Companion Piece Intellectual history

Three responses to Samuel Moyn’s “Hannah Arendt among the Cold War Liberals”

By Seyla Benhabib, Andrew Gibson, and Artur Banaszewski

The latest issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas (issue 84, volume 3, July 2023) features the article by Samuel Moyn “Hannah Arendt among the Cold War Liberals.” The article places Arendt’s thought alongside that of her liberal contemporaries—such as Isaiah Berlin, Jacob Talmon, Judith Shklar, and Karl Popper—and argues for a reassessment of the “contributions and limits of her project in political theory” (533). We invited three scholars specializing in Arendt and Cold War liberalism—Professor Seyla Benhabib, Andrew Gibson, and Artur Banaszewski—to write responses to that important article. Please note that the responses were written before the authors had access to Professor Moyn’s forthcoming book, Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times.

Seyla Benhabib

Samuel Moyn is a provocative writer. He regards theoretical disagreements, differences of interpretation and scholarly contestations agonistically, as a fight in which it is existential that those who disagree with him be freed from their delusions and misunderstandings. Thus, a phrase in his article states that “Generations of instrumentalizing, opportunistic, or promotional readings have obscured the relationship that Arendt sustained with Cold War liberals.” Moyn is out to set them right.

Alas, Moyn’s central argument—that even if Arendt was not a liberal, “her very attempt to strike out on her own in developing a new account of freedom proves hostage to many of the intellectual and political premises of Cold War liberalism”—is vague and confused (534; my emphasis). “Proves hostage” is an interesting phrase: does Moyn mean that Arendt was simply influenced by Cold War liberals such as Isaiah Berlin, Jacob Talmon, or Karl Popper? There is no evidence for this, and Moyn only cites that Arendt possessed a copy of Talmon’s book – Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. So, “proved hostage” seems to mean some kind of convergence of ideas and orientations, despite differences between Arendt and Cold War liberals, which Moyn himself acknowledges.

Moyn’s presumption of convergence centers on ‘totalitarianism’ to characterize both Nazism and Stalinism. Unlike classical Anglo-American liberalism, Arendt’s work had little to say about economics and markets, and furthermore, unlike Cold War liberals, she retained in Moyn’s words, “an early nineteenth-century commitment to creative perfectionism” (an aspect of liberal thought appreciated by Nancy Rosenblum). How then does Arendt’s critique of totalitarianism make her a Cold War liberal? In order to place Arendt in the procrustean bed he has created, Moyn radically neglects the milieu out of which Arendt’s critique of Stalinism and developments in the Soviet Union grew.

Arendt was an anti-totalitarian before she came to the United States; she did not become one subsequently. Neither the change in the title of the book from The Burden of our Times to The Origins of Totalitarianism nor subsequent additions (Moyn, 540) alter the fact that Arendt’s views of totalitarianism began with accounts of the failures of the German KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands) to which her husband Heinrich Blücher belonged. As Elizabeth Young-Bruehl recounts, she was intimately familiar with the milieu of ex-communist militants who would be called back to Moscow to be murdered or re-educated; with those who fought against fascism in Spain, only to be betrayed by Stalin; and those, like members of the French Communist Party, who did a volte-face in 1939, when the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed (139). Arendt also held on to a belief, which many may consider controversial, that “only Stalin’s regime and not Leninism was, properly speaking, totalitarian” (410). Admittedly, pointing out that Moyn misconstrues the origins of Arendt’s theory of totalitarianism says nothing about the merits of the theory itself, which Moyn hints at but does not engage with.

Moyn refers to my book, Exile, Statelessness and Migration. Playing Chess with History from Hannah Arendt to Isaiah Berlin as “biographically essentialist.” The term ‘essentialism’ is a philosophical concept that postulates the presence of some immutable and fundamental characteristic of phenomena; what exactly is Moyn referring to? This is also a deep misreading of my book since the whole point was to emphasize the divergent paths taken by thinkers such as Arendt, Benjamin, Berlin, Hirschman, and Shklar despite biographical interconnections and overlaps.

Moyn’s critique of Arendt’s comparative analysis of the American and French Revolutions is not new. Jürgen Habermas challenged Arendt’s account nearly 60 years ago, and Judith Shklar called Arendt’s book a “valentine presented to America.” What is novel in Moyn’s assessment is that Arendt’s account of the French Revolution, and her claim that the Revolution was stymied because of the enormity of economic poverty and inequality, made her blind and deaf towards decolonization struggles in the developing world. I agree with Moyn that Arendt, who wrote enthusiastically about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, should have focused her political brilliance on writing about the Algerian War and Revolution of 1954-1962, as well. But Moyn overshoots again when he writes that “Arendt was open and unapologetic when it came to her imperialist and racist commitments” (548). Recent scholarship both praises Arendt for her path-breaking analysis of “race-thinking before racism,” which is not focused on the color line alone; while also showing the limits of her understanding of the fate of Black Americans. It should give Moyn some pause that many young African-American scholars—such as Danielle Allen, Adom Getachew, and Shatema Threadcraft—have nonetheless found it possible to cull from Arendt’s work, “pearls of wisdom” that they used in their own work.

Moyn’s concluding reflections are about Arendt’s “Jewish exceptionalism,” namely “her support for Jewish self-emancipation through Zionism … and her stringent attitude towards other forms of decolonization…” (533). As opposed to Moyn’s claim that Arendt’s Eurocentrism or racialism accounts for her Jewish exceptionalism, I would argue that it was her sense of the difficulties of the nation-state system, most vividly expressed through the following lines, that may have restrained her: “…like virtually all other events of our century, the solution of the Jewish question merely produced a new category of refugees, the Arabs, thereby increasing the number of stateless and rightless by another 700, 000 to 800,000 people. And what happened in Palestine within the smallest territory and in terms of hundreds of thousands was then repeated in India on a large scale involving many millions of people…” (290-291).

Arendt’s sense of the dead-ends which progressive politics could encounter was alleviated somewhat with the Civil Rights Movement, the Student Movements of 1968, and the anti-Vietnam War movement – all of which she followed avidly. Her last article for the New York Review of Books, “Home to Roost: A Bicentennial Address,” was a reckoning with the transformation of the American Republic into a deceitful, militaristic global power which had lost its sense of public happiness and public freedom and had turned into a consumer-society led by technocrats and Madison-Avenue style politicians. Judging by the reactions of Commentary magazine, other Cold Warriors did not agree. I think that Moyn sadly misjudged the company Arendt kept. These were the disillusioned militants who fought against both Nazism and Stalinism, as well as the early Zionists of the Kibbutz movement who saw Israel betray its ideals and become an ally of superpowers in the Middle East. Nonetheless, despite her unblinkered vision of the collapse of good intentions in politics, Arendt insisted on the capacity of each generation to begin anew and create a different realm of freedom.

Andrew Gibson

Great monuments, like all human things, eventually crumble. In his recent JHI article, Samuel Moyn seeks to add a few cracks to the columns of Hannah Arendt’s political thought, which has long held an outsized influence in the field of political theory. Reading the German-Jewish émigré alongside the “Cold War liberals,” Moyn suggests Arendt is “best understood as displacing the intellectual premises of earlier liberalism, while foreclosing a global approach to the universalization of freedom in equality in an era of decolonization and deracialization.” Writing to “reassess the contributions and limits of her project in political theory,” Moyn unsurprisingly concludes that Arendt’s writings no longer remain a helpful resource to understand our times, nor do they articulate a type of politics worthy of recovery (533). By narrowing the vistas of freedom in the mid-twentieth century and expressing panicked reactions to republican corruption and global emancipation, Arendt’s thinking remains fundamentally limited for thinking about “collective political freedom in the future” (558).

It is clear Moyn is eager to inspire his readers to search for an intellectual foundation more conducive to social, economic, and political liberation than the ones Arendt and her Cold War liberal colleagues provide. Yet, Moyn’s “Cold War liberal” designation sometimes appears more befuddling than illuminating as it casts over such divergent views on liberalism in the mid-twentieth century. Arendt never considered herself a “liberal,” as Moyn well notes; this fact requires him to frequently point out the many differences Arendt had with “Cold War liberals,” and even the gulfs separating those who would identify as such (534). Nevertheless, Arendt and her Cold War contemporaries do share some affinities. Citing recent literature, Moyn contends twentieth-century Anglophone liberalism departed from its earlier premises as it began to focus more intensely on “modernity, personal liberty, and religious toleration” while nineteenth century theorists concentrated on markets, parliamentary institutions, and a “perfectionist account of the creative highest life” (534). Moyn laments the excising of these earlier liberal traditions in Arendt’s writings. “Visitors to Arendt’s gallery of the annals of ‘Western civilization’,” he writes, “will find her walls […] almost completely barren when it comes to the Enlightenment and nineteenth century liberalism” (538). In its place, one finds monuments to the ancients and their conception of politics—particularly (neo)Roman republicanism.

Arendt famously analogized a form of political thinking to “pearl diving,” where one plumbs the depths of the sea of history to find old pearls of wisdom. During the Cold War, she found many “lost treasures” in (neo)Roman republicanism and spent much of her time “projecting the politics she prized backward, associating agency with Rome and the neo-Roman American origins” (541). These artifacts remain on display in On Revolution (1963) and are the subject of Moyn’s most incisive critiques. Here, we read that “Arendt joined Cold War liberal Atlanticism—but sought to defend and rehabilitate the Atlantic republican tradition with a more openly global perspective in the era when formal empire had come to an end” (537-38). Perhaps surprising to readers of the “smash hit” The Origins of Totalitarianism(1951), the ascension of empire mattered less in Arendt’s political theory than did the prospect of imperial decline. Once an empire “crossed irreversibly into decline, as she eventually ended up worrying America was doing in the era of its ‘crises of the republic’ and the Vietnam War,” the results could be just as catastrophic as those produced by a politics devoted to universal emancipation (549). One could almost say Arendt’s “pearl diving” was also a form of “pearl clutching.”

Forty years ago, Judith Shklar came to a similar assessment on Arendt’s catastrophizing tendencies: “Whenever something unfortunate occurred she thought that the end of the republic was near. (One does not forget Weimar easily)” (371). Moyn’s account shares much with Shklar’s early appraisal, suggesting The Origins of Totalitarianism“breathed new spirit into the concept of totalitarianism, which otherwise might not have endured after World War II when fascism disappeared as a living political endeavor” (539). Arendt’s panicked reaction to perceived republican corruption in the United States also made her view of Atlantic republicanism “far more bizarre” than the one offered by John Pocock in his masterful Machiavellian Moment (542). In On Revolution, Arendt idolized the American Revolution because it established political freedom without the “interference of economic justice” while she decried the French Revolution for unleashing a deranged pursuit of universal equality (541, 543). As Moyn states, Arendt’s attempted recovery of the “distinctive model of politics” she identified in the American Revolution became “critical for avoiding the totalitarian modernity that the French Revolution anticipated” (541-2).

Like other German-Jewish émigrés, Arendt wrote on the American political tradition to teach citizens of her adopted country about their exceptional history and distinct political virtues. As a wise sage steeped in German Bildung, Arendt offered counsel and comfort to Americans in search of meaning. But to those outside the United States, her teachings were less sanguine as she effectively narrowed the horizon for legitimate political activity and shunned revolutionaries from the Global South from being worshiped in the Cold War liberal pantheon. As Moyn suggests, one way of reading Arendt historically is seeing her “globalize her skepticism of the French Revolution’s legacy in a decolonizing age,” making On Revolution read as “postcolonial derangement” (543, 550). Given that Arendt’s early philosophical education was permeated with racial and hierarchical theories, Moyn also contends her “clear assumption [was] that non-white revolution would necessarily channel French manias.” If she had written on the Haitian Revolution, she would surely have found it “pathological, merely worsening […] the French syndrome, by welding political freedom not just to class but also to racial equality” (550).

All of this comes as a surprise to a theorist who famously articulated a romanticized vision of political action in The Human Condition (1958) and praised Zionism early in her career. Yet, to Moyn, Arendt’s romantic vision of action made “freedom […] elusive to the point of foreclosure” (552). Because her vision of action was associated “exclusively with so exceptional and even melodramatic a set of examples,” she ended up “rendering action incompatible with institutional life” and embraced the “geographical morality” commonly held by Cold War liberals (536, 557). For these reasons, among others, Moyn concludes Arendt’s project “ought to be treated as irretrievable in our time” and cautions against retreating to the monumental histories constructed by her and other mid-century thinkers (537). After reading Moyn’s article, however, one wonders what should be erected atop the ruins of Arendt’s thought—and Cold War liberalism, more generally. Should the ambitions of the earlier liberalism be recovered, once stripped of all their faults? Or, are we required to build this broader vision of collective human freedom on entirely new foundations?

Artur Banaszewski

Few twentieth-century scholars can rival the fame and influence of Hannah Arendt. Arendt’s unparalleled status as an icon of modern philosophy makes any critical engagement with her ideas a concurrent comment on the present state of political theory. While Samuel Moyn refrains from explicit criticism of Arendt’s contemporary interpreters and imitators, “Hannah Arendt among the Cold War liberals” convincingly argues her thought is burdened with anxieties and insensitivities that restrict its emancipatory potential in our present age. This annotation may explain Moyn’s acknowledgment that “Arendt wasn’t a liberal, she repeatedly declared—and she was therefore not a Cold War liberal” (534). The ambition of the article is, consequently, not as much to list Arendt’s commonalities and differences with more archetypical Cold War liberals as to display how certain concepts and assumptions she developed contributed to a fundamental shift in liberal thought during the Cold War, which continues to condition liberal imagination today.

Although Arendt never renounced creative agency as the motivation and purpose of her philosophy, Moyn suggests her opposition to securing freedom through institutional means ultimately made the ambitions of her political project unattainable. This opposition constituted a radical rupture with the earlier liberal tradition based on the employment of political institutions to achieve social progress, which made Arendt contribute to the abandonment of “collective emancipation as an aspect of the liberal project” (536). The test of the validity of this position came with the wave of decolonization movements that swept the world in the 1950s and 1960s. According to Moyn, Arendt—alongside the Cold War liberals—failed that test miserably. This is where Moyn’s criticism resonates most strongly: instead of identifying with anti-colonial movements a chance to embrace freedom on a global scale, Arendt assumed that “globalizing postcolonial freedom was despotic in intent or effect” (551), which was grounded in a racialized, hierarchical outlook on the prospect of emancipation of different peoples (557). By choosing allegiance to empire (or avoiding imperial decline) over global liberation, Moyn believes Arendt rendered her legacy “irretrievable in our time” (537).

Although Moyn dedicates much space to the historical context in which the German-Jewish émigré thinker wrote, his argument, at its core, is theoretical: it concerns the contradictions and paradoxes underpinning Arendt’s theory of politics. His article formulates a compelling critique that challenges Arendt’s intellectual legacy. Yet, should we abandon it entirely?

While emphasizing Arendt’s imperialist and racist convictions, Moyn writes that “the intellectual premises of a good part of decolonization after 1945 were in the earlier liberalism that both Arendt and the Cold War liberals rejected” (537). Consequently, one of the questions his JHI article provokes is whether Arendt’s theory of politics can be separated from her unapologetic Eurocentrism and racism. Although Moyn admits Arendt never erected a “racial bar to achieving American freedom” (551), he seems to suggest a cognate bar nevertheless stemmed from her concern for the “enduring realities of human aggression or sin” (536). Even if one condemned and erased hierarchical and prejudiced assumptions of Arendt’s thought, this would not resolve her suspicion of liberation movements caused by programmatic trepidation for the “reality of extermination camps and slave labor.”

One may interpret the exception Arendt and the Cold War liberals made for Jewish self-emancipation as proof of theoretical inclusiveness rather than arbitrariness. Yet Moyn writes explicitly that their support for Zionism constituted “a fundamental challenge to their call for limits in developed countries and anxieties about meaningless violence in developing ones” (557). And so, Arendt and the Cold War liberals reserved the right to decide who could take issue with the reality of global hierarchy of power.

Arendt’s “betrayal” of the prospect of global emancipation appears, therefore, just as racialist as philosophical. In the latter case, Moyn argues Arendt’s refusal of “any notion of historical progress” stemmed from her categorical rejection of the Hegelian idea of dialectical movement towards freedom (546). This suggests that the “demonology of modern emancipation” Arendt shared with the Cold War liberals was, in her case, a response to her perceived bankruptcy of Hegel’s philosophy of history. Among the many writings where she criticized Hegel, Arendt particularly emphasized his moral misguidedness in On Violence: “Hegel’s and Marx’s great trust in the dialectical ‘power of negation’ […] rests on a much older philosophical prejudice: that evil is no more than a privative modus of the good, that good can come out of evil; that, in short, evil is but a temporary manifestation of a still-hidden good” (56). Although the evils Arendt had in mind are not to be dismissed lightly, Moyn challenges the reader to reconsider to what extent the erasure of progress from the philosophy of history contributed to the erasure of progress from our contemporary consciousness. If history is a struggle between the devil and God, the only thing we can look forward to is a Last Judgement.

In this capacity, Moyn unequivocally castigates Arendt and the Cold War liberals for establishing strict—presumably, overly strict—limits on the prospects for collective emancipation (536). However, the risk of governmental tyranny, alongside the reality of evil, were not the only factors that made Arendt reticent about the idea of global freedom—which relates to the Haitian Revolution she so notoriously ignored in her work. As Hegel famously declared in Phenomenology of Spirit, “it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained.” An excerpt from the first pages of On Revolution could be taken as Arendt’s response to Hegel’s revelation: “To sound off with a cheerful ‘give me liberty or give me death’ sort of argument in the face of the unprecedented and inconceivable potential of destruction in nuclear warfare is not even hollow; it is downright ridiculous” (13). As Jonathan Schell notes, Arendt shared the conviction of many of her contemporaries that nuclear arsenals imposed absolute limits on political change through warfare (249).

Moyn aptly points out Arendt’s conspicuous disregard of the fact that even the American Revolution was a violent insurrection against empire (551). But should consistent support for global emancipation require equal opposition towards all hindrances and constraints to anti-imperial struggle? Or should it nevertheless admit certain limits resulting, for instance, from the principles of restraint and responsibility? There are no simple answers to these concerns, and their exposure by Moyn’s article proves only the far-reaching consequences that critical reassessment of Arendt and Cold War liberalism will involve for our political imagination.

Seyla Benhabib is a Yale University’s Eugene Meyer professor of political science and philosophy, emerita, and a senior research fellow at Columbia Law School. She is a distinguished international scholar who is known for her research and teaching on social and political thought, particularly 20th century German thought and Hannah Arendt.

Andrew Gibson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government at Georgetown University where he is writing a dissertation on the “transatlantic Machiavelli,” focusing on twentieth-century debates over the Florentine’s political-historical legacy. He has been a Hans J. Morgenthau Fellow at the Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC) and a Doctoral Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute (GHI).

Artur Banaszewski is a Ph.D. researcher in the Department of History at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. His doctoral project titled “Disillusioned with communism. Zygmunt Bauman, Leszek Kołakowski and the global decline of orthodox Marxism” explores Eastern European critiques of socialist thought and intersects them with the global political context of the Cold War.

Edited by Artur Banaszewski

Featured Image: Hannah Arendt at the First Congress of Cultural Critics, photograph, Munich City Museum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Companion Piece

Recycled Words: An Eco-Friendly Alternative to Original Literature

By Justin Willson

This is a companion piece to the author’s article, “A Meadow that Lifts the Soul: Originality as Anthologizing in the Byzantine Church Interior,” published in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas (vol. 81.1).

Literary critics have a knack for wielding double standards — and nowhere more so than in the judgment of originality. In the Anatomy of Criticism (1957), Northrop Frye asserts that “any serious study of literature soon shows that the real difference between the original and the imitative poet is simply that the former is more profoundly imitative” (97). Far from implying an absence of imitation, originality, Frye believes, emerges from its necessity: “The remark of Mr. Eliot that a good poet is more likely to steal than to imitate affords a more balanced view of convention.” Stealing — recycling the style, voice and moves of poets one admires and envies — is the trademark of the good poet. If he can get away with it, and actually create something new in the process, he (and it is often ‘he’ for these critics) may qualify as  what Harold Bloom calls the “strong” poet. For Bloom, who died just this past October (2019), the poet is always wresting his creative power from the titans of the literary canon. Or to put the point in Frye’s more subdued, textually-oriented language: “Poetry can only be made out of other poems; novels out of other novels” (97).

None of this will surprise readers of modernist literature. James Joyce and Ezra Pound, to take but two of the most obvious examples, filled their writings with echoes, citations and parodies, to an extent that blurs the line between imitative use (or reuse) and novelty. This, in the eyes of many critics, was exactly the point. But whereas history has looked with (mostly) favorable eyes on this borrowing and rearranging — the fecund hallmark of the 20th century avant-garde (think, for instance, of Marcel Duchamp’s “found” objects, among them the urinal he ironically christened “Fountain”) — the same cannot be said of medieval art. That is to say, curiously, in the case of medieval art and literature, critics have often hastily dismissed the artistic impulse to revisit and reuse. Works of art that imitate famous models are looked upon as rote recycling, and literary texts that borrow from earlier authors are scorned as mindless copycat.

To be sure, the stakes of copying were vastly higher in a deeply Christian age than they were in post-WWI Europe and America: in medieval Europe, tradition, by and large, was upheld on the evidence of divine revelation, and the artist or intellectual who ventured too far from what the Church taught could be condemned as a heretic. Self-expression, individuality, and originality were not necessarily viewed as the goal of art and life, as they often are today. But they also weren’t entirely foreign to the medieval intellectual. Indeed, a certain kind of originality thrived, and in my contribution to JHI I look at how medieval writers used the metaphor of the anthology as an emblem of their distinctive conception of what it meant to be original.

The word “anthology” comes from two Greek roots: anthos and legein which, together, mean “to gather flowers,” and an anthologia is a bouquet or a garland. The flowers in this metaphor are images or passages from literary works. In typical usage, the English word anthology connotes a book that is just a compilation, which no one would mistake for a work that is a unique literary text. But medieval literature points to the deeper sense of originality that Frye articulates. The anthology — the very embodiment of the derivative — is an emblem of a deeply learned, historically situated originality. Literary culture is borrowed from the past. Every poem is made, more or less, out of earlier poems. Every poet is inevitably indebted to an earlier poet — a dependency that Bloom famously characterized as the “anxiety of influence” which a strong poet tries to overcome. In the original work of art, Frye would say, one expects to find citations and echoes of earlier artworks. Past literature colors new literature through and through. This renders anthologizing a positively creative cultural practice, giving the term a new valence.

Seen this way, the literary and visual canons of art are an ever-evolving anthology, and medieval cultural productions are no exception to this general rule. Medieval writers and visual artists were adept at copying, which is to say they were highly original and inventive. Medieval authors and artists preyed on their predecessors, a pillaging that constituted the lifeline of their tradition. Models, motifs, and turns of phrase borrowed from the past reflected not stagnancy but movement and display. Creativity provided audiences with an opportunity to reappraise the tradition,  presupposing an ability to discern a nuanced recasting of the familiar. Medieval literature and visual art, in other words, could be read as one great ode in praise of copying, to quote a recent title. Cutting and pasting — which the medieval author cherished as much as the modernist — is the signature of a self-reflective art rather than a mark of deficiency.

In the eighteenth century, Enlightenment philosophers abandoned this very medieval (and indeed very classical) way of looking at and appreciating the citational richness of works of literature and visual art. The influential French philosopher Montesquieu castigates les compilateurs,who, in his view, are no better than printers arranging letter blocks on a blank page, or erratic librarians creating new patterns by reshuffling books on a shelf. Like the librarian or the printer, the anthologist, in Montesquieu’s elitist conception, works only with her hands rather than with her mind. But for much of the medieval period the mind that invents and the hand that executes were far less easily divorced than Montesquieu’s dualism implies. Seen in hindsight, it is not the view of Enlightenment philosophers like Montesquieu but that of medieval authors that bears an affinity with our post-modern stance towards the artist. The Byzantine authors I survey: Procopius (6th century), John of Damascus (8th century), and Leo the Wise (9th century) metaphorically describe the artist as an anthologist who taps into the creative potential of a cultural totality that transcends individuality.

The view of the artist as a conduit or channel of a will that collectively exceeds individual agency and subjectivity is held by many artists today. For instance, in The Annotated Reader (2018), Ryan Gander asked a variety of persons (not just artists) to annotate a short passage from any text that had impacted them. Binding their submissions together, Gander made an anthology, a handbook penned by many hands. Leaves that bore the mark of a bygone act of consumption, the Reader could make no claim to be untouched or new to the market. Rather, its value lay precisely in being a rebinding of twice and thrice-told words, a situation that bears relevance for the thick understanding of tradition and reuse that presided over much of art-making in medieval times.

The impulse to anthologize — an ecologically friendly kind of creativity, if you will — is a legacy of the Middle Ages that lives on in postmodernity. If it doesn’t map on to the crystalline seventeenth-century Enlightenment ideals of total originality, anthologizing has an uncanny resonance with the messier, empirically derived insights of nineteenth-century Darwin:  survival of the fittest, most imitable text is the least common denominator of a viable canon. Traces always remain of  what has come before, and, just as in nature, nothing comes from nothing. This medieval view of originality may be able to help us think through the problems that face us today, above all our obsession with art—and other commodities, cultural and industrial—that seems to have been conceived ex nihilo. The myth of total originality is a symptom of a broader obsession with the property, and unrecycled novelty, that has had serious environmental repercussions. Historicizing originality robs the commodity of its deceptive claim to have come from nowhere.

Justin Willson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Art & Archaeology at Princeton University where he works on Byzantine and Slavic art and aesthetics. His publications have appeared in Res: Anthropology & Aesthetics and Studies in Iconography.

Companion Piece Intellectual history

“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Menasseh?”

Read Professor Nadler’s full article from this season’s JHI, “Spinoza and Menasseh ben Israel: Facts and Fictions.”

It just goes to show: even a rabbi can sometimes bend the truth a little, especially in the heat of debate.

In this article, I considered how, during his 1656 “friendly and extemporaneous conversation” in London with the Huguenot minister Jean d’Espagne, the Amsterdam rabbi Menasseh ben Israel claims that the Jewish people do not “anathematize” people. Here is the exchange:

Menasseh: Do you think our rabbis are fools?

D’Espagne: Well, at least crazy. For what do you think about those who think and speak about God in such a blasphemous way? Indeed, why do you not anathematize them?

Menasseh: We are not accustomed to cursing people.

As I note, Menasseh’s remark is striking because this debate took place just two months before Menasseh’s own Talmud Torah congregation of the Portuguese-Jewish community of Amsterdam decided to “excommunicate, expel, curse and damn” the young Bento de Spinoza for his “abominable heresies and monstrous deeds”, punishing the future philosopher with the most extended and vitriolic herem (ban or ostracism) ever pronounced by the parnassim (leaders) of that community.

What makes his remark even more interesting is that Menasseh himself was once put under herem by his community. Here are the circumstances:

In early 1640, according to a report in the community’s record book, some anonymous individuals had “put up certain posters or defamatory papers on the doors of the synagogue, on the bridge, at the market and in other places.”[i] The placards, which the report says touched on “the subject of Brazil”, were apparently impugning the business practices and character of certain members of the community involved in the South American trade (mostly sugar). Most likely they were directed at well-established merchants who did not appreciate any new competition and so were making things difficult for others seeking to enter the market. Dishonorable behavior in commerce was one thing, and it would be dealt with, but publicly shaming fellow congregants was yet a more serious violation of the community’s regulations. This kind of insolent behavior could not be tolerated. “It is well understood by all that this deed is abominable, reprehensible, and worthy of punishment.” And so, on February 9, 1640, the members of the ma’amad issued an at-large punishment on the unknown culprits.

We put under herem and announce that the person or persons who have made such papers and posted them are cursed by God and separated from the nation. Nobody may speak with them or do them a favor or give them assistance in any way.

A herem was an act of banning or ostracism (often, somewhat inaccurately, translated as “excommunication”) used by the Amsterdam parnassim to punish congregants who had violated communal regulations and generally to keep people in line. It was a form of religious, social and economic isolation. A person under herem was usually forbidden from participating in synagogue services, as well as from socializing and conducting any business with members of the community. It was an effective measure for maintaining Jewish discipline and social order among relatively new Jews—many of the Amsterdam Sephardim were, or descended from, former conversos—still getting used to an orthodox life.

Soon after the libelous posters appeared, the ma’amad learned who the guilty parties were—Daniel Rachaõ and Israel da Cunha—and the ban was applied to them the very next day. (It was lifted on Rachaõ a week later after he expressed contrition for his actions.)

However, a short time later, the ma’amad discovered that Jonah Abrabanel and Moses Belmonte were also involved in the “Brazilian matter”, either as participants in the original escapade or by circulating new posters again suggesting that certain Portuguese-Jewish merchants were less than honorable. Abrabanel and Belmonte were each given a herem, but were soon back in good standing after expressing deep and sincere remorse for their behavior and paying their fines.

Menasseh, however, was incensed by the way in which Jonah Abrabanel, his brother in-law, had been treated. He, of course, as Jonah’s partner, shared his sentiments about the merchants who were seeking to monopolize the Brazil trade, and he may even have been involved in distributing the offending material. But even more, Menasseh felt that the ma’amad had shown great disrespect to Jonah when the whole affair was made public in the synagogue during services, not least by failing to accord him the honorific title senhor when his name was read out. Menasseh lost his temper and protested loudly from the rabbis’ bench. According to the report of the ma’amad, “Menaseh [sic] came from his place and, with loud voice and all worked up, complained that his brother-in-law was not called ‘Senhor‘ – giving him the title that was owed to him.” The congregation’s gabbai responded that Abrabanel did not deserve the title, as it was to be used only with sitting members of the ma’amad. This only made Menasseh madder.

A large part of the assembly left its place, whereupon Menasseh turned on them, without being willing to calm himself, as he was continuously warned to do, until finally two parnassim of the synagogue stood up in order to make him be quiet, and indeed, since they could not do it with sufficient words, used the punishment of herem. They ordered him to stop and to return to his house. He countered with a loud voice: he would not. Then the parnassim, who were in the synagogue, came together, and since the disturbance continued further, they confirmed the punishment of the herem in order to make him [Menasseh] stop, and they ordered as well that no one speak with him.

The members of the ma’amad retired to their chambers, whereupon Menasseh followed them, burst in and

raising his voice and pounding on the table, said in a serious fashion all the unbridled thoughts that came into his mind, so that finally one of the parnassim apprised him that he is the cause of various disturbances … the parnassim told him to leave the chamber and that they regarded him as cut off. He responded to that with loud voice that he was putting them under herem and not the parnassim him, and other such shameful things.

It was an impressive display of righteous indignation. Out of respect for his position and years of service to the community, the ma’amad took some pity on him. Menasseh’s ban, recorded on May 8, 1640 and imposed “for the insubordination, the scene, and the curses, which he had spoken four times”, was in place for only one day.[ii] From sundown to sundown, he was forbidden from entering the synagogue and communicating with any members of the community. On top of that, however, “to serve as an example to others”, he was suspended from his rabbinical duties for a year. It was a heavy penalty for what was regarded as a serious breach of decorum. Unlike his brother-in-law, there is no indication that he ever expressed remorse for his behavior.

[i] The ma’amad‘s records of the event, from which the quotations that follow are taken, are in the Livro dos Acordos da Naçao e Ascamot, in the Stadsarchief Amsterdam, Archive 334: Archives of the Portuguese Jewish Community in Amsterdam, Inventory 19 (Ascamot A, 5398–5440 [1638–1680]). See fols. 55–56 and 69–70. These pages are accessible online as #71, 78 and 79 at

They are transcribed in Carl Gebhardt, Die Schriften des Uriel da Costa (Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger, 1922), pp. 212–19.

[ii] Livro dos Acordos da Naçao e Ascamot, fol. 70, accessible online as #79 at On 8 September 1647, the page on which the herem against Menasseh was recorded was pasted over with a piece of paper by the ma’amad, “out of respect.”

Companion Piece Intellectual history

In Theory: The JHI Blog Podcast

By Co-Hosts Simon Brown and Disha Karnad Jani

In the past few months, we’ve had the opportunity to speak with several scholars on their new and forthcoming work, and we’ve found these conversations surprising, entertaining, and intellectually exciting. Through these conversations, we’ve been able to ask writers precisely the kinds of questions we often have when we read: why did you choose to write about this? How did you come to your sources? What are the stakes of this debate for you? How should we teach this work? What are the politics that underlie your intervention, and what sort of moral imperative does your work suggest? With a podcast, we can invite listeners into an in-depth discussion on a topic with someone who has been generous enough with their time and scholarship to talk with us, and hopefully allow the listener to leave with a better understanding of the intellectual question at hand, and a desire to search for more. We seek to have frank conversations about the work produced by intellectual historians with those historians themselves, so that we might bring more people into the conversations around the ideas that animate and haunt our pasts and presents.

There’s an exciting proliferation of new work in intellectual history, and our conversations will focus on those original arguments and the ideas behind them. Each discussion will take up a recent book, reconstruct the narrative, walk through the argument and consider how it fits within the broader concerns of the author and her field. These conversations will also allow the author to talk about the ideas and commitments that give their histories the shape they take. Theoretical considerations of the relation between ideas and practices, the social origins of concepts and the status of the “intellectual” can seem disconnected from our work when they’re unmoored from historical examples. Questions like these confront anyone working in the history of ideas, and answers to them can help clarify our narratives. Our interviews will offer the opportunity for scholars to directly engage with them in a way that listeners can find insightful. 

The conversations will span a range of periods, regions and subfields, but all will speak to issues of interest to anyone working broadly in intellectual history. We are eager to talk with early-career scholars about their first books, and also more experienced authors about recent publications.    

If you have an idea for an interview, and would either like us to run it or would like to interview the author yourself, please email us at or with a brief summary of the book you’d like to discuss, your interests, and a timeline for publishing.

Companion Piece

Transitions, Thresholds, Traditions. Hans Blumenberg and Historical Thought

By Daniel Weidner

This is a companion piece to Daniel Weidner’s recent article in the Journal of the History of Ideas, ‘The History of Dogma and the Story of Modernity: The Modern Age as the “Second Overcoming of Gnosticism”.

Like identical twins, philosophy and history seem to be tied together in an uneasy way. On one hand, philosophy still tries to a large extent to engage with the history of philosophy. There are not many other branches of knowledge that would continually refer back to their own “classics”. On the other hand, quite a few of these classics authors did not hold history in high esteem. Aristotle, as is well known, preferred even drama to history because the latter simply concerns issues that are contingent. The marriage between history and philosophy quite often results in monsters in the form of Hegelian philosophies of history: great narratives that are still among the main targets of critical thought, probably because they are all too easy to debunk.

If we head for a more difficult task, or simply want to get deeper in the conundrum, we might turn to the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg. Blumenberg’s work mostly comprises voluminous books which trace, with utmost erudition, a certain idea or motif – the idea of myth, the metaphor of ‘reading’ the world, the motif of the exit from the cave – from antiquity to the present. Once, when accused of being a historicist, Blumenberg stated that he would accept this title with pride. Occasionally, he described his undertaking as a “phenomenology of history” – not an easy task since phenomenology, here understood in the Husserlian sense, belongs to those philosophical disciplines that are not particularly friendly with history. Precisely these frictions, however, seemsto have allowed Blumenberg to be particularly conscious about the problem of a history of philosophy as distinct from a philosophy of history and to develop creative approaches and detours.

One of these approaches seem to be very simple but proves most efficient. What if we do not focus on the very question what is history as a whole? or the ‘essence’ of history’s major epochs, but more modestly on the minor changes and transitions? Even though we might not know what antiquity is, we could be able to describe what happens when it comes to an end. Blumenberg argued in a review article from 1958 that this is where the more interesting historical research ends up:

“If Hellenism and late antiquity, ‘the autumn of the middle ages’ and the dawn of the modern ages have become attractive recently, the big question of what ‘history’ is stands silently in the background. What is an ‘epoch’? What is the structure of ‘epochal change’? How is the incongruence of testimonies and events to be understood and methodologically handled? These are the very detailed questions that seem to be necessary to discuss and transform the problem of History from its daunting massiveness into something graspable.”[1]

What we observe in these transitions is neither continuity nor clear-cut rupture, rather something in-between, a certain overlapping where some issues, questions, and concepts are still in place but begin to change their meaning or – as Blumenberg tries to figure it – where answers might be found even if the questions to which they once belonged are no longer relevant. It is not an univocal change, but rather a threshold situation in which it is possible to look into both directions, to understand the new from the perspective of the old and vice versa. Later, in his magisterial book on The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Blumenberg set up a sort of differential test analyzing the two metaphysical conceptions of Nicolas Cusanus and Giordano Bruno. Despite the fact that the two ideas are very similar and the authors even, at times, make identical statements, Blumenberg argues that on closer inspection they point in different directions: one to a medieval horizon of thought and the other towards a modern understanding of the world.

It is not by chance that this epochal threshold concerns the emergence of what Blumenberg calls “the Modern Age” (“die Neuzeit”, literally “the New Age”). Another fruitful approach to the question of history is to ask more specifically about the history of this Modern age. For this history is different from previous ones because the modern age understands itself as a new beginning that breaks with its past. Does this claim not contradict the very project of a history of this claim? That is at least the suspicion in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, where Blumenberg vigorously and broadly criticizes the so called theories of ‘secularization.’ Those theories argued that essential modern ideas and attitudes are nothing but transformed Christian heritage, e.g. when Max Weber claims that the capitalist work ethos emerged out of the Puritan search of salvation, or when Karl Löwith describes the modern philosophies of history as a mere continuation of Christian theologies of salvation. If that were true, Blumenberg argues, the self-declared aim of modernity to be autonomous or to be the beginning of something truly new would be an illusion.

Both approaches – the discussion of the epochal threshold and the discussion of the genealogy of modernity – do not only put forward interesting perspectives on the problem of history, they also relate to bodies of knowledge other than those usually discussed in relation to history and theory. In relation to late antiquity, Blumenberg refers to Hans Jonas and Rudolf Bultmann, among others, who developed complex models for how Paganism, Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism interact and interfere. These researchers are anything but positivists, rather they are certainly major contributors to the hermeneutic discussion of the 1950s and beyond. Their history is a history of ideas more than a history of facts: it belongs the history of dogma and the history of religion. This is a very important but oddly overlooked field, for historical theology was among the most admired disciplines of the German university but has rarely been taken into account in more general discussions of the history of knowledge. Later, in Work on Myth, Blumenberg would have interesting things to say about dogma that he described as a form of knowledge that aims less at answering questions than excluding and eliminating them. This opens up paths for a more comprehensive approach that would be aware of the different historicity of different forms of knowledge, as myth, metaphor, concept, or dogma. Arguably, every tradition would consist of the complex interplay and overlap of these different forms of knowledge and expression.

In the Legitimacy, Blumenberg refers to the history of dogma to develop not only his own idea of historical change, but also his own account of early Christianity. This in turn also allows him to re-narrate the history of the modern age. Ironically, this work not only refutes the erroneous genealogies that claim modernity to be the secularization of Christianity but replaces it by a – no less complex, nor less far-reaching – story about modernity being the second overcoming of Gnosticism.  It was, according to Blumenberg, not the Christian eschatology that brought about modern philosophy of history, as Löwith did argue. Rather, Christian eschatology collapsed in the early phase of Christianity when the expected second coming of Christ was delayed, a breakdown that motivated the formation of Christian Dogma. This dogma than entailed the Gnostic assault on it, an assault that in turn was only overcome by the reevaluation of the world, worldly knowledge, and curiosity that Blumenberg claims to be characteristic of the modern age. As Löwith himself remarked in his review of the Legitimacy, we as readers might ask in the end: “why all this effort of precise distinction, broad historical erudition, and polemical invective against the scheme of Secularization if the critique of this illegitimate category in the end is so close with what it criticizes?”[2]

The discussion on secularization was a very German one, thus Blumenberg’s work, though translated early, was not broadly received internationally. Nor did his defense of the Modern Age fit well into the discussion on Postmodernism. Even today, the growing discussion on Secularism and Secularization seems to rest on premises so different from Blumenberg’s that it is all but easy to connect him to it. Still, his thinking allows us to complicate and also criticize the genealogies of modernity that are being discussed–from Jean Luc Nancy’s “deconstruction of Christianity” via Charles Taylor’s story of the emergence of a secular age to Jan Assman’s recent engagement with the “axial Age”. Moreover, Blumenberg’s meticulous histories of problems highlight that it does make a difference to reflect on what we actually do when we historicize properly and try to represent the subtleties of historical change. The history of philosophy – and maybe also the philosophy of history – might be richer if we were less concerned with the great answers or grand narratives than with the right questions that allow us to work out the transitions, thresholds, and traditions mentioned.

[1] Hans Blumenberg: Epochenschwelle und Rezeption, in: Philosophische Rundschau 6 (1958), 94-120, here 94-95.

[2] Karl Löwith: Review of Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, in: Philosophische Rundschau 15/3 (1968), 195-201, here 200.

Companion Piece

Hegel and the Sphinx: The Riddle of World History

By Nicholas Germana

Professor Germana’s essay “The Creuzerstreit and Hegel’s Philosophy of History” is in the most recent Journal of the History of Ideas.

In his July 2002 article in JHI, on “Greek Origins and Organic Metaphors: Ideals of Cultural Autonomy in Neohumanist Germany from Winckelmann to Curtius,” Brian Vick effectively demonstrates the importance of the debate over Greek origins in German scholarship in the late 18th century.  The article sheds light on the intensity of the dispute between German classicists and up-and-coming Sprachwissenschaftler who placed increasing importance on the historical precedence and significance of Oriental languages, especially Sanskrit.  The problem for classicists came from mounting evidence that Sanskrit was an older relative of more modern European languages, including Greek, and some thinkers (most notably Herder and Friedrich Schlegel) proclaimed it to be the mother-tongue, the Ursprache of all human languages.  Friedrich Creuzer built on the work of these Sprachwissenschaftler (and that of his Heidelberg colleague Joseph Görres), claiming that the Oriental heritage of Greek culture included not just the language but also the central mythological and religious content of Greek culture (and, by implication, German culture as well).

Hegel Bust Bochum Archive
Bust of Hegel at the Hegel Archives in Bochum

Hegel was among the thinkers who most vehemently rejected Romantic claims about the historical significance of Oriental cultures, an opposition that has been well-documented at this point.  The scholarship of Sir William Jones and other (primarily English) philologists forced Hegel to accept the claims of historical priority, however reluctantly. Unlike the Romantics, however, Hegel rejected the idea that Sanskrit’s historical precedence conferred upon it any special status or gave it any right to share in the glorious efflorescence of Greek culture.  The clearly gendered language that Hegel uses to describe India (invariably feminine) and Greece (masculine in unmistakably Winckelmannian terms) is striking. Following what had become a convention of the day, he associates Indian culture with flowers, and in his lectures on the philosophy of history he likens the seductive charm of this “Flower-life” to the beauty of women following childbirth or during the magical transportations of dreamful sleep.

Hegel’s formulation here appears straight-forwardly Orientalist in the Saidian sense – the Orient is sexualized in terms that subject it to the male gaze, the categories of domineering masculine reason, and subjugation to European power.  A closer look, however, reveals something more interesting about the place and significance of these ideas in Hegel’s system. Hegel’s statement in the Philosophy of Right (1821) that men are like animals while women correspond to plants suggests that his claims about the femininity of Indian culture constituted more than the chauvinism of Hegel’s day, but were, in fact, of systematic importance (§168A).  Hegel’s ideas about human nature and biology are most thoroughly articulated in the Philosophy of Nature (first edition, 1818), and it is in this work that Hegel expounds upon the biological basis of the presumed differences between men sexes.  Women’s biology, for Hegel, is a product of their essential nature, a gendered embodiment of Spirit (this is the vitalism of his Naturphilosophie). While men are active and objectified in the world through their anatomy, women are passive and their being is directed inward toward the unarticulated immediacy of feeling.  While women find the realization of their essential nature in the family, men use the family as the spiritual foundation from which they can venture forth into the world (this relationship forms the core of Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist critique of modern society in The Second Sex).  The feminine is the basis of historical development and the achievement of male rational autonomy, but remains static and is excluded from this development.

Hegel’s thinking about the essential differences between the sexes and between human cultures was hardly without precedent.  It can clearly be traced back to Kant’s account of the teleological development of human cultures and the historical achievement of rational autonomy (Germana 2017).  Jon Stewart’s article, “Hegel, Creuzer, and the Rise of Orientalism” (Owl of Minerva, Nos. 1-2, 2013-2014) cautions, however, that this narrative is not so simple as it might appear.  Stewart’s interest is primarily in Hegel’s philosophy of religion, and he rightly points out that Hegel’s endorsement of Creuzer’s theories regarding the transmission of mythological and religious symbols from India to Greece brings Indian thought into the rich history of the development of Spirit in human cultures, rather than setting it aside as ahistorical and insignificant.  He is also right to point out that Hegel was one of the most vocal advocates of the need for modern Europeans to engage in deeper and more meaningful study of the belief systems of the ancient Orient. For the historian of ideas, however, a powerful question remains: How could Hegel embrace Friedrich Creuzer without embracing the Catholic romantic orientalism of Friedrich Schlegel (about whom Hegel’s comments are unequivocally negative)?

An answer to this question can be found in the gendered language of Hegel’s descriptions of Indian and Greek cultures.  There is a hitherto unrecognized, but critical difference between Creuzer’s and Hegel’s accounts – the Neoplatonism of the former, and the Aristotelianism of the latter.  Hegel’s thoroughly Aristotelian understanding of the teleological, organic development of Spirit through human cultures was able to make use of Creuzer’s model of historical development to arrive at very different conclusions.  In the preface to the Phenomenology, Hegel dismisses “conventional opinion” that gets caught up in the question of which philosophical system is “right” and which is “wrong,” arguing instead that the “diversity of philosophical systems” present “the progressive unfolding of truth” (§ 2).  From this perspective, Oriental religious ideas also have the “instinct of reason” as their basis, and they have a critical role to play in the teleological development of Spirit toward complete realization and “absolute knowing.” In the Phenomenology, Hegel reverts time and again to organic metaphors to describe the principle underlying this development.  Two of the most famous of these metaphors are, in fact, taken directly from Aristotle – the bud that “disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom” (§2, from On the Generation of Animals) and the embryo that contains the full potential of humanity, but which can only make “itself into what it is in itself” through the cultivation of reason (§21, from On the Soul).

In my JHI article, I draw out the implications of Hegel’s Aristotelianism, arguing that in line with Aristotelian views on reproduction India provides the inert material, to which the Greeks contribute the efficient cause that actualizes being and awakens its final cause, the development of Spirit toward complete self-realization in human freedom.  Unlike Creuzer, who granted India a privileged status as the progenitor of later world religions, Hegel posited a static subordinate stage of world-historical development whose real significance was limited to its “merely material” contribution to the growth of Spirit in the West.

This conclusion leads in a surprising new direction – toward a reevaluation of Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, its relation to his philosophy of history, and its place within his system as a whole.  Of all of his major works (published in his lifetime and after), the Philosophy of Nature is seen as the most problematic; as Terry Pinkard notes, the work “fell into complete disrepute immediately after his death and has rarely been looked at since by anybody other than dedicated Hegel scholars” (2000, 562-63).  Hegel’s views on science – his opposition to Newtonianism and his organic vitalism – have not stood the test of time in anything like the way that his ideas on society, history, morality, and culture have. These ideas have lived on and been fruitfully developed by other thinkers throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, in contrast, is an end rather than a beginning in European thought.

However, Hegel’s Naturphilosophie may actually provide a key to the development of his philosophy of history.  Like inorganic and organic being, human cultures present the objectification and actualization of Spirit as it is “concretely instantiated,” to use Allison Stone’s apt description from Petrified Intelligence (SUNY Press, 2005, xiii). While other contemporary thinkers, such as Herder and Schelling, used floral metaphors to describe Indian culture, what if Hegel meant it not metaphorically but literally? If we map the philosophy of history over the Philosophy of Nature with Indian culture in the place of “The Plant Nature” (§§343-349), what do we find?  Moving “backwards” through less-developed “ontological structures” (again borrowing from Stone, xiii), we find ourselves in the realm that corresponds to Africa, on the one hand, and inorganic being on the other.  (China marks a special case, and Hegel’s thinking on China developed after the narrative structure of the philosophy of history was in place.) Africa, in Hegel’s system, is characterized by totemism and fetishism that never really manage to escape the bonds of merely material existence.  Africa is essentially inert.

Moving forward into “The Animal Organism,” we find Egypt.  In his lectures on the philosophy of history, Hegel makes much of the Egyptian deification of animals, which he holds to be a considerable progression over the worship of inanimate celestial bodies.  Animal being possesses the spark of vitality and subjectivity that is only hinted at in plant life. In a remarkable passage in the philosophy of history lectures, Hegel tarries over the ideas embodied in the Sphinx, with its human head emerging from an animal body.  Finally, in the Greeks we possess human nature and in Hegel’s system we are led to the third volume of the Encyclopedia, the Philosophy of Mind.

There is certainly no precise correspondence between the stages of development articulated in the Philosophy of Nature and the lectures on the philosophy of history.  Hegel’s thought developed considerably as he delivered and refined his various lecture series throughout the 1820s, as well as the revisions he made to the Encyclopedia just before his death.  There is, however, enough of a correspondence to suggest a compelling research project.  Allison Stone and Sally Sedgewick (“Remarks on history, contingency, and necessity in Hegel’s Science of Logic,” in Hegel on Philosophy in History, Cambridge University Press, 2019) have raised compellingly similar questions about how far we should read necessity into Hegel’s philosophy of nature and philosophy of history, respectively.  We might most profitably engage these questions by bringing the inquiries together.

Nicholas A. Germana is a Professor of History at Keene State College in New Hampshire.  His second book, The Anxiety of Autonomy and the Aesthetics of German Orientalism, was published by Camden House in 2017.  He is currently working on a study of the Newtonian influence on Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime.