Nineteenth Century Philosophy

Friedrich Hegel

Was Hegel a political radical or a romantic?

Friedrich Hegel was not a radical in his mature writings in which he praised the status quo. But in his youth, perhaps he was. At 18 he began studies at the Stift Theological Seminary in Tübingen, but he was bored by the course of study and sermons, preferring to read Aristotle, Spinoza, Voltaire, and Rousseau. Nevertheless, he was a good student, earning a Ph.D. by 20 and a theological certificate three years later. His peers called him “old man” when he accompanied them in hiking, beer drinking, and carousing. They were all excited by the French Revolution, and in 1792 Hegel was called the “most enthusiastic speaker of freedom and equality” in a student club that was devoted to the study of Plato, Kant, and F.H. Jacobi.

Hegel’s roommates were the poet Christian Friedrich Hölderlin and the philosopher Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854). From Hölderlin he learned to love the ancient Greeks even more. They all protested against the political and ecclesiastical stasis of Tübingen. On July 14, 1792, Hegel, Hölderlin, and Schelling were said to have planted a liberty tree on a meadow near the Tübingen Seminary, although not all biographers think this in fact happened.

Hegel was hardly a Romantic philosopher, but there was some romantic drama in his life. As he was finishing The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Christina Burkhard informed him that she was pregnant with their child. Ludwig, his illegitimate son, was born in February 1807. He completed the manuscript on the same day Napoleon Bonaparte captured Jena: October 18, 1807. In 1811, at the age of 41, he married Marie von Tucher, who was 20. Marie’s aristocratic family was not enthusiastic about the match, though, and a government official friend had to intervene to negotiate it. During their courtship, Hegel wrote her a romantic poem (which most describe as hackneyed); he referred to his hope of marrying her as an ascension into “eternal bliss.”


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