A Hegelian search for history’s soul

published on January 13, 2009

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By M P Ajith Kumar*

   

   
Of the many original philosophers of History, Hegel proves to be the most
outstanding. Many of his ideas on History and universal truths find themselves
in agreement with those of the former thinkers who had direct audience with
such truths. Indeed, truth is always the same and is beyond all relativities
was a fact present to their powerful realization. This realization with it’s
deep impact on man’s intelligence to know oneself as the inseparable part of
this universal truth or the ‘Idea’ as he called it, helped him develop so
sublime a view of history as to elevate it from mere materialist shackles. To
him historical movements are guided by this ‘Idea’ and history is the way that
helps one understand it or the ‘reason’ behind every development. In short it
is the way to philosophy. History is to him the study into the ultimate reason,
or the divine, which manifests itself in everything and all the universal
phenomena. And he took dialectics as the guiding principle behind the manifestation
of the ‘Idea’.

 

This
idea regarding the ‘Being’ of the universe was well within the vision of many
early thinkers, Eastern as well as Western. Through their own different
cultural jargons they theorised it. Chinese coined the term ‘Tao’ and dwelt at
length and mystically with how it works out the cosmic phenomena. Their
balanced approach to life and things was guided by their life’s philosophy
couched in the flowerbed of Yin-Yang harmony, another early example of
dialectics. Dialectics or dynamism was thus the characteristic central nature
of the ‘Idea’ or the ‘Being’ envisioned by thinkers of early civilisations. The
phenomenon of dialectics can well be illustrated in the light of the concept of
war as enunciated by the early Greek philosopher, Heraclitus to whom ”war is
the father of all creations”. He believed that all progress of man springs out
of war, which to him was the meeting ground where the seemingly opposite forces
make their harmonious rendezvous. Dialectics is the harmonising phenomenon that
maintains the continuity of the universe. Without the dialectics the Idea
cannot express itself and would remain immutable, it being the essential
condition for the world’s forward march to a progressive future. ‘Idea’ is the
soul, and dialectics the vehicle it takes to worldly manifestations. If to
quote Albert Einstein “what is more important is the awareness regarding the
overpowering meaningfulness of a super personal content”. This turns more
meaningful and explanatory when set against the backdrop of ancient
Indian   philosophy, which is analytical and logical on these aspects.

 

 Nothing
can be definitely said about the antiquity of the Indian idea of the universal
soul except that it found itself embedded in the ancient lore. After having summed
up the philosophical contents of all the spiritual literature, the author of
the Gita concludes: “The idea behind the whole existence is the eternal truth
which is uncleavable and incombustible. Neither water can soak it, nor can air
dry it up. It is eternal, all pervading, static and primeval”. It is this
universal energy that abides in everything and gives life to all phenomena or
developments. This infinite energy, Indians worshiped, and called it God. The
‘Idea’ does not die though it appears to be; it withdraws to the background and
remains potential to reappear once again and preserve the continuity of
existence. Change ensures permanence. The tree does not die so long as the seed
remains. Sow the seed, and the tree would reappear. Dialectics or the universal
dynamism helps the ‘Idea’ or the ‘Reason’ to manifest itself into Beauty and
perfection. This is what the Gita means when it says, ‘Beauty’ is the
expression of the divine and action is one of the ways to realise it.

 

The
entire historical process thus being directed by the Dialectics, Hegel looked
to history as the way to philosophy. Culture is the outward expression of this
Idea or the Beauty, and it is destined that nations and the peoples are to move
in with the dictates of this Idea, which is the Divine Mind and the only
reality. “Reason is the sovereign of the world”, it being the spirit that works
out  all the developments.  

 

      
“Political genius consists in identifying yourself with a principle”, he wrote
and he identified himself with the principle of nationalism or the “spirit of
the people”. He had the firm conviction that a group of cultured nations can
give the world a desirable guidance. But this ideal had unfortunately fallen
into the political manual of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The idea
of a Philosopher King evolved itself into rather a worn out concept to the
European statesmen who were recklessly mad after muscle-power and arrogant
nationalism with the result that they paid least heed to the call of the
spirit. The best example for the teaching on the sublime and enlightened
nationalism can be had from the philosophy of patriotism discoursed by the
Italian thinker Joseph Mazzini who believed that God has written each line
about a specific mission on the forehead of every nation, and that this special
mission constitutes it’s sacred nationality. This kind of philosophers of
nationalism abounded in Germany
with it’s soul sung and sublimated by it’s thinkers and poets like Goethe,
Fichte, Wagner, Beethoven, Nietzsche, etc. Nietzsche’s preference of a ‘Will to
power’ to a ‘Will to live’ was surely to strengthen the German nationalism. An
‘ascetic’s self conquest’ or a ‘scientist’s intellectual conquest of the
cosmos’ being the two examples of this ‘Will to power’ as cited by Nietzsche,
it would have, if applied with wisdom and soul-force, added to the
enlightenment and spiritual vigour of the mighty German nationalism. And had
the united and powerful Germany
been put by its statesmen on an ethical track to be the moral leader helping
the comity of nations to speed up along with her in both material and spiritual
progress the history of the last one and a half centuries would have been
different.

 

 But
here again the ‘Idea’ or the ‘Reason’ behind history worked so mysteriously as
to make it will otherwise! Bismarck,
as the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo rightly observes, took Nietzsche’s
‘Will to power’ for a will to the powerful subjugation of other nations. And he
took Germany
into the vertex of the world war, which, as Aurobindo says, was a collusion of
a misunderstood national ideology or an unenlightened nationalism with a much
progressive science. The politician’s misunderstanding of the message of the
national soul proved disastrous to Germany whose successive slapdash
into the wars only boomeranged upon her. The message of the national soul is
thus very clear: make policies or invite new ideas, which would suit to the
national ideology, its tradition and heritage. Any tampering of the nation-soul
can only bring doom and destruction to itself and the world culture, a lesson
that can be learnt from the history of Russia. Russia had down the centuries been
subjected to westernization many times. First, it was Peter the Great to bring
the western systems to this oriental country. Second was the Napoleonic
invasion. Russia
rejected the both outright. Third was the imposition of the Marxian ideology
about which some of the Russian thinkers had reservations. Russia had a
soul energized and sublimated by it’s literature, it’s countryside piety, and
above all a Christianity true to the tradition of Jesus Christ, a Christianity
far away from the market oriented religion of the West. It was indeed a
desirable harmony of the values of Christ crucified by the inhuman West and the
philanthropic elements of the Marxian ideology, graced with Russia’s countryside piety which thinkers like
Dostoyevski wanted to see flourishing in Russia. Having been convinced of
the humanitarian ideas in both Christianity and Marxism, Dostoyevski was
perhaps the early one among a few to believe that Christ was perhaps the first
Marxist. He meant Christ when he heard of Marx. The true Russian as he was, he
could see in the both eternal values which can impart continuity to the
humanitarian culture of his motherland. Russia’s Christ was the very same
Christ of the Orient, different from the West’s stock-in-trade or the trademark
of exploitation. And in Marxism too, especially in it’s call to uplift the
lowest and the lost, Dostoyevski could see the pious Christ addressing to the
poor and nursing the ailing ones. But unfortunately Russia did not progress in with
such a noble vision. It was not Dostoyevski Christianity but Tolstoy’s Marxism
that won with the result that Russia
was once again westernized. But this westernization thrust upon would not be
accepted by Russia in the long run and that the “next thousand years of Russia
would belong to Dostoyevski’s Christianity”, predicted Oswald Spengler, the
philosopher from the very same land of Hegel, in the early half of the
twentieth century when the red-hot iron pole of the Communist flag was thrust
deep into the glacial and frozen capital of Russia which was brooding over its
distant cultural past. This prediction derivative of a highly intuitive and
intellectual understanding of the nation-soul and an analytical perusal of Russia’s
psychic chemistry was not to fall wide off the mark. The Communist state born
in 1917 breathed it’s last in 1989. And the world once again heard from the
utterance of the Russian Communist party leader, Gennady Zuganav what
Dostsyevski had in mind years ago: “Christ was the first Marxist”.

 

Adapt
ideology in such a way as to fit in with the national mind, is the lesson what
the history of Russia
like that of any other nation teaches. If foreign ideologies are imbibed and be
supplemented, rather than supplanted, to the national culture that can be a
desirable addition, which strengthens the nation. The story of the
Chinese   best illustrates this. The kingdom where the Son of Heaven
ruled down the centuries was not ready to bid farewell to its ancient culture.
Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, its medical system of Acupuncture and all the
wealth of tradition continued to be the living systems of China’s
national life even during the days of the European penetration and afterwards
under the communist rule. The antagonism towards the European religion which
began in the days of the Opium wars and had it’s acrimonious expression in the
Thaiping and Boxer rebellions, the Chinese harboured even in the Communist
regime. The religious conversion movement, which the European nations have been
going on with, as a means to alienate the native people from the national
cultures in the New World, was made a punishable offence in the Communist
China. Thus eliminating all the alienating influences and assimilating all what
were good in Communist ideology into the national life, the colossal state of
China marched down the decades of progress and prosperity, often rectifying the
political and ideological mistakes, if any, of the past. It is here that the
philosophies of nationalism, envisioned by the thinkers like Hegel gains
all-time relevance.

 

*
Senior Lecturer in History, SanatanaDharmaCollege, Alappuzha.


 

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