Hegel and the Man-God

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This article
is excerpted from volume 2, chapter 11 of An
Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought
(1995).
An MP3 audio file of this chapter, narrated by Jeff Riggenbach,
is available
for download
.

The key step
in secularizing dialectic theology, and thus in paving the way for
Marxism, was taken by the lion of German philosophy, Georg Wilhelm
Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831). Born in Stuttgart, Hegel studied
theology at the University of Tubingen, and then taught theology
and philosophy at the Universities of Jena and Heidelberg before
becoming the leading philosopher at the new jewel in the Prussian
academic crown, the University of Berlin. Coming to Berlin in 1817,
Hegel remained there until his death, ending his days as rector
of the university.

In the spirit
of the Romantic movement in Germany, Hegel pursued the goal of unifying
man and God by virtually identifying God as man, and thereby submerging
the former into the latter. Goethe had recently popularized the
Faust theme, centering on Faust’s intense desire for divine, or
absolute knowledge, as well as divine power. In orthodox Christianity,
of course, the overweening pride of man in trying to achieve god-like
knowledge and power is precisely the root cause of sin and man’s
fall. But, on the contrary, Hegel, a most heretical Lutheran indeed,
had the temerity to generalize the Faustian urge into a world-philosophy,
and into an alleged insight into the inevitable workings of the
historical process.

In Professor
Tucker’s words, Hegelianism was a "philosophic religion of
self in the form of a theory of history. The religion is founded
on an identification of the self with God" [1]
It should not be necessary to add at this point that "the self
here is not the individual, but the collective organic species ‘self.’"
In a youthful essay on "The Positivity of the Christian Religion,"
written at the age of 25, Hegel revealingly objects to Christianity
for "separating" man and God except "in one isolated
individual" (Jesus), and placing God in another and higher
world, to which man’s activity could contribute nothing. Four years
later, in 1799, Hegel resolved this problem by offering his own
religion, in his "The Spirit of Christianity." In contrast
to orthodox Christianity, in which God became man in Jesus, for
Hegel Jesus’s achievement was, as a man, to become God! Tucker
sums this up neatly. To Hegel, Jesus

is not God
become man, but man become God. This is the key idea on which
the entire edifice of Hegelianism was to be constructed: there
is no absolute difference between the human nature and the divine.
They are not two separate things with an impassable gulf between
them. The absolute self in man, the homo noumenon, is not
mere godlike … it is God. Consequently, in so far as
man strives to become "like God," he is simply striving
to be his own real self. And in deifying himself, he is simply
recognizing his own true nature.[2]

If man is really
God, what then is history? Why does man, or rather, do men, change
and develop? Because the man-God is not perfect, or at least he
does not begin in a perfect state. Man-God begins his life in history
totally unconscious of his divine status. History, then, for Hegel,
is a process by which the man-God increases his knowledge, until
he finally reaches the state of absolute knowledge, that is, the
full knowledge and realization that he is God. In that case, man-God
finally realizes his potential of an infinite being without bounds,
possessed of absolute knowledge.

Why then did
man-God, also termed by Hegel the "world-self" (Weltgeisf)
or "world-spirit," create the universe? Not, as in the
Christian account, from overflowing love and benevolence, but out
of a felt need to become conscious of itself as a world-self. This
process of growing consciousness is achieved through creative activity
by which the world-self externalized itself. This externalization
occurs first by creating nature or the original world, but second
– and here of course is a significant addition to other theologies
– there is a continuing self-externalization through human
history. The most important is this second process, for by this
means man, the collective organism, expands his building of civilization,
his creative externalizing, and hence his increasing knowledge
of his own divinity, and therefore of the world as his own self-actualization.
This latter process: of knowing ever more fully that the world is
really man’s self, is the process which Hegel terms the gradual
putting to an end of man’s "self-alienation," which of
course for him was also the alienation of man from God. To Hegel,
in short, man perceives the world as hostile because it is
not himself, because it is alien. All these conflicts are resolved
when he realizes at long last that the world really is himself.
This process of realization is Hegel’s Aufhebung, by which
the world becomes de-alienated and assimilated to man’s self.

But why, one
might ask, is Hegel’s man so odd, so neurotic, that he regards every
thing that is not himself as alien and hostile? The answer is crucial
to the Hegelian mystique. It is because Hegel, or Hegel’s man, cannot
stand the idea of himself not being God, and therefore not being
of infinite space and without limits. Seeing any other being, or
any other object, exist, would mean that he himself is not infinite
or divine. In short, Hegel’s philosophy is severe and cosmic solipsistic
megalomania on a grand and massive scale. Professor Tucker develops
the case with characteristic acuity:

For Hegel
alienation is finitude, and finitude in turn is bondage. The experience
of self-estrangement in the presence of an apparent objective
world is an experience of enslavement … Spirit [or the world-self],
when confronted with an object or "other," is ipso
facto aware of itself as merely finite being, as embracing
only so much and no more of reality, as extending only so far
and no farther. The object is, therefore, a "limit."
(Grenze.) And a limit, since it contradicts spirit’s notion
of itself as absolute being, i.e., being-without-limit, is necessarily
apprehended as a "barrier" or "fetter" (Schranke).
It is a barrier to spirit’s awareness of itself as that which
it conceives itself truly to be – the whole of reality.
In its confrontation with an apparent object, spirit feels imprisoned
in limitation. It experiences what Hegel calls the "sorrow
of finitude."

The transcendence
of the object through knowing is spirit’s way of rebelling against
finitude and making the break for freedom. In Hegel’s quite unique
conception of it, freedom means the consciousness of self as unbounded:
it is the absence of a limiting object or non-self…. This consciousness
of "being alone with self" … is precisely what Hegel
means by the consciousness of freedom…. Accordingly, the growth
of spirit’s self-knowledge in history is alternatively describable
as a progress of the consciousness of freedom.[3]

Notes

[1]
Robert C. Tucker, Philosophy
and Myth in Karl Marx
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1961), p. 39.

[2]
Ibid., p. 41. These and other early essays by Hegel were first published
as a collection of Early
Theological Writings
in 1907.

[3]
Ibid., pp. 53ff.

Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School,
founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic officer
of the Mises Institute. He
was also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his literary
executor. See
his books.

Copyright
2012 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided
full credit is given.

The
Best of Murray Rothbard

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