Hegel, or Department of Yikes

Eric, a loyal MR reader, asks:

Could you comment on
Hegel?  What do you make of his argument regarding the desire for
recognition as a fundamental driving force of history.  I have not read
much of Hegel, but this idea was attributed to him in Francis
Fukuyama’s "The End of History."

My competence here is low but who I am to turn down a loyal reader?  I have looked at every page of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit — usually considered his most profound work — but I can hardly claim to have read it.  Maybe the Master-Slave dialectic was profound at the time but, frankly, I considered the book a waste of time and I couldn’t keep on paying attention.  Philosophy of Right and Philosophy of History are more coherent (the writings on aesthetics also) and every now and then Hegel is striking prescient or otherwise brilliant, such as when he is writing about the forthcoming nature of bourgeois commercial society.  But "every now and then" is the operative phrase here.  Mostly you read him because he has been an influential thinker.  A few points:

1. He is more of a classical liberal than most people think.  The correct translation does not in fact have him writing: "The State is the march of God in the world."  And he had a very well-developed theory of property rights.

2. "Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis" is a very bad representation of what Hegel believed.

3. The whole Hegelian structure becomes more plausible once you see it as motivated by the belief that philosophy had become truly, absolutely stuck after Hume and Kant.  Hegel thought that his "moves" were required to get out of the mess that preceded him.  I prefer the pragmatic turn myself.

4. I very much like Charles Taylor’s book on Hegel.  I do not think it is what "Hegel really meant" but perhaps it is what "Hegel would have had to have really meant, had some smart people like Robin Hanson pinned his back against the wall, lectured him about futarchy, and made him write shorter sentences to boot."

5. I believe that the secondary literature on Hegel is fraught with danger and is highly unreliable.

On the desire for recognition, yes it is a fundamental driving force (ask any blogger) although it was a well-known eighteenth century idea.

Overall I don’t think much people should spend much time with Hegel, although if someone tells me he found it a revelation, I don’t think him crazy.


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