London Review of Books, April 4, 2019
On 13 October 1806 a young German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, had an encounter with world history. En route to their annihilation of the Prussian forces 24 hours later, Napoleon and his army were marching through the East German university town of Jena. Hegel couldn’t disguise his terror that in the ensuing chaos the recently completed manuscript of The Phenomenology of Spirit might get lost in the mail. But neither could he resist the drama of the moment. As he wrote to his friend Friedrich Niethammer, ‘I saw the emperor – this world-soul (Weltseele) – 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.’
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