Sunday, November 14, 2021

Jon Stewart's "Hegel's Century"

Jon Stewart is a fellow of the Institute of Philosophy at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. His many books include Kierkegaard's Relations to Hegel Reconsidered (2003), Hegel's Interpretations of the Religions of the World (2018), and The Emergence of Subjectivity in the Ancient and Medieval World (2020), and he is editor of The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Existentialism (2020).

Stewart applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hegel's Century: Alienation and Recognition in a Time of Revolution, and reported the following:
In my book page 99 falls in the middle of the fourth chapter, which is dedicated to an analysis of one of G.W.F. Hegel’s most famous students, Ludwig Feuerbach. More specifically, it contains the beginning of an analysis of Feuerbach’s claim that the conception of God is simply a human projection. This is the thesis of Feuerbach’s most famous book, The Essence of Christianity from 1841. On page 99 a few key passages from the beginning of this work are cited and analyzed. Feuerbach notes how human beings tend to see themselves in nature and to conceive objects of nature to be self-conscious entities like themselves. In this way humans objectify or project themselves onto something external. Feuerbach argues that this is how the concept of God arises. People come to believe that there is a deity in the world that is self-conscious but free from all the limitations that humans are subject to. The final paragraph on page 99 claims Feuerbach is taking up Hegel’s criticism of Enlightenment Deism in his own time. Hegel argues the God is Deism is an empty conception since it consists only in an abstraction with no content. Feuerbach agrees with this critique and wants to show that in fact the usual conception of God is not empty but rather contains a number of human characteristics, which are the result of the process of projection that he describes.

The page 99 test works surprisingly well for my book since it provides an illustrative example of what is done in much of the rest of the work. Hegel’s Century traces the history of philosophy in the 19th century through the thought of Hegel and his students. These include first-hand students who were actually in Hegel’s lecture hall, such as Heinrich Heine, Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, and second-hand students who came to Berlin after Hegel’s death and studied with some of Hegel’s associates. These second-hand students include Karl Marx, Søren Kierkegaard, Mikhail Bakunin and Friedrich Engels. The book begins with an account of certain key issues in Hegel that serve to set the stage, and then the subsequent chapters, which are dedicated to the thinkers mentioned here, illustrate the way in which they took up specific ideas from Hegel and developed them in their own original ways. What appears on page 99 is a representative example of the kinds of analyses that are given in the rest of the book. At first the theory of the figure in question, in this case Feuerbach, is discussed, and then an attempt is made to connect this with specific ideas from Hegel. In the end a continuous narrative is developed that shows Hegel’s influence through the entire 19th century. This is a controversial view since Hegel’s importance is usually considered to have died out in the 1830s and 1840s, and the long shadow that he cast on the second half of the century has generally not been recognized.

The two main concepts that are traced from Hegel to his followers are alienation and recognition (hence the subtitle of the book). These are key ideas from Hegel that are best known from his analysis of the master and the slave from the Phenomenology of Spirit. These words (in their noun forms) do not appear on page 99 explicitly, but they are quite relevant for the discussion, as is indicated later in the chapter. Feuerbach claims that humans recognize themselves in God since God is nothing but a projection of themselves. However, the object of recognition is something external which brings about a sense of alienation. Feuerbach argues that this sense of alienation can be overcome when people take back all of the energy and focus that is placed on the divine as something external and return it to the human sphere where it belongs.

This work was produced at the Institute of Philosophy of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. It was supported by the Agency APVV under the project “Philosophical Anthropology in the Context of Current Crises of Symbolic Structures,” APVV-20-0137
Learn more about Hegel's Century at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue