Marx’s view of history compared to Hegel and Kant

Marx’s Version of History Compared to Hegel and Kant


German philosophy is crowded with ideas about History. The three thinkers Hegel, Kant and Marx have many overlapping ideas. In particular these three all develop ideas for the point and purpose of history and which way it should go. In comparison they seem to overlap and develop along three main categories, the narrative frame that history goes in, the objective of history and the method in which to obtain the objective of history.

The first thing to look at as how these thinkers narrate history, which terms they put a trajectory of history into and how that affects the way they argue their points, Immanuel Kant starts out with a postulation in his Idea for a Universal history from A Cosmopolitan View that

like every other natural event are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment. (Kant, 11)

Kant views history from the level of the individual as “complex and chaotic” meaning it seems to not have a pattern that can be readily discernable. It’s only from the “standpoint of the human race as a whole” that you can see the pattern emerge and therefore put a meaningful inference to it. The pattern though to Kant is a natural one. Kant writes that

Since men in their endeavor behave, on the whole, not just instinctively, like the brutes, nor yet like rational citizens of the world according to some agreed-on plan, no history of man conceived according to a plan seems to be possible, as it might be possible to have such a history of bees or beavers. (Kant, 12)

Men according to Kant behave on the same instinctual level as “bees or beavers”. The will and actions of men behave in accordance with “nature” who on the onset like the philosopher “cannot presuppose any [conscious] individual purpose among men in their great drama, there is no other expedient for him except to try to see if he can discover a natural purpose in this idiotic course of things human.” (Kant, 12) for Kant history is termed in a natural course of things in which a purpose must be discovered by men of higher reason. Since nature, “produced men like Kepler, who subjected, in an unexpected way, the eccentric paths of the planets to definite laws; and she produced Newton, who explained these laws by a universal natural cause.” (Kant, 12) Accordingly nature produces the people like Kepler and Newton who find laws in order to explain the “universal natural cause.”

Hegel overlaps with many of Kant’s points. He seems to agree implicitly that men with higher reason are the ones that make sense of the natural history, although not termed as natural history, but an original history. They work very close together conceptually as Hegel admits a sort of chaos of information like the natural history of Kant, but unlike Kant seems to take greater pains to articulate these categories of history and what counts as a more true form of history. In his Methods of History Hegel writes the following of the original historians, that

They translate: what is externally present into the realm of mental representation, thereby bringing the outer into the inner-just as the poet works up the stuff of his own sensation into images for our minds. Of course, such original historians rely on the reports and accounts of others, since it is not possible for one person to have seen everything. But they use these sources as ingredients. These historians bind together what is vanishing down the stream of time, and place it all in the Temple of Memory to give it immortality. (Hegel, 3)

Here we see that this translation of events has a variety of forms that Hegel doesn’t find trustworthy as reliable history. The original historian wrote them all down in order to “place it all in the Temple of Memory”, so that the event may be remembered in one way shape or form. The unacceptable forms to original history according to Hegel are the

Legends, Folksongs, and traditions—these are to be excluded from, the original history, because they are obscure modes of memory, proper to the mentality of preliterate peoples. On the contrary, in original history we are concerned with peoples who knew what they were and what they wanted. (Hegel, 4)

These subjective modes of articulating history may have served a purpose of translating, “what is externally present into the realm of mental representation”. This however is to be excluded because of its connection to “the mentality of preliterate peoples.” In other words it’s of a lower reason and therefore should be ignored.

Marx, on the other hand narrates history in different terms than Kant and Hegel. Not in terms of a natural history or original history, but a history narrated with capital as the focal point. As natural history serves Kant’s use of reason making sense of chaos or Hegel’s use of Original history in a similar fashion, Marx’s use of the concept of capital helps to develop a history focused on the use of resources of a way of understanding the problems that plague mankind. The problem for Marx isn’t men of lower reason coming into higher reason to make better informed decisions like for Kant and Hegel. It is rather the exploitation of resources grouping people in classes for a constant struggle for those resources that is the main hindrance. In the beginning of the Communist Manifesto Marx starts off with the statement that

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freedman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeymen, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in a common ruin for contending classes. (Marx, 474)

The problem articulated by Marx is a problem of unequal distribution of resources, called capital, and the struggles it produces.

The objective of history according to Marx is to be free from this system of capitalistic exploitation. The goal for history according to Marx is Communism. For communism as articulated in the Communist Manifesto

Deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriation. (Marx, 486)

In other words to break apart the system, which exploits people to form a society where labor is not appropriated by a ruling class that according to Marx is the goal of history to reach communism and the method is revolution and overthrow of the ruling class and process of communism.

Marx though isn’t in total disagreement with Kant and Hegel. Both Kant and Hegel both agree about this theme of freedom. For Kant freedom comes from reason given by nature, “Her giving to man reason and the freedom of will which depends upon it is clear indication of her purpose.” (Kant, 14) For man is not, “to be guided by instinct” (Kant, 14) but rather from “out of his own resources” (Kant, 14) the resources are those that come from his own reason. For Kant you must triumph over instinct and establish your own reason.

Hegel’s objective for history is very much the same thing, in his Reason in History, Hegel writes that

The only thought that philosophy brings with it, in regard to history, is the simple thought of reason—the thought that reason rules the world, and that world history has therefore been rational in its course. This conviction and insight is a presumption in regard to history as such (Hegel, 12)

Hegel goes on to say that “speculative reflection has shown that reason is the substance as well as the infinite power, that reason is for itself the infinite material for all material and spiritual life.” (Hegel, 12) For Hegel has the same objective in mind as Kant that the objective for history if reason.

What is common with all these thinkers is recognizing the problems that stand in the way of reaching these objectives. For Kant recognizes the antagonisms that face reaching reason and the freedom that follows therefore he suggests that

The capacities which can be achieved by mankind, is attainable only in society, and more specifically in the society with the greatest freedom. Such a society is one in which there is mutual opposition among the members, together with the most exact definition of freedom and fixing of limits of its limits so that it may be consistent with the freedom of others. (Kant, 22)

The fixing of limits is further elaborated by Kant as a sort of constitution that sets the rights of all. Similar to Marx in the universalizing effect of his particular political solution, but has a constitutional political model rather than a communist one.

Hegel on the other hand doesn’t want to hold himself down to a single solution, as he writes in Freedom, Individual and State

Humans do not see themselves as the “means” for the goals of Reason in that entirely external sense at all. On the contrary, not only do they use the occasion to satisfy their particular interests whose content is different from the goal, but they also have a part in the rational goal itself; for that very reason they are to regarded as ends in themselves. (Hegel, 36)

Hegel doesn’t have a particular utopian vision as Marx or Kant. Rather he sees a multiplicity of circumstances as satisfying reason rather than just one.

All these thinkers view history in a certain light. They all overlap at certain points in their thinking and deviate strongly at others. What can be said though is that their interest in history is a given goal. How they narrate that goal and how they get there is different.






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