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On Development and the Progress of History


Lectures on the Philosophy of World History

The Principle of Development

Historical change in the abstract sense has long been apprehended in a general way as involving a progression toward a better and more perfect condition. Changes in nature, no matter how diverse they are, exhibit only an eternally recurring cycle. In nature there is nothing new under the sun, and in this respect the manifold play of its shapes carries on in wearing some fashion. Something new emerges only through the changes that take place in the spiritual realm. Purely natural things have one and the same quality, an always stable character, into which all changes return and within which they are subject to it. The phenomenon of the spiritual as it appears in humans shows an altogether different character –an actual capacity for change, indeed, as has been said, a change in the direction of completion, an impulse of perfectibility. This principle, which makes change itself into a [basic] precept, has been grievously attacked by religions such as the Catholic and also by states that claim it to be their true right to be static or at least stable. While mutability is generally acknowledged with regard to worldly things such as states, an exception is made in the case of religion, as the religion of truth. Moreover, it is possible to ascribe changes, revolutions, and the destruction of legitimate rights panly to contingencies and misfortunes but principally to the frivolity, corruption, and evil passions of human beings. Perfectibility is in fact something almost as indeterminate as change itself; it is without aim and end; that toward which it supposedly tends, the better and the perfect, is completely unspecified.

The principle of development has a further aspect: there is at its basis an inner determination, an implicit presupposition, that it brings into existence. This formal determination is an essential one: the spirit whose matter, property, and field of actualization is world history is not one that drifts about in the external play of contingencies but is rather a spirit that is in itself the absolutely determining [power]; its own distinctive determination stands firmly against contingencies, which it makes use of and governs [for its own purposes]. But natural organisms are also capable of development. Their existence   is not simply an immediate one that can be altered only by external influences; rather it proceeds from its own inner unchangeable principle, from a simple essence whose existence as a germ is at first likewise simple but then brings distinctions forth from itself into determinate being. These distinctive features engage with other things and thereby undergo a process of change; but this is a process that continuously reverts to its opposite and instead maintains the organic principle and its configurations intact. Thus the organic individual produces itself; it makes itself into what it is in itself. Spirit too is simply what makes itself; it makes itself into what it is inherently. But the development of the organic individual is such that it produces itself an immediate, unopposed, and unhindered fashion; nothing can intrude between the concept and its realization, between the implicitly determined nature of the germ and the adequacy of its existence to its nature.

With spirit, however, it is otherwise. The transition of its determinate nature into its actual existence is mediated by consciousness and will. The latter are at first immersed in their immediate natural life; their object and purpose are at first their natural determination as such. Because it is spirit that animates them, consciousness and will [consist] of infinite demands, strength, and wealth. So spirit itself is opposed to itself; it has to overcome itself as the genuine and hostile hindrance to its purpose. Development, which as such is a peaceful procedure because in its expression it remains simultaneously equivalent to and within itself, is, within spirit, in a hard and ceaseless conflict with itself. Spirit wants to attain to its own concept, but it conceals itself from it and is proud and full of satisfaction in its alienation from itself.

[Spiritual] development, therefore, is not just a harmless and conflict-free process of emergence, as in organic life, but rather a hard and obstinate labor directed to itself; moreover, it involves not merely the formal aspect of developing as such but rather the production of a purpose or end with a specific content. We have established from the beginning what this end is: it is spirit, and indeed spirit in accord with its essence, the concept of freedom. This is the fundamental object and thus also the driving principle of development. Such an object is that from which development derives its meaning and significance; so for example in Roman history Rome is the object, which guides the consideration of events, while the events in turn proceed only from this object, deriving their meaning from their relationship to it and having their substance in it.

In world history there have been several great periods of development that came to an end without any apparent continuation. As a consequence all the vast accomplishments of culture were destroyed, which unfortunately made it necessary to start over from the beginning in order to regain–with some help perhaps from salvaged fragments of past treasures and with a renewed and immeasurable expenditure of energy and time, of crimes and suffering–one of the domains of past culture that was mastered long ago. At the same time there have been enduring developments, fertile and expansive structures and systems of culture with their distinctive elements. The formal principle of development as such can neither assign superiority to one [form of culture] over another nor make intelligible the purpose behind the destruction of earlier periods of development. Rather it must regard such progressions, and in particular the retrogressions they include, as outwardly chance occurrences; and it can only evaluate the merits [of a culture] by employing indeterminate criteria that are relative and not absolute ends, since the development is what finally matters.


The Progress of History

The cultural formation of spirit occurs in time. Spirit has a history because of what it is, because it exists only through its labor, through the elaboration of its immediate form, thereby raising itself to a consciousness of itself and thus to a higher standpoint. The quality of the negative is intrinsic to time. For us it is something positive, an event or happening. But what characterizes time is that the opposite can also happen–the relationship of what has being to its nonbeing is time. Time is the wholly abstract realm of the sensible. Duration is the sameness of determinate being, where the nonbeing of this being does not intrude. But cultural formation, because it is the development of spirit and also contains its self-negation, occurs in time.

Here we enter into a consideration of change or alteration (Veränderung), how it occurs in nature, and the alteration of spirit. A comparison of the alteration of spirit and of nature shows that the singular is subject to change. In physical nature everything is transitory, and the same is true of the singular in spirit. In nature, however, in this persistent change, classes and species (Gattungen) endure. So the planets move from place to place but the orbit persists; and it is the same with animal species. Alteration here is cyclical, constant repetition of the same. Nothing new is produced by all the changes in nature; this is why nature is tedious. Everything happens in cycles, and individual things change only in keeping with their cycles. Interactions of the individual cycles present no obstacle to the persistence of these cycles. It is otherwise, however, with the shape of spirit in history. Here change affects not merely the superficial aspect but enters into the concept itself; it is a concrete alteration. The concept of a shape in history itself is enhanced and corrected. In nature the species makes no progress. But in spirit the change presses to a new stage (Stufe), and every change is progress: yet all the individual offshoots continue to exis

G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Volume 1, Manuscripts of the Lectures 1816-1831 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2011), pp.107-110; 155-156.