A Half-Century of Greatness: The Creative Imagination of Europe, 1848-1884

By Frederic Ewen; Jeffrey Wollock | Go to book overview

Chapter One
The Lightning of Ideas
Reason and Revolution 1835–1848

The insight then to which…. philosophy is to lead us, is
that the real world is as it ought to be—that the truly
good—the universal divine reason—is not a mere ab-
straction, but a vital principle capable of realizing itself.
This Good, this Reason, in its most concrete form, is God.
God governs the world; the actual working of his gov-
ernment—the carrying out of his plan—is the History of
the World…. Before the pure light of this divine Idea—
which is no mere Ideal—the phantom of a world whose
events are an incoherent concourse of fortuitous circum-
stances, utterly vanishes.

—Hegel, The Philosophy of History

German philosophy is a serious matter, of concern to all
mankind. Our remotest descendants alone will be able to
judge whether we are to be blamed or praised for having
first produced our philosophy and then our revolution.
But it seems to me that a methodical people like the Ger-
mans had to commence with the Reformation. There-
after they could occupy themselves with philosophy, and
only when they had completed that task, were they in a
position to pass on to political revolution. I find this se-
quence very reasonable. The heads which philosophy
used for reflection could later be chopped off by the rev-
olution, for its own purposes. But philosophy could
never have used these heads if the revolution had first
chopped them off.

—Heinrich Heine

Until now philosophers have only interpreted the world
in various ways; the point is to change it.

—Karl Marx

While Britain was roaming the high seas, sending its goods and its culture far and wide—and from its factories, teeming treasures of linens, cottons and woollens, coal and iron—a revolution was taking place in Germany that was to shake the world as profoundly, though in an altogether different manner, as the industrial revolution in England. This revolution, now in the making, had as yet no terrestrial abode except

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