Alienation and Emotion: Hegel Versus Sentimentalism and Romanticism

  •  Warren D. TenHouten    


The structuralist and social-psychological perspectives on alienation are described, with attention to Seeman’s contention that the experience of alienation is based more on sentiment than on reason. The passions in early modernity are described, and the eighteenth-century moral sentimentalists Hume, Smith, and Kant are discussed. Romanticism is described as the first self-critique of modernity, as it opposed Enlightenment science, rationalism, and uniformitarianism; it is linked to interiorized emotionality and to diversitarianism. Romantic concepts of alienation include inhibition of natural sexuality, oppressive condition of work, and the loss of an imagined Golden Age before human alienation. Hegel’s Phenomenology outlines a four-stage mode of the undoing of social domination which has a narrative structure consistent with romantic story-telling, but was grounded not in romanticism but in Gnosticism and Lutheran dialectics. Hegel’s critique of sentimentalism and romantism is explored, with Hegel emerging as a dedicated anti-romantic who condemned the sophistry of Schlegel and Novalis’s ‘beautiful soul’, arguing that the self, to be viable, cannot remain encapsulated in inner subjectivity but must rather engage in emotion-laden confrontation with self-willed others in the social world; this requires a positive kind of alienation of the self from itself. Romantic effort to keep the self in itself as protection from the corrupted and corrupting social world was misguided. Hegel was right in asserting that the self is necessarily both subjective and objective, both inner and outer, but wrong in his contention that the self can progress by resolving inner contradictions, for the self, as the core of our personality, rather progresses through incorporating and elaborating contradictions, ambiguities, and polysemantic meanings.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1918-7173
  • ISSN(Online): 1918-7181
  • Started: 2009
  • Frequency: quarterly

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