Hegel on Bastille Day


Harrison Fluss in Jacobin:

Hegel once told his friend Immanuel Niethammer that to be a philosopher was to be an “expositus,” an exposed person. Once the French Revolution rediscovered that Nous, reason, governs the world, Hegel, the philosopher of reason, would inevitably find himself — whether he liked it or not as a Prussian state philosophy professor — allied to those progressive and potentially rebellious forces. The philosophy of absolute reason thus had real political consequences.

The French Revolution decisively shaped Hegel’s life and thought. One of the first anecdotes we have from Hegel’s student days at the Tubingen seminary is how he and his student-friends, Holderlin and Schelling, planted a “Liberty Tree” together on July 14, 1793, when the Jacobin terror was at its peak. They danced and sang revolutionary songs around it, anticipating that the new revolutionary dawn would soon come to Germany.

Even more than planting a revolutionary maypole, Hegel was a member of the Jacobin Club in Tubingen. That experience inspired him to write subversive passages in his “Historical Fragments” collected by Karl Rosenkranz from Hegel’s Bern Period (1793–1797). Here are some excerpts:

How dangerous the disproportionate wealth of certain citizens is to even the freest form of constitution and how it is capable of destroying liberty itself is shown by history in the example of Pericles of Athens; of the patricians in Rome, the downfall of whom the menacing influence of the Gracchi and others in vain sought to retard through proposals of agrarian laws…

It would be an important topic of investigation to see how much of the strict right of property would have to be sacrificed for the sake of a durable form of republic. We have perhaps not done justice to the system of sansculottism in France in seeking the source of its demand for greater equality of property solely in rapacity.

More here.