DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC037-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

8. Contemporary developments

In the last third of the twentieth century, Hegel has continued to have a considerable influence on philosophical thought, both as a major figure within the canon of ‘continental’ philosophy, and (more recently) within Anglo-American ‘analytic’ and post-analytic philosophy.

France. Since the end of the 1960s the reception of Hegelian thought in France has been significantly determined by successive waves of intellectual reaction to the previously dominant philosophies. The structuralist movement which partially supplanted the phenomenological and existentialist tradition tended to minimize the Hegelian elements in Marx’s thought and emphasize the radical incompatibility of ‘idealist’ and scientifically ‘materialist’ approaches to the constitution of social reality. The emergence of a genealogical mode of critical discourse in Michel Foucault, the libidinal materialism of Gilles Deleuze and the postmodern pluralism of Jean Lyotard represented a decided antirealism and anti-foundationalism which questioned the central assumptions of the classical philosophical tradition and its metaphysics of truth. The pervasive influence of Nietzsche and Heidegger, and the perceptible political retreat from a hitherto powerful Marxist tradition, has conspired in the French context to produce something resembling a regnant anti-Hegelianism as a negative mirror image of the era of Kojève, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre. The critique of the metaphysical tradition of ontology and its supposed prioritizing of self-presence has inspired the ethically oriented philosophies of alterity like those of Emanuel Levinas in Totalité et Infini (Totality and Infinity) (1961) and Jacques Derrida in Glas (1974) respectively. For both thinkers, though in subtly distinct ways, Hegel again represents an exemplary case of all-consuming totalizing discourse and consequently a privileged object of critical analysis. What is at stake here is the claim to articulate a logic which can grasp difference positively rather than in terms of opposition, and the rejection of dialectic as an appropriate conceptual resource for this task.

Italy. Since the 1970s, the influence of alternative models of radical philosophy like French structuralism, post-structuralism and deconstruction has partially eclipsed the previous Marxist monopoly on critical social thought in Italy, while as in France, the rejection of ‘grand narratives’ and supposedly totalizing metaphysical discourse has led to a developing critique of the idealist tradition as a whole, and Hegelian philosophy in particular. One result has been an increasingly scholarly and interpretative engagement with Hegel and the modern German tradition, but less evidence of any productive appropriation of dialectical thought.

Germany. After the neo-Hegelian movement of the pre-war period in Germany one cannot accurately speak of any Hegelian ‘School’ of thought. None the less, the significance of Hegel continued to make itself felt indirectly in the hermeneutic version of phenomenology developed by Martin Heidegger. Heidegger’s reading of the European metaphysical tradition, supposedly culminating in Hegel, exercised considerable influence upon the interpretation of Hegel’s thought. If Heidegger’s own attitude to Hegel was problematically ambivalent, his student Hans-Georg Gadamer developed a critical but productive relationship to Hegel mediated by his appropriation of Heidegger’s thought as a universal ontological hermeneutics. In Wahrheit und Methode (Truth and Method) (1960) he drew especially on Hegel’s account of experience and endorsed the anti-subjectivist thrust of Hegelian philosophy in his rejection of the psychologistic hermeneutics he associated with Schleiermacher and Dilthey.

It was also in the context of the hermeneutic tradition that a distinct renewal of theological interest in Hegel first arose after the war, a development that was subsequently intensified by the social turn in modern theology with the influence of the Frankfurt School and issues of Marxist-Christian dialogue. Although Karl Barth had always emphasized the autonomy of theological discourse, his evolving thought eventually led him from an initial commitment to a paradoxical dialectic indebted to Kierkegaard towards a position of theological realism, a quasi-Hegelian insistence upon systematic objectivity grounded in the trinitarian nature of God’s unreserved self-disclosure (see Theological realism). A number of Barth’s students and interpreters pursued the critical turn against exclusively existentialist emphasis upon individual subjectivity and an apparent neglect of social reality and historical revelation. Jürgen Moltmann (1926–) responded to impulses from Ernst Bloch and the Frankfurt School and adumbrated a dialectical theology of liberation with his Theologie der Hoffnung (Theology of Hope) (1965) and Der gekreuzigte Gott (The Crucified God) (1973). The work of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928–) reflects the new confidence in systematic theology that draws comprehensively on the classical idealist tradition and Hegel’s incarnational metaphysics in particular. Sharing Moltmann’s insistence on an open dialectic with a liberatory eschatological dimension, Pannenberg has also attempted a qualified and critical re-appropriation of Hegelian insights. Although profoundly influenced by Heideggerean hermeneutics, Eberhard Jüngel (1934–) also pursues the arguably Hegelian insistence on the radical humanity of God in the later Barth and addresses the question of the ‘death of God’ through close engagement with German Idealism and the Left Hegelian tradition in his Gott als Geheimnis der Welt (God as the Mystery of the World) (1977). What unites these theologians, despite significant differences of emphasis, is the attempt to exploit the conceptual resources of the dialectical tradition to overcome the abstract antithesis of atheism and theism and restate the trinitarian character of spirit.

Naturally Hegel also remained a permanent point of reference for the more orthodox strains of Marxism in Germany throughout this period. None the less, the most significant and vital engagement with the Hegelian tradition was still to be found among the heirs of the Frankfurt School and those broadly sympathetic to the aspirations of Critical Theory. Thus Jürgen Habermas has responded intensively to aspects of Hegel’s thought in his reformulation of an emancipatory social philosophy. While rejecting Hegel’s supposed metaphysical philosophy of identity in favour of a quasi-transcendental account of irreducible constitutive interests, Habermas exploited Hegel’s insights into the communicative dimension of social interaction and the centrality of the concept of recognition. In contrast with his predecessors, Habermas has attempted to reorient critical theory through the turn to intersubjectivity as an alternative to traditional philosophy of consciousness. In his later work, Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne (The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity) (1985), Habermas recognizes Hegel’s contribution to the formulation of the concept of modernity and pursues a post-metaphysical appropriation of aspects of the idealist tradition for a non-foundational universalist ethics.

Karl-Otto APEL (1922–) originally revealed the influences of Heideggerian hermeneutics, philosophical anthropology and Litt’s neo-Hegelian idealist philosophy, subsequently modified by an increasing interest in Critical Theory. Like Habermas, Apel’s critical relation to the tradition was motivated by the accommodations and failures of pre-war historicist philosophies of culture and ossified Marxism in the face of authoritarianism on right and left. Accepting fundamental features of Hegel’s critique of Kant, he has drawn extensively on the American idealist and pragmatic tradition of Royce and Peirce in his Transformation der Philosophie (Towards a Transformation of Philosophy) (1973) to develop a social conception of the rational community as the ultimate normative presupposition of enquiry. Apel is committed to the dialectical mediation of abstract alternatives in contemporary philosophy and overcoming the opposition between rational grounding and practical ethical orientation in transcendental self-reflection, employing Kantian and Hegelian elements as mutual correctives of one another. The communicative turn and the question of intersubjectivity is also central for Michael Theunissen (1932–) who has interpreted and productively appropriated aspects of Hegel in sustained interaction with Kierkegaard and constant conjunction with developments in contemporary thought. In his attempt to relate the insights of dialogical and dialectical thought his work reflects all the different currents of existential phenomenology, theology and critical theory in which Hegel has been a latent presence or critical point of reference throughout the century.

Britain and North America. Until recently Hegel was left largely unread by those working within the ‘analytic’ tradition of Anglo-American philosophy, while the issues raised by Hegelian idealism were only discussed by those at the margins of this movement, such as J.N. Findlay (1903–87) and G.R.G. Mure (1893–1979). Since the 1970s, however, respect for Hegel’s thought has grown, partly because of his influence on the communitarian and historicist ideas of Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre, and partly because Hegel’s attack on the Kantian division of ‘form’ and ‘matter’ in experience has been echoed by those (such as Donald Davidson, Hilary Putnam and Richard Rorty) who question the scheme/content distinction in epistemology, and who thereby seek to go beyond Kant’s ‘subjective idealism’ in a somewhat Hegelian manner.

Thus, as the ‘continental’ and ‘analytic’ traditions have come together over the question of how far metaphysics is possible after the Kantian turn, the current intellectual landscape is characterized by a continuing interest in examining, clarifying and exploiting the conceptual resources of the German Idealist tradition, for which the interpretation, appropriation and contestation of Hegelian philosophy will inevitably represent a permanent point of reference.

Citing this article:
Stern, Robert and Nicholas Walker. Contemporary developments. Hegelianism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC037-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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