From Essential Selections in 19th and 20th Century Philosophy, by James Fieser


Copyright 2014, updated 5/1/2015



Born in Stuttgard, Germany, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770—1831) was the foremost philosopher in the nineteenth-century school of German idealism. Hegel argued that all of reality is a manifestation of God as the Absolute Idea, which develops over time in a series of dialectic movements from thesis to antithesis, resolving in a synthesis between the two. Below are the two most famous portions of his writings. In the first, titled “Lordship and Bondage” from his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Hegel describes how individual consciousness develops into universal self-consciousness. Individual consciousness first emerges when it is recognized by another self. When this happens, the first consciousness is inclined to assert its own existence over that of the second self—even to the point of annihilating it. It can’t do that, though, since its very existence as an individual consciousness depends upon being recognized by the second self. So it does the next best thing, which is to enslave the second self. But this master-slave (or lordship-bondage) relationship is also unsatisfactory. For, the first self needs to be recognized as free, but this cannot happen as long as the first self does not recognize the enslaved second self as a real person. By lacking freedom, the first self thereby lacks an essential condition of self-consciousness and personhood. In the mean time, the second self turns itself into a material thing by engaging in the material world. The tension between the two selves develops to the point that they exist in the same self, and the tension resolves only when that self ascends to universal self-consciousness. Thus, the dialectic movement here is from the thesis of my own self (as subjectivity) to the anti-thesis of a not-self (as objectivity), and ultimately resolves as a synthesis into the Absolute Idea.  In the second selection, titled “World History” from The Philosophy of Right (1821), Hegel describes how the universal mind develops over time through actions of individuals, collections of people, and governments. He notes four specific periods of historic development: oriental, Greek, Roman, and Germanic. In the earlier ones, individuals have no self-consciousness of personality, and in the last one the modern nation-state becomes self-conscious of its own nature. The dialectic process here is involves a series of conflicts between nations as thesis and antithesis, that ultimately results as a synthesis in freedom.




Self-Consciousness in Relation to Another Self-Consciousness

Self-Consciousness exists in itself and for itself, in that, and by the fact that it exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or “recognized”. The conception of this its unity in its duplication, of infinitude realizing itself in self-consciousness, has many sides to it and encloses within it elements of varied significance. Thus its moments must on the one hand be strictly kept apart in detailed distinctiveness, and, on the other, in this distinction must, at the same time, also be taken as not distinguished, or must always be accepted and understood in their opposite sense. This double meaning of what is distinguished lies in the nature of self-consciousness:—of its being infinite, or directly the opposite of the determinateness in which it is fixed. The detailed exposition of the notion of this spiritual unity in its duplication will bring before us the process of Recognition.

            Self-consciousness has before it another self-consciousness; it has come outside itself. This has a double significance. First it has lost its own self, since it finds itself as an other being; secondly, it has thereby sublated [Aufheben] that other, for it does not regard the other as essentially real, but sees its own self in the other.

            It must cancel this its other. To do so is the sublation of that first double meaning, and is therefore a second double meaning. First, it must set itself to sublate the other independent being, in order thereby to become certain of itself as true being, secondly, it thereupon proceeds to sublate its own self, for this other is itself.

            This sublation in a double sense of its otherness in a double sense is at the same time a return in a double sense into its self. For, firstly, through sublation, it gets back itself, because it becomes one with itself again through the cancelling of its otherness; but secondly, it likewise gives otherness back again to the other self-consciousness, for it was aware of being in the other, it cancels this its own being in the other and thus lets the other again go free.

            This process of self-consciousness in relation to another self-consciousness has in this manner been represented as the action of one alone. But this action on the part of the one has itself the double significance of being at once its own action and the action of that other as well. For the other is likewise independent, shut up within itself, and there is nothing in it which is not there through itself. The first does not have the object before it only in the passive form characteristic primarily of the object of desire, but as an object existing independently for itself, over which therefore it has no power to do anything for its own behalf, if that object does not per se do what the first does to it. The process then is absolutely the double process of both self-consciousnesses. Each sees the other do the same as itself; each itself does what it demands on the part of the other, and for that reason does what it does, only so far as the other does the same. Action from one side only would be useless, because what is to happen can only be brought about by means of both.

            The action has then a double entente not only in the sense that it is an act done to itself as well as to the other, but also in the sense that the act simpliciter is the act of the one as well as of the other regardless of their distinction.

            In this movement we see the process repeated which came before us as the play of forces; in the present case, however, it is found in consciousness. What in the former had effect only for us [contemplating experience], holds here for the terms themselves. The middle term is self-consciousness which breaks itself up into the extremes; and each extreme is this interchange of its own determinateness, and complete transition into the opposite. While qua consciousness, it no doubt comes outside itself, still, in being outside itself, it is at the same time restrained within itself, it exists for itself, and its self-externalization is for consciousness. Consciousness finds that it immediately is and is not another consciousness, as also that this other is for itself only when it cancels itself as existing for itself, and has self-existence only in the self-existence of the other. Each is the mediating term to the other, through which each mediates and unites itself with itself; and each is to itself and to the other an immediate self-existing reality, which, at the same time, exists thus for itself only through this mediation. They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another.

            This pure conception of recognition, of duplication of self-consciousness within its unity, we must now consider in the way its process appears for self-consciousness. It will, in the first place, present the aspect of the disparity of the two, or the break-up of the middle term into the extremes, which, qua extremes, are opposed to one another, and of which one is merely recognized, while the other only recognizes.

            Self-consciousness is primarily simple existence for self, self-identity by exclusion of every other from itself. It takes its essential nature and absolute object to be Ego; and in this immediacy, in this bare fact of its self-existence, it is individual. That which for it is other stands as unessential object, as object with the impress and character of negation. But the other is also a self-consciousness; an individual makes its appearance in antithesis to an individual. Appearing thus in their immediacy, they are for each other in the manner of ordinary objects. They are independent individual forms, modes of Consciousness that have not risen above the bare level of life (for the existent object here has been determined as life). They are, moreover, forms of consciousness which have not yet accomplished for one another the process of absolute abstraction, of uprooting all immediate existence, and of being merely the bare, negative fact of self-identical consciousness; or, in other words, have not yet revealed themselves to each other as existing purely for themselves, i.e., as self-consciousness. Each is indeed certain of its own self, but not of the other, and hence its own certainty of itself is still without truth. For its truth would be merely that its own individual existence for itself would be shown to it to be an independent object, or, which is the same thing, that the object would be exhibited as this pure certainty of itself. By the notion of recognition, however, this is not possible, except in the form that as the other is for it, so it is for the other; each in its self through its own action and again through the action of the other achieves this pure abstraction of existence for self.

            The presentation of itself, however, as pure abstraction of self-consciousness consists in showing itself as a pure negation of its objective form, or in showing that it is fettered to no determinate existence, that it is not bound at all by the particularity everywhere characteristic of existence as such, and is not tied up with life. The process of bringing all this out involves a twofold action—action on the part of the other and action on the part of itself. In so far as it is the other’s action, each aims at the destruction and death of the other. But in this there is implicated also the second kind of action, self-activity; for the former implies that it risks its own life. The relation of both self-consciousnesses is in this way so constituted that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle. They must enter into this struggle, for they must bring their certainty of themselves, the certainty of being for themselves, to the level of objective truth, and make this a fact both in the case of the other and in their own case as well. And it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; only thus is it tried and proved that the essential nature of self-consciousness is not bare existence, is not the merely immediate form in which it at first makes its appearance, is not its mere absorption in the expanse of life. Rather it is thereby guaranteed that there is nothing present but what might be taken as a vanishing moment—that self-consciousness is merely pure self-existence, being-for-self. The individual, who has not staked his life, may, no doubt, be recognized as a Person; but he has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness. In the same way each must aim at the death of the other, as it risks its own life thereby; for that other is to it of no more worth than itself the other’s reality is presented to the former as an external other, as outside itself; it must cancel that externality. The other is a purely existent consciousness and entangled in manifold ways; it must view its otherness as pure existence for itself or as absolute negation.

            This trial by death, however, cancels both the truth which was to result from it, and therewith the certainty of self altogether. For just as life is the natural “position” consciousness, independence without absolute negativity, so death is the natural “negation” of consciousness, negation without independence, which thus remains without the requisite significance of actual recognition. Through death, doubtless, there has arisen the certainty that both did stake their life, and held it lightly both in their own case and in the case of the other; but that is not for those who underwent this struggle. They cancel their consciousness which had its place in this alien element of natural existence; in other words, they cancel themselves and are sublated as terms or extremes seeking to have existence on their own account. But along with this there vanishes from the play of change the essential moment, viz. that of breaking up into extremes with opposite characteristics; and the middle term collapses into a lifeless unity which is broken up into lifeless extremes, merely existent and not opposed. And the two do not mutually give and receive one another back from each other through consciousness; they let one another go quite indifferently, like things. Their act is abstract negation, not the negation characteristic of consciousness, which cancels in such a way that it preserves and maintains what is sublated, and thereby survives its being sublated.


The Two Consciousnesses as Master and Bondsman

In this experience self-consciousness becomes aware that life is as essential to it as pure self-consciousness. In immediate self-consciousness the simple ego is absolute object, which, however, is for us or in itself absolute mediation, and has as its essential moment substantial and solid independence. The dissolution of that simple unity is the result of the first experience; through this there is posited a pure self-consciousness, and a consciousness which is not purely for itself, but for another, i.e. as an existent consciousness, consciousness in the form and shape of thinghood. Both moments are essential, since, in the first instance, they are unlike and opposed, and their reflection into unity has not yet come to light, they stand as two opposed forms or modes of consciousness. The one is independent, and its essential nature is to be for itself; the other is dependent, and its essence is life or existence for another. The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman.

            The master is the consciousness that exists for itself; but no longer merely the general notion of existence for self. Rather, it is a consciousness existing on its own account which is mediated with itself through an other consciousness, i.e. through an other whose very nature implies that it is bound up with an independent being or with thinghood in general. The master brings himself into relation to both these moments, to a thing as such, the object of desire, and to the consciousness whose essential character is thinghood. And since the master, is (a) qua notion of self-consciousness, an immediate relation of self-existence, but (b) is now moreover at the same time mediation, or a being-for-self which is for itself only through an other—he [the master] stands in relation (a) immediately to both (b) mediately to each through the other. The master relates himself to the bondsman mediately through independent existence, for that is precisely what keeps the bondsman in servitude; it is his chain, from which he could not in the struggle get away, and for that reason lie proved himself to be dependent, to have his independence in the shape of thinghood. The master, however, is the power controlling this state of existence, for he has shown in the struggle that lie holds it to be merely something negative. Since he is the power dominating existence, while this existence again is the power controlling the other [the bondsman], the master holds, par consequence, this other in subordination. In the same way the master relates himself to the thing mediately through the bondsman. The bondsman being a self-consciousness in the broad sense, also takes up a negative attitude to things and cancels them; but the thing is, at the same time, independent for him and, in consequence, he cannot, with all his negating, get so far as to annihilate it outright and be done with it; that is to say, lie merely works on it. To the master, on the other hand, by means of this mediating process, belongs the immediate relation, in the sense of the pure negation of it, in other words he gets the enjoyment. What mere desire did not attain, he now succeeds in attaining, viz. to have done with the thing, and find satisfaction in enjoyment. Desire alone did not get the length of this, because of the independence of the thing. The master, however, who has interposed the bondsman between it and himself, thereby relates himself merely to tile dependence of the thing, and enjoys it without qualification and without reserve. The aspect of its independence he leaves to the bondsman, who labors upon it.

            In these two moments, the master gets his recognition through an other consciousness, for in them the latter affirms itself as unessential, both by working upon the thing, and, on the other hand, by the fact of being dependent on a determinate existence; in neither case can this other get the mastery over existence, and succeed in absolutely negating it. We have thus here this moment of recognition, viz. that the other consciousness cancels itself as self-existent, and, ipso facto, itself does what the first does to it. In the same way we have the other moment, that this action on the part of the second is the action proper of the first; for what is done by the bondsman is properly an action on the part of the master. The latter exists only for himself, that is his essential nature; he is the negative power without qualification, a power to which the thing is nothing. And he is thus the absolutely essential act in this situation, while the bondsman is not so, he is an unessential activity. But for recognition proper there is needed the moment that what the master does to the other he should also do to himself, and what the bondsman does to himself, he should do to the other also. On that account a form of recognition has arisen that is one sided and unequal.


Master not Really Independent, Bondsman not really Dependent

In all this, the unessential consciousness is, for the master, the object which embodies the truth of his certainty of himself. But it is evident that this object does not correspond to its notion; for, just where the master has effectively achieved lordship, he really finds that something has come about quite different from an independent consciousness. It is not an independent, but rather a dependent consciousness that he has achieved. He is thus not assured of self-existence as his truth; he finds that his truth is rather the unessential consciousness, and the fortuitous unessential action of that consciousness.

            The truth of the independent consciousness is accordingly the consciousness of the bondsman. This doubtless appears in the first instance outside itself, and not as the truth of self-consciousness. But just as lordship showed its essential nature to be the reverse of what it wants to be, so, too, bondage will, when completed, pass into the opposite of what it immediately is: being a consciousness repressed within itself, it will enter into itself, and change round into real and true independence.



We have seen what bondage is only in relation to lordship. But it is a self-consciousness, and we have now to consider what it is, in this regard, in and for itself. In the first instance, the master is taken to be the essential reality for the state of bondage; hence, for it, the truth is the independent consciousness existing for itself, although this truth is not taken yet as inherent in bondage itself. Still, it does in fact contain within itself this truth of pure negativity and self-existence, because it has experienced this reality within it. For this consciousness was not in peril and fear for this element or that, nor for this or that moment of time, it was afraid for its entire being; it felt the fear of death, the sovereign master. It has been in that experience melted to its inmost soul, has trembled throughout its every fiber, and all that was fixed and steadfast has quaked within it. This complete perturbation of its entire substance, this absolute dissolution of all its stability into fluent continuity, is, however, the simple, ultimate nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity, pure self-referent existence, which consequently is involved in this type of consciousness. This moment of pure self-existence is moreover a fact for it; for in the master it finds this as its object. Further, this bondsman’s consciousness is not only this total dissolution in a general way; in serving and toiling the bondsman actually carries this out. By serving he cancels in every particular aspect his dependence on and attachment to natural existence, and by his work removes this existence away.

            The feeling of absolute power, however, realized both in general and in the particular form of service, is only dissolution implicitly; and albeit the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom, consciousness is not therein aware of being self-existent. Through work and labor, however, this consciousness of the bondsman comes to itself. In the moment which corresponds to desire in the case of the master’s consciousness, the aspect of the non-essential relation to the thing seemed to fall to the lot of the servant, since the thing there retained its independence. Desire has reserved to itself the pure negating of the object and thereby unalloyed feeling of self. This satisfaction, however, just for that reason is itself only a state of evanescence, for it lacks objectivity or subsistence. Labor, on the other hand, is desire restrained and checked, evanescence delayed and postponed; in other words, labor shapes and fashions the thing. The negative relation to the object passes into the form of the object, into something that is permanent and remains; because it is just for the laborer that the object has independence. This negative mediating agency, this activity giving shape and form, is at the same time the individual existence, the pure self-existence of that consciousness, which now in the work it does is externalized and passes into the condition of permanence. The consciousness that toils and serves accordingly attains by this means the direct apprehension of that independent being as its self.

            But again, shaping or forming the object has not only the positive significance that the bondsman becomes thereby aware of himself as factually and objectively self-existent; this type of consciousness has also a negative import, in contrast with its moment, the element of fear. For in shaping the thing it only becomes aware of its own proper negativity, existence on its own account, as an object, through the fact that it cancels the actual form confronting it. But this objective negative element is precisely alien, external reality, before which it trembled. Now, however, it destroys this extraneous alien negative, affirms and sets itself up as a negative in the element of permanence, and thereby becomes for itself a self-existent being. In the master, the bondsman feels self-existence to be something external, an objective fact; in fear self-existence is present within himself; in fashioning the thing, self-existence comes to be felt explicitly as his own proper being, and he attains the consciousness that he himself exists in its own right and on its own account. By the fact that the form is objectified, it does not become something other than the consciousness molding the thing through work; for just that form is his pure self existence, which therein becomes truly realized. Thus precisely in labor where there seemed to be merely some outsider’s mind and ideas involved, the bondsman becomes aware, through this rediscovery of himself by himself, of having and being a “mind of his own”.

            For this reflection of self into self the two moments, fear and service in general, as also that of formative activity, are necessary: and at the same time both must exist in a universal manner. Without the discipline of service and obedience, fear remains formal and does not spread over the whole known reality of existence. Without the formative activity shaping the thing, fear remains inward and mute, and consciousness does not become objective for itself. Should consciousness shape and form the thing without the initial state of absolute fear, then it has a merely vain and futile “mind of its own”; for its form or negativity is not negativity per se, and hence its formative activity cannot furnish the consciousness of itself as essentially real. If it has endured not absolute fear, but merely some slight anxiety, the negative reality has remained external to it, its substance has not been through and through infected thereby. Since the entire content of its natural consciousness has not tottered and shaken, it is still inherently a determinate mode of being; having a “mind of its own” is simply stubbornness, a type of freedom which does not get beyond the attitude of bondage. As little as the pure form can become its essential nature, so little is that form, considered as extending over particulars, a universal formative activity, an absolute notion; it is rather a piece of cleverness which has mastery within a certain range, but not over the universal power nor over the entire objective reality.




341. World history is a court of judgment

The universal spirit exists concretely in art in the form of perception and image, in religion in the form of feeling and pictorial imaginative thinking, and in philosophy in the form of pure free thought. In world-history this concrete existence of spirit is the spiritual actuality in the total range of its internality and externality. It is a court of judgment because in its absolute universality the particular, namely, the Penates, the civic community, and the national spirit in their many-colored reality are all merely ideal. The movement of spirit in this case consists in visibly presenting these spheres as merely ideal.


342. World history is not the verdict of mere Force, but actualization of the universal mind

Moreover, world-history is not a court of judgment, whose principle is force, nor is it the abstract and irrational necessity of a blind fate. It is self-caused and self-realized reason, and its actualized existence in spirit is knowledge. Hence, its development issuing solely out of the conception of its freedom is a necessary development of the elements of reason. It is, therefore, an unfolding of the spirit’s self-consciousness and freedom. It is the exhibition and actualization of the universal spirit.


343. The history of mind is its own act

The history of spirit is its overt deeds, for only what it does it is, and its deed is to make itself as a spirit the object of its consciousness, to explain and lay hold upon itself by reference to itself. To lay hold upon itself is its being and principle, and the completion of this act is at the same time self-renunciation and transition. To express the matter formally, the spirit which again apprehends what has already been grasped and actualized, or, what is the same thing, passes through self-renunciation into itself, is the spirit of a higher stage.

            Note: Here occurs the question of the perfection and education of humanity. They who have argued in favor of this idea, have surmised something of the nature of spirit. They have understood that spirit has “known itself” as a law of its being, and that when it lays hold upon what it itself is, it assumes a higher form. To those who have rejected this idea, spirit has remained an empty word and history a superficial play of accidental and so-called mere human strife and passion. Though in their use of the words “providence” and “design of providence,” they express their belief in a higher control, they do not fill up the notion, but announce that the design of providence is for them unknowable and inconceivable.


344. States, nations, and individuals are all the time the unconscious tools of the world mind at work within them

States, peoples, and individuals are established upon their own particular definite principle, which has systematized reality in their constitutions and in the entire compass of their surroundings. Of this systematized reality they are aware, and in its interests are absorbed. Yet are they the unconscious tools and organs of the world-spirit, through whose inner activity the lower forms pass away. Thus the spirit by its own motion and for its own end makes ready and works out the transition into its next higher stage.


345. Each stage of world-history is a necessary moment in the Idea of the world mind

Justice and virtue, wrong, force, and crime, talents and their results, small and great passions, innocence and guilt, the splendor of individuals, national life, independence, the fortune and misfortune of states and individuals, have in the sphere of conscious reality their definite meaning and value, and find in that sphere judgment and their due. This due is, however, as yet incomplete. In world-history, which lies beyond this range of vision, the idea of the world-spirit, in that necessary phase of it which constitutes at any time its actual stage, is given its absolute right. The nation, then really flourishing, attains to happiness and renown, and its deeds receive completion.


346. History is mind clothing itself with the form of events

Since history is the embodiment of spirit in the form of events, that is, of direct natural reality, the stages of development are present as direct natural principles. Because they are natural, they conform to the nature of a multiplicity, and exist one outside the other. Hence, to each nation is to be ascribed a single principle, comprised under its geographical and anthropological existence.


347. The nation ascribed a moment of the Idea is entrusted with giving complete effect to it

To the nation, whose natural principle is one of these stages, is assigned the accomplishment of it through the process characteristic of the self-developing self-consciousness of the world-spirit. In the history of the world this nation is for a given epoch dominant, although it can make an epoch but once (§ 346). In contrast with the absolute right of this nation to be the bearer of the current phase in the development of the world-spirit, the spirits of other existing nations are void of right, and they, like those ‘whose epochs are gone, count no longer in the history of the world.

            Note: The special history of a world-historic nation contains the unfolding of its principle from its undeveloped infancy up to the time when, in the full manhood of free ethical self-consciousness, it presses in upon universal history. It contains, moreover, the period of decline and destruction, the rise of a higher principle being marked in it simply as the negative of its own. Hence, the spirit passes over into that higher principle, and thus indicates to world-history another nation. From that time onward the first nation has lost absolute interest, absorbs the higher principle positively, it may be, and fashions itself in accordance with it, but is, after all, only a recipient, and has no indwelling vitality and freshness. Perhaps it loses its independence, perhaps continues to drag itself on as a particular state or circle of states, and spends itself in various random civil enterprises and foreign broils.


348. World-historical actions, culminate with individuals as subjects — living instruments of the world mind

At the summit of all actions, including world-historical actions, stand individuals. Each of these individuals is a subjectivity who realizes what is substantive (§ 279, note). He is a living embodiment of the substantive deed of the world-spirit, and is, therefore, directly identical with this deed. It is concealed even from himself, and is not his object and end (§ 344). Thus they do not receive honor and thanks for their acts either from their contemporaries (§ 344), or from the public opinion of posterity. By this opinion they are viewed merely as formal subjectivities, and, as such, are simply given their part in immortal fame.


349. The transition from a family, a horde, &c., to political conditions is the realisation of the Idea as that nation

A people is not as yet a state. The transition from the family, horde, clan, or multitude into a state constitutes the formal realization in it of the idea. If the ethical substance, which every people has implicitly, lacks this form, it is without that objectivity which comes from laws and thought-out regulations. It has neither for itself nor for others any universal or generally admitted reality. It will not be recognized. Its independence, being devoid of objective law or secure realized rationality, is formal only and not a sovereignty.

            Note: From the ordinary point of view we do not call the patriarchal condition a constitution, or a people in this condition a state, or its independence sovereignty. Before the beginning of actual history there are found uninteresting stupid innocence and the bravery arising out of the formal struggle for recognition and out of revenge (§§ 331, 57, note).


350. The right of heroes to found states

It is the absolute right of the idea to come visibly forth, and proceeding from marriage and agriculture (§ 203, note) realize itself in laws and objective institutions. This is true whether its realization appears in the form of divine law and beneficence or in the form of force and wrong. This right is the right of heroes to found states.


351. Civilized nations are justified in regarding as barbarians those who lag behind them in institutions

In the same way civilized nations may treat as barbarians the peoples who are behind them in the essential elements of the state. Thus, the rights of mere herdsmen, hunters, and tillers of the soil are inferior, and their independence is merely formal.

            Note: Wars and contests arising under such circumstances are struggles for recognition in behalf of a certain definite content. It is this feature of them which is significant in world-history.


352. Four world-historical realms

The concrete ideas, which embody the national minds or spirits, has its truth in the concrete idea in its absolute universality. This is the spirit of the world, around whose throne stand the other spirits as perfecters of its actuality, and witnesses and ornaments of its splendor. Since it is, as spirit, only the movement of its activity in order to know itself absolutely, to free its consciousness from mere direct naturalness, and to come to itself, the principles of the different forms of its self-consciousness, as they appear in the process of liberation, are four. They are the principles of the four world-historic kingdoms.


353. The substantive spirit, ethical individuality as beauty, mind-forsaken and actual laws

In its first and direct revelation the world-spirit has as its principle the form of the substantive spirit, in whose identity individuality is in its essence submerged and without explicit justification.

            In the second principle the substantive spirit is aware of itself. Here spirit is the positive content and filling, and is also at the same time the living form, which is in its nature self-referred.

            The third principle is the retreat into itself of this conscious self-referred existence. There thus arises an abstract universality, and with it an infinite opposition to objectivity, which is regarded as deprived of spirit.

            In the fourth principle this opposition of the spirit is overturned in order that spirit may receive into its inner self its truth and concrete essence. It thus becomes at home with objectivity, and the two are reconciled. Because the spirit has come back to its formal substantive reality by returning out of this infinite opposition, it seeks to produce and know its truth as thought, and as a world of established reality.


354. Four World-Historic empires

In accordance with these four principles the four world-historic empires are (1) the Oriental, (2) the Greek, (3) the Roman, and (4) the Germanic.


355. The Oriental Empire

(1) The Oriental Empire:—The first empire is the substantive world-intuition, which proceeds from the natural whole of patriarchal times. It has no internal divisions. Its worldly government is theocracy, its ruler a high priest or God, its constitution and legislation are at the same time its religion, and its civic and legal regulations are religious and moral commands or usages. In the splendor of this totality the individual personality sinks without rights; external nature is directly divine or an ornament of God, and the history of reality is poetry. The distinctions, which develop themselves in customs, government, and the state, serve instead of laws, being converted by mere social usage into clumsy, diffuse, and superstitious ceremonies, the accidents of personal power and arbitrary rule. The division into classes becomes a caste fixed as the laws of nature. Since in the Oriental empire there is nothing stable, or rather what is firm is petrified, it has life only in a movement, which goes on from the outside, and becomes an elemental violence and desolation. Internal repose is merely a private life, which is sunk in feebleness and lassitude.

            Note: The element of substantive natural spirituality is present in the first forming of every state, and constitutes the absolute starting-point of its history. This assertion is presented and historically established by Dr. Stuhr in his well-reasoned and scholarly treatise “ Vom Untergange der Naturstaaten “ (Berlin, 1812), who, moreover, suggests in this work a rational method of viewing constitutional history and history in general. The principle of subjectivity and self-conscious freedom he ascribes to the German nation. But since the treatise is wholly taken up with the decline of the nature-states, it simply leads to the point at which this modern principle makes its appearance. At that time it assumed in part the guise of restless movement, human caprice, and corruption, in part the particular guise of feeling, not having as yet developed itself into the objectivity of self-conscious substantivity or the condition of organized law.


356. The Greek Empire

(2) The Greek Empire:—This empire still contains the earlier substantive unity of the finite and infinite, but only as a mysterious background, suppressed and kept down in gloomy reminiscence, in caves and in traditional imagery. This background under the influence of the self-distinguishing spirit is recreated into individual spirituality,

and exalted into the daylight of consciousness, where it is tempered and clarified into beauty and a free and cheerful ethical life. Here arises the principle of personal individuality, although it is not as yet self-centered, but held in its ideal unity. One result of this incompleteness is that the whole is broken up into a number of particular national minds or spirits. Further, the final decision of will is not as yet entrusted to the subjectivity of the independent self-consciousness, but resides in a power, which is higher than, and lies beyond it (§ 279, note). Moreover, the particularity, which is found in wants, is not yet taken up into freedom, but segregated in a class of slaves.


357. The Roman Empire

(3) The Roman Empire:—In this empire the distinctions of spirit are carried to the length of an infinite rupture of the ethical life into two extremes, personal private self-consciousness, and abstract universality. The antagonism, arising between the substantive intuition of an aristocracy and the principle of free personality in democratic form, developed on the side of the aristocracy into superstition and the retention of cold self-seeking power, and on the side of the democracy into the corrupt mass. The dissolution of the whole culminates in universal misfortune, ethical life dies, national individualities, having merely the bond of union of a Pantheon, perish, and individuals are degraded to the level of that equality, in which they are merely private persons and have only formal rights.


358. The German Empire

(4) The German Empire:—Owing to the loss of itself and its world, and to the infinite pain caused by it, a loss of which the Jewish people were already held to be the type, spirit is pressed back into itself, and finds itself in the extreme of absolute negativity. But this extreme is the absolute turning-point, and in it spirit finds the infinite and yet positive nature of its own inner being. This new discovery is the unity of the divine and the human. By means of it objective truth is reconciled with freedom, and that, too, inside of self-consciousness and subjectivity. This new basis, infinite and yet positive, it has been charged upon the northern principle of the Germanic nations to bring to completion.


359. The power of mind over the ordinary heart, acts against the heart as a compulsive and frightful force

The internal aspect of this northern principle exists in feeling as faith, love, and hope. Although it is in this form still abstract, it is the reconciliation and solution of all contradiction. It proceeds to unfold its content in order to raise it to reality and self-conscious rationality. It thus constructs a kingdom of this world, based upon the feeling, trust, and fellowship of free men. This kingdom in this its subjectivity is an actual kingdom of rude caprice and barbarism in contrast with the world beyond. It is an intellectual empire, whose content is indeed the truth of its spirit. But as it is yet not thought out, and still is veiled in the barbarism of picture-thinking, it exists as a spiritual force, which exercises over the actual mind a despotic and tyrannical influence.


360. The realm of mind lowers itself to an earthly here and now and the ordinary realm builds up into thought

These kingdoms are based upon the distinction, which has now won the form of absolute antagonism, and yet at the same time are rooted in a single unity and idea. In the obdurate struggle, which thus ensues, the spiritual has to lower its heaven to the level of an earthly and temporal condition, to common worldliness, and to ordinary life and thought. On the other hand the abstract actuality of the worldly is exalted to thought, to the principle of rational being and knowing, and to the rationality of right and law. As a result of these two tendencies, the contradiction has become a marrowless phantasm. The present has stripped off its barbarism and its lawless caprice, and truth has stripped off its beyond and its casualness. The true atonement and reconciliation has become objective, and unfolds the state as the image and reality of reason. In the state, self-consciousness finds the organic development of its real substantive knowing and will, in religion it finds in the form of ideal essence the feeling and the vision of this its truth, and in science it finds the free conceived knowledge of this truth, seeing it to be one and the same in all its mutually completing manifestations, namely, the state, nature, and the ideal world.


Source: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), B.4.A, tr. J. B. Baillie, and The Philosophy of Right (1821), 341-360, tr. Samuel Walters Dyde.