Is there an END to history?
Whereas most generally think of history as a record of past events, Philosopher
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel considered it to be a rational process moving towards completion.
Make no mistake- by “end of history,” Hegel wasn’t prophesizing the end of the
world. But to discover what he did mean, we must first ask ourselves
“what is history?” According to Hegel, “History,” is the
progression of reason brought about largely by confrontation and conflict. For example, if a group of rebels seige a castle, we have two opposing forces- the establishment
and the challenger. Through this conflict, the opposing ideologies will collide and
produce a new establishment. Like the one before it, this idea will eventually invite upheaval and the “dialectical process” yielding heightened rationality, will continue.
But such changes don’t occur randomly. To Hegel, history is pushed forward
by freedom- mankind’s essential nature. As history progresses, we become
more self-conscious, therefore more rational, and therefore, more free. For example, as
a warrior gains more experience points, he is granted more skills.
The more skills he gains, the more choices he has has in combat, and thus, he
is free-er. As the ages pass, we have become more free. During the age of the Orient, only the ruler was free. In Ancient Greece,
some were free. And in Hegel’s time following the French Revolution, it was thought
that all should be free. So if freedom is the end goal of history, will there ever be a perfected
state that invites no more change- An END to the dialectic? In his book
The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel devised the concept of “World
Spirit,” or the manifestation of reason exhibited through a society’s culture-
including its philosophy, religion, and art. The ULTIMATE freedom
will occur when the World Spirit, or collective consciousness of a culture,
becomes entirely rational. Only then can a unified society be established in which its laws and institutions
will invite no more change- because they are in perfect harmony with their culture. And
thus, the dialectical process of history will end. Hegel’s philosophy of history inspired some of the most important thinkers
of the nineteenth century- including one young poet who would one day become one of the
world’s most influential figures.