Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1770 - 1831

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a great German philosopher and a philosophical predecessor of the New England Transcendentalists.  His philosophical system is based on a dialectical method in which new meaning is arrived at through thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.  He emphasized the Mind or Spirit (Geist) as the only real, free, and self-conscious agent in which all individuals participate and which continually progresses, through self-exercise, to become absolute.  The Transcendentalists encountered the ideas of Hegel mainly through the writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, though some adherents--most notably W. T. Harris--had a more direct connection as prominent figures in the St. Louis Hegelian school.  Amos Bronson Alcott, though he disdained the logical demands of philosophy, highly respected Hegel.  Ralph Waldo Emerson's view of the progress of the Over-Soul toward the integration of mind and nature through human culture owes something to Hegel's idea of history as the dialectical process of Absolute Mind becoming itself.
Hegel has been written about as follows by Octavius Brooks Frothingham, the first historian of American Transcendentalism.
. . . Hegel, the successor in thought of Schelling, . . . though influential in America . . . would have possessed little charm for idealists of the New England stamp.  That system has borne fruits of a very different quality, being adopted largely by churchmen, whom it has justified and fortified in their ecclesiastical forms, doctrinal and sacramental, and by teachers of moderately progressive tendencies.  The duty of unfolding his ideas has devolved upon students of German, as no other language has given them anything like adequate expression.  Hegel, too, was more formidable than Schelling: the latter was brilliant, dashing, imaginative, glowing; his ideas shone in the air, and were caught with little toil by enthusiastic minds.  To comprehend or even to apprehend Hegel requires more philosophical culture than was found in New England half a century ago, more than is by any means common to-day.  Modern speculative philosophy is, as a rule, Hegelian.  Its spirit is conservative, and it scarcely at all lends countenance to movements so revolutionary as those that shook New England.
Long before the time we are dealing with--as early as 1824--the philosophy of Hegel had struck hands with church and state in Prussia; Hegel was at once prophet, priest, and prince.  In the fulness of his powers, ripe in ability and in fame, he sat in the chair that Fichte had occupied, and gave laws to the intellectual world.  He would "teach philosophy to talk German, as Luther had taught the Bible to do."  A crowd of enthusiasts thronged about him.  The scientific and literary celebrities of Berlin sat at his feet; state officials attended his lectures and professed themselves his disciples.  The government provided liberally for his salary, and paid the travelling expenses of this great ambassador of the mind.  The old story of disciple become master was told again.  The philosopher was the friend of those that befriended him; the servant, some say, of those that lavished on him honors.  Then the new philosophy that was to reconstruct the mental world learned to accept the actual world as it existed, and lent its powerful aid to the order of things it promised to reconstruct.  Throwing out the aphorism, "The rational is the actual, the actual is the rational," Hegel declared that natural right, morality, and even religion are properly subordinated to authority.  The despotic Prussian system welcomed the great philosopher as its defender.  The Prussian Government was not tardy in showing appreciation of its advocate's eminent services.
The church, taking the hint, put in its claim to patronage.  It needed protection against the rationalism that was coming up; and such protection the majesty of Hegel vouchsafed to offer.  Faith and philosophy formed a new alliance.  Orthodox professors gave in their loyalty to the man who taught that "God was in process of becoming," and the man who taught that "God was in process of becoming" welcomed the orthodox professors to the circle of his disciples.  He was more orthodox than the orthodox; he gave the theologians new explanations of their own dogmas, and supplied them with arguments against their own foes.  Trinity, incarnation, atonement, redemption, were all interpreted and justified, to the complete satisfaction of the ecclesiastical powers.
This being the influence of the master, and of philosophy as he explained it, the formation of a new school by the earnest, liberal men who drew very different conclusions from the master's first principles, was to be expected.  But the "New Hegelians," as they were called, became disbelievers in religion and in spiritual things altogether, and either lapsed, like Strauss, into intellectual scepticism, or, like Feuerbach, became aggressive materialists.  The ideal elements in Hegel's system were appropriated by Christianity, and were employed against liberty and progress.  Spiritualists, whether in the old world or the new, had little interest in a philosophy that so readily favored two opposite tendencies, both of which they abhorred.  To them the spiritual philosophy was represented by Hegel's predecessors.  The disciples of sentiment accepted Jacobi; the loyalists of conscience followed Fichte; the severe metaphysicians, of whom there were a few, adhered to Kant; the soaring speculators and imaginative theosophists spread their "sheeny vans," and soared into the regions of the absolute with Schelling.  The idealists of New England were largest debtors to Jacobi and Fichte.