Hegel’s Mediator

In The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Jurgen Habermas makes a crucial connection between modernity and romanticism. Modernity, he states “reveals its essence in romanticism.” The context for this comment is a discussion of modernity’s “consciousness of time.” Modernity seems to refer, in the sense of temps moderns or modern/new age, to a specific time. It is apparent, however, from Habermas’s formulation: “modernity’s consciousness of time,” that modernity also refers to a way of thinking about time. In order to arrive at this self-consciousness, modernity must be presented with the opportunity to reflect upon its own time. Romanticism is that which provides this opportunity. Habermas draws our attention to Hegel in this regard, “he [Hegel] recognized immediately that romantic art was congenial to the spirit of the age – in its subjectivism, the spirit of modernity was expressed.” In his analysis of Hegel‘s role in conceptualizing the link between modernity and romanticism, Habermas almost completely overlooks Hegel‘s Phenomenology. This link is particularly legible, however, in that text, specifically at the end of part four “Self-Consciousness” in the figure of the mediator.

Immediately prior to introducing the concept of reason, by means of which the previously unhappy and alienated consciousness makes the move towards absolute knowledge, a mysterious mediator is abruptly introduced into Hegel‘s narrative: “in the mediator, then, this consciousness frees itself.” The moment of the appearance of this figure is itself germane to a discussion of the link between romanticism and modernity. The mediator appears as the transition between part four “Self-Consciousness” and part five “Reason.” Indeed, the mediator is introduced as a “middle term” or transition. The mediator appears in the text as the transitional moment between part four and five of the Phenomenology and thematically as the agent which facilitates the transition from unhappy consciousness to reason. Additionally, the role of the mediator itself, is to present the unchangeable aspect of consciousness to the changeable or unessential consciousness.

I have said above that the appearance of the mediator is abrupt. By this I mean to say that a transitional moment is always a moment which allows for pause and reflection. If it were not for the arrival of the mediator (an event which is presented in the language of spontaneity) self-consciousness and reason would be separated by an impassable chasm. In order to grasp for self-consciousness to reach reason the mediator must appear. Here, at the moment of the mediator, Hegel‘s narrative pauses and only once the role of the mediator has been understood, can it continue. Therefore the transitional moment of the mediator serves as a bridge. And a bridge is of course an in between position, a position which demands reflection.

I read Hegel‘s mediator, in other words, as a figure which produces consciousness through transition and reflection. I propose that this figure, therefore, provides a model for the relationship between modernity and romanticism.


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