Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 July 2009
No one who looks at the bibliography to this new edition of The Cambridge Companion to Hegel will be unimpressed by the remarkable growth of interest in Hegel. The bibliography covers only the last fifteen years - roughly those since the appearance of the first edition of this book - and it deals with books in English alone. To prevent it from ballooning to twice, thrice, or four times its size, the editor had to exclude French, German, and Italian books on Hegel. Such a surge in interest is remarkable for any philosopher, but especially for one who, some fifty years earlier, would have been treated as a pariah.
How do we explain the great contemporary interest in Hegel? It is necessary to admit that it is rather puzzling. After the rise of analytic philosophy in the 1920s, and due to the growing influence of positivism in the 1930s, Hegel's reputation fell into steep decline in Britain. The patron saint of British Idealism had become the ogre of positivism and the very model of how not to do philosophy. Hegel's fortunes began to change in the 1960s as the result of the growth of interest in Marxism. For the student rebellion and trade union movements of the 1960s, Marx became the guiding spirit; but the Marx that inspired them was not so much the mature Marx of Das Kapital but the early Marx of the 1844 Paris manuscripts. The concepts and terminology of the early Marx - “alienation,” “self-consciousness,” “mediation” - made Marx's debts to his great forbear obvious. It was clear that one could understand the precise meaning of these important but strange concepts only if one made an intensive study of Hegel, who had not been studied in Britain since the early 1900s. Although Marx claimed that he broke with Hegel - that he stood Hegel on his head - it was obvious that one could appreciate this only with a good grasp of Hegel.