A History of Hegelianism in Golden Age Denmark. Tome I, The Heiberg Period: 1824–1836
This is the first of three “tomes” of Jon Stewart’s habilitationisskrift in philosophy at the University of Copenhagen; the second concerns The Martensen Period: 1837–1842, and the third Kierkegaard and the Left-Hegelian Period: 1842–1860. Together they make up volume 3 of Stewart’s series Danish Golden Age Studies (København: Reitzel, 2007–). Their purpose is “to put forth the basic information about the Danish Hegel reception in a clear and readable fashion” (xxi). Such information needs to be put forth because, unlike Hegel’s reception throughout the rest of Europe and beyond, Danish Hegelianism remains largely but unjustly neglected in scholarly circles (2). Many of the primary texts are available only in Danish, “a small language not widely read outside Scandinavia” (1–2), and are not readily accessible even to those who do read it. (Stewart himself is helping to rectify this situation in his series of translations, Texts from Golden Age Denmark [København: C. A. Reitzel, 2005–].)
The present tome describes the first phase of Danish Hegelianism, under the banner of the aesthetic and literary arbiter of taste, J. L. Heiberg (1791–1860). As Stewart amply shows, Heiberg’s explicit attempt to popularize Hegel’s philosophy was not particularly successful, either in his periodical Københavns flyvende Post, at his teaching position at the Royal Military College, or elsewhere. He produced no dedicated Hegelian students, and—with the exception of On the Significance of Philosophy for the Present Age (1833)—his own Hegelian writings did not prompt lasting discussion. (Danish Hegelianism would not become really pervasive until H. L. Martensen, as presented in tome 2 of this study.) Moreover, Heiberg himself did not have a trained philosopher’s knowledge of the details of Hegel’s own thought; but for this very reason, he proved to be more than a mere parrot of Hegel.
Stewart’s study details Heiberg’s treatment of human freedom (in the context of the famous “Howitz Controversy” regarding Danish judicial reform), his ongoing attempt to formulate an aesthetic theory along broadly Hegelian lines (before the availability of He-gel’s own Lectures on the topic), his philosophy of language, his “speculative logic,” and his controversial On the Significance of Philosophy for the Present Age, where he presents his views on the relation of philosophy to religion.
To this reviewer, while Stewart unquestionably presents a wealth of sorely needed information and detail, he seems concerned to refute views that are no longer seriously held, if indeed they ever were. Granted, the Danish Hegelians are too little known today. But does any informed person nowadays seriously hold, perhaps as a result of Kierkegaard’s unrelenting criticism of them, that they were simply parrots of Hegelian orthodoxy and can therefore be ignored? It is one thing to supply the necessary information; it is quite another to suppose that those who do not have it think it is unneeded or non-existent.
Again, Stewart takes Heiberg to task for claiming in a letter to Hegel (1825) that the latter’s philosophy “still does not seem to have made its way to Denmark,” and for the claim that his own On Human Freedom (1824) was “the first Danish work which gave a glimpse [End Page 150] into Hegel’s philosophy” (70). If anyone ever took these claims to mean literally that no Dane had heard of Hegel earlier, or knew anything at all about his views, with or without having had the slightest influence on the Danish Hegel-reception, that view is decisively refuted by Stewart, who cites Henrik Steffens, von Berger, Oehlenschläger, Baggesen, and others as exceptions (chapter 1). Nearly eclipsed by all this is the fact that F. C. Sibbern, who dominated the University of Copenhagen for half a century (and was the director of Kierkegaard’s dissertation, On the Concept of Irony), really did know about Hegel, far better than Heiberg himself did. But unlike Heiberg, he did not take himself to have any special mission to “spread the word.” Surely this spreading the word is all Heiberg’s claims meant (rightly or wrongly), and all they were taken to mean. Stewart quotes H. L. Martensen himself as crediting Heiberg with being the one who had “introduced Hegel into Denmark.” Yet Stewart dismisses this remark by saying Martensen “probably knew better” (545). It seems far more likely that Martensen, like everyone else, never took Heiberg’s original claims in the extreme sense Stewart no doubt refutes. I see no evidence to the contrary.
Despite these criticisms, readers will appreciate Stewart’s tireless and productive labors, both here and elsewhere, to illuminate this neglected but important area of European thought.