Essays Philosophy

Heroism and the World Soul at Jena

There are two stories concerning Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s encounter with Napoleon at Jena. The first is apocryphal but romantic and sublime; Hegel was supposedly penning his final touches on The Phenomenology of Spirit when the guns of battle roared behind him and, in a chaotic moment of genius, edited a few sections based on Napoleon’s invasion. The second is verifiably true; Hegel wrote a letter to his friend and former colleague Friedrich Niethammer: “I saw the Emperor—this world-soul—riding out of the city on reconnaissance. 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.” The flattering portrait Hegel wrote of Napoleon to his friend has subsequently spiraled into mythic legend. Why did Hegel have this seemingly lofty view of Napoleon? …

My essay at Merion West on the fateful encounter of Hegel and Napoleon on the eve of the battle of Jena and how it relates to Hegel’s philosophy of history and Phenomenology of Spirit. Read the full essay at Merion West: “Heroism” and the “World Soul” at Jena (13 October 2021)


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