Recently I found myself browsing in Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian. I was struck by Sen's observation that the portrayal of India as a fundamentally irrational, deeply spiritual culture is a British imperial mystification that conceals a long and distinguished history of rational thought and unfettered debate among thinkers with different views, at least during the reigns of Ashoka and Akbar. It is not that I know anything about India. This observation struck me because one of the other books that I have been reading during the last year is Michael Allen Fox, The Accessible Hegel.
Stimulated by Sen, I began to reflect on what I'd been taught by analytic philosophers with whom I studied at Michigan State and the anthropologists with whom I studied at Cornell, in the early to late 1960s. At Michigan State I never studied Hegel, the very mention of whose name elicited raised eyebrows and rolling eyes. The one thing I remember in which Hegel was mentioned was a snark from one of the professors, to the effect that Hegel was the first philosopher to be married and a college professor and the whole field had been going downhill ever since. At Cornell, I was taught a lot about culture and contradictions, with the ideas attributed to Durkheim, Weber, or Marx, Boas, Kroeber or Malinowski. No one mentioned, except for identifying Hegel as an idealist precursor of Marx, that many of those ideas could be traced directly to Hegel. Now I find myself wondering if Anglo-American-French anthropology hasn't done to German thought, and Hegel in particular, what Sen says that British imperialists did to Indian philosophy, basically bury it in accusations of irrationality and other dismissible stereotypes.
Consider the following paragraph from Fox,
It was also a tenet of Hegel's philosophizing that the dimensions of human activity and consciousness toward which he turned his attention were inseparably interrelated and correlated. Art, religion, history, social morality, political institutions, science and philosophy itself were all grist for his mill and must be investigated in order to probe exhaustively the nature of reality. Hegel asserts, as we have observed, that one can begin with any feature of human experience that poses a philosophical problem (e.g., the nature of sense-experience, of beauty, of goodness, of reality, or of God) and one will then find one's initial inquiry rippling outward steadily until, sooner or later, all of these areas are implicated and compel our examination. (p. 23)
That sounds like anthropology to me. If not, why not?
What a great double-barrelled topic, John. I will be brief, but I could be prolix. (What happened to our pact to take a mutual sabbatical, seminars excluded, by the way?).
There is no doubt that the 19th century publicists for the British empire were incredibly effective. They persuaded a lot of foreigners, for example, that they were gentleman cricketers who stood for fair play, when they were in charge of a brutal army and administration on a par with the Romans. The idea that the largest part of the empire was the poorest, most unequal society on the planet was part of it, an idea bought by the rest of the world (to China's benefit among others).
Hegel's Philosophy of Right is the source for the main ideas of all three founders of modern social theory (Marx, Weber and Durkheim). His recipe for national capitalism and the alliance between states and corporations was the blueprint on which the nation-state system was built, yet he is never acknowledged for it. Marx claimed to turn Hegel upside down when he cribbed most of it and especially the dialectical method from him. Hegel is not alone, Rousseau and Kant are now routinely disapraged by western intellectuals. A lot of it comes from the anglophone reaction against the French revolution and later Marxism. The American (and some Japanese universities) were modelled on the German system and in the former case largely staffed by them at first. Another factor is that in 1939 25% of all scholarly articles in the world were in German. After the war, this tradition was obliterated, including by Americanophile Germans. History is written by the winners.
It is interesting that Alfred Marshall who launched modern economics and was identified by Parsons as one of the four founders of contemporary social theory, was a Hegelian and a cooperative socialist, also Keynes's teacher (who proceeded to claim that he was Marshall's negation). And so it goes. Intellectualls are a rascally self-serving bunch and it pays to read the originals (in translation).