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Klaus Vieweg’s eight-hundred-page biography of Hegel made something of a sensation when the German original appeared in 2019. More lies have been told about Hegel than about any other philosopher, Vieweg averred, and the biggest lie of all painted Hegel as an apologist for the Prussian Restoration. That remains a common assessment of Hegel on this side of the Atlantic: As Leo Strauss remarked in 1958, Hegel is often seen as “both a reactionary and a metaphysician: a metaphysician, i.e., unscientific, and a reactionary because he sold his soul to the Prussian sham-constitutional monarchy of the early nineteenth century.”

The canard about Hegel’s “servility” to the Prussian monarchy was first promulgated by the arch-Romantic and virulent anti-Semite Jakob Fries, who once demanded that Judaism be “extirpated root and branch,” and whom Hegel had excoriated in the introduction to his Philosophy of Right. Fries riposted that “Hegel’s metaphysical fungus has grown not in the gardens of science but on the dunghill of servility.” Progressives like John Dewey and liberals like Karl Popper demonized Hegel after the First World War with the tendentious claim that he had deified the Prussian state. Walter Kaufmann, Shlomo Avineri, and other scholars unraveled the Hegelian Black Legend in the 1960s, and Terry Pinkard’s 2000 biography offered a balanced account. As Pinkard and Vieweg report, Hegel intervened with the Prussian authorities—at some personal risk—on behalf of students jailed for subversive activity. He opposed the Prussian Restoration as well as anti-Semitic and anti-French Romantics like Fries. The nationalist appeal to “heart, friendship and inspiration,” Hegel wrote derisively of Fries, abhors “what has been for many centuries the labor of reason and understanding.”

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