Hegel discusses nature primarily as an opposing term to the State and the history whose material is the State. The course of nature throughout history is essentially cyclical. Nothing truly new ever emerges (i.e., there are no new concepts or laws) whereas history itself proceeds precisely as entirely new concepts and contents are brought forth by Spirit. Nature does not truly "develop" in the sense of progress toward perfection, though it does "bring forth new forms" of the same essential content.

Hegel disparages the idea (promoted in part by Schlegel) of a "state of nature," in which prehistoric man is supposed to have lived in a naive, peaceful state with full knowledge of God. For Hegel, there is no such thing as a "natural" State, since the State necessitates universal concepts and culture. Human nature, without any self-conscious thought, is simply a matter of the basest subjective will or caprice. As Spirit moves humanity away from this state, it must struggle against its own subjective aspect to attain the universal. Spirit also opposes nature in the sense that the aims of Spirit can be temporarily frustrated or stymied by natural conditions. Nature "impinges" on history in this sense, but the only substance of history is Spirit.

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