by Jean Hyppolite, 1955
translated by John O'Neill, published by Harper Torch Books 1973; excerpted by ISR.press
Hegel wanted to analyze the very foundations of historical action. He inquired into the general conditions of human existence that constitute the possibility of the human act as such. … But Hegel has no intention of discovering such an essence [the essence of human nature] in which he seems to have no belief and whose conception he criticizes in his early works. For Hegel man is spirit, that is to say, history and collective development; the truth to which he may aspire appears in and through that history. (154)
The individual, as a living being, is himself that fluidity in which the moments are ceaselessly negated and transcended. His growth is by means of his own negation and maturation. The individual is life and therefore identical with temporality which is a perpetual self-negation. The life of the individual belongs to the category of action and not of "thing." Through action the individual negates what is fixed in himself (his internal inorganic nature) and transcends himself. (10-11)
"[Life] is neither what is expressed to begin with, the immediate continuity and concrete solidity of its essential nature; nor the stable, subsisting form, the discrete individual which exists on its own account; nor the bare process of this form; nor again is it the simple combination of these moments. It is none of these; it is the whole which develops itself, resolves its own development, and in this movement simply preserves itself." However, life can only be a whole for the consciousness of life. In the case of biological life this simplicity is only realized through death. In a conscious being death is conceived as a positive phenomenon. We may then understand Hegel's remarks on death in the Preface to the Phenomenology. Death is not something before which we should tremble or an idea that we should suppress. The true life of the spirit "endures death and in death maintains its being. . . . This dwelling beside it is the magic power that converts the negative into being." These remarks perhaps illuminate the famous dialectic of the Logik and remind us that the consciousness of life is quite different from life itself. It constitutes the truth of life, but a truth that can only be realized in human experience. The moments of life, when integrated in human consciousness, develop in the form of History and human consciousness is the Absolute Subject which discovers its identity in the course of time.
"Spirit is time," Hegel had said in his Jena writings, and illustration of this enigmatic formula is to be found in the Phenomenology. For it is only in the temporality of a consciousness that the whole which "develops itself, resolves its own development, and in this movement simply preserves itself' can be present to itself. That is why only the spirit is history, a history, moreover, that is always oriented toward the future since the spirit is the absolute principle of negativity. … The true infinity is in the consciousness of the totality that is the heart of each individual moment. Now history is the concrete self-development of such consciousness and the realization of the life of the spirit in a profound unity of the individual and the universal. This is a dynamic conception of unity. (12-13)
It is in history that man produces his life; he produces it by reproducing it on an ever larger scale, in a form which continually approximates a generic universality. This self-production of the self, which as a philosophy of man replaces the perpetual creation of classical philosophy, results, nonetheless, in an alienation. For the self-production of the self, which Marx also traces in the theories of political economy, extracting from them the notion of abstract labor, appears - from the individual standpoint of the self looking upon it as a macro-process - to be a harsh objective reality, a strange and even hostile power to which the self is submitted. (132)
Marx concluded that the alienation of man's generic nature in God has its counterpart in his alienation in a State which proclaims the rights of man, these being merely formal rights, since they overlook the actual condition of man as it develops through labor and the production of wealth. That is why Marx sought in the study of political economy and the experience of conditions in England, which he drew from Engels, a more profound grasp of man in his everyday life, in the indivisible union of his body and soul. It is man so conceived who is alienated bodily and spiritually in history, whose alienation is the drama of all history. Political struggle no less than the philosophical struggle against the gods merely shifts onto another plane the movement of social classes and the development of the awakening of human consciousness. …
If our interpretation of the philosophical writings of Marx is at all correct, we should find support for it in the monumental structure of Marx's master work Capital. Clearly, the latter work cannot be thoroughly understood by anyone ignorant of Hegel's Phenomenology, for it is the living image of it. Whereas, in the Phenomenology, it is the absolute spirit, once it has become its own object, that raises itself to self-consciousness, in Capital, it is man's alienated social being, the gross product or, rather, the communal labor of men, namely, Capital, which, so to speak, objectifies itself and confronts the consciousness of the proletariat. In his earlier works, particularly on political economy, Marx had shown how man's social nature is alienated through history and finally takes the form of Capital. In Capital, however, this development is looked at from the other side; the product, which is the result of the alienation of man's social nature, itself results in the production of man. As a proletarian, man becomes the product of his own product; he is reduced to the status of a cog in a huge machine which overwhelms him and whose function Marx struggled to grasp in all its aspects.
Capital is self-productive, or rather reproduces itself and accumulates. It is capital which determines the conditions under which men reproduce, what they eat, and their mode of group life. However, there comes a time when this alienation becomes a living contradiction. This is the time of the proletariat. In the proletariat, and above all in the general proletarianization of society, man is nothing more than the inert product of his own product.
However, man's consciousness is, in Hegel's phrase, "elasticity absolute." It cannot be reconciled to accepting itself as a mere object. Thus its lowest point of inertia is the very condition of its recovery. That is the reason why human consciousness is restored in the proletariat and in a society which is proletarianized. This class-consciousness is simultaneously consciousness of humanity, a consciousness creative of a new order. Here, as Marx conceives it, communism is simply a stage which will be superseded. It is the active negation of its own negation, capitalism, yet this negation of the negation is authentically positive. It is the Idea in actuality, the divinization of man, authentic man, fully aware that he is the one who makes his own history. There is here a concrete humanism in which philosophy as merely speculative thought disappears. (102-104)
But the transcendence of philosophy is not its negation. On the contrary, it is the effective realization of philosophy, assuming that philosophy is assimilated with the Idea. It is both the future-world of philosophy and the future-philosophy of the world. The Idea of liberation dominates all of human history; it is contained in what Marx called the enthusiasm of every social class that undertakes a revolution, but due to the presence of another class does not exceed the bounds of its own limited class interest. Hegel renounces any personal intervention in history when he writes: "Philosophy escapes from the weary strife of passions that agitate the surface of society into the calm region of contemplation; that which interests it is the recognition of the process of development which the Idea has passed through in realizing itself – i.e., the Idea of Freedom, whose reality is the consciousness of Freedom and nothing short of it." Marx, on the contrary, is incapable of adopting a position outside of a history that is to be made at the same time as it is to be thought. "Until now the philosophers have only interpreted the world; now it must be changed." (134-135)