The Dunghill of Servility (J.F. Fries on Hegel)


Jakob  Friedrich Fries is only remembered these days as “personal and professional enemy of Hegel” (as Terry Pinkard puts it somewhere in his biography of Hegel) – the relationship was of course very interesting in terms of our understanding of Hegel’s character and does not really make Hegel into a very likable person at all. He said many mean-spirited things about Fries, but it seems that the only famous statement by Fries about Hegel is that about the “dunghill of servility” – some texts cite it and I decided to track it down the other day. Here it is for the curious: it is found in the private letter that Fries sent to Ludwig Rödiger on January 6th, 1821:

Ich habe im Augenblick wenig Lust [etwas gegen Hegel zu schreiben], und Hegels metaphysischer Pilz ist ja nicht in den Gärten der Wissenschaft, sondern auf dem Misthaufen der Kriecherei aufgewachsen. Bis 1813 hatte seine Metaphysik die Franzosen, dann wurde sie königlich württembergisch und jetzt küβt sie dem Herrn von Kamptz die Karbatsche. Wenn er Beifall findet, so ist dies nur ein Beweis der wissenschaftliche Ungebildetheit und der Geistlosigkeit des Publikums, von welchem er gehört wird. Wissenschaftlicher Ernst wird gegen diesen Propheten unter den Bütteln nicht die rechte Waffe sein. Überhaupt muβ es ja in dieser Zeit des politischen Katzenjammers, wo jede freie oder auch nur fröhliche Äuβerung verdächtig gemacht wird, einem jeden ekelhaft sein, öffentlich über politische Gegenstände zu sprechen.

[From Hegel in Berichten seiner Zeitgenossen, hrsg. Günther Nicolin (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1970), 221]

A very rough translation of the opening section (just because I have some time until my 1pm class):

At the moment I have little interest in writing anything against Hegel, plus his metaphysical mushroom grew not in the gardens of science but on the dunghill (manure pile) of servility. Until 1813 he had French metaphysics, then it was that of Württemberg’s royalism and these days he’s kissing the horsewhip of [director of the ministry of police] Herr von Kamptz. If he finds praise, then it’s only an indication of the scientific ignorance and spiritlessness (idiocy) of the general public. […]

Sorry have to run to class. I have to notice however that there’s a fun German word Katzenjammer there which, as my dictionary suggests, means “hangover” or “crapulence” – this former, of course, fits better with the theme of crap or manure.

In other Hegel news, check this out. [Here’s the publisher sample for your as well – PDF] There are more details about Fries-Hegel mega-beef.

16 thoughts on “The Dunghill of Servility (J.F. Fries on Hegel)

  1. I keep running into this metaphor, Nietzsche uses it to different effect in Daybreak, the mushroom that grows out of shit:

    “382

    Gardener and garden – Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus, one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and grey. Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him!”

  2. That’s an awesome find, Mikhail. I especially like this turn of phrase:

    Indeed, in this time of political servility [des politischen Katzenjammers] where every free or even cheerful expression is made to sound ominous and equivocal, it must be excruciating [ekelhaft: horrible or disgusting], to speak publicly about political matters [politische Gegenstände]

    I wonder what kind of blogger Fries might have been….

  3. Thanks for picking up my shit-fungi topic here. I wonder if mushrooms in manure was a popular turn of phrase (maybe there were piles of manure everything with mushrooms?). I wonder what Nietzsche’s phrase in German is?

    Alexei, what’s that business with Bütteln? I couldn’t quite find a good English equivalent there.

    Of course the real question here is how much Fries really knew about gardening – clearly dungpile is there for a reason. Does he suggested that Hegel’s thought grows where there is any shit because it is parasitic (and also servile, so it’ll grow where serious consistent thinkers would not go)?

    In any case, good times…

    • Yes, I wonder if it was a standard turn of phrase, or problematic image. One can see the mushrooms of the forest as one kind of thing, but those of the dung pile quite another.

      I love the notion of the mushrooms of thought just popping up over night, and one being unaware where they come from, in the dark.

      One can also see, with Nietzschean analysis how “servile” and “shit” can come together.

  4. I have no idea, Mikhail, what is going on with

    unter den Bütteln

    Ok, that’s not entirely true. I can guess, but I’m not sure whether my guess is accurate. So, Go-Go Guessing power!

    It’s obviously some kind of regionalism (hence why neither of us can find it in the dictionary), and it seems to be patterned on the saying, “unter uns,” which means something like “between us, and no further” (so, for example, if I wanted to say something to you in the strictest confidence, I would probably begin my sentence with, Unter uns). Given the ‘legal/civil servant’ meaning of Büttel (literally bailiff), I’d wager that the whole sentence might be translated like the following:

    Between you me and the walls of public, legal dispute, scholarly integrity and honestly will not be the right weapons against this prophet.

    Of course, I could be horribly wrong here. In fact, it’s entirely possible, plausible, and even likely, that “unter den Bütteln” means something like within the realm of debate (since a literal translation = “between bailiffs”), and thus lacks the “between you and me” connotation.

    All of this is mere conjecture though. I’ve never seen this formulation before, nor does a google search turn up anything helpful. Any Native German speakers around feel like helping us out?

  5. Alexei, that makes sense to me – my initial reaction was to say something like “Scientific seriousness [since all the references to science vs servility] would not be the right weapon against these prophets” – but I didn’t know what to make of “unter den Bütteln”…

  6. Büttel means bailiff, yes, but that usage is quite archaic. Usually a “Büttel” refers to someone who does the governments bidding unquestioningly or even more general to a sycophant. “Wissenschaftlicher Ernst” means not only scholarly integrity, but also seriousness. His point is that it isn’t worth the effort to take Hegel seriously, because his philosophy and the praise he finds are motivated by servility.

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