For Hegel, the interaction of opposites generates in dialectical fashion all concepts we use in order to understand the world. Moreover, this development occurs not only in the individual mind, but also through history. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, for example, Hegel presents a history of human consciousness as a journey through stages of explanations of the world. Each successive explanation created problems and oppositions within itself, leading to tensions which could only be overcome by adopting a view that could accommodate these oppositions in a higher unity. At the base of spirit lies a rational development. This means that the absolute itself is exactly that rational development. The assertion that "All reality is spirit" means that all of reality rationally orders itself and while doing so creates the oppositions we find in it. Even nature is not different from the spirit since it itself is ordered by the determinations given to us by spirit. Nature, as that which is not spirit is so determined by spirit, therefore it follows that nature is not absolutely other, but understood as other and therefore not essentially alien.
The aim of Hegel was to show that we do not relate to the world as if it is other from us, but that we continue to find ourselves back into that world. With the realisation that both my mind and the world are ordered according to the same rational principles, our access to the world has been made secure, a security which was lost after Kant proclaimed the 'Ding an sich' to be ultimately inaccessible.
British idealism does not refer to all idealist philosophers who happened to be British (e.g. Berkeley), but rather to a philosophical movement that was influential in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The leading figures in the movement were T.H. Green (1836-1882), F.H. Bradley (1846-1924), and Bernard Bosanquet (1848-1923). They were succeeded by the second generation of J. M. E. McTaggart, H. H. Joachim, J. H. Muirhead, and G. R. G. Mure. The doctrines of British idealism so provoked the young Cambridge philosophers G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell that they gave birth to analytic philosophy.
Though much more variegated than some commentaries would seem to suggest, British idealism was generally marked by several broad tendencies: a belief in an Absolute (a single all-encompassing reality that in some sense formed a coherent and all-inclusive system); the assignment of a high place to reason as both the faculty by which the Absolute's structure is grasped and as that structure itself; and a fundamental unwillingness to accept a dichotomy between thought and object, reality consisting of thought-and-object together in a strongly coherent unity.
British idealism largely developed from the German Idealist movement -- particularly such philosophers as Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel, who were characterised by Green, among others, as the salvation of British philosophy after the alleged demise of empiricism. The movement was certainly a reaction against the thinking of John Locke, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, and other empiricists and utilitarians. Some of those involved would have denied any specific influence, particularly in respect of Hegel. Nevertheless, James Hutchison Stirling's book The Secret of Hegel is believed to have won significant converts in Britain.
British idealism was influenced by Hegel at least in broad outline, and undeniably adopted some of Hegel's terminology and doctrines. Examples include not only the aforementioned Absolute, but also a doctrine of internal relations, a coherence theory of truth, and a concept of a concrete universal. Some commentators have also pointed to a sort of dialectical structure in e.g. some of the writings of Bradley. But none of the British idealists adopted Hegel's philosophy wholesale, and his most significant writings on logic seem to have found no purchase whatsoever in their thought (nor in British thought generally).
On its political side, the British idealists were largely concerned to refute what they regarded as a brittle and "atomistic" form of individualism, as espoused by e.g. Herbert Spencer. In their view, humans are fundamentally social beings in a manner and to a degree not adequately recognized by Spencer and his followers. The British Idealists did not, however, reify the State in the manner that Hegel apparently did; Green in particular spoke of the individual as the sole locus of value and contended that the State's existence was justified only insofar as it contributed to the realization of value in the lives of individual persons.
The hold of British idealism in the UK weakened when Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore, who were educated in the British idealist tradition, turned against it. Moore in particular delivered what quickly came to be accepted as conclusive arguments against Idealism. At that point British philosophy in general revolted once more against metaphysics in general. The later work of R.G. Collingwood was a relatively isolated exception.
British idealism's influence in the United States was somewhat limited. The early thought of Josiah Royce had something of a neo-Hegelian cast, as did that of a handful of his less famous contemporaries. The American rationalist Brand Blanshard was so strongly influenced by Bradley, Bosanquet, and Green (and other British philosophers) that he could almost be classified as a British philosopher himself. Even this limited influence, though, did not last out the twentieth century.
It refers mainly to the doctrines of an idealist school of philosophers that were prominent in Great Britain and in the United States between 1870 and 1920. The name is also sometimes applied to cover other philosophies of the period that were Hegelian in inspiration—for instance, those of Benedetto Croce and of Giovanni Gentile.
In the philosophy of religion, Hegel's influence soon became very powerful in the English-speaking world. The British school, called British idealism and partly Hegelian in inspiration, included Thomas Hill Green, William Wallace, F.H. Bradley and Edward Caird. It was primarily directed towards political philosophy.
America saw the development of a school of Hegelian thought move toward pragmatism.
In Germany there was a neo-Hegelianism (neohegelianismus) of the early twentieth century, partly developing out of the Neo-Kantians. Richard Kroner wrote one of its leading works, a history of German idealism from a Hegelian point of view.
Famously, G.E. Moore’s rebellion against absolutism found expression in his defense of common sense against the radically counter-intuitive conclusions of absolutism (e.g. time is unreal, change is unreal, separateness is unreal, imperfection is unreal, etc.). G.E. Moore also pioneered the use of logical analysis against the absolutists, which Bertrand Russell promulgated and began the entire tradition of analytic philosophy with its use against the philosophies of his direct predecessors. In recounting his own mental development Russell reports, "For some years after throwing over [absolutism] I had an optimistic riot of opposite beliefs. I thought that whatever Hegel had denied must be true." (Russell in Barrett and Adkins 1962, p.477) Also:
Particularly the works of William James and F.C.S. Schiller, both founding members of pragmatism, made lifelong assaults on Absolute Idealism. James was particularly concerned with the monism that Absolute Idealism engenders, and the consequences this has for the problem of evil, free will, and moral action. Schiller rather attacked Absolute Idealism for being too disconnected with our practical lives, and that its proponents failed to realize thought are merely tools for action rather than for making discoveries about an abstract world that fails to have any impact on us.
Lately American historian Francis Fukuyama was inspired by an alleged thesis of Hegel, namely the End of History, to write an immensely popular book. That Hegel proclaimed the end of history though is a myth popularised by the French Hegel interpreter Aleksandr Kojeve.
In many philosophic circles it is accepted that the philosophy of nature Hegel proposes is outdated, though it was state of the art when he proposed it. A full one third of Hegel's library consisted of hand books on natural science. Currently contributors like Houlgate argue that Hegel's philosophy of nature warrants closer attention and has been unjustifiably relegated to the dust bin of philosophy.