The broken “moral unity of man” according to F. Schlegel

Only a philosophical study of history may reach to its deeper secrets. In particular, if we seek a meaning, it is essential to look for completeness. Schlegel may be wrong in assuming an original unity of “nations,” but his diagnosis of the status of the mind in the modern world seems right. The following text is from the “Philosophy of History” by Friedrich Schlegel, Lecture V, translated by James Burton (1835).

“As, after discord had broken out among mankind, humanity became split and divided into a multitude of nations, races, and languages, into hostile and conflicting tribes, castes rigidly separated, and classes variously divided; as indeed, when once we suppose this original division and primitive opposition in the human race, it could not be otherwise from the very nature and even destiny of man; so in a psychological point of view, the moral unity of the individual man was broken, and his faculties of will and understanding became mutually opposed, or followed contrary courses. The whole internal structure of human consciousness was deranged, and in the present divided state of the human faculties, there is no longer the full play of the harmonious soul—of the once unbroken spirit— but its every faculty hath now but a limited, or, to speak more properly, one half of its proper power.


“The restoration of the full life and entire operation of the divided faculties of the human soul must be considered now only as a splendid exception—the high gift of creative genius, and of a more than ordinary strength of character; and such a reunion of faculties must be looked upon as the high problem which constitutes the ultimate object and ideal term of all the intellectual and moral exertions of man. When in an individual a clear, comprehensive, penetrative understanding, that has mastered all sound science, is combined with a will not only firm, but pure and upright, such an individual has attained the great object of his existence; and when a whole generation, or mankind in general, present this harmonious concord between science on the one hand, and moral conduct and external life, or to characterize them by one word, the general will, on the other, which is often in utter hostility with science—we may then truly say that humanity has attained its destiny. The great error of ordinary philosophy, and the principal reason that has prevented it from accomplishing its ends, is the supposition it so hastily admits that the consciousness of man now entirely changed, broken and mutilated, is the same as it was originally, and as it was created and fashioned by its Maker; without observing that, since the great primeval Revolution, man has not only been outwardly or historically disunited, but eveninternally and psychologically deranged. The moral being of man, a prey to internal discord, may be said to be quartered, because the four primary faculties of the soul and mind of man—Understanding and Will, Reason and Imagination, stand in a twofold opposition one to the other, and are, if we may so speak, dispersed into the four regions of existence. Reason in man is the regulating faculty of thought; and so far it occupies the first place in life and the whole system and arrangement of life; but it is unproductive in itself, and even in science it can; pretend to no real fertility or immediate intuition. Imagination on the other hand is fertile and inventive indeed, but left to itself and without guidance, it is blind, and consequently subject to illusion. The best will, devoid of discernment and understanding, can accomplish little good. Still less capable of good is a strong, and even the strongest understanding, when coupled with a wicked and corrupt character; or should such an understanding be associated with an unsteady and changeable will, the individual destitute of character, is entirely without influence.”