Sowing Fresh Seeds on Scorched Earth: A Systematic Interpretation of the Concept of Bildung in G.W.F. Hegel's Philosophy
Swope, Kelly Michael Skelton
G.W.F. Hegel’s political thought took shape in response to the two great democratic revolutions of his lifetime (France, Saint-Domingue). Although Hegel sympathized with aspects of both rebellions, his final judgment was that the revolutionaries surged into politics without the education necessary to actualize their ideals. In response, Hegel attempted to formulate a systematic account of Bildung (education) that modeled political development after natural genesis (the life-process of organisms). The subject of this more systematic Bildung was not a revolutionary but a citizen of a rationally organized state. My dissertation examines whether Hegel’s account of Bildung as the unified process of natural genesis and political education, fully elaborated in the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, succeeds as an answer to the problems raised by the French and Saint-Domingue revolutions. Taking a systematic approach to this text raises at least three major questions: First, how can natural genesis and political education be discussed in analytic separation if they are also dialectically entwined? Second, once the analytic distinction between these two senses of Bildung is established, how are we to understand the shift from natural genesis, a concept that can be applied to living nature in general, to political education, a concept that applies exclusively to the life-activity of human beings? Third, what does it mean to conceptualize Bildung as political education under the nurture of a rational state? I conclude that Hegel’s account does not quite succeed and propose a supplement that heeds the submerged democratic spirit of his own philosophy.