By Lea Ofeaa

Dialectical Historicism had become highly influential from the 19th century to the present times. Although many would recognize that this concept was from Fredrich Hegel (1770-1831), he had only been apart of the completion of Historicism. Although completing it, he had influenced this philosophy greatly. But, in order to understand the Hegel’s concept of Dialectic of Historicism, one would first have to know his background. Hegel, born at the end of the 18th century, lived at the age of rationalism and reasoning, where God and divinity had become aworthless source for the way of life. Many have argued whether his philosophy could be categorized as religious, although few would say otherwise that the Hegel’s concept of historicism does base itself on theological foundation.

A disciple of Hegel, Karl Marx (1818-1883), however, conceptualized Dialectical Materialism. After Hegel, the Hegelian followers had split into two factions, i.e. the old and the young Hegelians, or the right wing and the left wing. The right wing, as being more conservative, had followed the fundamental basis of Hegel’s philosophy. The Young Hegelians, however, believed that Hegel’s philosophy had not been complete, or even achieved, as the world had still contradicted his aspect of Freedom and Absolute Knowledge. Karl Marx belonged to the left wing of Hegelian followers, criticizing that the fundamental path of Hegel’s philosophy was too abstract, making it easy to be misapplied. Instead of emphasizing on human experience or development, which is the normal path of Hegel, Marx emphasized on material aspects, which he considered to be more concrete than that of Hegel’s Geist or mind.

Dialectical Historicism

“The real is Rational, and Rational is real.”

Hegel, who had been influenced by the works of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), was not necessarily a follower of his philosophy. Kant believed that human nature was “eternally divided between angels and apes,” which could and have been differently interpreted by several scholars. But Hegel had differed his ideas and philosophy from that of Kant. Professor Singer had assessed Hegel’s interpretation of the Kant’s idea of human nature to be rather pessimistic, in contrast to the idealistic philosophy of Hegel, by saying that Hegel’s conception of Kant was in the phase of romanticism, and his idea reflected the time that had undergone in Europe.

Being greatly influenced by the Greek philosophers and the Greek civilization, Hegel had idealized the Greeks by stating that they had lived with desire and in harmony with reason. The Greeks were of individual harmony and not of societal harmony, and it was because they had not developed in the sense of individual consciousness. This means that they lacked the knowledge to think for themselves. Whereby Hegel held Socrates, and the actions taken by the Greek philosopher in high esteem, as it were Socrates who urged people to think by questioning, and this initiated the faltering of “alienation” and the rise of individual consciousness.

Regarding human involvement in the inevitable change, Hegel believed that all challenges contain the conflicting elements, which, cause destabilization and cannot go forward, and later it will break down into a solution allowing the conflicting elements to disintegrate. Then the solution will create a new situation and will instigate a new conflicting element. This process will go on and on. Hegel called it as the “dialectical process” or “historical process”, which he formulated into three elements to help understand historical changes or evolution:

Thesis + Anti-thesis = Synthesis

According to Hegel, the process is not random, but, as he believed, there is a goal to achieve from the past to the future process. To him, it is what is called Geist, the development of consciousness, which will ultimately lead to freedom. According to Hegel, freedom will be truly attained through the achievement of absolute knowledge and the abandonment of the concept of alienation only.

But what is Geist? The reason why Hegel is considered a theologian is related  to the imposition he creates with this word in his philosophy. Geist means spirit in the German language, it could also be applied in the Christian faith, Heiliger Geist (Holy Ghost) or Holy Spirit. It was not a simple reasoning of mind, which the society had believed in it to be through their own efforts. Hegel tried to emphasize that there is Spirit or Mind (Geist) which exists beyond our own individual or societal mind, and which had been, have been and will always be playing the role in historical development. It is through this Mind (capital “M” for a divine being), will the goal of developing own individual mind be achieved.

Hegel had tried to bring together the concept of faith, which in Christianity had separated the divine being of God from the mundaneness of the word, as to embody God within the world and as a manifestation of the world. At which Professor Singer calls Hegel a pantheist. To achieve this, again, would be an abandonment of alienation, because the concept of alienation is to survive within and be apart of the world, but without control or knowledge or involvement to the shaping of the world. The aim of Hegel is exactly the following: for people, to be conscious of the events and situation, to be apart of the evolution of “historical process;, and only when this is achieved, will control be achieved. With the Mind, will the individual mind grow, because to Hegel, Mind is the ultimate reality of the world “The real is Rational, and Rational is the real.”

Dialectical Materialism

As was mentioned earlier, Marx was a student of Hegel, and had been a Hegelian. In the aspect of Dialectical Materialism, Marx had not changed any formula or fundamental approach of the Hegelian philosophy. The aspect that Marx had differed in his philosophy was the diversion of the process of human experience, which was metaphysical and abstract in Hegel, to a more simplistic form of object, material. This obviously changes everything.

An alternative term given to the dialectics of materialism was Philosophy of Praxis, which emphasized on the practical means. Marx’s aim was to change the world through a collective means of the masses. He was not focusing on individual consciousness, but on human consciousness. The concept of old materialism had focused on individual roles, which had been explained to have benefitted and led to the bourgeois class. This reflected the class-consciousness that existed during that time, namely proletariat and the bourgeoisie. As the bourgeois class had made up the minority, Marx was a communitarian, not focusing on civil society, but on human society.

The major focus of materialism is praxis, which means practice, because the condition of life, according to Marx, creates ideas. Therefore, focusing on the economic structure, he believed that history develops through material means and economical structure. The problem was related to the lack of control of the economical structure by the masses, and the division of society into  two classes was the main problem for Marx. He believed that the most effective society is one that takes part in sensuous and practical activity, which means that they feel everything they do – they sow the seeds and harvest their own crops which is fully deserve instead of accepting the rule of bourgeoisie over the majority, who were getting a large piece of the harvest.

Comparison of Historicism & Materialism Dialectics

The main differences between these two philosophies are comprehensive. The only similarity has among them was  the concept of change, as both philosophers used it as a tool to achieve their goal of ‘realization’. Hegel’s philosophy tried to capture the process of change through the means of analysing history. Marx applied the same approach but he did not entertain the concept of history because, according to him, it cannot be seen and does not provide a solution. It only provided feedback on what supposed to be done for the present and future.

Hegel’s focus was more individualistic, it had no concept of materialistic agenda, nor did his philosophy aim at changing the world in the material aspect. Hegel’s aim was to analyse the process of evolution of history and its development only. His aim was to reawaken and create consciousness for people to be apart of the events and situation of the world, and, at the same time, to conform the realization that was greatly playing a role to shape and provide the ideas for the betterment of the world. It was largely an internal and personal factor that Hegel had tried to influence. All these factors mark Hegel as an idealist.

Marx on the other hand, as an atheist, had no concept of divinity in his philosophy. In comparison of the two, it could be simply said that Marx was “Matter instead of Mind”. In order to achieve the most idealistic way of life, Marx believed, yes, people needed to use their minds, but he did not try to convey the same message. Instead a message, he tried to convey the way that, “you could have better things if you used your mind and worked together.” These two dialectics, accordingly, are totally dialectical.

Writer is a final year student at Department of History and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia

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