To get to the root of how this problem is in the now, we have to go to a time before now.
Henry Brokmeyer, whose originating energy among the St. Louis Hegelians was now being felt everywhere in Cambridge, had his first exposure to Hegel around 1848, When Brokmeyer was a student at Brown Uiversity and Frederic Hedge was the Unitarian minister in Providence. Hedge had printed short but well-chosen bits from Hegel in his 1847 Prose Writers of Germany; Brokmeyer would have seen there Hegel's electrifying claim, a claim that also caught Walt Whitman's eye, that "the history of the world is the progress in the consciousness of freedom ... The scheme is this: the oriental world knew that one is free [that is, the ruler]; the Greek and Roman world knew that some are free [the ruling classes]; but we know that all men, in their true nature, are free, – that man, as man, is free"1
Time goes on. In 1858 Brokmeyer acquires a disciple in William Torrey Harris. These two men took the writings of Hegel and built a religious social reform movement out of Hegel's writing in much the same way many other religious persons in the American continent have done before and after them. Like some other religious reformers they managed to occupy local political offices for some time. Brokmeyer was Lieutenant and then acting Missouri governor. Harris was assistant St. Louis superintendent of schools.
After the war of Northern Aggression the Hegelians in St. Louis were sufficiently rooted that they would invite esteemed speakers of the time, like Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1867, to preach at them. This is not atypical behavior among religious reformers.
The philosophical program then emerging in St. Louis was a serious, extended, civic-minded effort to address the problems growing out of the Civil War [sic] and Reconstruction, and the destiny of of America and the place of St. Louis in it, by applying Hegelian thought – specifically Hegelian dialectic – to them all
Brockmeyer identified the position of the American South as that of "abstract right"; the North's position he considered "abstract morality." The synthesis would be a new "ethical state," a new union emerging from the tragic conflict.2
In the 1870's this group of religious reformers migrated from St. Louis, the gateway to America's frontier to Cambridge, Massachusetts. There they set down roots at Harvard and MIT, the gateway to America's political "elite".
Although I did not see it at first, I soon found that it was in each case nothing but the abstract genus of which the conflicting terms were opposite species. In other words, although the flood of ontologic emotion was Hegelian through and through, the ground for it was nothing but the world-old principle that things are the same only so far and not farther that they are the same, or partake of a common nature -- the principle that Hegel most tramples under foot. At the same time the rapture of beholding a process that was infinite, changed (as the nature of the infinitude was realized by the mind) in to the sense of a dreadful and ineluctable fate, with whose magnitude every finite effort is incommensurable and in the light of which watever happens is indifferent. This instantaneous revulsion of mood from rapture to horror is, perhaps, the strongest emotion I have ever experienced. I got it repeatedly when the inhalation was continued long enough to produce incipient nausea; and I cannot but regard it as the normal and the inevitable outcome of the intoxication, if sufficiently prolonged. A pessimistic fatalism, depth within depth of impotence and indifference, reason and silliness united, not in a higher synthesia, but in the fact that whichever you choose it is all one -- this is the upshot of a revelation that began so rosy bright.3
The popular is frequently intellectually inaccessible to particular individuals. William James personally struggled deeply with the concept of faith4 and similarly struggled with accepting the program of the Hegelian brand of religious reformers. It took nitrous oxide intoxication temporarily reducing his mental faculties in a particular way to grasp the Hegelian program as its proponents did.
The appeal of and the effect on idiots of particular idiocies is not always knowable to persons who are not idiots without their being lowered into idiocy through chemical or religious intoxication, and even then it may take a particular species of intoxication to grasp a particular species of idiocy. This mean that while the a person may recognize social engineering being deployed and even in cases be able to distinguish between hired and honest idiots, the mechanism by which the idiocy attaches to honest idiots being socially engineered is elusive and is treated as a black box.
The Hegelian wave which seems to me only another desperate attempt to make a short cut to paradise, is deluging the College this year and will, if I am not mistaken, completely sterilize its votaries.5
The populist form of Hegelianism offered academics at Harvard all of the structure of a religious social program without the theological particulars that made other religious reform programs divisive. The popular Hegelian dialectic of:
- Thesis and Antithesis
Offered a structure for shaping social outcomes by culturing the appropriate polarization in disputes. Activists trained in methods derived from this tradition can be counted on to reliably attack by framing both poles of the debate they want to have as movements. This is why the activists at Mizzou focused on Tim Wolfe personally as agent capable of directing the University against them. This is why the social engineering attack on Bitcoin was framed as the duelling plans of XT and Blockstream but is framed as the duelling plans of "Classic" and "Core" now. Allowing foundational bedrock of any sort into the "debate" must be disallowed for the popular dialectic to work. The goal of the "debate" isn't for either side to win. The goal is a imposing any change at all between the poles in the debate, merely for the sake of having movement.
This is also why movements like the Oregon militia are presented as aberrations. Denying them the thesis-antithesis structure offered when building narratives for desirable activists is the social engineer's way of marginalizing their voices. Why would those for whom the dialectic offers a path to paradise offer the path to their enemies.
Since the St. Louis Hegelians colonized Harvard's mind there's only been 13 decades for America's "elite" to play with applications of the popular dialectic as a strategy to herd idiots.
Malicious stupidity, or malpidity, spread and cultured through the dialectic as a social engineering tool has effectively reduced English into a pidgin. Conversations nearly always happen in parallel, and only in parallel. People speaking English as a foreign language for purposes of trade are the only string still keeping the vocabulary of the English language from completely dissolving. The extent to which American academia's bought into the Hegelian idiocy is evident in both their rejection of the chance for an independent American intellectual tradition out of William James' legacy and why:
Although historical anachronism is always a danger in a revisionist approach, it does seem that James often was insufficiently aware of the importance of liberating social movements contemporary with his public life. ... Nonetheless, as the generations of thinkers subsequent to James knew all too well, the individual is a social category, contexted over and over again by the swirling factors of institutional and communal history.6
William James, who operated one of the few actual campus "safe spaces" in the history of the United States when he offered his Harvard office without restriction to W.E.B. Du Bois to escape the endemic Yankee racism of Harvard, is in the revised history of American academic a person who was "insufficiently aware" of social movements. A campus full of Hegelians too absorbed in the dialectic's potential to engineer social outcomes to engage their Black American classmate as a human being because they hadn't thesis-antithesis synthesized it yet are history's heroes of justice, while the individual who did something is a villain for rejecting the Hegelian's path to paradise.
- Richardson, Robert, D. William James In the Maelstrom of American Modernism. (2006) p. 211 [↩]
- Ibid p. 213 [↩]
- William James, "Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide" [↩]
- There is substantial irony in the popular legacy of William James as a primarily religious thinker. [↩]
- William James, Letter to Xenos Clark, December 1880 [↩]
- John J. McDermott. The Writings of William James. p. xi [↩]