Hegel established that the historian cannot separate the history of
human events from divine order. Furthermore, he believed that Christian
theology would make history comprehensible:
Christianity's significance for the history of the world is . . .
absolutely epoch-making, for the nature of God has become manifest.
. . . God is no longer an unknown quantity. . . . But we must proceed
from this general faith firstly to philosophy and then to the philosophy
of world history . . . world history is a product of eternal reason
. . .9
Hegel thus eliminated uncertainty from the study of history. The historian
could consequently take comfort in knowing that all history resulted
from the unfolding of a single, knowable plan.
Burckhardt, alive during the height of Hegel's popularly, hesitated
to follow Hegel's method. Unlike Hegel, who believed in a rational plan
and could not have conceived the notion that Europe might descend into
anarchy, Burckhardt, typically pessimistic, noted in 1848, "I simply
cannot tell you how strongly I sense the general disorganization of
private life in Germany. Everything is out of joint and barriers have
lost all their power".10 Moreover, Burckhardt reacted strongly
to the purely analytical nature of Hegel's work. During the Franco-Prussian
war of 1870, he asked a friend:
The two great intellectual peoples of the continent are in the process
of completely sloughing their culture, and a quite enormous amount
of all that delighted and interested a man before 1870 will hardly
touch the man of 1871. . . . Hegel . . . may possibly make his definitive
A more complete contrast could not be imagined between Burckhardt's
observation of the profound effects of war upon society, and Hegel's
views on the unfortunate. Hegel advised his listeners that "reason cannot
stop to consider the injuries sustained by single individuals, for particular
ends are submerged in the universal end."12 WhileBurckhardt
viewed war as a cataclysmic aspect of human experience, Hegel viewed
it as ultimately meaningless since it did not affect the world's spirit.
Hegel's abstraction of history and inherent optimism proved a potent
combination. Statements such as, "each new individual national spirit
represents a new stage in the conquering march of the world spirit,"
and "the aim of world history . . . is that the spirit should attain
knowledge of its true nature . . .