Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 1

Hegel and capitalist ideology

The claim in Beiser regarding Kant – that he ‘lies far more within the Platonic tradition…than many scholars are willing to admit’1 applies far more so to the relationship between Hegel and that of Neoplatonism. The evidence of Neoplatonism in Hegel’s philosophy is so consistent, the challenge should be to argue that he was not a Neoplatonist rather than that he was.

But Hegel was the high point of the capitalist assertion that we in the West are the bearers of reason – he made that claim himself. Hence so much hangs on him ideologically. Expose who he was philosophically and you threaten the whole ideological structure of which he is a key part.

This is why academics won’t touch the connection between Hegel and Cusanus, because it proves his mysticism, his Neoplatonism. Even if, as all the academics write, Hegel didn’t know of Cusanus, why is it that the Christian Cusanus, whose philosophy exemplifies so many parallels and similarities with Hegel’s is readily known as a Christian Neoplatonist, yet Hegel is only known as a Christian?

Magee, who argues that Jakob Böhme’s writing had a profound effect on Hegel wrote that many Hegel scholars

find it simply unacceptable that Hegel might have been seriously interested in (or – worse yet – influenced by) one of the most obscure mystics in the Western canon. To most professional philosophers, mysticism is not merely a non-rational enterprise, but an irrational one: one contrary to reason. Thus, their attitude tends to be that we must save Hegel from Boehme.2

1.1 Hegel and Western supremacism

In his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Hegel, Paul Redding wrote that Hegel’s account of history and the history of philosophy are clearly Eurocentric.3 Hegel not only justified that Eurocentrism on the basis of Christianity: ‘Christians…are initiated into the mysteries of God, and this also supplies us with the key to world history,’4 ‘It was through Christianity that this Idea came into the world,’5 ‘human beings are freed through Christ and everyone has access to freedom,’6 he did so by taking a clearly supremacist position with regard to ‘reason’

Negroes are to be regarded as a race of children…The Mongols…spread like monstrous locust swarms over other countries and then…sink back again into the thoughtless indifference and dull inertia which preceded this outburst. …(the Chinese) have no compunction in exposing or simply destroying their infants.

It is in the Caucasian race that mind first attains to absolute unity with itself. ..and in doing so creates world-history.

The principle of the European mind is, therefore, self-conscious Reason…In Europe, therefore, there prevails this infinite thirst for knowledge which is alien to other races. …the European mind…subdues the outer world to its ends with an energy which has ensured for it the mastery of the world.7

1.2 Paul Redding and Hegel’s Neoplatonism

Redding wrote

It is common within recent accounts of the emergence of German Idealism to find stressed the impact of Spinozism on the generation to which Schelling and Hegel belonged, but it is less common to find discussion of the neoplatonic aspects of their thought, despite the fact that this was commonly noted in the 19th century.8

Redding maintains this failure to analyse the relationship between Hegel’s philosophy and Neoplatonism. He many times raises it but then leaves it as a mere statement or fails to pursue it to any depth – ‘Again we see a Neoplatonist dimension to Hegel’s approach to spirit…,’9 ‘Hegel’s constant use of the notion of the Neoplatonists’ treatment of “negation”…,’10 ‘Hegel showed clear features of the type of thought found in the Platonism of late antique philosophers like Plotinus and Proclus…Importantly it was these neo-platonist, and especially Proclean features, that would be central to Hegel’s understanding of Christianity, and especially the doctrine of the trinity…,’11 ‘A particularly clear application of the Plotinian processes of egress and regress from “the one” within the living realm is to be found in Hegel’s discussion of life in chapter four of the Phenomenology of Spirit.,’12 ‘With its dark mystical roots, and its overtly religious content…’.13 Or he qualifies it – ‘Hegel’s “Neoplatonic” schema…,’14 ‘Hegel often seems to invoke imagery consistent with the types of neo-Platonic conceptions of the universe that had been common within Christian mysticism…’15

Redding repeated Hegel’s statement that Neoplatonism could be termed Neoaristotelianism16 but, while prepared to write that Hegel might be said to have been ‘a Christian Aristotelianised Platonist’17 despite continuing ‘And the point of view of most orthodox Christian thought in the nineteenth century (and since) this will hardly be recognisable as a form of Christianity, indeed, a form of religious thought at all,’18 he refuses to refer to him simply as he was – a Neoplatonist.

Most importantly, Redding wrote that Hegel’s conception of the Trinity is Neoplatonic.19 Hegel emphasised that the Trinity (his Neoplatonic version of it) was fundamental to his philosophy. A person who attended Hegel’s lectures on the philosophy of religion noted: ‘the Trinity may have entered Christian doctrine from the Alexandrian school, or from the Neoplatonists.’20

Hodgson, the editor of the publication of those lectures added that F.A.G.Tholuck with whom Hegel corresponded ‘was convinced that the doctrine of the triad was widespread in Islamic thought and in late Greek philosophy, and that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is closely linked with Neoplatonism.’21

Where is Redding’s thorough analysis of all these roads to Neoplatonism in relation to the master of ‘Reason’? There is none.

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Notes

1. Paul Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, Routledge, London, 2009, 64
2. ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme,’ op. cit., 654
3. Paul Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel/
4. G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, Trans., H.B. Nisbet, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, 41
5. G.W.F.Hegel Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., William Wallace, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, 239
6. G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, vol. I, Trans. Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009, 195
7. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 42-45; ‘Europe, forms the consciousness, the rational part, of the earth, the balance of rivers and valleys and mountains – whose centre is Germany. The division of the world into continents is therefore not contingent, not a convenience; on the contrary, the differences are essential,’ G.W.F.Hegel Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004, 285; ‘No philosophy in the proper sense (can be found in the Oriental world)…spirit does not arise in the Orient…In the West we are on the proper soil of philosophy,’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 89, 91
8. Paul Redding, ‘Mind of God, Point of View of Man, or Spirit of the World? Platonism and Organicism in the Thought of Kant and Hegel’, Von Kant bis Hegel 4, Concordia Univ., Montréal, October, 2008, 9. ‘the Neoplatonic characteristics of Hegel’s thought came to be widely acknowledged during the nineteenth century, Feuerbach, for example, describing Hegel as “the German Proclus” (PPF: 47),’ Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 137
9. Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 118, note
10. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 151
11. Paul Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’ in Graham Oppy and Nick Trakakis Eds. The History of Western Philosophy of Religion, Volume IV: Nineteenth-Century Philosophy and Religion, Chesam: Acumen, 2009, 6
12. Redding, ‘Mind of God, Point of View of Man, or Spirit of the World? Platonism and Organicism in the Thought of Kant and Hegel’, op. cit., 10
13. ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, op. cit.
14. Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit. 108
15. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, op. cit.
16. ‘Neoplatonism too, or the Alexandrian, Neo-Aristotelian philosophy, is no eclecticism but a uniting of its predecessors,’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 246; Redding, ’Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 13
17. Ibid., Paul Redding, ‘The Metaphysical and Theological Commitments of Idealism: Kant, Hegel, Hegelianism’, for volume, Douglas Moggach, Ed., Politics, Religion and Art: Hegelian Debates, Northwestern University Press, 19
18. Ibid.
19. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit. 199
20. G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. I, Ed. Peter C. Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, 157
21. Ibid.

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

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