Dale, Eric M.: Hegel, the End of History, and the Future

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Author: Anton Barba-Kay
Date: June 2015
From: The Review of Metaphysics(Vol. 68, Issue 4)
Publisher: Philosophy Education Society, Inc.
Document Type: Book review
Length: 813 words
Lexile Measure: 1500L

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DALE, Eric M. Hegel, the End of History, and the Future. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. xii + 260 pp. Cloth, $95.00--Hegel's thought is widely associated with the notion of the "end of history," the notion that he understood his own philosophical project as itself identifying, heralding, and in some sense constituting the beginning of the final stage of absolute human freedom. Time would still pass, there might be variations and atavisms, but the practices and institutions of bourgeois modernity would be understood as providing the basic culminating pattern for all human progress. Mankind would at last be what it had implicitly aspired to become all along. Or so goes the stock description. Dale sets out to show why this is the wrong understanding of Hegel and how such a characterization became prevalent in the first place. He admits from the outset that most Hegel scholars do not hold such a view, but Dale is undeniably right that the misconception persists in the textbook view of Hegel, as in the general, educated public. Dale's refutation has the virtue of being both a very helpful excavation of the intellectual roots of how the "end of history" tag came to be attached to Hegel and of providing us, in its stead, with a novel account of the latter's world-historical teleology that is more consonant with the rest of his work.

The book is accordingly divided into two parts, the first of which pursues the genealogy of the error back through Fukuyama, Kojeve, Engels, and Nietzsche. Dale shows how each of these figures in effect created the view of Hegel that was best suited (whether by contrast or agreement) to their own philosophical concerns. Nietzsche uses Hegel as a foil, associating him with the nineteenth-century triumphalist view that history must turn out as it has and that the way it has turned out is fully rational. Engels likewise argues that Hegel's views in fact entail the end of history, as his system could not discharge its ambition for absolute knowledge without also committing him to the position that history holds nothing new in store. Dale then underlines Kojeve as the single most important source of the misattribution. It was in Kojeve's lectures in the 1930s that Hegel was first forcefully made responsible for holding an end-of-history thesis, no longer as a foil but as a vehicle for Kojeve's own Marxist, Stalinist views. As a reading of Hegel per se, Kojeve's views are distorting and tendentious, though their brilliance, accessibility, and the Cold War context from which they issued--with its prevailing sense of imminent final struggle--rendered them extremely popular to an influential generation of French intellectuals. Fukuyama's well-known End of History and the Last Man continued to read Hegel through Kojeve's lens, even as Fukuyama identified the "end" not with the triumph of the Soviet Union, but with its collapse and the victory of capitalism.

Dale is alive to the fact that it is not enough for him to discredit these views of Hegel; he must also show both what it is within Hegel's thought that might have lent itself to such a misunderstanding, and why it indeed counts as a misunderstanding. This is the task of the second part of his book. He sets up the question by locating Hegel's philosophy of history as a mean between the two extremes of Herder's and Fichte's, each of which is discussed at length. Herder is presented as judging each epoch within its own context, denying that there could be any privileged position from which one could make claims about progress or history as a whole, while Fichte is presented as holding just such a grand apriorist narrative. Hegel is then argued to retain what is best from each position (attention to concrete historical events and philosophical teleology); though, given that Dale makes no attempt to show that Hegel understood himself as so situated (or that he even knew of the work of Fichte in question), this procedure feels somewhat artificial.

The remainder of the book defends the continuing plausibility of an open-ended processual understanding of Hegel's historical teleology, with an eye to several important parallel issues within his oeuvre (for instance, the statement that "what is rational is actual"). Dale does not duck the passages that would prima facie constitute evidence that Hegel did hold an end-of-history thesis--"Europe is essentially the end of history," most flagrantly--and he concedes that there are systematic pressures within Hegel's overall encyclopedic project that tend to suggest some form of final historical climax. He is surely right, however, that the balance of evidence is against the notion that Hegel understood himself as committed to such a view. It is, after all, one of Hegel's best-known dicta that philosophy fully comprehends an era only once it has grown old, that the owl of Minerva takes flight at dusk.--Anton Barba-Kay, The Catholic University of America

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A419266536