Don’t mess with Hegel

If there’s a one thing that can drive eponymously patient student of history of Philosophy nuts, it’s when, while inspecting the Internet sources or simply surfing the web, he stumbles upon the term Hegelian dialectics. It is even more irritating than reading Hegel himself and even more loathsome than listening to Richard Dawkins exalting the Acts of St. Bertrand Russell the Anti-nuclear protester. And to anyone in the know, the irritation which beats the pains induced by probably the worst stylist in the history of Philosophy – whose lectures, transcripts of which constitute the most of what we now call “Hegel’s works”, were marred by heavy stuttering – and religious exaltation of proverbial “smiling Saxon”, must appear to be quite a feat.

Namely, for some reason, the dialectics is, among the adherents of so-called “truth movement”, slandered as an evil method by which the elites play the societal groups one against the other, accomplishing thereby the desired order out of chaos.

However, while this more often than not really is at work, it is hardly what Hegel meant by dialectics.

It could, arguably, be called ‘Hegelian’ in the sense that it resembles something of ‘Hegel’s’, but as far as I can deduce, the adherents of this expression – apparently originated by Alex Jones – consider Hegel as some kind of mastermind, who invented the method for enslaving the mankind by artificially induced strife of the opposites. Well, before talking about masterminds, it is really profitable to master one’s own mind. And as postmodern is the age of deconstructing the mind, it’s something only few outsiders, clinging to what is long forfeit in the history of ideas, will do. The “truthers”, on the other hand, judging by their treatment of this subject, are a social group quite well adjusted to postmodern.

Admittedly, the notion of weaponized ‘Hegelian dialectics’ in all probability comes from Anthony C. Sutton, and is to be found in his book on Skull and Bones Society, where he – rather offhandedly – traces the import of Prussian school methods into curricula of American schools. However, Sutton was no philosopher and not all schools in the world are American. With that in mind, let us proceed to what Hegel himself thought the dialectics is.

Hegel defined dialectics as a “life of spirit”. In this sense, it is not merely a “natural illusion of pure mind” as Kant would have it, nor mere method of dispute, as some superficial interprets of Socrates surmised.

Hegelian dialectics is the process of “mediating” (Vermittlung) between subject and object, that which is ‘for itself’ (für sich) and that which is ‘in itself’ (an sich).

While these notions may seem abstract, their meaning is perfectly clear: the for itself is the being enacting reflection, therefore when Hegel says that something exists  for itself he means that it is conscious of itself as such; the in itself , on the other hand, is the being which exists as definable being, but is pre-reflective and un-conscious. Dialectical process is a historical struggle of in itself becoming for itself and, simultaneously, of for itself becoming in itself, by finite number of intermediary steps.

Namely, the end goal of dialectics is the recognition of for itself in in itself, the conscious being becoming real, and real being becoming conscious; the subject of dialectics is driven to a realization that what it considers to be an outside object is in fact identical to itself. Thus, for instance, Hegel viewed history as an unfolding of “realization of the idea of freedom” incited by the dialectics of master and slave relationship.

Namely, Hegel argues, the primordial rift which makes the society un-free lies in inability of human beings to recognize each other as essentially equal, i.e. spiritual. There is a world of meaning in this ‘equality’ which separates it from it’s politically correct namesake of today, but we’ll not go into that here. The goal of dialectics is to bridge this rift by demonstrating that is in fact an illusion. The consciousness craves to affirm itself, which means: make itself real or, true to Hegel’s meaning: actual (Wirklich). And this can be accomplished only by it being recognized, consciously affirmed, as such.

The first historical instance of this urge is war or battle to the death. The enemies face off and one affirms it’s existence – it’s in itself, while the other perishes in the process. However, this is a dialectical dead end, because the consciousness in this way becomes isolated, which corresponds to Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes. The winner remains isolated and unrecognized by his, now dead, opponent. As total war is essentially unjust, i.e. it destroys that which cannot be really destroyed – because spiritual essence of human being is indestructible – and extends into what Hegel calls bad infinity, the main driving force of dialectics pushes the humanity forward into another mode of affirming it’s self-consciousness, and that is the relationship of master and the slave.

Master turns defeated enemy into a slave thus retaining his in itself, by robbing him, not from his life but from his freedom; namely depraving him of his free consciousness, i.e. his for itself. This dialectical stage displays a great, and very dangerous, insight of Hegel, namely, that one consciousness can exist in two semi-conscious subjects and in effect turn them into one, one might say even: schizophrenic, subject. From the dialectical point of view, master and slave are one and the same, because each possesses what the other lacks, and the society constructed upon their relationship is swayed by untenable inner contradiction.

The resolution of this contradiction is what Hegel calls history. While the master has all power and is constantly recognized by slave, he is being deprived of relationship to the world which slave retains, i.e. the slave works, he moulds the material objects thus negating their unconscious existence, rendering them works of consciousness – works of art in the broadest sense of the word. In this way he achieves higher, more realistic, form of self-awareness than master. The goal of dialectics would be freedom of slaves and, which is the same thing, true actualization of masters, the unifying reconciliation of one consciousness split in two.

So this was a brief crash course in Hegelian dialectics. For the sake of brevity we won’t push it further, but it goes to show that it is not a method of planning. Hegel considered philosophy an activity reflecting the already accomplished works of metaphysical dialectics, the world process which is above any single human. The owl of Minerva flies in the sunset, as he famously said, meaning: the description and explanation of any dialectical stage comes only after it is already being fulfilled. It is the only thing the Hegelian dialectician can do – to look back and to describe. That’s why Hegel also said that anything in his work that is of his invention is untrue. He understood his task as being merely an “advocate of world-spirit”.

I won’t go into criticism of Hegel, but just point out one more interesting thing. Namely, what should be interesting to every student of deep politics are instances of historical dialectics Hegel considers it’s dead ends. Take for instance his description of so-called ‘negative will’ which he equates with fanaticism in general and French Revolutionary terror in particular:

„The will on one side is the possibility of abstraction from every aspect in which the I finds itself or has set itself up. It reckons any content as a limit, and flees from it.(…) This freedom is that of the void, which has taken actual shape, and is stirred to passion. (…); but becoming actual it assumes both in politics and religion the form of a fanaticism, which would destroy the established social order, remove all individuals suspected of desiring any kind of order, and demolish any organization which then sought to rise out of the ruins. Only in devastation does the negative will feel that it has reality. It intends, indeed, to bring to pass some positive social condition, such as universal equality or universal religious life. But in fact it does not will the positive reality of any such condition, since that would carry in its train a system, and introduce a separation by way of institutions and between individuals.(…) Negative freedom is actuated by a mere solitary idea, whose realization is nothing but the fury of desolation.“ (Hegel, Philosophy of Right in Outlines, introduction, pp. 5)

Now, after chewing on this for some time, go and take a second look on what ISIL does, Charlie Hebdo massacre of radical liberals by radical religious nihilists or compulsive urge for bogus equality displayed by Far Western societies …

To conclude, Hegelian dialectics is not the dialectics of mass manipulation. This, however, doesn’t mean that mass manipulation is not dialectical. It is. It enacts the clash of opposites but does not seek reconciliation, because the very nature of opposites is constructed and engineered to be intrinsically contradictory. Their reconciliation is destruction which brings about new destruction ad infinitum. And this is what Hegel called quasi-dialectics of bad infinity, an infinite, meaningless recurrence of the same without respite or redemption.

But let’s leave poor old Hegel to rest in peace. The way good deal of contemporary freelance researchers approach him shows them to be utterly lacking in awareness of history. Namely, not twenty years ago today, people used the term ‘dialectics’ in every day conversations and had a vague, but more or less accurate, understanding of what it really is. Now we have a situation where myriads of people endowed with on-line access are acting as if they are discovering something hidden for hundreds of years.

The same goes, for instance, for theories of ‘religious parallelism’ employed by so called Zeitgest movement and followers of David Icke, when trying to prove that Christianity is in fact a conspiracy to sell divination of the stars to the masses in the form of the myth about Divine Man. These theories are not trifle to refute because they are stupid – although, admittedly, they are not very intelligent either – but because they were already refuted numerous times, starting from mid-nineteen century. The very fact that their contemporary adherents are unaware of that, goes to show that they are true children of postmodern – people without past, inventing their own reality as they go. And if there’s one thing that hatches all the vipers and scorpions of chaos, it is this: the intimate certainty that we have no past or, transcendentally speaking, no firm existence.

All atrocities exhibited on daily bases by media, and arguably really perpetrated by elites, fade in comparison to this willful renouncing of one’s own being, once own whence.

Because the man who says “I’m me and I’m free” is not the one who knows where he is going, but the one who knows where is he coming from. For this, one has to reconnect with his past or he will reap bad infinity of dialectical destruction. Something Hegel more or less accurately described more than century and the half ago.

Branko Malić

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2 Responses

  1. L Pirotta says:

    Very nice — I came across this while researching the abuse and bastardization of ideas from phenomenology for the purpose of eroding human values and social coherence. This is a great short article which rightfully corrects the misuse of Hegel. It’s really funny also. I’m glad you stated that dialectics itself is not a method of planning. In fact, I think if more Americans understood the basic concept of a dialectics, maybe we wouldn’t be such an obtuse and misled society. We might even employ the concept to actually solve a problem or two. Imagine that. Anyway — although they might be bandying Hegel’s name around, don’t be too hard on the truth community. Some truth types may not be very well-read. But neither are the “liars” – of whom we have an overabundance. (Most people in the U.S. get their ideas from internet videos…not from reading Hegel or independently thinking about something.)

    • Malić says:

      Thanks. I agree about “truthers” being mostly decent and not seldom insightful people. Trouble is, however, that they sink head on in the tide of information while thinking they are ascending in knowledge. I am more and more inclined to think that information overload is worse than ignorance.

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