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  • Hegel’s “note of discord”: The Cultural Crisis and the Inspiration for Heiberg’s On the Significance of Philosophy for the Present Age1
  • Jon Stewart

Johan Ludvig Heiberg was for years the main propagandist for Hegelian philosophy in Golden Age Denmark. Inspired by his trip to Berlin in 1824, where he met Hegel in person and attended his lectures, Heiberg dedicated much of his academic program to disseminating Hegel’s ideas, which he took to have great relevance for his age. While Heiberg openly acknowledges his debt to Hegel in his so-called “Autobiographiske Fragmenter” (Autobiographical Fragments), he does not go into detail about what specifically in Hegel’s philosophy was so interesting or attractive to him (Heiberg 1861–1862, 11:500–1; 2005, 65). Scholars have speculated about this issue in some detail, and many attempts have been made to identify Hegelian elements in Heiberg’s works.2 In the case of many of Heiberg’s writings, this is a fairly straightforward matter. For example, his works on metaphysics, or what he calls “logic,” are clearly an imitation of Hegel’s Science of Logic and the corresponding first part of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences.3 There are also clear Hegelian elements in his dramatic works, especially his purported speculative comedy, Fata Morgana (Heiberg 1838; [End Page 81] see Stewart 2012).4 He also makes use of Hegelian ideas in several of his works on aesthetics, which are dominated by a theory of genre.

Given all of this, it would seem that the question of Hegel’s influence on Heiberg is a settled matter. However, the issue is not so simple when it comes to what has been regarded as Heiberg’s prose magnum opus and most important philosophical work, Om Philosophiens Betydning for den nuværende Tid (1833; On the Significance of Philosophy for the Present Age [2005, 85–119]). This text overtly hails Hegel, along with Goethe, as leading the vanguard of culture into a new age. But what he actually says about Hegel’s philosophy in this piece in not always so clear. The question that I wish to address in this article is what specifically about Hegel’s thought was the background for this important text by Heiberg. I will argue that the answer is found in the final pages of Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. This might appear to some scholars as counterintuitive since religion was only a secondary interest for Heiberg and plays a limited role in Om Philosophiens Betydning for den nuværende Tid. However, I wish to argue that in fact these lectures by Hegel form the very groundwork for Heiberg’s piece.

The Crisis of the Age

The leading motif of Om Philosophiens Betydning for den nuværende Tid is that there is a great crisis in Europe, which encompasses all spheres of culture. At the beginning of the work, Heiberg describes the present period as a transitional phase in historical and cultural development during which old values, customs, and guiding ideas fall into doubt, and people cast around for new ones with which to replace them. He writes:

En saadan Tilstand er egenlig ingen Tilstand; den er kun en Overgang fra en foregaaende til en tilkommende; den er ingen Tilværen, men kun en Vorden, hvori det Gamle ender og det Nye begynder; et Skin af Tilværen, bestemt til at vige Pladsen for en virkelig Tilstand; med andre Ord: den er en Crisis.

(1833, 3–4)

A condition of this kind is actually no condition; it is only a transition from a previous condition to one that is yet to come. It is not a fixed existence but only a becoming, in which what is old ends and what is new begins, an appearance of existence, destined to take the place of a real condition; in other words, it is a crisis.

(Heiberg 2005, 87) [End Page 82]

With this, Heiberg sounds the alarm about the current state of culture in his time. The crisis has arisen due to the undermining of traditional values in recent times. Here, he seems to imply that this is a result of both...


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