Hegel’s Retreat from Eleusis

Kelly, George Armstrong. Hegel’s Retreat from Eleusis. Princeton, 1978.


We do not know whether Hegel read Fichte’s incendiary tract against the German Burkeans, but it seems likely that he did, since it was, to say the least, hot copy among young intellectuals. In any case, the contemporary associations of lordship and bondage are not to be understood without the illustrations from across the Rhine.

However, when Hegel came to formulate his mature system, he was, as we now know, not an unqualified admirer of the French Revolution or of the autocracy of abstract reason with its “bad infinity.”  The new “right of conquest” had no more appeal than the old. Like all stages of human struggle, the oppositions of the ego had to be reconciled, not concluded in a new unilateral domination. In the primitive scenario of the Phenomenology the resolution of lordship and bondage is in “stoicism,” and it is probably no accident that there are resemblances between this form of consciousness and Kant’s transcendental idealism, the idea posed above the French Revolution. Though I do not want to draw parallels out of context in Hegel’s system, it may not be amiss to call attention to the climate of ideas in which his thoughts about lordship and bondage developed. Undoubtedly the split-personality view of contemporary European philosophy counts for much.