Search Menu


Section 4

page 1 of 3

Section 4

Section 4

Section 4


In this section on the "means of Spirit" (covered in this section and section 5), Hegel will be addressing "the means whereby freedom develops itself into a world." This process, he says, is "the phenomenon of history itself." Freedom, on its own, is an "internal concept," but the means by which it realizes itself in the world are necessarily external. These means are human: human needs, drives, passions, and interests drive history. In comparison to these (in terms of overall history, at least), virtue and morality are "insignificant."

In this schema, individuals count for very little--it is the mass of humanity that drives history. The result is that history can seem little more than a "slaughter-bench," a series of senseless tragedies that threaten to force us into a "selfish removal" from any interest in ongoing history. Why are these sacrifices necessary? Because they are the means by which Spirit unfolds in the world; human will provides the actualizing power for Spirit.

This actualizing power proceeds specifically through what Hegel refers to as "the infinite right of the subjective will," by which individuals commit themselves to a purpose only if they "find their own sense of self satisfied in it" (although these purposes generally transcend the individual). To commit themselves to a cause, individuals must understand that cause as their own. This is especially true, Hegel says, in contemporary times, when authority is less powerful. Hegel will refer to this commitment to a cause seen as one's own as a "passion."

Hegel posits two elements as the immediate determinants of world history: the Idea and human passion (the Idea is not clarified here, but can be taken to mean, roughly, the Spirit as grasped by humans). Their meeting point in history is in the "ethical freedom of the State," which is built by human passion according to the abstract Idea of rational freedom.

Hegel further clarifies his concept of passion here, describing it as a truly driven sense that occupies a person so thoroughly that it is almost the same thing as that person's will and identity: "through [this passion], the person is what he is." Passion is the subjective aspect of energy, will and activity in general--it is the "formal" (i.e. actual, formed) aspect of these kinds of power. The goal of passion is another matter, but whatever the content of a particular passion, it is "there in one's own conviction, one's own insight and conscience." It is the highest ideal of the State to merge the passions of its citizens with the "universal goal."

At the beginning of world history, none of this is explicit. The goal of history--to fulfill the concept of Spirit--begins unconsciously, and "the entire business of world history is...the work of bringing it to consciousness." The subjective will (human passion, etc.) is apparent from the beginning, but lacks any higher purpose.

More Help

Previous Next