An Imagined Conversation between Hölderlin and Hegel

“In January Louis XVI, Citizen Louis Capet, was publicly executed. The event weighed upon the friends in the clandestine Jacobin society [at the Evangelisches Stift]. True, many celebrated this bloody end to the monarchy and the death of tyranny. But the majority feared this death was only the beginning.

A confused Hölderlin, leaving the debating hall, pulled Hegel close.

Didn’t you wish for the death of despots, Fritz, didn’t you write poems calling for it? And as soon as it actually happens you are weak and plaintive. Is it valid only as an idea and not in reality?

You are right, Hölderlin replied. I don’t know. When I look at the reality I begin to fear it.

And your unfreedom?

Could it not all be achieved without violence?

And the violence that the King also used?

It was dreadful, Hegel, but he used little violence to subjugate many.

How else could it be overcome [aufzuheben]?

I don’t know.

Hegel saw that his friend’s doubts had almost brought him to tears, and answered for him: the King, when left alive, would have tried to win over the old powers again.

And the power of the Jacobins? asked Hölderlin quietly. Is it that of the people? Who really wields this power? Won’t they now kill Brissot and his friends?

We need time, Hölder. And the people must learn.

In the face of violence? Of streaming blood?”

(Peter Härtling, Hölderlin)