Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sabado gigante

Hegel out west
"[Brokmeyer]  Harris, a Yale dropout whom Brokmeyer met at an informal discussion group, founded the St. Louis Philosophical Society in 1866 with 51 charter members. The society’s dues funded Brokmeyer’s work: a word-for-word translation of Hegel’s “Science of Logic” that he struggled with for most of his life. The society discussed Hegel and Faust, Hegel and Andrew Johnson, Hegel and recent advances in chemistry. The St. Louis Philosophical Society launched the most important philosophical journal in the country: Speculative Philosophy. Here and elsewhere, members of the society criticized institutions they thought irrational — such as slavery — and supported those institutions they thought central to the development of a more rational population, such as public education.

The St. Louis Hegelians were an elite bunch. The celebrated newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer came to meetings; Harris would later become the U.S. commissioner of education. So worshipped was Brokmeyer by everyone who chose to write about him that it can be hard to wade through the folds of encomia to discern the shape of the man himself. When Brokmeyer deigned to speak, gushed society member Denton Snider, “he could make all the fettered nomenclature of Hegel’s Philosophy dance freely in its heaviest chains.”

Hegel’s progressive unfolding thrived on conflict, what Hegel’s popularizers (but rarely Hegel himself) referred to as “thesis and antithesis.” Hegel stuck to lofty abstractions like Being (thesis), Nothing (antithesis) and Becoming (synthesis.) Henry Brokmeyer, not so much. His unimpeachably practical list of theses and antitheses encompassed nearly every aspect of American life: religion vs. science, abolitionism vs. slavery, St. Louis vs. Chicago."

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