Hegel’s Philosophy on History

In one of his arguments, Hegel maintains that world history is the progress of the consciousness of freedom. This is in reference to the fact that a people’s history cannot be attained until all the people are completely free. Hegel is one of the renowned philosophers in the discipline of history. Such is his fame that some people have actually referred to him as the father of history. Perhaps the reason for his growing fame is in the fact he chose a unique path in putting forth his philosophy. Records document that unlike other philosophers who were isolated pagans, he chose to fashion a combination of Greek philosophy and Christianity. His understanding of philosophy is that it is a master of both religion and poetry and that it guided the latter two. Essentially, Hegel’s assertion that history is only achievable through history cannot be further from the truth.

The importance of Hegel’s role in shaping the philosophy of history cannot be underestimated. Even when critics argue against his premises and/or conclusions, it points to the fact that his findings were very important. Hegel was the first person to establish philosophy as an academic subject and thereby making it the center of any philosophical education (Sweet, 2004, pp 14). His growing importance is evidenced in the many revolutions that emerged after his time, most of which were against his assertions. Even when these latter movements argue against his premises, they cannot be understood in the absence of the original Hegel philosophy. All these revolts agree that Hegel was an outstanding idealist and even conform to his teachings. For instance, Marx swallows as much of Hegel’s philosophy as he rejects and in terms of the Hegelian dialect.

To prove his assertion of world history being an advancement of freedom, Hegel traces the shifts in Eastern and Western civilizations. In so doing, the philosopher adequately captures the development of freedom and the consciousness of the same. Indeed, history travels from the East to the West in the fact that it moves from Asia to Europe. This movement is a manifestation of the development and maturity of the consciousness of freedom as is suggested in the Hegelian philosophy. According to him, the childhood of history is rooted in the Asian civilization which was ostensibly the first one to be experienced on Earth. Further down the line is the Greek civilization which marks the adolescent age of history. After the Greek civilization, the world is served with the Roman civilization which is a mark of adulthood development of history. Immediately and lastly, Germanic civilization emerges marking the old age, and equally the fourth phase of world history.

In making this theory about the development of the consciousness of the world as regards freedom, Hegel makes a number of assumptions. Top among these assumptions is the belief that the Germanic civilization is the last form of history development (Perkins, 1984, pp 76). To say this is to mean that it is the true measure of freedom and/or history thereby rendering the other types of civilization untenable.  Accordingly, and truly, the Asians have been recorded as having acknowledged the despot as the only free person of their time. Indeed, only the rulers were free from any form of abuse and exploitation. It is for this reason that people formed their private militias to guard themselves form oppression. Ideally, in Asian civilization, power was a sign of freedom and the only people who had power were despots. Essentially, all the other people were not free but lived in bondage under the rule of the despots.

While the Asian civilization could be referred to as a stage of freedom development, freedom did not exist in its proper understanding. What was termed as freedom then cannot be deemed as freedom now because it depended on the despot’s expression of recklessness. Moving on, the development of freedom moves into the Greece and Rome civilizations where the consciousness of freedom was manifested through the acknowledgement of some of the people being free. In these cultures, some people had a higher say on the freedom of others as slavery was evidently practiced. In fact, slavery, despite restricting freedom was widely accepted among both the Romans and the Greeks.

In the latter civilization stages, freedom was not guaranteed for all and slavery was an accepted institution. It is only at the incidence of the Germanic civilization that all people were acknowledged to be free, and equally free. Through the Germanic civilization, the world attained the consciousness of universal freedom. An interesting perspective of the Germanic civilization and the last phase of world history emerge. It is assumed that the influence of Christianity resulted in the achievement of this type of freedom consciousness. As thus philosophy integrates with religion and particularly Christianity in attaining universal freedom for all the people. It is not surprising therefore that Hegelian philosophy draws a lot of criticism and controversy. It is to be noted that most of the critics of Hegel are pagans who probably do not agree with the notion that Christianity or any religion for that matter should be mixed with philosophy.

Indeed the development of consciousness of freedom is the true measure of the world’s history. Through the events between the first to the last civilization, Hegel’s assertion are proven to be true. However, the people of China and India that largely form the Asian civilization, only a small fraction of consciousness exist as regards to world freedom and history. Essentially, true history does not begin until the emergence of Persian rise later on. In both India and China, the factors that determine the nature of the Spirit are absent (Hegel, 2012, pp 72). In this, Hegel uses the term Spirit to refer to Reason or rather logic. As thus the idea of true consciousness of freedom are restricted to nature and do not exist out of human’s free will.

Chinese nationals equate morality with legislative enactments which is a reserve of the emperor. Therefore, the emperor is assumed to be the only determinant of freedom and decides who and when to get the freedom. His will and passions constitute a form of authority in the fact that his words become law and whatever he deems fit should then be applied to all the people. Moreover, the emperor was bestowed with responsibilities and duties of political affairs thereby making him the supreme priest of the country’s religion. Despite these acknowledgements having been archaic, it is sad to say that China still follows the same pattern even in the modern world. The government has the right to subject individuals to punishments and the citizenry do not have a right of reprieve.

According to Hegel, religion was subjected to the despotic rule of the bureaucratic organs of the Asian nations (Stewart, 2000, pp 48). This is to mean that the despots were also the leaders of religion in their respective capacities. It is not surprising therefore, that most of these nations forming the Asian civilization had little or no trace of freedom consciousness. In India, the civilization recorded is similarly bonded to nature. The caste system that was very prevalent in the Asian country is one example of the bondage that was encountered in the country. It turned out that individuals had no say in the positions that they attained but this was chosen by nature. For instance, leadership was hereditary and a reserve of the first born sons thereby providing no chance of choice to the people involved. In so doing, the country rendered nature as t5he governor of the powers and authority in the Asian country. Ideally, the Asian civilization subdued the idea of freedom consciousness within the confines of nature thereby limiting its manifestation in the spirit of the people.

Hegel views the Persians as the first people to exhibit historical consciousness through the use of light as a symbol for that which is good. According to the people, light was an important element in the provision of conditions that necessitated the exercise of choice. Through this light,. The people could then utilize choice, action and deeds in their daily lives. Hegel argues that these three components make up the stuff of history as defined in his theory. Fortunately, the Persians were privy to the importance of history and its definition as a battle between the evil and the good. Through this battle, the actors were constantly and inescapably faced with the ability to choose between what is right and evil. Despite the success seen among the Persians in pursuing freedom, they recorded deficiencies in the fact that they allowed slavery to thrive in their midst. They therefore failed to grasp the opportunity to let good prevail over evil and assumed that good would continue to exist even in the face of evil. True as it may, the allowance that they gave to evil was detrimental to the gains achieved through good.

The next phase of development is termed as the adult age of historical development. In this stage, the consciousness of freedom has developed up to maturity but it still lacks in terms of complete maturity. Hegel argues that this stage is ideal in the fact that humans realize the importance of freedom for all. However, the freedom of all humans is not attained due to the existence of a number of limitations. In the Roman and Greek civilizations, there exists some form of consciousness but not fully complete (Perkins, 1984, pp 51). In fact, it is in Rome that Christianity started to develop and thus guaranteeing the freedom of most of the people. The state developed as a whole with the members being parts that made the whole. The freedom of the individuals was constantly sacrificed in an attempt to meet the national demands of the country. This is to say that the citizenry in their individual capacities were subject to surrendering themselves for the national ends to be met. The interest of history is therefore detached from the citizens and is only a product of the country as a whole. The fore goings in Rome and Greece led to the individuals to seek individual rights in consolation from the loss of their freedoms.

The effects of the detachment of the individual from the consciousness of freedom are the fire that ignited a spiritual solution to the struggle. Essentially, the religion is separated from the state and the political aspects of the country making it grow spiritually. It is obvious that the religion did not have oversight over the emperor and thus was not sovereign in its operations. It is not surprising that Christian was always subjected to persecution as most of the ideals that it taught were inconsistent with the despotic ideals. It is through these civilizations that morality came to be appreciated as part of historical consciousness in the world.

The next phase is one that is described as the final phase of this development. Hegel is seen to be commending this phase of world history as the ideal scenario that should grip the earth. However, his assertions remain to be proved true. The Germanic civilization is rendered the fourth phase of world history and a very important aspect of freedom’s development (Sweet, 2004). In fact, Hegel refers to this phase as the old age of the spirit making it the most mature and strong stage of development. Although the old age of most things is identified with weaknesses, the Germanic civilization is unique in its ability to unite and develop the character of spirits.

Again, spirit as used in Hegel’s context refers to the existence of reason or logic in the minds of human beings. It is an extension of the availability and utilization of the consciousness regarding world history and freedom. Whereas the Greek and Roman civilizations had maturity as their last step, the Germanic civilization didn’t stop there. Rather, it embarked on a journey of breaking down the weak and detrimental fabrics that contained the civilized world. It is through this that the civilization impacted on the development of history largely due to the existence of foreign religion and culture. In this assertion, Hegel portrays the importance of mixing different elements of culture to come up with strong consciousness of the world history.

The success of the Germanic civilization is largely due to the ability of the people to take up the positive aspects of the previous civilizations. In particular, the Roman and Greek civilizations imparted the values of Christianity which were pivotal in making the development successful. The Christian religion was not just hollow but possessed the philosophies of the Greek and Roman world. In this civilization, the people accept that the spirit is more important than the world in as far as the development of history is concerned. Nature, even when secluded must be treated as an embodiment of reason and should not dictate the path that humans take at the expense of reason. The Germanic civilization is a true manifestation of the real world and how humans ought to relate with each other. Hegel leans towards the achievement of freedom consciousness as the only true measure of world history. The outcomes of the past civilizations and the stability of the modern ones absolve the philosopher from any criticism. His theory is an ideal reality of what should be practiced and of the value of freedom consciousness.

Hegel’s philosophy is proof that history is not constant but a continuous advancement to something better. Indeed, world history is a progress of the conscious of freedom in the fact that history continues to improve human lives. Essentially, every revolution is geared towards making the world better. Every major event that finds its place in the books of history must make an impact on the lives of humans. These impacts cannot be left at the mercy of nature which is only a cycle that repeats itself every now and then (Hegel, 2012, pp 83). Rather, history which is an active form of these changes must be involved for the changes to make any meaningful sense. In fact the history of this world occupies a much better position than that which is occupied by morality. And although doubts have been cast as regards to the ability of history to make mankind better, the world must dictate the course of its history.

There is no doubt that Hegel’s importance in defining the philosophy of history is unmatched. The philosopher is credited with the formalization of philosophy and the integration of the same teachings in education. Whereas, the achievements of Hegel cannot be limited to one discipline alone, the subject of philosophy of history is one he perfectly explored.  In his own words, it can be affirmed that there is nothing great in the world that has been or can be achieved in the absence of passion. People that have been motivated by the passions and desires within them must power the historical processes of the world. This is to say that the process cannot be left at the mercy of nature to determine its course. Doing so would be lethal for the development of human kind and the consciousness of freedom. This is the only way that true consciousness for freedom can be achieved.



HEGEL, G. W. F. (2012). Philosophy of History. Dover Publications. http://lib.myilibrary.com?id=564971.

PERKINS, R. L. (1984). History and system: Hegel’s philosophy of history. Albany, State University of New York Press.

STEWART, J. (2000). The unity of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”: a systematic interpretation. Evanston, Ill, North Western University Press. Pp 309

SWEET, W. (2004). The philosophy of history: a re-examination. Aldershot, Hants, England, Ashgate.

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