Vasily Kandinksy, Dominant Curve

The Young Hegelians: Society, Alienation, and Critique

Instructor: Michael Stevenson
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

G.F.W. Hegel’s philosophy of Spirit (Geist) was a watershed in Western philosophy. But what followed? How was Hegel understood—and reinterpreted—in the decades following his death? For Hegel’s successors, there were seemingly two philosophical paths to take. Thinkers on the right—the so-called Right Hegelians—took Hegel’s understanding of geist, history, and religion as justification for authoritarianism and religious orthodoxy. Thinkers on the left, however—the so-called Young Hegelians—saw in Hegel’s work the tools for genuinely revolutionary thought. For the young Marx, “the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism”—and it was Hegel’s “immanent” critique of religion that opened the way for radical theories of freedom, alienation, society, and history. But, where does Hegelianism end and Young Hegelianism begin? In what ways did the Young Hegelians “turn Hegel on his head?” Why, as Marx argued, does the Hegelian critique of religion provide the “philosophical foundation to socialism”? And, to what extent did the Young Hegelians initiate a new mode in Western thinking, displacing philosophical idealism for a materialist conception of nature and history?

In this course, we will survey the writings of the Young Hegelians, including Ludwig Feuerbach, David Strauss, Friedrich Engels, and Marx, as we explore Hegel’s philosophical legacy and the radical ends to which Hegelian thought was put. We will ask: What are the principles of “higher criticism,” and how were they applied in “the ruthless critique of everything existing”—from Christianity to political economy? How can we understand Feuerbach’s conception of Christianity as essentially a self-alienated form of human self-consciousness, and how did it provided the context for Marx’s own theory of alienation? How did the Young Hegelians understand the social and juridical basis for the state, and how did it build on, and differ from, Hegel’s philosophy of Right? How can the self-realization of our “species-being” produce a radical transformation of the political-cultural order? And finally, how did Hegel’s work become, in the hands of the Young Hegelians, the basis for its opposite—for the substitution of materialism for philosophical idealism? Were the Young Hegelians indeed Hegelians? 

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 07 — June 28, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open