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Part 3 of Doug Greene and Harrison Fluss' Enlightenment series is now out
Hegel’s dialectical analysis of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution provides the groundwork for Marx’s theory of historical materialism.
G.W. F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) presents us with one of the greatest critical overviews of the Enlightenment. The German philosopher Hegel wrote his magnum opus in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, and the legend goes that the ink on the Phenomenology manuscript was still wet when Hegel fled with it during the Battle of Jena (1806). Even amid the French occupation of Germany, Hegel saw Napoleon as the “world-spirit” on horseback and supported France’s revolutionary export of liberal institutions throughout Europe.1 By Spirit, Hegel means the development of human activity, or the historical process of emancipation, and Hegel wrote the Phenomenology as a philosophical odyssey of human freedom. Unfortunately, while devoting some space to discuss Hegel’s political views, Jonathan Israel fails to address the Phenomenology’s engagement with the Enlightenment project, as well its implications for the French Revolution and beyond.
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