Hegel would have been less influential had he not answered to the spiritual needs of his generation. He offered absolute truth to an age divested of religious faith; his style is at once abstract-and therefore seemingly unpolluted by parochial trivialities-and yet vividly imagistic, descending to the concrete details of politics, art and the moral life with a grace and an air of profundity that have never ceased to be aweinspiring. The spirit of late romanticism inhabits Hegel’s system, and even his most abstruse utterances have a kind of melancholy poignancy. To his contemporaries this characteristic, and the authority that was acquired through it, were most evident in the philosophy of history. This was the part of the Hegelian system which seemed best to explain the peculiar position of the new nineteenth-century man. History had replaced eternity as the key to our salvation, and a philosophy which accorded to history and the human all those dignities which had previously been conferred on the timeless and the divine, recommended itself instinctively to the disorientated conscience of the German romantics. The ‘Young Hegelians’ were philosophers many of whom, like Hegel, had begun their careers in the study of theology. They brought to philosophy all the seriousness of religion, and lost their innocence one by one in the varying ways towards which Hegel enticed them. (Nietzsche was later to characterise the entire post-Kantian philosophy as ‘concealed theology’, thinking of it as an attempt to keep the religious spirit alive in secular clothing.) Some sought to extend the philosophy of history into areas of thought that had yet to be assimilated into it; others tried to restate it without the religious and metaphysical theories that they found in Hegel. All
attempted, in one way or another, to hold on to the new notion of history as a distinctive philosophical idea, while in various ways and to varying degrees abandoning the idealist metaphysics which had created it. The most important philosopher to emerge from this Hegelian aftermath, and perhaps the most influential philosopher of modern times, was Karl Marx (1818-1883), several of whose early works consist in vituperative criticisms of the Young Hegelians to whose circle he at first belonged.