Hegel was true to his mystical heritage even in his advocacy for philosophy as a sanctuary for an isolated order of priests, in retreat from the world, from what Hegel believed to be the failures of the Enlightenment and religious leadership.1 The final paragraph of the Enneads is ‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’ Armstrong referred to this as ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone.’2
As Proclus did to Plotinus, so ‘the German Proclus’ did to them both. He developed a tremendously rich, dynamic and dialectical philosophy with creativity at its core – which current has made such an enormous contribution to all aspects of Western culture, including towards the greatest scientific hypothesis, that of Copernicus for whom the divine light is at the centre, and the work of Kepler – into the potential for a new epistemological ‘nodal point’ in the modern world.
Key Neoplatonic elements in the structure of his philosophy – including its prose poetry, its belief (contradictorily!) in the worth of humanity and the wonder of the world (both of which Cusanus thought) made his philosophy the best until his time to reflect back onto the world its poetry. The poetry and potential of consciousness is the poetry and potential of the world – they are the same, materially.
Marx, recognising this, was correct to take Hegel’s development on Neoplatonism an enormous dialectical step forward again (from mysticism to materialism, no less!) by standing Hegel’s philosophy ‘on its feet,’ but although he clearly recognised its mysticism along with its worth, he never thought through the obvious short-coming of Neoplatonic teleology – retaining that part – ‘on its head’.3
To believe that the engine of contradiction might have resolution in an ‘end point’ of unity – either in the One God, the Prussian state4 or communism was an extraordinary error by three of the greatest dialecticians.
1. ‘Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’ G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Volume III, op. cit., 162 ↩
2. Plotinus The Enneads, Abridged. Trans. Stephen MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, VI,9.11, 549; Plotinus (Enneads) Trans. A.H. Armstrong. In seven volumes. William Heinemann, London, 1966-1988, Volume VII, 345 ↩
3. ‘I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker…The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.‘ Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Postface to the Second Edition 1873, Penguin, London, 1982, 103. ↩
4. Hegel was contradictory on this point. ↩