness which accompanies this calling — is not such a man, at length, in possession of the true form of self-consciousness? My work, my calling, my life task — this I pursue not because I wish for mere pleasure, but because I love the work. Moreover, this task is indeed the law of my heart; but I do not seek to impose it upon all other men. I leave them free to choose their life tasks. Nor is my calling merely an object of sentiment. I view it as a worthy mode of self-expression. Meanwhile, unlike the knight-errant, I do not pretend to be the one virtuous representative of my calling, who as such is reforming the base world. No, in my calling, I have my colleagues who work with me in a common cause. This cause (die Sadie) is ours. Here, then, are the conditions of an ideal society. Here subject and object are at least, it might seem, upon equal terms. We who pursue a common calling exist as servants of our Saehe; and this cause — our science, our art, our learning, our creative process, whatever it be — this exists by virtue of our choice, and of our work. Meanwhile, if this is not your calling, you must not ask, as from without, what this ‘cause’ of ours is good for. Our art is just for art’s sake; our learning is its own reward. Our cause is indeed objective; we serve it; we sacrifice for it; but it is its own excuse for being. If you want to attain the right type of self-consciousness, find such a cause, make it yours, and then serve it.


“In explaining the dialectic of this type of consciousness Hegel shows all the skill of the reflective man who is confessing the only too natural defects incident to his own calling. And no reader can doubt the thoroughness of the confession. For no sentimental dreamer of the foregoing romantic types fares worse under Hegel’s dissection than does the type of the scholar or the artist who defines the self in terms of the ‘cause,’ and who thereupon can say nothing better of the ‘cause’ than that it is its own excuse for being. Such an ideal Hegel finds wholly accidental and capricious, and shrewdly notes that what the scholars and artists in question mean by their pretended devotion to the ‘cause’ is that they are fond of displaying their wits to one another and of showing their paces and of winning applause, and with a touch of the old savagery about them are also fond of expressing contempt for the failures of other men.


Yet, once again, the result of this dialectic is positive. The ideal of the intellectual animals is in fact a sound one. Their hypocrisy lies merely in pretending to have found this ideal in art for art’s sake, or in learning for learning’s sake. Suppose that there indeed is a task which is not arbitrarily selected by me as my task, and then hypocritically treated as if it were the universal task which I impersonally serve. Suppose that the genuine task is one forced upon us all by our common natural and social needs. This then will be ‘die Sache’, our work, our life, whether we individually admit the fact or no. Against the magnitude of this common task, the individual’s service will then indeed be as nothing, and the individual, when he notes this, may frankly admit the fact without any hypocritical posing. On the other hand, this task will furnish for each man his only possible true self-expression in terms of human action. Is there such a task, such a Sache? Hegel replies in effect: Yes, the consciousness of a free people, of a Volk, of an organized social order, will constitute such an expression of selfhood. To each of its loyal citizens, the state whose life is that of such a people will be his objective self. This his true self then assigns to the individual his private task, his true cause, gives dignity and meaning to his personal virtues, fills his heart with a patriotic ideal, and secures him the satisfactions of his natural life. Here at last in this consciousness of a free people, we have — no longer crude self-consciousness, no longer lonely seeking of impossible ideals, and no longer the centering of the world about the demands of any one individual. In this consciousness of a free people each individual self is in unity with the spirit of the entire community. And herewith the world of the Geist begins. All the previous forms were abstractions, fragments of life, bits of selfhood. In history they appear as mere differentiations within some form of the life of the Geist — as mere phases of individual life which involve, as it were, a sleep and a forgetting of the unity upon which all individual life is based. An organized social order is the self for each one of its loyal subjects. The truth of the individual is the consciousness of the people to which he loyally belongs.


“The skeptical discovery that the state appears to exist simply as the embodiment of the selfish will of its subjects, and that loyal professions are mere cloaks for individual greed, the growth of a corrupt use of political power even by virtue of the growth of the general social intelligence, the conflict of the social classes — these are phases in the great process of the cultivation which the social mind gives to itself. These phases culminate in the consciousness which the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century represents. Society is indeed necessary, but it exists solely for the sake of forming, nourishing, and cultivating, free individuals. Utility is the sole test of social truth. All that is real exists simply in order to make men happy. Whatever principle underlies this world-process is an unknowable Supreme Being. Visibly true is only this, that what tends to the greatest good of the greatest number of individual men is alone justified. This, then, is what we have been seeking. This is wisdom’s last social word. Away with all arbitrary laws and sovereign powers. Away with loyalty to anything but the common rights of all men. We are all free and equal. The Geist has been transformed into the multitude of free and equal individuals. Let the people come to their own.

“Herewith, then, comes the Revolution, the absolute freedom — and the Terror. For the horde of individuals thus let loose are whatever they happen to be. The will of all is indeed to be done. But who shall do it? The sovereign ruler? But the sovereign is dead. The representatives of the people ? But these are now free individuals, with no loyalty that they can any longer define in rational terms. The only way for them to become conscious of the universal will is to express their own will. They mean of course to do whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number. But they have now no test of what is thus to be universally useful except what is furnished by the light of their own personal experience. Their subjective decision they therefore impose upon all others. Thus they become a faction, appear as public enemies, and are overthrown. Society has returned to primitive anarchy, and exists once more as the war of all against all.


“And Hegel hereupon depicts, in terms derived from Kant and Fichte, what he now calls the moral theory of the universe of the spirit. Upon this stage the mind, still aware of its essentially social destiny, now undertakes to define the reality as a certain eternal and ideal order which is valid for all rational beings — the city of God, whose constitution never passes away. This higher and eternal realm, where the moral autonomy of every free agent is guaranteed even by virtue of his acceptance of a moral law that he conceives as binding for all rational beings, is as true as it is shadowy and full of antitheses. On earth this ideal moral order can never be realized, for on earth we see only phenomena.


“But still another form of this moral theory of reality remains. Perhaps the spirit is actually realized not through what we accomplish, but by the simple fact that, on the highest levels we intend to be rational. Perhaps the readiness is all. Perhaps the triumph of the self in its world simply takes the form of a ceaseless determination, in spite of failure and of finitude, to aim at the highest, at complete self-expression, at unity. Perhaps the curtain is the picture; perhaps the will is the deed; and perhaps in the end the spirit, like a higher sort of ‘intellectual animal,’ contents itself with merely saying, ‘I have accomplished nothing, but at least I have tried my best.’ So to conceive the solution is to take the position of some of Hegel’s contemporaries, to whom, as formerly to Lessing, the search for the truth is all that can be viewed as accessible or as really worthy. This, in fact, is curiously near to Hegel’s own form of Absolutism; but is also curiously remote from it.

“For if, at last, it is the pure intent to be reasonable that constitutes reasonableness, if the whole life of the spirit, individual and social, exists only as an aim, an idea, an attitude, a purpose, still one has to remember, as one looks back over this long story of error and defeat, that every deed in which the self was expressed was, in its measure, a falling away from its own intent — was an expression of illusion, was a finite mistake, and, if conscious, was a sin against the ideal.

“What consciousness so far learns, then, is that finite defect, error, sin, contradiction, is somehow of the very nature of the self, even when the self seeks and means the highest. Every effort to find and to express the perfect self is ipso facto a lapse into imperfection. The pure self cannot be expressed without impurity. The rational self cannot be expressed without irrationality. The absolute purpose, to be the self and to be one with one’s own world, is realizable only through a continual inner conflict and a constant transcending of finite failures.

“To see this, however, is also to see that it is not in the failures themselves, but in the transcending of them that the true life of the spirit — of the self — comes to be incorporated. And Hegel here expresses this by saying that it is not the consciousness of sin but the consciousness of the forgiveness of sin that brings us to the threshold of understanding why and how the true self needs to be expressed, i.e., through a process of the conscious overcoming of the defects of its own stages of embodiment, through a continual conquest over self-estrangements that are meanwhile inevitable, but never final.

“To give this very view of the nature of the self, and of the relation between perfection and imperfection, finitude and the infinite — to give this view a genuine meaning, we must turn to that still higher form of the social consciousness which is historically embodied in religion.

“Religion may be defined, so Hegel says, as the consciousness of the Absolute Being. In other words religion is not, like the foregoing, the effort of one who beginning with his own individual self-consciousness as the center of his universe, tries to find the place of this individual self in his world. Religion is rather the consciousness which is seeking to express what the Absolute Being, the universe, really is, although, to be sure, religion is inevitably an interpretation of the Absolute Being as seen from the point of view of the inquiring self.

“In history, religion has appeared as an attitude of the social consciousness towards the world. Religion is, for Hegel, an interpretation of the world by the social self, and by the individual man only in so far as he identifies himself with the social self. That is, the nation or the church or humanity has a religion. The individual man comes to a consciousness of his religion through his community with his nation or his church or with humanity. Religion as a purely private and personal experience could only consist of such forms as the unhappy consciousness has already exemplified.

“The early forms of religion define the universe in terms of powers of nature. The unconscious idealism of the primitive mind appears in the fact that these powers tend from the outset to be conceived as living powers, which, in order that they may be viewed as sufficiently foreign and mysterious, are often typified by animals. Gradually the consciousness grows that human activity is needed in order that by suitable monuments, by vast constructions due to the worshippers themselves, the nature of the world-fashioning intelligence may be at once fittingly honored and, through imitation, portrayed. The result is seen in the vast architectural religion of Egypt, of whose true nature Hegel, when he wrote this book, had indeed small knowledge. Greek religious thought, conceiving its deities in human form, came nearer to a knowledge of the true relation of the Absolute and the finite being. The result was the religion of art, wherein the divine is portrayed by representing ideal types of human beings. But art, in humanizing the divine, inevitably tends also to humanize itself. In tragic poetry the gods gradually give place to mortal heroes; and poetry becomes consciously an imitation of human life. Comedy completes the process of this humanization. Man, who started to portray the gods, portrays, and in the end mercilessly criticizes, merely men; and the ancient religion dissolves itself in a humanistic skepticism. There are no gods. There are only men. The individual selves are all. This is the anarchical stage of religion.

“But the world itself remains—mysterious, all-powerful, objective, the dark realm that this skepticism cannot pierce. The mythical personifications have turned into human fancies. Man remains on one side, the Absolute on the other. The one is self-conscious; but the other is the hidden source of self-consciousness, hopeless, baffling, overwhelming in its vastness. What form of conception can portray the now seemingly impenetrable essence of this Absolute, from which we creatures of a day seem to be now sundered as mere outer shells of meaningless finitude?

“There remains one form of the religious consciousness untried. It is, at this point in human history, ready to come to life. In a highly dramatic passage Hegel now depicts how about the birthplace of this new form of consciousness there gather, like the wise men from the East, some of the most significant of the Gestalten so far represented: Stoicism is there, proclaiming the dignity of the self as the universal reason, but knowing not who the self is; the unhappy consciousness is there, seeking its lost Lord; the social spirit of the ancient state is there, lamenting the loss of its departed spirit: all these forms wait and long for the new birth. And the new birth comes thus: That it is the faith of the world that the Absolute, even as the Absolute that was hidden, has now revealed itself as an individual man, and has become incarnate.

“his faith then holds not that an accidental individual man is all, but that the essential Absolute reveals itself as man, and this is the first form of the Christian consciousness.

“This form too must pass away. This visible Lord must be hidden again in the heavens. For sense never holds fast the Absolute. There remains the consciousness, first that the Spirit of God is ever present in his church, and then that the church knows — although indeed under the form of allegories — how the Absolute Being is complete in himself only in so far as he expresses himself in a world which endlessly falls away from him into finitude, sin, darkness, and error, while he as endlessly reconciles it to himself again, living and suffering in individual form in order that, through regaining his union with his own Absolute Source, he may draw and reconcile all things to himself.

“This, says Hegel, is the allegory of which philosophy is the truth.”