Frederick Engels
Schelling and Revelation

Hegel and his Disciples

When in 1831 the dying Hegel left the legacy of his system to his disciples, their number was still relatively small. The system only existed in that no doubt strict and rigid, but also solid form which has since been much criticised but was nothing less than a necessity. Hegel himself, proudly confident in the strength of the Idea, had done little to popularise his doctrine. The writings he had published were all couched in a rigorously scientific, almost thorny style, and, like the Jahrbücher für wissenschaftliche Kritik, in which his pupils wrote after the same fashion, could count on only a small, and moreover preoccupied, public of scholars. The language did not need to be ashamed of the scars received in the struggle with thought; what was first required was to reject decidedly everything imaginary, fantastic, and emotional, and to grasp the pure thought in its self-creation. Once this secure base of operations had been achieved, it was possible to await in calm a subsequent reaction of the excluded elements and even descend into unphilosophic consciousness, since the rear was covered. The influence of Hegel’s lectures always remained limited to a small circle, and although its importance there was great, it could bear fruit only in later years.

But it was only after Hegel had died that his philosophy really began to live. The publication of his collected works, particularly the lectures, [122] had an immeasurable effect. New doors were opened to the wonderful hidden treasure which lay in the secret depths of the earth and of whose splendour only a few had yet caught the gleam. Small had been the number of those who had had the courage to venture on their own into the labyrinth of its approaches; now there was a straight, smooth road by which the fabulous jewel could be reached. At the same time, coming from the lips of Hegel’s pupils, the teaching assumed a clearer, more human form, the opposition on the part of philosophy itself became weaker and less significant, and by and by only the most hidebound theologians and jurists were heard to complain about the impertinence with which a layman was intruding into their special field of learning. Youth seized upon the new offering the more eagerly as in the school itself an advance had meanwhile taken place which urged on to the most meaningful discussions on vital questions both of science and of practice.

The limits within which Hegel himself had confined the powerful, youthfully impetuous flood of conclusions from his teaching were conditioned partly by his time, partly by his personality. In its fundamentals Hegel’s system had been completed before 1810, his world outlook by 1820. His political views, his teaching on the state, which had been developed in reference to England, bear unmistakably the stamp of the Restoration, nor did the world-historical necessity of the July revolution ever become clear to him. Hence he himself came under his own pronouncement that every philosophy is but the thought content of its own time. His personal opinions, on the other hand, were no doubt clarified by his system, but not without influencing its conclusions. Thus his philosophy of religion and of law would undoubtedly have turned out very differently if he had abstracted himself more from the positive elements which were present in him as a product of his time, and had proceeded instead from pure thought. All inconsistencies and contradictions in Hegel can be reduced to that. Everything which in the philosophy of religion appears too orthodox, and in the philosophy of law too pseudo-historical, is to be understood from this point of view. The principles are throughout independent and free-minded, the conclusions — no one denies it — sometimes cautious, even illiberal. Now some of his pupils appeared on the scene who kept to the principles and rejected the conclusions where they could not be justified. The Left wing took form; Ruge created an organ for it in the Hallische Jahrbücher, and overnight the abolition of the sovereignty of the positive was proclaimed. But one did not yet dare to express openly all the conclusions. Even after Strauss [123] one still believed oneself to be within the Christian fold, indeed, in relation to the Jews, one even prided oneself on one’s Christianity; on such questions as the personality of God or the immortality of the individual one was not sufficiently clear to be able to pronounce an unreserved judgment; indeed, when one saw the inevitable conclusions approaching, one was even in doubt whether the new teaching should not remain the esoteric property of the school and be kept secret from the nation. Then Leo came out with his Die Hegelingen and thereby did his opponents the greatest service; and indeed, everything that was intended to bring about the ruin of this school worked to its advantage and proved to it most clearly that it was walking hand in hand with the world spirit. Leo gave the Hegelings clarity about themselves, he reawakened in them the proud courage which follows truth to its most extreme conclusions and declares it openly and intelligibly, be the consequences what they may. It is amusing now to read what was then published in defence against Leo, to see how the poor Hegelings struggled and protested and hedged themselves with reservations against Leo’s conclusions. Today not one of them thinks of denying his charges, so high has their audacity risen these past three years. Feuerbach’s Wesen des Christenthums, Strauss’ Dogmatik and the Deutsche Jahrbücher show the fruits of Leo’s denunciation; nay, Die Posaune demonstrates the relevant conclusions even in Hegel. This book is so important for Hegel’s position if only because it shows how often the bold, independent thinker in Hegel prevailed over the professor who was subject to a thousand influences. It is a vindication of the personality of the man of whom it was expected that he should transcend his time not only where he had genius but even where he had not. Here is the proof that he did this too.

So the “hegelingische Rotte” no longer conceals that it neither can nor will any longer regard Christianity as its limit. All the basic principles of Christianity, and even of what has hitherto been called religion itself, have fallen before the inexorable criticism of reason, the absolute idea claims to be the founder of a new era. The great upheaval of which the French philosophers of the last century were merely the forerunners has achieved in the realm of thought its completion, its self-creation. The philosophy of Protestantism since Descartes has come to an end; a new era has begun, and it is the most sacred duty of all who have followed the self-development of the spirit to transmit the immense result to the consciousness of the nation and to raise it to Germany’s living principle.

During this internal development of the Hegelian philosophy, its external position did not remain unchanged either. Altenstein, the Minister through whose mediation the new doctrine had found a cradle in Prussia, died; with the subsequent changes, not only did the doctrine cease to be favoured in any way, endeavours were also made gradually to exclude it from the state. This was the consequence of the greater emphasis on principles both by the state and by philosophy; as the latter was not afraid to express what was necessary, so the former, quite naturally, insisted more definitely on its own conclusions. Prussia is a. Christian-monarchic state and its position in world history entitles it to have its principles recognised as valid in fact. One may share them or not, it is enough that they are there, and Prussia is strong enough to defend them if need be. Moreover, the Hegelian philosophy has no cause for complaint on that score. Its former position threw a false light upon it and apparently attracted to it a number of adherents who could not be relied on in times of struggle. Its false friends, the egoists, the superficial, the half-hearted, the unfree, have now fortunately withdrawn and it now knows how it stands and on whom it can count. Besides, it can only welcome a sharpening of the contradictions, since its final victory is assured. So it was quite natural that men of the opposite trend were summoned as a counterweight to the hitherto dominant tendencies. The struggle against these was taken up again, and when the historical-positive faction had again found some courage, Schelling was called to Berlin to turn the scales in the struggle and to ban the Hegelian teaching from its own field of philosophy.