Slowly moving through the preface to For they know not what they do. Continuing to be disappointed with how badly Zizek mishandles Hegel. From page xliv:
Hegel has nothing to do with such a pseudo-Hegelian vision (espoused by some conservative Hegelians like Bradley and McTaggart) of society as an organic harmonious Whole, within which each member asserts his or her "equality" with others through performing his or her particular duty, occupying his or her particular place, and thus contributing to the harmony of the Whole. For Hegel, on the contrary, the "transcendent world of formlessness" (in short: the Absolute) is at war with itself; this means that (self-)destructive formlessness (absolute, self-negating negativity) must appear as such in the realm of finite reality. The point of Hegel's notion of the revolutionary Terror [in the Phenomenology] is precisely that it is a necessary moment in the deployment of freedom.We correct: Bradley (and the British Idealists generally) were not bad readers of Hegel when it came to political philosophy. (Robert Stern's paper on the British Idealists and the "concrete universal" is excellent, here.)
Ramblings hidden behind Caster, since they were getting a bit long.
Hegel was very much concerned, from his student days up through his mature System, with the possibility of life in a society as a harmonious existence, of being reconciled to the world and to one's life in it. Early-on, this takes the form of a Romantic idolization of Greek life as a sort of naturliche Harmonie; by the point of his Jena writings, Hegel had already become critical of this tendency in the thought of his contemporaries. (Holderlin, who had been Schelling & Hegel's roommate at the seminary in Tubingen, is a fine example of this tendency; the Greece of Holderlin's Griechenland is a heap of Romantic claptrap.) Hegel came to the conclusion that the sort of thoughtlessly harmonious existence the Greek citizen was held to have had with his city was impossible after the inward turn of Christianity, the rise of civil society, the dawn of the Enlightenment, republican ideas in politics, etc. -- natural harmony was incompatible with the idea that "man is and ought to be free".
If a modern man was to be reconciled to his world, then it could only be through a moralische Harmonie, a harmony which was not merely given but which was comprehended in thought; a man had to not merely be an harmonious part of his society, but had to recognize this harmony, had to comprehend his own existence (including what is most "inward" and private for him, such as his feelings & religious sentiments) as being integrated with the whole of life. The bulk of Hegel's criticisms of his contemporary society make the complaint that it does not make sufficient allowance for this reconciliation to become possible; the life of private individuals is too abstract from the affairs of the state (or the church, or various other social organizations), or else the state (or the church, or various other social organizations) does not make sufficient allowance for the free self-determination of individual actors to do as they judge best. Hegel does not think that moralische Harmonie is impossible; on the contrary, the possibility of this harmony is the highest achievement of modern civilization (and its philosophical handmaiden, Hegel's System, is directed towards helping this Harmonie come about more fully). This is the "end of History": with modernity Spirit knows its world as its own product, comprehends what is given to it as always already implicitly Spirit, as capable of being rationally comprehended, and the social world of "Objective Spirit" is a place where Spirit can feel "at home with itself in its other", where the individual peculiarities of a particular subject are recognized as determinations of the "universal" of society, and not something over and against it.
Zizek is one hundred eighty degrees wrong about Hegel's "the Absolute": it is not a nihil, a "transcendent world of formlessness", or any other ding-an-sich-like transcendence. Hegel's Absolute is not the Schellingian "night in which all cows are black"; the Absolute is the most contentful thing there is. The Absolute is a concrete universal; it has its being, its truth, only in the particular determinations ("moments") which make up Hegel's system -- those which make up the triad of Logic, Nature, and Spirit. The Absolute is not "at war with itself"; the Absolute particularizes itself in the asunderness of nature and returns to unity with itself in the reconciliation of asunderness with unity. To put it in religious terms, the Father begets the Son, and they are united in the Spirit of charity which proceeds from both; God creates a "fallen" world of disorder, enters into it in His only Son, and the world is reconciled to God through the life of the Spirit; the sinful individual, separated from God, becomes an adopted child of God in the community of the Spirit. The Absolute does not wage war in the divine comedy.
The "absolute, self-negating negativity" of the Terror is a moment of history, just as the Fall of Adam is a moment in the Christian story of salvation-history. For Hegel, the Terror is an exemplar of the "abstract universal": in "absolute freedom" one refuses to recognize any "given" content as adequate to the universal, to Reason, --thus the purely formal "Supreme Being" of the French Revolution, and its trumpeting of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" while the actual state was rank tyranny of the lowest sort. The "point" of Hegel's reference to the Terror is not "that it is a necessary moment in the deployment of freedom" (for this would apply to everything Hegel includes in his System), but that the Terror shows what happens when the drive for the Universal in human life takes a utopian form, trying to build everything up anew out of pure thought rather than recognizing and cultivating what is already rational in human life. The Terror of "absolute freedom" occurs in the Phenomenology at the close of the section on the Enlightenment, which is also the section on Pietism -- on faith and reason, so to speak. The Terror is just the flip-side of theocracy; in theocracy subjectivity has no voice because the only source of value is what is given from On High; in the Terror subjectivity has no voice because the only source of value is abstract "Reason". It was thus prescient of the French revolutionaries to build a temple to the idol of Reason, for this is what they viewed it as: a god to replace the unreasonable Christian one.
Hegel actually has a fairly straightforward explanation for why the revolution failed in France: France had never had a Reformation. Hegel has a very low view of the spiritual state of man under Roman Catholicism, but it's not so far-fetched in the case of France; the Catholic Church in France had long been a hotbed of corruption, and it took a ridiculous amount of time for even the modest reforms of the Council of Trent to be enacted -- even the continuing practice of simony was asserted as a "Gallican liberty" for some hundred years after the rest of Catholic Europe had begun to reform itself to curb such abuses.
In Protestant Christianity, for Hegel, women and men can recognize their own everyday lives as opportunities for divine service; the most mundane of occupations can be understood as a divinely-ordained Vocation. What is most holy is not some subset of human life, such as the priesthood or monastic life, but life itself lived in charity. Hegel even extends this opposition between Catholicism and Protestantism to the controversy over the Eucharist: In Catholicism Christ is united to something external to the believer, the bread and wine, and there replaces their ordinary substance -- all that remains of the bread and wine are mere accidents; the body of God is something fundamentally other to the everyday elements and to the believer. Although the believer can be joined with this Body in the act of consumption, this consumption is something extraneous: The Host would remain the body of Christ even if it were never consumed. On the Lutheran understanding of Communion, Christ's Body and Blood are united to the bread and wine without annulling the substance of the bread and wine -- the bread is bread, and also the Body of Christ. There is nothing in the everyday substance of the bread which precludes it also being joined with the indivisible Divine Substance of the Trinity, just as Christ's divinity did not detract from his humanity. Hegel also claims that in Protestant celebrations of Communion Christ is joined to the bread and wine at the act of consumption and not prior to it, so Lutherans do not have the constant fear of desecration that Catholics must live with. If one spills the wine, then one has spilled some wine; if one consumes the wine, then one is enjoying the blood of Christ which was poured out for our sins. In Catholicism, the Host is sanctified by the Spirit working through the officiating priest; in Lutheranism, the Host is sanctified by the Spirit present in the celebrating church-community. In general, for Hegel Catholicism is a realm of heteronomy, of slavishness and submission; Protestantism is a religion of freedom, of "the law which gives liberty" and of freedom from "the law which brings death". Thus in Catholic France, the populous was not equipped to govern their own state, for they did not even govern their own lives, but still remained in spiritual bondage. Thus when they gained political freedom it became "an opportunity for the flesh" -- subjective arbitrariness became the law of the land.
Hegel is not fair to Catholicism, but it does give him an easy counterpoint which he can contrast with the sort of Christianity he does want to affirm as rational, as being in harmony with freedom, indeed in being freedom, the Idea as Religion. It is this sort of Christianity which has made modern states possible, for Hegel; before people could be entrusted with the charge of a state, they had to learn to manage their own conduct. A free state demands free citizens, and only the universal religion freed men of their particular attachments to this or that contingent social arrangement; I think this is the real lesson to take away from Berkhof's "Christ and the Powers." (It is a crying shame that Hegel is not brought up more in contemporary discussions of "the principalities and powers"; Marx is frequently brought up in those conversations, and I think Hegel is flatly superior to Marx in this context. Marx is still too wed to various dualisms to be of much use. If I had continued with my theology studies, this would definitely be something I would have devoted some attention to; Berkhof needs to be freed from the shackles of Yoder's reading of him, and recognized as the Hegelian he really wants to be. This is assuming anyone actually cares about Berkhof, and doesn't just use him as a springboard to play at politics as a theologian. Which may be a problematic assumption. I really disliked Yoder's "Politics of Jesus".)