DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC037-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2024, from

4. Hegelianism outside Germany in the nineteenth century: France, Northern Europe and Italy

While Hegelianism in Germany was gradually eclipsed, in several other countries it continued to have an impact into the second half of the nineteenth century. Although in its earlier stages, the reception of Hegel in these countries broke little new ground, none the less an inevitable diversification occurred as Hegel’s ideas were taken up in different climates of thought, while Hegel was later read both as part of the broader development of German Idealism, and as closer in outlook to some of his critics. This process has continued into the twentieth century, and has yielded some profound reassessments of his ideas.

France. Although French Hegelianism is best known for its influence on European thought in the 1930s onwards (see §6 below), France was also one of the first countries outside Germany to feel the impact of Hegel’s ideas in the nineteenth century, largely due to the efforts of Victor Cousin. Having met Hegel in Heidelberg in 1817, Cousin became an enthusiastic admirer, returning several times to Germany thereafter. He helped give currency to Hegel’s ideas through his lectures of 1828–9 at the École Normale in Paris, and with the advent of the July Monarchy in 1830, he was able to acknowledge Hegel’s influence explicitly. In his later work, however, he was more guarded, partly due to his growing support for Schelling, and partly due to his increasingly conservative and conformist position. None the less, it was through Cousin that many in France came to know of Hegel’s work (such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon), while he also encouraged others, such as the Italian Augusto Vera (1813–85), who later translated several of Hegel’s works into French.

With the advent of the Second Empire in 1852, Cousin lost his official posts, while the growing influence of Auguste Comte meant that the outlook of many thinkers in France became increasingly positivisitic. As a result, Hegel came to be viewed in a new light, as attempts were made to find a fruitful synthesis of both positions, particularly by Ernest Renan (1823–92) and Hippolyte Taine, both of whom had discovered Hegel in the 1840s. Renan sought to develop a less secularized positivism, using Hegel’s conception of progress as bringing a divine consciousness into existence through the realization of reason. Taine was likewise attracted to Hegel’s idea of a temporal development of reason, and tried to use it to give a historical dimension to the static metaphysics of Spinoza, while fusing the rationalism of the latter with a positivistic recognition of empirical knowledge and apparent contigency.

By the 1850s and 1860s there was a growing awareness of the critical debate surrounding Hegel that had developed in Germany, while Vera attempted to win disciples for the Hegelian cause in France with his Introduction à la Philosophie de Hegel (Introduction to the Philosophy of Hegel) (1855), though with little obvious success. Publications by Vera, Rosenkranz and Hegel’s critic Rudolf Haym, were reviewed by Edmond Scherer in 1861, who commented that ‘Hegel cannot begin to be known, and his philosophy assessed, since there are no longer any Hegelians’ (Scherer 1861: 813). He himself offered an influential assessment of what was valuable in Hegel’s thought, emphasizing broadly Left Hegelian themes (such as Hegel’s notion of contradiction and historical change), and analysing his Philosophy of Right and philosophy of religion (which he considered in relation to D.F. Strauss’ Leben Jesu). However, positive discussion and dissemination of Hegel’s ideas was brought to a halt by the Prussian invasion of France in the 1870s, as (not for the first time) he was blamed for fostering the expansionist nationalism of his country.

The credit for subsequently rehabilitating Hegel in France is usually given to Lucien Herr (1864–1926), who wrote an article on him for the Grande Encyclopédie (1893–4). Moreoever, as librarian at the École Normale Superieure from 1886, Herr was able to introduce a large number of philosophy students to Hegel’s ideas during this period. In his article, Herr emphasized and appreciated Hegel’s systematic ambitions, and placed considerable emphasis on the Logic. Though he did not try to resolve any of the philosophical cruxes of his thought, Herr did none the less present a reasonably clear and appealing synopsis of Hegel’s views. An equally sympathetic but more partisan view of Hegel, intended as a rebuttal of positivism and Neo-Kantianism, was offered by Georges Noël in his study of Hegel’s Logic. It is significant, too, that by this time Hegel was being recognized as an important precursor of Marxist thought, and that this rapprochement led to a less panlogistic and quietistic reading of his work (as can be seen in René Bertholet’s address to the French Philosophy Society of 1907).

Northern Europe. Around the middle of the nineteenth century, Hegelian ideas had an important impact on the intellectual life of several northern European countries.

In Denmark, the person most responsible for introducing these ideas was the dramatist and man of letters Johan Ludwig Heiberg (1791–1860). Heiberg met Hegel in Berlin in 1824, and in the same year he brought out his Om den menneskelige Frihed (On Human Freedom), in which he makes several references to Hegel, while using distinctly Hegelian ideas and terminology in his dispute with F.G. Howitz over this issue. Heiberg subsequently produced other works that established him as a spokesman for Hegelianism, and in June 1837 he began publication of Perseus, Journal for den speculative Idee. At the same time, Hegel’s ideas were also being critically discussed by Poul Martin Moller (1794–1838) and Frederich Christian Sibbern (1785–1872). The former left Denmark to occupy a chair at Oslo University from 1826–31, and introduced the study of Hegel into Norway.

Among a slightly younger generation, Hegelian ideas were enthusiastically taken up by Hans Martensen (1808–84) and Rasmus Nielsen (1809–84). Martensen saw Hegel in much the same way as he presented himself – as attempting to bring modern philosophy to its highest standpoint by overcoming all previous one-sided approaches, and as therefore forming the culminating point of philosophical development. Martensen also argued that Christian orthodoxy had nothing to fear from Hegel, whom he followed in seeking to reconcile philosophy and theology by making the latter speculative, and applying the methods of philosophy to the received dogmas of the church. Nielsen also lectured and wrote extensively on Hegel, and his main work Grundidéernes Logik (The Logic of Fundamental Ideas) of 1864–6 gave a full account of his Hegelian views in this area. None the less, he came under the influence of Kierkegaard’s attack on Hegel’s treatment of religion, and so criticized Martensen’s position as being too complacent in this regard. In 1860, Nielsen was joined at Copenhagen as a professor by Hans Bockner (1820–75), who also thought and wrote as a Hegelian, principally on the history of philosophy.

As well as having an influence on Hegel’s reception in Denmark, Kierkegaard is clearly the most philosophically significant thinker to have responded to his work in this country. While Kierkegaard attacked Hegel from a theistic perspective, his own form of Christianity was sufficiently radical to set him apart from any standard Right Hegelian approach; his critique can rather be seen as undermining Hegel’s entire project, which was apparently to provide a systematic, rational and complete conception of the world, of the sort traditionally associated with a divine understanding. In rejecting this ambition as ‘comic’ and ‘absurd’, Kierkegaard therefore gave a very special twist to some of the themes found earlier in Schelling, and so deepened this existentialist reaction to Hegel’s work. Kierkegaard came to this position out of a desire to save the religious outlook from the claim (made by Martensen, for example) that this Hegelian standpoint could give Christianity a rational basis. Kierkegaard argued that this was impossible, as philosophical speculation could never assimilate both the metaphysical and ethical paradoxes of true Christian faith: that God has become man, that religious knowledge can be based on subjective feeling, and that the religiously inspired individual (such as Abraham) may act out of a purely individual sense of the will of God. Kierkegaard therefore sets Christianity against the Hegelian conception of philosophy and philosophical reason, in order to demonstrate the limitations of the latter (see Kierkegaard, S.A. §2).

In Holland, Hegel’s earliest follower was P.G. van Ghert (1782–1852), who was a student of his in Jena and later became his friend. A more significant spokesman for Hegelianism was G.J.P.J. Bolland (1854–1922), who, as professor at Leiden (from 1896), established a kind of Hegelian sect which later infiltrated all parts of Dutch intellectual life (J. Hessing (1874–1944), J.G. Wattjes (1879–1944) and Esther Vas Nunes (1866–1929) being his most important pupils). However, this school lost its influence after the Second World War, due to the anti-Semitic views of Bolland himself, and the extreme right-wing affiliations of his pupils.

Italy. While Gioberti and Rosmini drew in a general way on aspects of post-Kantian German Idealist metaphysics, Hegel’s ideas were more explicitly introduced into mainstream Italian culture through the efforts of Augusto Vera and Bertrando Spaventa (1817–82), who founded an influential Hegelian school in Naples and expounded Hegel’s social and political thought with his Studi sull’etica hegeliana (Studies on Hegelian Ethics) (1869). Hegelian ideas were also represented by Francesco de Sanctis (1817–83), whose classic literary history, La storia della letteraria italiana (History of Italian Literature) (1870–1) is much influenced by Hegel’s aesthetics, and by Raffaele Mariano (1840–1912) and Pasquale d’Ercole (1831–1917). One of Spaventa’s pupils was Antonio Labriola, who later proved to be an independent Marxist thinker who appreciated the importance of Hegel for the evolution of historical materialism. He avoided the reductive positivist interpretation of Marxism which was currently being codified as a system of ‘dialectical materialism’ and was not inhibited from drawing freely on his Hegelian teachers and predecessors. For him as for them the living heritage of Hegel lay in his profoundly historical conception of social and political life, not in his metaphysical ambitions. In regarding Hegel as pre-eminently a great philosopher of culture Labriola anticipated much of the later Italian reception of Hegelian thought, by Marxists and non-Marxists alike. Labriola’s expressly non-positivist interpretation of Marxism as essentially a ‘philosophy of praxis’ rather than a supposedly scientific and comprehensive worldview was a significant precursor of the Hegelian-Marxist approach that would emerge in Germany in the 1920s.

Citing this article:
Stern, Robert and Nicholas Walker. Hegelianism outside Germany in the nineteenth century: France, Northern Europe and Italy. Hegelianism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC037-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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