Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was a German idealistic philosopher. Right off the bat I must confess that I find this man not a real philosopher. It seems to me that he wrote verbiage, word salad and reminds me of the psychotic patients I used to work with at psychiatric hospitals. He writes volumes (confabulation) and when you close his book (say, Phenomenology of Spirit/mind) and ask: what has this guy said, you find that he has said very little of worth or if you are generous that he said one or two things that seem to make sense. You ask: why didn't he just say that simple thing in a few words rather than in thousands of pages? This man wastes folk's time and if you have time to waste then grapple with his convoluted, highfalutin writing.
To the best of my understanding Hegel seems to be saying that there is something called history and that history has something he called dialectic in it (Karl Marx borrowed that idea to construct his dialectic materialism, aka communism).
As Hegel sees it, each historical epoch has contradictions in it, such as the rulers and the ruled, oppressors and oppressed. These two opposing forces fight it out and in the process produce a new historical era.
Thesis and antithesis duke it out and the result is synthesis, a new society and its form of history.
History is the progression of this war of contrasts until it reaches what Hegel called absolute idea.
The absolute idea, it would seem, is the Prussian state, Germany. When history produces the German state it ends.
Karl Marx said the same thing. History is a function of the dialectics of opposing economic forces but when those forces produce the communist state history ends, for thereafter there would no longer be paradoxes, contradictions in society, there would be no opposites, there would no longer be oppressors and oppressed in communist society. History ends and all would-be well.
But we know that history did not end with the triumph of Russian communism; instead, a new class of oppressors emerged, the officials of the state apparatchiki oppressing the weak.
In the 1990s America, with the triumph of capitalism over communism, a foolish Japanese scholar trying to please the powers that be in America wrote a book called the end of history. As he saw it, with the triumph of America (capitalism, and America's brand of oligarchic democracy) history has ended. Poor fool, America, the sole superpower, the world Hegemon, is on its last gasps and is about to be knocked off her pedestal.
China is about to talk over and in time would be knocked off and replaced. History is continuous and never ends.
Hegel believed that history ended in the absolute German state and that thereafter all that folk have to do is obey the absolute idea, obey the German state authorities.
Poor fool, obey it for what? Does the state not have to do the right thing before it is obeyed?
It is said that Hegel prepared Germans to blindly obey Adolf Hitler and his Nazis.
I make no bones about my disliking Hegel. I believe that Hegel was mentally unbalanced and ought not to take my time.
In the meantime, Hegel wrote on the topics that philosophers preoccupy themselves with: ontology, epistemology, ethics, astaticism, metaphysics etc. These are interesting materials, though they, too, are unreadable and only a masochist would torture himself trying to read them.
If Hegel is summarized, he seems an idealist along the line of Plato and Kant, and believed that through idealistic thinking we could figure out the ideal man and state of things. He saw history as moving forward by inherent contradictions in each historical period but believed that at some point those contradictions would be resolved in what he called absolute idea.
What is the absolute idea? Hundreds of pages were written on it but still it was not elucidated. Let us then say that Hegel is hoping that the coming into being of the fragmented German states into a unified Germany is his wish; he was a German nationalist wishing that all Germany were united, so as to prevent other nations from conquering and ruling Germany.
Like Machiavelli Hegel was interested in unifying his people and making them strong. A strong, unified Germany was the absolute idea for Hegel but not for other people.
Does history evolve through contradictions and negations? Hegel's view here is hypothetical and not worthy of discourse. Besides, he roots his discourse on God; the Christian god is not amenable to reason. You can torture your mind all you want the fact remains that you cannot use pure reason to prove the existence of the Christian god.
To Hegel evolution is a gradual process through which God makes his self manifest in the world; the awareness of God and God's glory is gradually made known to man.
This idea is found in the Christian Bible, Revelation. In that book John talked about his dream in which a New Man and a New State, a New Jerusalem, a New Israel came into being to replace the old man, the natural man, the sinful man. The idea is that the Kingdom of God would replace the kingdom of man, that the will of God, love, would finally reign on earth. Hegel talked a lot but did not say more than can be gleaned from the Bible. His ideas fall with the fall of the Bible. With the perception of the Bible as a book of fairy tales, Hegel's philosophy would be perceived as fairy tales.
Hegel had quite an impact on Western philosophy. Why, I do not know. Perhaps, this is because there really is nothing called Western philosophy?
Georg Hegel. The Phenomenology of Mind (1807)