Slavoj Zizek, one of the famous philosophers of our time, once said that Hegelian pessimism was wonderful to see in the late eighteenth century and in the centuries that followed. But we will now take a closer look at what exactly is so special about this pessimism.
The term "pessimism" comes from the Latin word "pessimus", the superlative of "malus" and literally means "bad". In everyday language, it describes the tendency to emphasize the negative side of situations. In philosophy, it refers to any doctrine that advocates the idea that evil outweighs good in the world and that suffering outweighs joy.
Hegel's pessimism is wonderfully evident in the following quotation:
Anyone who takes a closer look at our, i.e. human, history will realize that the most terrible acts of our species are usually the result of good intentions. Whether we look at the French Revolution or the October Revolution, the discovery of America or the colonization of the world by the Europeans, it doesn't matter. The first, or the basic idea, was always well-intentioned.
Humanity was dissatisfied with the status quo and wanted to change it. Of course, it is not too difficult to understand that there is no blueprint for how best to achieve this. The first attempt to create something new is, according to Hegel, doomed to failure, simply because we don't know, and can't know, how to do it better.
So it is unavoidable to make this original mistake if you want to change anything at all. The prospect of something going wrong in the beginning is very high, or as I said, unavoidable, and also unpleasant, but it is also the only hope for improvement.
Let us take the October Revolution to illustrate this process:
The October Revolution of 1917 was a major event in Russia, marking the overthrow of the provisional government and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. The revolution began with the storming of the Winter Palace in Petrograd on November 7. The Bolsheviks, a radical socialist group, won the support of workers, soldiers and sailors who had been shaken by conditions during the First World War.
Lenin promised "peace, bread and land" and established the rule of the councils (soviets). The October Revolution led to the end of tsarist rule and laid the foundations for communist rule in Russia. However, it also brought chaos and civil war, as various groups, including supporters of the tsars, liberal democrats and other socialist factions, fought against the Bolsheviks. This civil war lasted until 1922 and ended with the victory of the Bolsheviks, resulting in the consolidation of their power and the founding of the Soviet Union. The October Revolution had a global impact and inspired communist movements worldwide, while fundamentally changing Russia politically and socially.
Of course, this revolution, as most people do, did not only have advantages. One of the biggest disadvantages it brought was death through violence and famine. It is estimated that around nineteen hundred and eighty-seven million people lived in Russia. The October Revolution caused the deaths of around ten million, reducing the population by more than a tenth. Although the revolution freed ordinary citizens from the serfdom of the tsars, it caused mass deaths and forced them into a more or less equivalent serfdom of the soviets, who seized power with a vengeance after the revolution.
Only the collapse of the Soviet Union, which began on March eleventh, 1990 with Lithuania's declaration of independence and ended with the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev on December twenty-fifth, 1991, made it possible for the people there to be free.
The Hegelian pessimism is thus the recognition that the first attempt will be bad. However, thoughtful attempts can then emerge from this and the world as such becomes a better place. We simply do not know what can go wrong at the first attempt. We only know that the current situation needs to be changed.
It is also obvious that even the second attempt still needs a lot of fine-tuning in almost all cases. However, even if we know that the first attempt will be a monumental failure, we must dare to make it in order to learn from it for subsequent attempts.
In conclusion, then, Hegelian pessimism differs from classical pessimism in that it incorporates the human learning curve and is thus a negative view of beginning rather than a generally continuous view.