Notes on Hegel

Taylor frames his book in order of several of Hegel’s main works. He does an excellent job outlining difficult terminology and highlighting key points which will serve as hermeneutical loci later.

Front Cover

Self-Positing Spirit

This introduces Hegel’s “identity of difference and identity.” Starting slowly, following Taylor, here is what I think he means. Hegel is trying to overcome the Kantian duality. Hegel wants to overcome this with his notion of “overcoming oppositions.” Therefore, identity cannot sustain itself on its own, but posits an opposition, but also a particularly intimate one (80). In short, Hegel married modern expression with Aristotle’s self-realizing form (81).

Following this was Hegel’s other point: the subject, and all his functions, however spiritual, were necessarily embodied (82-83).

The Contradiction Arises

Contrary to mindless right-wing bloggers, Hegel did not form the “dialectic” in the following way: we posit a thesis (traditional community), then we negate it (cultural marxism), which allows for the “synthesis” (our pre-planned solution all along). Here is what Hegel actually meant: there is reality, but the very structure of reality already contains a contradiction. The subject then must overcome that contradiction.

Taylor notes, “In order to be at all as a conscious being, the subject must be embodied in life; but in order to realize the perfection of consciousness it must fight and overcome the natural bent of life as a limit. The conditions of its existence are in conflict with the demands of its perfection (86).

Taylor has much more to say but that will suffice for now. Of course, I radically disagree with Hegel’s conclusions. That does not mean Hegel is value-less. On the contrary, one can see key Augustinian and Origenist points in his outlook.

Taylor seems to structure his discussion of Hegel along the following lines: Phenomenology of Geist is a sort of preparatory stage for the Logic. At the end of the last discussion, Hegel said that Spirit (Geist) comes to know himself, and that finite spirits are the vehicles of this self-knowledge. This is partly why Hegel says that Geist must be embodied.

We start off with an inadequate notion of the standard involved; but we also have some basicaly correct notions of what the standard must meet. However, we see the inadequacy of both when we try to realize it. Obviously, Hegel is simply following Plato on this point.

What if we are just arbitrarily positing some standard of knowledge? No big deal, for upon reflection we will find out that said standard is likely faulty and we will have to “re-think it.” When we re-think it we get closer to the truth. Thus, “the test of knowledge is also its standard” (136).

Hegel ends this discussion with the suggestion that consciousness inevitably posits self-conscious, which will be taken up in the next chapter.

I’m skipping the section on “self-consciousness” because I really didn’t understand it.

One thing I do appreciate about Hegel is that his worldview really is unified. His discussions on “ontology” (the study of essence) are directly connected to his politics and views on religion (and to show how “real-life” this really is: when Karl Marx read Hegel he kept a few elements but mainly despised the man and his system. He negated Hegel–pun intended. Following his negation, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao took this negation of Hegel and murdered 200 million people. Philosophy really does matter).

In the Formation of Spirit Taylor notes that Hegel idealized the ancient Greek polis: he saw a complete unity between citizen and society (171). Unfortunately (or inevitably) this had to break down. Spirit cannot become universal if it is confined to the walls of one particular city. This is an important, if somewhat abstract point. I will develop it further in my final reflections on Hegel.

Taylor remarks, somewhat side-tracking the discussion, that sin is necessary for salvation in Hegel’s view (174). Of course, as a Christian this is completely unacceptable, but it also shows my appreciation for Hegel. Hegel can be seen as the consistent high-point of a certain strand of Western thought. We saw the same type of thinking in Origen (for God to be Lord, there must be something for him to be Lord “over”).
Essentially, what Hegel is saying is that men feel a basic attitude of alienation–their substance lies outside them and they can only overcome it by overcoming their particularity (donum superadditum? 179). Unfortunately, that is what Hegel calls a “contradiction.”

This part of Hegel’s Phenomenology is dealing heavily with social life, which I will cover in greater detail in the chapters on politics.

This next section of the book, and presumably the logical outflowing of Hegel’s thought, deals with “manifest religion.” I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, partly because it is the most atrocious aspect of Hegel’s thought, and partly because I want to get to the politics. However, Hegel is nothing if not consistent, and it is important to see how one section implies the next (which is exactly how his later Logic is set up). And as always, even when wrong Hegel has some excellent insights on the human dynamic.

Building on Hegel’s premise that God/Geist/Spirit, which is the ultimate reality, must be embodied in history, it follows that one must ask in what manner is it embodied? One of the most fundamental modes, Hegel posits, is in religion (197). Briefly stated, Hegel sees each epoch in human history as manifesting religion, but always in a contradictory way. The Greeks were able to apprehend “the universal,” but they could only do so in a finite and limited way (and thus the infinite/finite contradiction). This contradiction is not a bad thing, though, for it opened up the possibility of the Christian religion (with a detour through the Hebrews). Hegel sees the ultimate religious expression in the Incarnation.

What do we make of this?

Like anything Hegel says, much of the surface-level language is quite good, but once you get beyond that you see the truly bizarre theology. Hegel has a strong emphasis on community and will say that is where the true Christian expression is found. From our perspective, this sounds a lot like saying Christ is found in the church, and that is true. Unfortunately, Hegel was not using that in the same way we are.

At this point in the narrative we are beginning the discussion of Hegel’s two-volume Logic. While this is the hardest of his works to understand (and I certainly don’t understand them beyond a fourth-grade level), it will be easy to discuss them. His main points are clear and tied together.

A Dialectic of Categories

When one is studying reality, Hegel says, one can start anywhere in the system, for each facet is ultimately tied together (226). If we start with “Being” then our method will proceed dialectically. What he means by that is the very structure of reality has a contradiction, and in overcoming that contradiction Being moves forth to something else. Throughout the whole of this discussion, Hegel is starting from Kant and reworking the system along problems he sees in Kant.

To avoid confusion, and to silence the right-wing conspiracy bloggers, Hegel’s idea of contradiction is this: he has a two-pronged argument, the first showing that a given category is indispensable, the second showing that it leads to a characterization of reality which is somehow impossible or incoherent (228).

In developing the above contradiction, Hegel assumes the Plotinian dialectic: a Something can only be defined by referent to another with which it is contrasted (236).

Hegel says a lot more on these topics, but I will not. Throughout Taylor’s analysis he reveals interstesting facets of Hegel’s thought, showing him to be a true heir of Augustine and Plotinus. We’ll discuss these topics later. The next discussion, Lord willing, will focus on the Essence.

Politics

Most right-wing bloggers think that Hegel’s view is the Illuminati finding its ultimate expression in world-government. Actually, what Hegel means is that communities become vehicles of the “Spirit.” This can (and has) been taken in numerous ways. I see it as communities organically expressing a common spirit, common values (see Augustine, City of God Book 19.4).

Hegel is trying to overcome the dilemma that social life poses: per man’s subjective life the important thing is freedom of spirit. However, man also lives in community and the norms of the community often bind his freedom of spirit (it is to Hegel’s credit that he recognized this problem generations before Nietszche and the existentialists).

Hegel suggests the form man must attain is a social form (366). It is important to note that what Hegel means by “state” is much different than what Anglo-Americans mean by it. Hegel means the “politically organized community” (387). Let’s explore these few sentences for a moment. Throughout his philosophy Hegel warns against “abstractions,” by which he means taking an entity outside its network of relations. With regard to politics, if abstraction is bad then it necessarily follows that man’s telos is in a community. Man comes into the world already in a network of relations.

Reason and History

Given Hegel’s commitment about the fulfillment of spirit, it follows that communities grow. As seen above, Hegel’s applies to history the problem of self-fulfillment. How does man realize the fulfillment of the Idea?

Jews: realization that God is pure, subjective Spirit. Ends up negating finite reality.

Greek: opposite of Jewish mentality. Harmonizes God with “natural expression.” Ends up with idolatry. Greek polis is pariochial. Each state his its own God. A universal realization of spirit is thus impossible. Men were identified with Greek state. Democracy natural expression. There is a necessary contradiction within the Greek polis: only represents a part of finite reality.

Romans: Origin of the idea as “Person,” bearer of “abstract right” (397).

Christianity: the finite subject and absolute spirit can be reconciled. The task of history is to make this reconciliation public–this is the Church.

Germans: they were to take it to the next stage.

The rest of European history is a working out these processes, a transformation of institutions. It is hear that we see feudalism, etc. At this point we need to correct a mistake about Hegel: Hegel is not saying that world history climaxes with Prussian Germany. There is no sensible way he could have believed that. Germany was weak and defeated when he wrote (it would have been interesting and perhaps more perceptive to say that Russia was the bearer of the World Spirit). Nonetheless, as Hegel notes and as his critics routinely miss, history did take an interesting turn in the 19th century and the force of ideas does not simply stop because the historian wants them to stop.

The Foundations of the Modern State

Monarchy as the Representative Individual: consistent with his earlier points, Hegel notes that there must be some way for the individual to retain his subjective right, yet at the same time freely and fully identify with the community (Staat). This happens by way of monarchy. Beneath the monarchy are Estates, who mediate the King to the people. Nowhere does Hegel mean representation according to our usage today. The King does not “represent” the will of the people, but through his kingly majesty allows the people to identify (399).

The French Revolution: Political Terror

Hegel defines it as “absolute, unlimited freedom.” Complete freedom means that outcome should be decided by me. Of course, since I am in society it is not decided by me alone. Therefore, complete freedom is decided by the strongest individual.

Charles Taylor is embarrassed by Hegel’s rejection of the principles of the French Revolution. I think the reason is that if Hegel is right and one should view the Modern Narrative as a continuation of the French Revolution, then the only moral alternative is to reject said narrative. He notes (if not likes) Hegel’s challenge to modernity: the modern ideology of equality and of total participation leads to a homogenization of society. This shakes men loose from their traditional communities but cannot replace them as a focus of identity” (414).

Translation: all natural societies organically flow from a unified belief system/ethnos (cf. Augustine, City of God, 19.4). Modernity is the negation of this. Without this unified system of belief, men cannot “connect” to one another. Thus, no real community. Thus, no real unity and society is held together by force (ala Hegel on Rome) and terror (ala Hegel on France).

Modernity is nominalism of politics.

Hegel’s conclusion, which Taylor rejects, is a rationalized monarchy. Hegel was a monarchist but he was not a traditionalist, and for that reason he was not a conservative. He agreed with the older conservatives that society must be founded on authority, estates, and a strong monarch; Hegel, however, based these spheres, not on divine right or tradition, but on reason. In this sense Hegel stands firmly in the Enlightenment.

According to Hegel France is utterly lost in terms of a political future. England is better, but she is not far behind in spiritual rot, for England (like America today) is run riot with an excess on particular rights. And in this chaos of individualism, special interest groups backed by powerful elites have taken control (like America today).

Taylor notes that for Hegel,

“The only force which could cure this would be a strong monarchy like those late medieval kings which forced through the barons the rights of the universal. But the English have crucially weakened their monarchy; it is powerless before Parliament which is the cockpit of private interests (454).

I first found this line of reasoning from Fr. Raphael Johnson’s take on Russian history. I guess Johnson got it from Hegel himself since he wrote his Master’s thesis on Hegel.

Taylor continues to the conclusion,

Hence the vehicle by which rational constitution could best be introduced and made real was a powerful modernizing monarchy…Hegel had hopes for the future based on the climate of his times. Germany had been shocked into reform by the Napoleonic conquest. It consisted of societies founded on law in which principles of rational Enlightenment had already gone some way and seemed bound to go further. It had a Protestant political culture and hence could achieve a rational constitution unlike the benighted peoples of Latin Europe, and it was not too far gone in rot like England. It held to the monarchical principle and the monarchs retained some real power unlike England, and yet the societies were law societies (454-455).

This paragraph warrants some reflection:

  • Although I am a traditionalist, and Hegel is not, I agree that a modernizing monarchy is much preferred than unreflected claims to “Throne and Altar.” Many monarchists today naively think that “restoring a king” will return the land to justice. Ironically, this tends to lead to the same problems that Republican government leads: you have the vision of a few determining the fate of the whole. Rather, a strong monarch who enforces Republican structures in the land, arising from the will of the ethnos (shades of Johann Herder), existing primarily to reign in the excesses of the free market, is one who is both authoritarian yet the people are still free.
  • while we are at it, I actually encourage one to read the thoughtful positions by N. T. Wright and Oliver O’Donovan on monarchy. However, most Protestant political forces have been confessedly thoroughly anti-monarchist, and it is no surprise there are few Protestant Monarchies left. Happily, though, there are examples of good, Protestant monarchies.

Conclusion

In many ways Taylor’s book is essential. One has to know how Hegel is using terminology and Taylor is a reliable guide in that regard. Taylor cannot square himself with Hegel’s politics, though, since Hegel is a rejection (negation?) of modernity.

Preserving theological values

It was suggested that I was too subjective in theology and disagreed with everybody.  Obviously, such a claim is false.  I think I know why people say it, though.  I don’t walk lock-step with any one man.  God expects us to be big boys and big girls.   John said that we have an anointing from the Holy Spirit and don’t need to be overly dependent on teachers.  I had originally invited anchorites to point out my disagreements with the Confession. That invitation is still open.   In the following is a list of theological “values.”  Values are what are important to our identity as Christians standing in the Reformed catholic tradition.  They must be preserved.   That does not mean, however, that the philosophical presuppositions and currency of the 5th or 16th century are on the same level of Scripture.  Nor does this mean shying away from actual difficulties in a position.

Unfortunately, when anyone in a Reformed setting tries this, it often looks like he is attacking the Reformed faith.  I intend no such attack.  Whatever weaknesses I might perceive in the Reformed tradition, I don’t see any better alternatives. I write this as someone who is happily in the Reformed tradition, loves the best of the Reformed tradition, and will gladly defend that tradition from perceived defective views.  Now, on to the values…

  • Election:  My questions about election are different than most.  I fully affirm, contra all forms of semi-Pelagianism, that God doesn’t need our permission to be God.   I do believe God chooses who will be saved.  However, there are some problems the way it is usually set up.  If the identity of the Logos is fully-formed in eternal generation before the Pactum Salutis where the Father elects to save those into the Logos, then it’s hard to see how Nestorianism of some sort doesn’t follow.  Better yet, however, is to see Jesus of Nazareth as the subject and object of election, and election as the event that distinguished God’s modes of being (hyparchos tropos).  In any case, election must be affirmed as to allow the “offense of God’s actuality” (a phrase attributed to Robert W. Jenson).
  • Assurance: Assurance represents a problem.  How do I know that I am really assured?  The problem is not that I with my fallible human knowledge can know infallibly.  The real problem is that I exist in time yet God has promised that he will be God to me and that nothing can take me out of Jesus’s hands.   To attack assurance on these grounds is simply to preach a doctrine straight from hell.  That’s not to say that all tensions are gone, though.   But that’s the key issue:  tensions.  Instead of viewing assurance in a metaphysical construct where I find myself against a metaphysical doctrine of election to which I do not often hear a response, I suggest, following Michael Horton’s project, to see assurance in an eschatological context.  On a practical level, we can’t form our doctrine of assurance in such a way that ignores the most basic of Christian categories:  simple faith and trust.  Do you believe that Jesus did what he said he did?  Do you trust that he cut a covenant which we see in the bread and the wine?
  • Justification:  I fully agree with WSC 33.  Any deviation from that is fraught with huge problems.   This is where I part company with N.T. Wright.   Wright’s conclusions are bad.  His historical framework and questions are quite good, and quite frankly, won’t go away.  Further, and many critics of the Reformed faith don’t realize this, but Wright fully affirms the forensic, extra-nos aspect of justification against attempts to read it as theosis or transformation.
  • Sola Scriptura:  It’s fairly obvious that few know what this phrase really means, and that most certainly includes the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd.  It does not mean “The Bible Alone.”  It does not mean the bible is our only authority.  It means that the Bible is the norm that norms our norms.  If you don’t know what that phrase means, you need to go read some more.  The Bible is the norm–let’s call it Holy Scripture, actually–that creates and legitimizes subordinate norms.  This not only means we may look to the Church and history, but that we must look.   It protects us from silly positions like “The Bible is way too subjective, but for some reason, dozens of canons from councils, dozens of statements from fathers in different cultural milieus, those are objective.”  As I tell people at Orthodox Bridge, I will gladly look to the church for advice and for theological grammar.  It simply doesn’t follow, however, that the church suddenly has ipso facto infallible authority in everything over my soul.

    On a more important note, and here is where my formulation is different, it is better to see Holy Scripture as the witness to God’s narrative:  God’s actions in (ultimately) raising the Israelite from the dead.  I prefer to see Holy Scripture in ultimately narratival terms as opposed to what I call “The Divine Database Model.”  The latter is too platonic and plays into the hands of traditionalists who can then start asking difficult questions about the canon.   My position, however, does an end-run around that by anchoring back into the Hebrew narrative, to which the New Testament documents witness, for the Hebrew canon was largely fixed prior to the existence of the Church (yes, I am aware of Stephen’s hinting of an OT church in Acts 7.  I don’t think it is warranted to read too much into that one phrase).

Don’t let nobody take your joy!

The poor grammar is deliberate.  One of the most precious spiritual joys I have–have had–can have–is hearing the announcement extra nos that God reigns and that the finished work of Christ applies pro me, and that nothing can snatch me out of Jesus’s hands. Jesus really did something on the cross.  He really bought me back from the slave pens of Egypt.  He really gave me His Holy Spirit as a down-payment which guarantees future blessings.

That is literally the best pillow someone can have.  People think I have a bulldog mentality on Anchoretic traditions.  It’s not that I can’t change my mind and won’t change the subject.  If my life is any indicator–and please do not do as I did–I can attest to the loss of joy for almost five years.  Here’s how it happened.

I started studying the early church and Trinitarianism around 2007.  Even now it was a rewarding experience.  But some problems came up and I just couldn’t deal with them.  I came across sayings from Cyprian, “Outside the Church There is No Salvation” and numerous ones from Ignatius along the lines of “Stay close to the bishop” and “schismatics forfeit the kingdom of God” (sorry John of San Francisco).  I came to reason:  sh!+, I better make sure I am in the right church, because on these guys’ glosses, even if they don’t draw the inevitable logical conclusion, If I am in the wrong church I am going to roast in hell for all eternity.  I lost sleep for weeks, if not months, at a time.

SIDEBAR:  My focus of salvation at this point was more on “which organization am I in so that I can be saved” rather than the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Of course, God did not leave me without witnesses.  Ironically, it was N.T. Wright’s work on the Gospels that made me realize that even if Orthodoxy is true, N.T. Wright’s exegesis is just better.

And it does no good to say, “Oh, even though those saints said that, we don’t mean that.  Who knows who is going to be in heaven and hell?”  Well, the problem is that those statements by those men have to mean something and if you say no one can know, then Cyprian’s and Ignatius’s statements are simply pointless and devoid of all meaning.  If that’s the case, please stop quoting them since on your gloss they don’t mean anything.  I am not in his organization; therefore, I cannot be saved.  Being damned is the contrary of being saved. Q.E.D.

I’m skipping a lot of material, but one of the men that helped me get this straight is Michael Horton.   I didn’t want to read him earlier because as theonomists, we were taught to hate Horton because of his (admittedly) schizophrenic social ethics.  This was a shame, since Horton was one of the few Reformed writers who could actually mount a response to Anchoretism.    His response was in the way of ontology.   I’ve summarized these elsewhere.   It is simply unanswerable.

Concurrent with Horton’s project was Bruce McCormack’s lectures on Christology.  I would link to them but in a moment of failure of nerve, the Henry Center took them down.    Besides showing some fatal tensions in Cyril’s project, if McCormack’s reading is correct and the post-Damascene tradition relies on substance metaphysics, then the believer is fully warranted in rejecting that tradition.  Further, if that infallible tradition is indeed shown to be quite fallible, then they aren’t an infallible tradition after all.

But here are some thoughts on the Ignatian claim:

  1. Granted that Ignatius makes much of Christ at times, but to the extent that claims of “staying close to the bishop for salvation” take prominence, to that extent Christ has been eclipsed.
  2. Admitting that Ignatius was close to the apostle John, how are we epistemically warranted to project Ignatius’s vision onto the whole of the Roman Empire?
  3. Most basic of all questions, “Who died and made him king?”  Why should we privilege his statements more than any others?

This next line is more subjective, but here goes.  Why would God mislead Martyn Lloyd-Jones?   The better model is that God simply wanted to shed his love abroad in MLJ’s heart.  (I realize my example is quite problematic for Reformed Cessationists!)

Next Blog Post will be on NT Wright

I haven’t dealt with Wright in over three years.   This should be interesting.  Yet it want be on areas that one normally associates with Wright.  I would love to write a paper entitled, “Wright, Chalcedon, and the Overcoming of Metaphysics.”

N. T. Wright on not venerating saints.

Rethinking Tradition.

Let us suppose, then, the ultimate destiny of Christians is bodily resurrection, an event which has not yet happened. This means that all such persons are currently in an intermediate state, somewhere between death and resurrection. Call this intermediate state ‘heaven’ if you like. This brings me to the first really controversial point in the present book: there is no reason in the foundation documents of Christianity to suppose that there are any category distinctions between Christians in this intermediate state. All are in the same condition; and all are ‘saints’

This means that the New Testament language about the bodily death of Christians, and what happens to them thereafter, makes no distinction whatever in this respect between those who have attained significant holiness or Christlikeness in the present and those who haven’t. ‘My desire’, says Paul in Philippians 1.22, ‘is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.’ He doesn’t for a moment imply that this ‘being with Christ’ is something which he will experience but which the Philippians, like Newman’s Gerontius, will find terrifying and want to postpone. His state (being with Christ) will indeed be exalted, but it will be no different, no more exalted, than that of every single Christian after death. He will not be, in that sense, a ‘saint’, differentiated from mere ‘souls’ who wait in another place or state.

Theology *is* like geopolitics

From N.T. Wright

“Like America looking for a new scapegoat after the collapse of the Cold War and seizing on the Islamic world as the obvious target, many conservative writers, having discovered themselves in possession of the Pauline field after the liberals tired of it, have looked around for new enemies. Here is something called the New Perspective; it seems to be denying some of the things we have normally taught; very well, let us demonize it, lump its propopents together, and nuke them from a great height.” (p. 247)

Justification in Perspective, ed. Bruce McCormack

Reckon…what?

Don Garlington has written a thirty page response to Piper’s (admittedly old) book on imputation (I realize I am five years behind the debate on the New Perspective.  Actually, I’m not.  I read all this stuff five years ago, but I have been reexamining the issues for other reasons).  Garlington makes a number of interesting observations that should give many New Perspective readers pause (of which I am one).   Outside the conceptual framework of medieval Catholicism, Calvinism derives its merit imputation theology from Romans 4, primarily.  One has to admit that Calvinists don’t simply make up the argument from nowhere.   Paul does use the word logizomai which has connotations of “impute” for later English speakers.  Garlington gives his reasons why that is not the best translation for Romans 4.

Garlington’s paper is interesting, but it is not the main point here.   I was listening to the exchange between Richard Gaffin and N. T. Wright.  They got to the problem of imputation in Paul, specifically appealing to the word “reckon.”   Gaffin made a surprisingly strong case for “reckon” = “impute.”  Wright’s rebuttal was interesting.    Wright acknowledged the force of “reckon,” though he like Garlington said that given the context of the Abrahamic story, other connotations of logizomai are more faithful to the passage.  Wright then admitted that imputation was a biblical concept.  He said we should read imputation language, not in Romans 4 but in Romans 6–baptism.  Through our baptism we reckon ourselves dead to sin.  We are baptized into the death of Christ, and have that reckoned to us.   If one wants to insist in “imputation” language in the Pauline corpus, I don’t mind transferring it to the baptismal passages in Romans 6.