Horst Altaus has done here an excellent job. We are curious about philosophers as men and women because philosophy is somewhat more intimate than science, and Hegel was present at a time of rapid change: during the Napoleonic wars, he saw first hand his "dialectic" in which the German states were turned topsy-turvy by world souls on horseback.
Altaus intersperses his chapters with readable digests of Hegel's major works.
There is the obligatory comment about Hegel's complex style, combined with rather patronizing praise of the simplicity and elegance of a minor work on the Württemburg constitution: for we often find that to ascribe the label "difficult" to the style or the man committs what psychologists call a fundamental attribution error.
For we find that Hegel could use, in his minor work, a style appropriate to the theme. It is said that the style should be appropriate to the audience as if that was something we could control, but Hegel's troubles with getting enough students to attend his lectures, documented by Altaus, show both that operationalism of this sort was not his cup of tea, and that it is less fundamental than the duty of the author towards reality.
People are difficult and their style is difficult when they try to impress (although anyone who today uses a difficult style merely to impress aliterate administrators and deans needs his head examined), but perhaps more often when they find themselves wrestling, like Jacob, with angels.
Hegel wrote simply when writing on mere constitutions, as did John Adams. But his larger theme required on his part a couple of barrels of books, dragged about Germany by primitive transportation, and while his ethnocentrism is obvious, Hegel's philosophy of history remains in some ways up to date.
Hegel's texts have the curious property that they share with Kant that unlike mathematical or scientific works, one gets the impression that "if this stuff is true, not only could it not be otherwise, its-being-put-otherwise would not make any sense at all. On the other hand, however, if this stuff is false, it is not false, but without any sensible meaning, whatsoever."
IF the struggle for recognition is the motor of consciousness and of history, then any alternative story is gibberish, which is interesting, for Hegel's story is confusing enough.
And, it's gibberish precisely because of its proposed theme, which is everything.
Science considers the alternate worlds and chooses the true world, but the alternate worlds can be pictured. True philosophy on the other hand, is concerned with the only world, whether we interpret that as the set or join of all possible worlds, or a world in which all possibilities will come to pass.
This alone I think generates the "complex bad" style of Kant and of Hegel.
Hegel should be read by philosophers of consciousness, and Althaus is a good introduction: for contemporary theorists may be making fundamental mistakes.
IF our consciousness is formed by the Other from day one, then this would predict that fetal alcohol syndrome victims and children deprived of contact with their others have no consciousness as we experience it from the inside.
It means that "scientific" explanations of consciousness that hypostatize individual minds are doomed. No model of consciousness makes sense if it "works" in a world populated by only one consciousness. Just as mathematics requires existence assertions, consciousness requires a stronger assertion: in the beginning there is neither zero nor one but two (Madonna and child.)
Horst includes more patronizing material on Hegel's scientific views which he shared with Goethe. They may seem to Altaus to be a dead end but forms of them survive in deep ecology. They were replaced by reductionism which, paradoxically, points of Thomas Kuhn's Oedipal destruction of old paradigms and technical whizbang as its own ultimate ratio regium. It is a reductionism which is unable to master complexity because its gesture is a hand-wave, from simple initial conditions to complex results, that in an idealist gesture ignores labor.
It is clear that like many intellectuals, Hegel compromised himself later in life by becoming an ideologue for the Prussian state. But while the dialectic is not a license for easy self-contradiction (as Hegel's friend Goethe feared) there is a genuine dialectic between the hero of the chapter on lordship and bondage in the Phenomenology of Mind, and the apologist for a state church.
For all other things being equal, we would like to live in a society that reflected our deepest needs and one that did not demand principled retirement. But history, as I write, staggers on.
Althaus shows that Hegel, as many attackers have said, may have compromised himself by at the end of his life, identifying the World Spirit with the Prussian state.
This is, of course, ethnocentrism run amuck. But Hegel's views were not evaluative. As Altaus shows, he was concerned with description of a sort that would sensibly relate individual psychology to history.
Hegel's poltical philosophy gives no basis whatsoever for resistance to a state, or paradoxically it can be reread as revolutionary counsel.
For if one lives in the best state, or even one that merely is the state in which the world spirit has set up shop for good or ill, revolution is either evil or futile, or both. If the state is the home of a benign world spirit, Casper the Friendly Weltgeist, then resistance is evil.
But if (as commentators after Hegel have noted, especially Adorno) Hegel provides no reason why the world spirit may not be perceived as bad or evil in its effects on our lives, revolution is futile and evil, being futile, everything else being considered.
In short, reading the biography of the later Hegel illustrates how old age can be lethal for philosophy. The later Marx showed some of the same intellectual decay as his carbuncles got the better of him. As T. S. Eliot wrote, "do not tell us of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly."