Hegel on History

Hegel on History

Hegel on History

Hegel on History

Synopsis

Hegel's Introduction to the Philosophy of History remains one of the most profound and influential books on the philosophy of history. In clear and cogent terms this book:* examines the ideas and arguments of the Introduction to the Philosophy of History * explains key concepts of Hegel's system, a knowledge of which is essential for fully understanding his philosophy of history* assesses the continuing relevance of Hegel to the contemporary debate about the nature of history.

Excerpt

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born on 27 August 1770 in Stuttgart and died, of cholera, on 14 November 1831 in Berlin. He led a relatively uneventful life in an eventful time, a time of what have to be called, in the language of his philosophy of history, ‘world historical’ events. in particular, there was the French Revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon. Hegel is supposed to have hailed the first of these events as a young student by participating in the planting of a tree of liberty. Although he came to deplore, and to give in his Phenomenology of Spirit a profound analysis of, the excesses of the Revolution, he never ceased to regard it as having a positive historical significance. It always remained for him a vital moment in the realisation of human freedom, a view symbolised in his reported habit of raising a celebratory glass each year on the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. Napoleon, the child of the Revolution, was to figure for Hegel as the central example in the modern world of those he terms the ‘world historical individuals’. His attitude is captured vividly in a letter that reports on the sight of the Emperor, ‘this world-soul’, riding out of the city of Jena after his victory in battle there: ‘It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrated here at a single point, astride a horse, reaches out over the world and masters it’ (HL: 114). the note of awe and reverence is struck again when, nearly ten years later, Napoleon came to fulfil the tragic destiny characteristic of the world historical individual. It is, Hegel observes, ‘a frightful spectacle to see a great genius destroy himself’, allowing ‘the entire mass of mediocrity’ to bring him down (HL: 307).

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