THE NOTION of the end of history is not an original one. Its best known propagator was Karl Marx, who believed that the direction of historical development was a purposeful one determined by the interplay of material forces, and would come to an end only with the achievement of a communist utopia that would finally resolve all prior contradictions. But the concept of history as a dialectical process with a beginning, a middle, and an end was borrowed by Marx from his great German predecessor, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
For better or worse, much of Hegel's historicism has become part of our contemporary intellectual baggage. The notion that mankind has progressed through a series of primitive stages of consciousness on his path to the present, and that these stages corresponded to concrete forms of social organization, such as tribal, slave-owning, theocratic, and finally democratic-egalitarian societies, has become inseparable from the modern understanding of man. Hegel was the first philosopher to speak the language of modern social science, insofar as man for him was the product of his concrete historical and social environment and not, as earlier natural right theorists would have it, a collection of more or less fixed "natural" attributes. The mastery and transformation of man's natural environment through the application of science and technology was originally not a Marxist concept, but a Hegelian one. Unlike later historicists whose historical relativism degenerated into relativism tout court, however, Hegel believed that history culminated in an absolute moment - a moment in which a final, rational form of society and state became victorious.
As a result of the receding of the class issue, the appeal of communism in the developed Western world, it is safe to say, is lower today than any time since the end of the First World War. This can he measured in any number of ways: in the declining membership and electoral pull of the major European communist parties, and their overtly revisionist programs; in the corresponding electoral success of conservative parties from Britain and Germany to the United States and Japan, which are unabashedly pro-market and anti-statist; and in an intellectual climate whose most "advanced" members no longer believe that bourgeois society is something that ultimately needs to be overcome. This is not to say that the opinions of progressive intellectuals in Western countries are not deeply pathological in any number of ways. But those who believe that the future must inevitably be socialist tend to be very old, or very marginal to the real political discourse of their societies.
Hence, we believe that the Hegelian aesthetics and the way in which it terminates the "history of art" to declare the age of aesthetics have something to tell us about the new "technical" materiality of arts. We have already mentioned that photography was born approximately when Hegel was about to die. This means that no one can know what would Hegel say about the age of technical images, determined by the birth of photography, which has developed its own cultural and artistic norms. From photography to the "cinématographe" of Lumière, up to the television-video and digital imaging techniques, everything which pertains to "modern" images (as Hegel himself declares that we enter into the "modern age" only through his philosophical system) belongs to the "age of aesthetics" declared by Hegel. And they are already defined by their "ambiguity" --an image which is fundamentally different from the image of the painter, usually taken by a "hunter" of images and visions, rather than by a painter who chooses his or her mise-en-scène and completely renders it into his or her painting.
The system embodied within Hegel's philosophy of history is essentially that of adialectical progression. To give a brief outline, this model begins with an existingelement, or thesis, with contradictions inherent to its structure. These contradictionsunwittingly create the thesis' direct opposite, or antithesis, bringing about a period ofconflict between the two. The new element, or synthesis, that emerges from this conflictthen discovers its own internal contradictions, and starts the process anew. The reasonthe Hegelian dialectic is termed "progressive" is because each new thesisrepresents an advance over the previous thesis, continually until an endpoint (or finalgoal) is reached. To specifically apply this model Hegel's view of world history, itrepresents the manner in which the Spirit develops gradually into its purest form,ultimately recognizing its own essential freedom. To Hegel, "world history is thusthe unfolding of Spirit in time, as nature is the unfolding of the Idea in space."The dialectical process thus virtually defines the meaning of history for Hegel.
I have already noted the level of nonsense achieved in Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, where it is abundantly clear that he had no particular interest in or understanding of the real science of his day.
Hegel stated the logic of this very starkly, that the thesis was an affirmation ("in itself"), the antithesis was the denial ("for itself"), and the synthesis the denial of the denial ("in and for itself").
Since Kant had thought that speculative Reason would often produce , where the arguments were just as good for a "thesis" and a contradictory "antithesis," the notion was already current before Hegel, in Fichte, that the antinomies could perhaps be overcome through a "synthesis" (another Kantian term) that would somehow transcend the contradiction.
And when any kind of private action becomes a matter of money, employment, children, weapons, or political activity (in someone's definition), then the state continues on in, police (, which may be Hegel's own neologism, by the way), prosecutors, prisons, and all.
The full force of Hegel's statism, whether today it is called "communitarianism," the "politics of meaning," or something else, thus descends on property.
This is the recognizable universe of our own time where the rich, capital, markets, and profit are still all attacked in the fashionable press, academia, and art by people educated in Marxist Sixties radicalism but completely ignorant or uncomprehending of the most elementary principles of .
Sterling, "the first British apostle of Hegelianism," who said:
'...while in constitutional England, Preference-holders and Debenture-holders are ruined by the prevailing commercial immorality, the ordinary owners of Stock in Prussian Railways can depend on a safe average of 8.33 per cent.
We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth, and consider that, if it is difficult to comprehend Nature, it is infinitely harder to grasp the Essence of the State...
This book was first published in 1929, and is partially based on a lecture course from winter semester 1927-28, a lecture delivered in Riga in 1928, and lectures at Davos in March 1929. Several editions of this book were published over the years. This translation is based on the Gesamtausgabe edition, and includes several editions' prefaces and appendices.