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Hegel pauses here to list what he's outlined so far: the nature of Spirit, "the means it uses to realize its Idea, and the form that it takes in the complete realization of its existence: the State." It remains, he says, to consider the actual "course of world history." Hegel contrasts this course with the course of nature, which is an essentially cyclical process where nothing truly new ever arises. World history, on the other hand, since it actualizes a drive toward perfectibility, often introduces true and fundamental change.
Such change may seem to conflict with religion, Hegel notes, and also with the aim of some states to remain stable--both seem to wish for an unchanging order. But, while he can concede that "perfectibility" in itself is an indefinite idea, Hegel insists that even the basic concept of "development" implies the emergence of some fundamental ground in history, some essential principle. This principle, of course, is Spirit, which uses chance occurrences in history "for its own purpose." In fact, he notes, even nature "brings forth" new forms, even if it does not change its essential elements. Rather, like Spirit, it is always "making itself into what it implicitly is." The difference is that Spirit, unlike nature, realizes itself through "consciousness and will"--human characteristics.
Humankind begins as a part of nature, with natural, unconsidered desires and acts. But, because human consciousness is essentially "animated by Spirit," it moves through historical change toward the realization of the principles of Spirit. Thus, Spirit realizes itself not through a quiescent, natural process, but rather through a struggle against the natural impulses of the very humans in whose consciousness Spirit resides. In this sense, "Spirit, within its own self, stands in opposition to itself. It must overcome itself as its own truly hostile hindrance."
The overall goal of this process is, again, for Spirit to be increasingly "in conformity with its essence, the concept of freedom." This goal, Hegel says, is both the object and the content of what we know as "development." The more common notion of development is a "merely formalistic" one, to which state- wide disasters like the decline and fall of Rome are unintelligible. Hegel's broader view of development, rather than being formalistic, is both "concrete" and "absolute": "world history presents the stages in the development of the principle whose content is the consciousness of freedom." On this view, no disaster, fall of a state, or other major change need be anything but concrete "development" itself.
The general, abstract nature of these stages of development is a matter for philosophical logic to address (since those stages are simply the unfolding of the rational Spirit). Their concrete nature, however, is the subject of the "philosophy of spirit," which finds them to be the following: 1) the "immersion of Spirit in natural life;" 2) the "emergence of Spirit into the consciousness of its freedom," which represents a partial tearing away of Spirit from nature; and 3) the "evolution of Spirit out of this still particular form of freedom into its pure universality--into self-consciousness." The details of how these stages come about and fall away, the "process of [each stage's] own formation and the dialectic of its own transition in turn," are what philosophic history addresses, and Hegel implies that he will discuss these details later.
Although each stage in the development of Spirit is perfect in itself (for its particular time), there is still a drive toward overall perfection. This drive manifests itself precisely through imperfection, when some aspect of a given stage is recognized to be imperfect. This aspect is then negated and replaced, allowing for development.
Hegel suggests that no state in any age or any stage of human history can be perfect no matter how high and noble goals it may pursue or achieve. By the time the state achieve those high ideals, human intellect achieves new heights which makes the high goals already achieved by that “next to perfect” state outdated and a quest for achieving the new targets and goals starts, leading human society to its next level, a higher level of development and a new stage in the journey towards perfection.
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