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The development of the spirit's consciousness of its own freedom and of the consequent realization of the freedom. This development is by nature a gradual progression. . . . The logical--and even more so the dialectical--nature of the concept in general, i.e. the fact that it determines itself, assumes successive determination which it progressively overcomes, thereby attaining a positive, richer, and more concrete determination--this necessity, and the necessary series of pure abstract determinations of the concept are comprehended by means of philosophy.3

Hegel's theory offered a constant, dialectical process that suggested an aspect of certainty in history, which contrasted with the changing nature of Western-European politics and society. If all events, past and present, played a role in the advancement of "the Spirit" into more perfect forms, the historian only needed to determine the specific role played by given events.

Hegel, moreover, suggested philosophy as the means to "eliminate the contingent," which he defined as "the same as external necessity . . . a necessity which in turn originates in causes which are . . . no more than external circumstances."4 Hence the metaphysical dialectical process, which defined "world history," could be studied only when the historian extracted it from the contingencies, or unique circumstances and influences, of a given time period. Eliminating the contingent would then enable the study of the role of a given historical period in the evolution of the Spirit.

Although Burckhardt remained disdainful of Hegel's work throughout his life, the respect commanded by Hegel's thinking forced Burckhardt to constantly confront it. He thus rejected the need, proposed by Hegel, of replacing the study of contingency with an ontological philosophy. He admonished a pro-Hegelian friend:

Another man's speculations could never satisfy me, and still less help me, even if I were to adopt them. . . . Leave me to experience and feel history on this lower level instead of understanding it from the standpoint of first principals. . . . The unending riches that stream in upon me through the lower medium of immediate feeling are already making me happy beyond measure and surely will enable me to achieve something, though not necessarily in scientific form, and perhaps even the philosopher will be able to make use of it.5

The "medium of immediate feeling," which was equated to the contingency that Hegel sought to eliminate, became the central theme of Burckhardt's historical writing. He emphasized visual art, drama, literature, and other artifacts which appealed to the senses as the proper objects of study for a historian.


3. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 138.
4. Ibid., 28.
5. Jacob Burckhardt, The Letters of Jacob Burckhardt, ed. and trans. Alexander Dru (Westport: Greenwood, 1975), 73.
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