Historical Background

  • Adriaan Th. Peperzak
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’histoire des Idees book series (ARCH, volume 113)


A complete understanding of the Preface to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right presupposes not only a relatively good knowledge of his philosophy, including the philosophy of right which this preface introduces, but also an extensive familiarity with the political conditions and university conditions in which Hegel wrote and published his book. To satisfy this condition to some extent, a sketch is given below of the most important facts and occurrences that had an effect on the text of the Philosophy of Right.1 To facilitate an overview of the events which are relevant for a good understanding of that text, the following chronological indications may be helpful.


Civil Servant Extensive Familiarity Chronological Indication Papal Bull Posthumous Writing 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. R. Koselleck, Preussen zwischen Reform und Revolution, Stuttgart 19752 and idem, “Staat und Gesellschaft in Preussen, 1815–1848”, in: H.V. Wehlee (ed.), Moderne deutsche Sozialgeschichte, Berlin 1966; M. Lenz, Geschichte der Königlichen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin, 4th vol., Halle 1910. Cf. further the very informative notes in Briefe von und an Hegel, especially those of Volume II. See also P. Bruckner, “...bewahre uns Gott in Deutschland vor irgendeiner Revolution!” Die Ermordung des Staatrats v. Kotzebue durch den Studenten Sand, Berlin 1975.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. Grl. §258A and Berliner Schriften,p. 678 ff. (excerpts from Hegel from Haller’s Restauration der Staatswissenschaft).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. Briefe II,pp. 111–112, 170–171, 404–405, 409, 422.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Bruckner, op.cit.,pp. 42–48 and judgment of Sand by contemporaries on pp. 51–60. On p. 45 Bruckner quotes the letter which Sand wrote to his family before his journey from Jena to Mannheim to kill Kotzebue: “The rise of the renewal of our German life began in the last twenty years, especially in the sacred period of 1815, with courage confided by God; our paternal home has been shaken to its foundations. Forward! let us renew our life and make it into something beautiful, a true temple of God, just as our hearts desire! Only a few resist, as a dam, the stream of the development of the higher humanity in the German people. Why do entire hordes allow themselves to be bent beneath the yoke of these wicked? […] Many of the most profligate seducers play their game with us unhindered, to the complete ruination of our people. Kotzebue is the subtlest and most wicked of them, the true mouthpiece for everything bad in our time…” On Kotzebue see E. Benz, Franz von Baader und Kotzebue. Das Russlandbild der Restaurationszeit,Mainz 1957, and W. Promies, Nachwort,in: A. von Kotzebue, Das merkwürdigste Jahr meines Lebens,München 1965, pp. 295–315.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cf. Bruckner, op.cit., pp. 98–99 and Briefe II, p. 445.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Briefe II, p. 447. For the whole history, cf. the extensive comments of M. Lenz, op.cit. II1, pp. 34–176.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The givens concerning this are to be found in the excellent notes collected by Hoffmeister in Briefe II (Cf. pp. 216–217; 242–244; 330–332; 432–442; 444–448; 455–471; 498–502) and in the Berliner Schriften, pp. 581–584 and 598–607. V. D’Hondt has drawn a one-sidedly progressive image of Hegel on the basis of this material in his easily readable book Hegel et son temps, Paris 1968. The moderating effect of Hegel which is clearly and gratefully expressed in the accounts of Carové, Förster and Asverus is also attested to in a letter from Altenstein to Hegel from August 24, 1821 (Briefe II, p. 287) and one to Hardenberg from June 10, 1822 (Briefe II, p. 495). Cf. also Goethe’s judgment of Hegel’s pedagogical talent in his letter to Hegel of October 7, 1820 (Briefe II, p. 237).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Cf. H. Ottmann, “Hegel und die Politik. Zur Kritik der politischen Hegeliegenden”, in: Zeitschrift für Politik 26 (1979), especially pp. 252–253.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    In a letter from December 11, 1817, Hegel says that Altenstein. is “an excellent man” (Briefe II, p. 169). Cf. the judgment of Boisserée, who worte in a letter on September 13, 1824 that Altenstein was a “philosophical Minister” and an “Idealist as I have never seen among the businessmen of the higher class” (cf. Briefe II, p. 422 ).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cf. on this point Briefe II, pp. 170, 179, 315–316, 449–450, 495).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Briefe II, p. 495. Hoffmeister’s addition of “wenig” before “gründlichen Philosophierens” is superfluous. Cf. also Hegel’s letter of June 9, 1821 to Niethammer, in which he says that his position is very satisfactory and reassuring “in view of appreciation in higher places” (Briefe II, p. 271).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Briefe II, pp. 211–212.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Briefe II, p. 219.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    An important passage, which well illustrates Hegel’s independence: “I withstood the demagogical crisis without risk — but not without concern for those casting suspicions, slandering, etc.,. until I read De Wette’s letter and got to know several individuals better, some of whom were demagogues, some of whom had to take measures against them, and thus recognized on the one hand the wretchedness and the well-deserved fate of the former, on the other the justice of the authorities, which in such nebulous matters of course is not evident at first but becomes so in the long run”.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cf. Briefe II, p. 268; the Preface of the second edition of the Encyclopedia; Enc. C. 573 A; Phil. der Religion (ed. Lasson) I, p. 254 (“… that the criticism is made of our position that it is pantheism…”).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Briefe II, pp. 271–272.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    A precise analysis of this passage and of the facts on the basis of which it becomes clear can be found in the article by Lucas and Rameil mentioned in Note 1 to the Introduction.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Briefe II,p. 154.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Briefe I, pp. 388–389. Cf. also Hegel’s opinion of Fries given in a footnote to the first edition (1812) of Hegel’s Logik (I, p. XVIII, Lasson’s edition I, p. 34): “A recently published, modern version of this science, the System of Logic by Fries, returns to its anthropological foundations. The superficiality in and for itself of the idea or opinion on which this is based, and of its execution, frees me from the trouble of taking any notice of this insignificant publication.” Cf. also Briefe II,pp. 41–42, where Hegel says that the note cited was originally much harsher, but was softened during the correcting of the proofs.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Cf. Briefe II, pp. 218–219 (from the letter to Creuzer of October 30, 1819, cited above): “The political activities of the fraternity and De Wette’s Friesianism have naturally not put the University into anyone’s good graces. But it did not cultivate these seeds in itself; this has come for the most part from elsewhere and from where? —, primarily from Heidelberg; — seriously, the greater part of those arrested are those who were in Heidelberg before my time during Martin’s and Fries’ time there”.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Cf. Briefe II, p. 444.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Cf. Briefe II, pp. 221 and 450.— In §144 of his Heidelberg course of 18171818 (Wa, pp. 215–216) Hegel states that a civil servant cannot be dismissed arbitrarily, but only by a formal trial and a judicial decision (ein förmliches Urteil). Not only judges, but all civil servants (Beamten) should have the right not to be dismissed. This constitutional right (konstitutionelle Berechtigung) is even “a key moment (ein Hauptmoment) in the organisation of the State” (216). In his course of 1819–1820 (An, pp. 257–258) Hegel seems to defend a viewpoint which is closer to the one adopted in relation to De Wette: the State can dismiss a civil servant, but in this case owes him compensation. A judicial decision is not demanded unless the man in question has committed a crime. A court is not the proper instance for deciding whether or not someone has fulfilled his professional duties.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Cf. the letters quoted above from October 30, 1819 and June 9, 1821 (Briefe II, pp. 218–219 and 271–272).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Philosophie der Religion (ed. Lasson) I, p..287.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Berliner Schriften,pp. 171–172. Cf. the quotations from Sand in Note 4.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    In Grl. § 140 under d (original edition p. 143).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Briefe II, p. 268.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Die Vernunft in der Geschichte,p. 41. For Hegel’s relation to Schleiermacher see inter alia Briefe II, pp. 221 and 262; Berliner Schriften,pp. 81–82 and 684–688 and M. Lenz, op.cit. II1, pp. 291–292.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Briefe II, p. 263.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    System und Geschichte der Philosophie (pubi. Hoffmeister), Leipzig 1940, pp. 4–5.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1987

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  • Adriaan Th. Peperzak

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