In capitalist ideology – a system of belief delimited by exploitative interests – Hegel’s philosophy is held to embody the mastery of conceptual reason. Hegel demanded this recognition through his philosophical assertions which he gave weight to with the complexity and bulk of his output. This recognition has been willingly granted – particularly after his death1 – maintained and propagated by generations of career-building academic ideologues.
In fact, the holding and teaching of his philosophy as such embodies one of the greatest lies in Western philosophy and culture – that what is Neoplatonic and works through and beyond concepts is linguistic only and rigorous in its conceptualisation. It is a lie that can be traced to the gates of Plato’s republic, from which the artist (and thus Plato himself) was excluded – both the artist and Plato who were crucial to Plotinus – together with all the richer and more subtle aspects of how we reason.
That reason is held to be only linguistic and conceptual is both patriarchal (the richness and complexity of our thought is reduced to identifiable and manipulable symbols) and supremacist (other ways of thinking in non-Western cultures which have long and esteemed histories ‘fail’ this standard). The West in its practice fails this standard. The ‘reason’ of Hegel is the reason of Plotinus.
From a materialist perspective (‘matter’ or objective reality is primary to consciousness) I will argue that Hegel’s philosophy is most obviously Neoplatonic, that it is the consummation of a philosophical current begun by Plotinus and that Hegel’s philosophy can neither be understood nor accorded the full appreciation it deserves without understanding that current.2
His philosophy, contrary to its place in capitalist ideology is, in the best tradition of Neoplatonism, profoundly poetic. His Phenomenology of Spirit is the most lyrical, his Logic the most austere. Hegel, like Cusanus, conflated the Neoplatonic hypostases and employed the same devices to convey his philosophy as did other Neoplatonists and mystics.
The tool that Hegel used to enrich and further anchor his Neoplatonism in this world which most pervades his philosophy is the Trinity – a Trinity Hegel acknowledged was derived from Neoplatonism. Where Neoplatonism is the framework, the Trinity is both the overlay and was woven into it. The Christian Trinity – which Hegel’s is not – is also a partial and, in the hands of academics, very successful disguise to stave off the recognition of a ‘pornography’ that pervades Hegel’s and their theorising and Western culture. Hegel’s philosophy is not Christian.
Just as that Hegel was a Neoplatonist is not conceded, so his knowledge of and immense debt to Cusanus who is known as a Neoplatonist. The motive is the same – the maintenance of the lie of ‘reason’ and of the patriarchy and supremacism of Western dominated, capitalist ideology – ultimately, domination and exploitation by the bourgeoisie. Here too, Hegel was complicit – in addition to unjustified claims of originality (Cusanus also was accused of plagiarism), a sympathy for ‘subjectivism’ and ‘atheism’ could mean the end of a promising career – both then and (with the decline of that stage of capitalist ideology known as ‘postmodernism’ – itself suffused with Neoplatonism and mysticism) a little less now.
Marx and Engels took this great current in philosophy – a current that has contributed so much to Western and global culture – from its influence on Michelangelo to that on Kepler, Nietzsche, Proust, Picasso, Popova, Stepanova and Joyce to name but a few – and stood it on material feet. The epistemology for the world within became that for the world without.
The hostility towards Neoplatonism and Marxism by the bourgeoisie and their inability to acknowledge and embrace them are for the same reasons – both the prime importance to this current of what the bourgeoisie have assigned to ‘the feminine’ – the ephemeral, the creative, that which is not responsive to and resists control and particularly, its recognition of the engine of negation with its resultant flux. Everything but change itself will pass.3
The dialectical materialist perspective that grew from a philosophy developed in reaction to change brought out its revolutionary content. The bourgeoisie – their domination and exploitation too, will pass.
1. ‘it was quite common for him to be linked with mysticism in general’ Glenn Alexander Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’ in An Introduction to Jacob Boehme: Four Centuries of Thought and Reception, Eds., Ariel Hessayon and Sarah Apetrei, Routledge, New York, 2014, 531-575, 603 ↩
2. ‘The evidence that Hegel was influenced by mysticism and took it seriously until the end of his life is, in short, abundant. …If one is ignorant of the mystical tradition, then the claim I have just now made will seem implausible.’ Glenn Alexander Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, in Frederick C. Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009, 253-280, 264 ↩
3. The ideological silence for so long in academia with regard to the impact of mysticism, particularly its primary Western form Neoplatonism and the distortions written and spoken in the attempt to explain that influence away can be compared with the erasure of a two thousand year history of materialism from Indian philosophy. The only place where this ‘survives’ is in the writing of those who hated it. Some of those in the West who built their careers on never using the word ‘mysticism’ other than disparagingly or on explaining it away are now teaching it as though it has been ever thus. They make a mockery of philosophy and excellently exemplify the early stages of a major adjustment in capitalist ideology – from ‘modernism’ to ‘postmodernism’ to…? What will the new ‘ism’ be that denies or instils doubt regarding the primacy of objective reality? ↩