The originality of the Hegelian philosophy lies in its philosophical, rather than historical

interpretation of Napoleonic politics. The powerful admiration of Hegel for Napoleon,
admiration stressed by all the commentators of the german philosopher, admiration shared
equally by one of the most famous interpreters of Hegel, A. Kojèe, matters little here.
!hat is important is that Hegel"s perspectie is not historical, but philosophical # by
pondering oer uniersal history, Hegel intended to draw the philosophical meaning from
Napoleonic politics. $n terms of his philosophy, Hegel does not loo% at the world from the
point of iew of original history, nor from the point of iew of refle&ie history, but ascends
to the point of iew of philosophical history '(). This is why understanding the Hegelian
interpretation requires first an understanding of the Hegelian philosophy of history. !hat are
its dominant features, which apply here* $ would say there are three which suffice. +irst, that
uniersal history is ruled by the Absolute, then, that the Absolute is reali-ed dialectically and
progressiely in the dramas, comedies and tragedies of history, finally, that heroes, nations
and states constitute the successie instruments of the accomplishment of the Absolute. Here
is the famous Hegelian theme of the guile of .eason, of the artifice of .eason that Hegel
probably borrowed from /ree% tragedy.
$ncrease
As far as the philosophy of history is concerned, what is the first trait of the Hegelian ision
of the Napoleonic hero * A famous passage is often quoted. $t is an e&tract from the letter
Hegel addressed from $ena to his friend Niethammer, 0ctober (1th, (234, when he had just
finished writing The 5henomenology of 6ind # 7 $ saw the 8mperor 9this soul of the world9
go out from the city to surey his reign, it is a truly wonderful sensation to see such an
indiidual, who, concentrating on one point while seated on a horse, stretches oer the world
and dominates it. 7 ':orrespondance, T. $, p.((;). The fact that the greatest philosopher of
modernity finished writing The 5henomenology of 6ind on the ee of Napoleon"s entrance
into $ena, one of those eents which 7 happen once eery hundred or thousand years 7 cannot
be, in an Hegelian perspectie, the result of historical contingency because the beginning of
the end of political history coincides with the end of philosophy # Napoleon achiees on the
leel of action what Hegel carries out on the leel of thought. Napoleon reali-es the Absolute
about whose science Hegel e&pounds in The 5henomenology of 6ind.
Howeer, what is the %nowledge we can gain from the scene described by Hegel * That day,
Hegel did not hae to say his morning prayer, that is, he did not hae to read the newspapers,
because the historical reality, the actuali-ation of the Absolute was happening before his ery
eyes. +urthermore, Hegel saw Napoleon go out from the city and go on reconnaissance, but
Napoleon himself did not see Hegel # Hegel %new therefore what Napoleon was doing while
Napoleon did not %now what Hegel was doing.
$ncrease
Napoleon was, therefore, carrying out, without %nowing, the Hegelian philosophy of history #
instrument of the Absolute on the scene of the world, Napoleon was becoming the hero of
modern history. +inally, if Napoleon"s action consisted of a tangible actuali-ation of the
Absolute, such action must hae been aesthetically beautiful. This is why Hegel wrote to his
friend Niethammer that 7 it is a wonderful sensation to see such an indiidual 7 # Napoleon"s
action was both e&traordinary and admirable.
$ncrease
!hat could be, then, the second feature of Hegel"s Napoleonic hero * Hegel admires
Napoleon because he is a man of action # this is why, in the aboe mentioned e&tract, Hegel
wrote to Niethammer that Napoleon goes out from the city to go on reconnaissance, whereas
the historical hero, being a man of action, is a constant feature of the Hegelian philosophy of
history. As Hegel wrote in 8lements of the 5hilosophy of .ight '< 1;2) # 7 At the forefront of
all actions, hence of historical actions, stand indiiduals or subjectiities which effectiely
cause the substantial reality to occur. 7 $n =ectures on the 5hilosophy of History, written a
few years later, Hegel teaches his students that historical heroes 7 are practical9minded men. 7
'p.1>). Napoleon, li%e Ale&ander and :aesar, is thus a man of action # he is not what he
thin%s, neither what he hides, but what he does. $n The 5henomenology of 6ind, he had
already deeloped this idea # 7 The real being of man lies rather in his deed, it is in this deed
that indiiduality is effectie... the indiidual is what this deed is. 7 'p.?1(). !hile writing
these sentences, Hegel may hae thought of Napoleon. This is the quite plausible hypothesis
of @. Hyppolite, great commentator of Hegel #
7The acting indiiduality, 7 he wrote, 7 here is the concrete mind Hegel considers , it is not
impossible,7 he continued, 7 that he thin%s of the great men of action of whom history gies
us so many e&amples... $t seems we hae to eo%e, as much as the romantic figures, a
particular figure who must hae haunted his imagination. That is Napoleon.7
Napoleon appears to be the 7man of action7 who reealed to man his creatie possibilities
'/enesis and structure of the 5henomenology of 6ind, p.;A2) '?). But if the historical hero is
a man of action, then a psychology of the historical hero is useless and ain. !hy * Because
it is always a 7 serant 7 psychology. Hegel, in the =ectures, mentions the words of /oethe # 7
There is no hero for his serant according to a famous saying, $ added 9 and /oethe said it
again ten years afterwards 9 not because the man is not a hero, but because the other is the
serant. 7 'p.14). The serant psychology reerses the order of %nowledge because the
conquests, and not the desire of conquering, e&plain the historical hero, and, because 7 the
small psychological mind 7 belittles the great man. 6oreoer, the Hegelian reputation of
ulgar psychologism has, as a consequence, the justification of the historical action of the
hero # certainly the historical hero, li%e Napoleon, can act by infringing upon the laws of
morals and of rights, he can trample down 7 many an innocent flower, 7 7 ruin many a thing
on his way, 7 '=ectures, p.1A) but his action is justified because while pursuing his goal, he
contributes to the actuali-ation of the Absolute # isn"t the history of the world, in Hegel"s
opinion, the justice of the world *
Hero because he is the man of action who ma%es the Absolute effectie, Napoleon is also one
because he %nows what he is doing # he is a hero because he %nows 7what is necessary and
what to do when the time comes7 '=ectures, p.1>). The historical heroes, including Napoleon,
%now 7 the truth of their times and their worlds because they are aware of the historical
necessity # that is why, li%e Ale&ander and :aesar, Napoleon is a wise man because he %nows
the nature of his era. 7 $f his %nowledge is both eminent and incomparable, then the hero
cannot be adised. !hat Hegel writes about great men, in the =ectures, applies for
Napoleon # 7 !hat they would hae learned from others in terms of plans and well9meaning
adice would hae been, on the contrary, more narrow9minded and more wrong , because
they %new best what was at hand. 7 :onsequently, the hero teaches, educates and eleates
souls # therefore, the Hegelian hero is not a despot because he does not rule souls, but because
those souls let him lead them. The Hegelian ision of the Napoleonic hero is thus, $ would
say, quite the opposite of the ision that Benjamin :onstant had at the same period #
Benjamin :onstant, a 6ontesquieu disciple, thought that Napoleon"s political action,
essentially warli%e and conquering in his iew, was anachronistic because the modern world
was, according to :onstant, characteri-ed by the pre9eminence of trade. Napoleon is not, in
Hegel"s iew, anachronistic because he is, using the 5latonic ocabulary, 7 the soul of the
world 7, he constitutes therefore the principle of unity and moement of the modern world #
Napoleon is at the forefront of the historical actuality because he is an actor of it.
$n other words, Napoleon is an historical hero because he %nows the historical changes that
must be accomplished, and because he ma%es these changes. 0f course, his %nowledge is not
the panoramic %nowledge of the philosopher who %nows, li%e Hegel, the direction and
purpose of world history. But if his %nowledge is partial, it corresponds neertheless to the
historical situation in which he is acting # Napoleon ma%es history, but he does not fully %now
the history he is ma%ing. Actor of history, instrument of the Absolute, scholar among the
ignorants, ictim of historical necessity. As we will see now, here is the quadruple character
which defines the Hegelian Napoleon.
0n the scene of a modern world, Napoleon is the epic hero, not because he would be some
sort of demigod, not because he would be 7 der erscheinende /ott, 7'1) the god who appears,
but because he 7 situates himself at the head of the eents... because they must be connected
to his own person, occur and be resoled by him. 7 'Aesthetics, B, ;, p.132), but he is also a
tragic and pathetic hero. $n the =ectures on the 5hilosophy of History, Hegel wrote that
:aesar perished a murder ictim, Ale&ander died e&hausted by conquests and Napoleon died
while e&iled on an island. He also wrote in 8lements of the 5hilosophy of .ight '< 1;2) that
the actions of historical heroes 7 bring them neither honor nor gratitude from their
contemporaries or from public opinion of posterity. 7 +or what reasons was Napoleon"s
destiny to be tragic and his end pathetic * +irst, Napoleon was, in the historical sense, only
the instrument of the Absolute. $f he was only the instrument of the Absolute, he could be
only the ictim of the historical necessity # Napoleon was to perish because he was playing
only a unique and transitory role on the scene of History. That is why Hegel wrote from
Nurnberg to his friend Niethammer, April ?Cth (2(; # 7 /reat things hae happened around
us. $t is a frightening and fantastic spectacle to see a tremendous genius destroying himself. $t
is the most tragic thing eer. 7 ':orrespondance, T.?, p.1(). Decondly, history cannot repeat
itself # as the Bourbons were twice e&pelled, Napoleon was twice e&pelled. Hegel did not
beliee in the success of Napoleon, bac% from 8lba island ':orrespondance, T.(, p.>(). The
repetition now comical 9the .estauration was a farce9, now tragically 9the !aterloo battle9 of
the historical failure demonstrates that the fundamental category of history is to Hegel the one
of a change both necessary and irreersible. Napoleon was to fail, failure that Hegel said he
foresaw in the 5henomenology ':orrespondance, T.?, p.1(), because the Absolute was
leaing +rance, crossing the .hine to go and objectii-e itself in the 5russian state. Napoleon,
tragic hero, is also a pathetic hero in Hegel"s perspectie because nothing great in the world is
made without passion # Napoleon"s destiny could not be happy, it had to be miserable.
Napoleon did not attain 7 a quiet pleasure, 7 7his whole life was only toil and sorrow,7 and 7
his whole nature was only his passion. 7 His end was also pathetic because he met only the
ingratitude of the world # if the historical hero is at the forefront of his epoch, he cannot be
understood by his contemporaries.
Napoleon is not only the epic, tragic and pathetic hero of the modern history, he is also a hero
on the leel of practical philosophy 9 on the leel of the philosophy of war, rights and Dtate.
Hegel certainly admired in Napoleon a general who flies from ictory to ictory. But military
science does not interest Hegel as much as it inspired, at the same period, :lausewit-, the
5russian general and patriot who was fascinated by Napoleon and whom he calls, in Ee la
/uerre '>, 1, p.13C), 7 the greatest war leader of modern times. 7 $n the emperor of the
+rench, Hegel admires first of all the general # how could he forget the ictory of the /reat
Army on the 5russian army he obsered in $ena *
How could he forget the entrance of 7 the +rench soldiers 7 followed by the regular troops in
$ena, 7 the biouac fires of the +rench battalions 7, the bla-e of the city * ':orrespondance,
T.(, p.((;). 7 Nobody had imagined a war such as the one we saw 7 he wrote 0ctober, ?;,
(234, to Niethammer. $n (2??, at !aterloo, li%e :hateaubriand who had attended the battle
from far away, the :ommentaires by :aesar in hand ';), Hegel confesses again his
admiration for Napoleon"s military genius # 7 +riday 7 he wrote, 7 we isited by cabriolet the
!aterloo battlefield 9 and $ saw there these plains and hills eternally unforgettable , $
particularly noticed the height coered with wood, from where the isibility can spread a few
miles around, and from where Napoleon, the prince of battles, had established and lost his
throne. 7 ':orrespondance, T.?, p.1(3) '>). +rom (234 to (2??, the Hegelian ision of
Napoleon did not change # Napoleon is the general who deelops, at a point in time and
space, a ubiquitous and panoramic ision of the world.
$f Hegel is not concerned about military science, he neertheless deelops a philosophy of
war. 6ore precisely, his ision of history and politics is military. He e&poses it spontaneously
in a letter to his friend Niethammer, dating from @uly >, (2(4. !hile he considers that the
Absolute arises henceforth in the 5russian Dtate # 7 $ stic% 7 he writes 7to this idea that the
spirit of time has gien the order to moe forward. This order has been obeyed , this being is
moing forward irresistibly li%e an armored and compact phalan& and with a moement as
imperceptible as the sun"s, through good and bad roads. :ountless light troops, against him
and for him, flan% him eerywhere. 7 ':orrespondance, T.?, p.2().F
This assimilation of the march of the Absolute to the march of the antique '/ree%) infantry
can be e&plained because the fight, first pacific then aggressie, between the Dtates
constitutes, in Hegel"s iew, the fundamental condition of history of the Dtates so that it forces
into moement the historical dialectic. Historical progress is thus the justification of war
'8lements of the 5hilosophy of .ight, < 1?;). At the same time, Hegel names Napoleon 7the
5rince of battles 7 because the ictory of the reolutionary and imperial armies hae insured
that the progress of the Absolute in history would be both irresistible and inincible. But,
more precisely, Napoleon is the modern hero because Hegel recogni-es in him the traits of
the antique hero. 7 5rince of the battles 7, Napoleon is, li%e :aesar and Ale&ander, necessarily
a soldier because the soldier both holds the science and e&ercises the art of conflictuel
relationships between Dtates , moreoer, the courage of the Hegelian hero dries him to
e&pose himself, li%e Napoleon, 7to the forefront of all actions. 7 The Hegelian hero accepts to
gie up the ital bonds which attach him to e&istence and to die free on the battlefield 7 the
place of heroism.7 Napoleon is 7 the 5rince of battles 7 because he embodies and illustrates
the antique 7irtues 7 of the warrior '4).
But, on the other hand, and not any more on the leel of international public law, but on the
leel of national public law, Napoleon is also the modern hero. Hegel does not actually thin%
that the Dtate can be founded on a contract, li%e Hobbes, =oc%e and .ousseau thought. But
rather, he is a disciple of 6achiaelli, who, in The 5rince, demonstrates that Dtates are
historically established by a deed combining guile, strength and iolence. The Dtate can
certainly seem to lie on an historical foundation, and that is why Hegel reproaches for
Napoleon haing wanted to impose a 7 more rational 7 :onstitution on Dpain '8lements of
the 5hilosophy of .ight, < ?A;), but in the last analysis it lies, in his eyes, on 7 the hero"s
right 7 'Heroenrecht) to found Dtates. !hat is the Hegelian justification of the heroes" right *
The heroes" right is not the law of the strongest because a coup which fails demonstrates at
the same time that it was not justified. That is why the coup which succeeds and which
introduces law in the morals and in the institutions of a nation is legitimate to Hegel # the
heroes" right is fair because the heroes are, li%e the /ree% heroes, legislators. Therefore Hegel
writes in 8lements '< 1>3) # 7 This is the absolute right of the $dea to interfere in legal
determinations and in the objectie institutions which result from marriage and agriculture,
that the form of the reali-ation of the $dea appears both li%e legislation and li%e a blessing
from /od, or li%e iolence and injustice. This right is the right of the heroes to found Dtates. 7
Hegel admires, thus, in Napoleon the founder of the modern Dtate. $n =ectures on the
5hilosophy of History, Hegel relates and then justifies the coup of Brumaire, (2th. # 7Again
arises a goernment organi-ed li%e the old one , but the leader and monarch is now a
changeable directoire of fie people forming undoubtedly a moral, but not indiidual, unity.
6istrust was preailing among them as well and the goernment was in the hands of the
legislatie assemblies. $t had therefore the same fatal destiny, because the absolute need of a
goernmental power had made itself felt. Napoleon reinstated it under the form of military
power and then placed himself again at the head of the Dtate as a source of indiidual will ,
he %new how to goern and was soon done with the internal. 7 'p.1;?).
Napoleon is thus, to Hegel, the founder of the modern Dtate because its principle is
henceforth not the will of all, not the will of a few but the will of the 5rince.
Heroic founder of the modern Dtate, Napoleon is also the public and priate law teacher.
Gndoubtedly, Hegel thin%s again about Napoleon when he writes in The 5rinciples of the
5hilosophy of .ight '< ?(>) # 7 The rulers who hae gien a code to their peoples, een if it
was an undefined collection, as it was the case for @ustinian, but especially when it is a
national law, presented under the form of a precise and ordered code, hae not only become
the greatest benefactors of their peoples who hae accordingly glorified them. They also
accomplished a great act of justice 7. Hegel neer saw in Napoleon an usurper, li%e Benjamin
:onstant had, nor li%e /ermaine de DtaHl"s despot, but rather a public and priate law teacher.
+rom (234 to the end of the 8mpire, Hegel deelops this topic in his correspondance. $n a
letter he addresses from Bamberg to Niethammer August ?C, (23A, Hegel writes # 7 The
/erman public law teachers are bound to write numerous wor%s about the idea of soereignty
and the meaning of the :onfederation"s deeds. The great public law teacher lies in 5aris. 7
':orrespondance, T.(, p.(A3). Hegel e&pects, thus, the 5rotector of the .hine :onfederation
to modify the Baarian public law. He writes to Niethammer, 0ctober (1, (23A # 7$t seems
that from 5aris the last decision did not come yet... which will not only concern the e&ternal
attribution of territories but will also hae 9 for the best of the peoples 9 an influence on the
internal organi-ation. 7 ':orrespondance, T.(, p.(A4). As%ing as well from his friend
Niethammer 'who had become High :ounsellor for Dchools and !orship at the Baarian
6inistry of $nterior) the introduction of a 6onitor comparable to the +rench 6onitor, Hegel
writes, @anuary ??, (232 # 7 But you do not hae een a political 6onitor , to e&press a word
you hae the freedom of writing and the press freedom, but no publicity # $ mean here that the
goernment e&poses to his people the situation of the Dtate, the use of public funds, the
sericing of debt, the administratie organi-ation, etc. Howeer, with the new organi-ation in
iew, many things will undoubtedly come , here one tal%s about twele prefects # will there
be a Dtate council and a national representation *7 ':orrespondance, T.(, p.(C(). +ebruary,
((, (232, again writing to Niethammer, Hegel still hopes for the introduction in Baaria of a
constitution inspired by the !estphalian constitution # 7 heaen"s will 9 that is to say the
8mperor of the +rench 9 must ma%e it wor% and that the forms of centrali-ation and
organi-ation adopted until then disappear, in which there is no justice, no guarantee, no
participation of the people, but the arbitrary and the presumptuous judgement of only one. 7
':orrespondance, T.(, p.(CC). +inally, Hegel e&pects the introduction of a :iil code. +laying
then one of his acquaintances named Ian Ielden, who as a landowner fears the introduction
of the :ode, he writes to Niethammer # 7$ was telling him that the /erman princes could not
aoid to ma%e polite gestures to the 8mperor of the +rench by adopting the wor% on which he
has himself toiled and which he considers as his personal project... But the /ermans 7, he
writes full of bitterness, 7 are still blind, e&actly li%e ?3 years ago. 7 ':orrespondance, T.(,
p.(CC) 'A). Hegel"s e&pectations must hae been satisfied because the minister 6ontgelas
imposed a new constitution on Baaria. $n a period document dating from 6ay (, (232, one
can read 7 it gies all the rights that citi-ens of a Dtate can reasonably desire, the abolition of
the priileges, hereditary dignities, Dtate guilds of particular proinces, the reunification of
the whole Kingdom in a unique body to be judged according to the same laws goerned by
the same principles, imposed by the same principles... Derfdom is abolished where it still
e&ists. The nobility loses its franchises and pecuniary e&emptions and contributes to the
public charges in the same proportion as all citi-ens... The law guarantees to eeryone the
safety of the person and property, the freedom of conscience, freedom of the press according
to the laws established to repress abuses, the equal admission to all the charges, dignities,
benefits, a ciil and criminal :ode common for eeryone. 7 'Eunan, =es EJbuts du .oyaume
de Baière) '2).
5rince of the battles, founder of the Dtate, law teacher. Duch is Napoleon to Hegel"s eyes, but
he is also and aboe all the organi-er of the modern Dtate.
Hegel opens his lessons on .oman history by reporting the famous bit of conersation
between /oethe and Napoleon # 7 0ne day he was conersing with /oethe about the nature
of tragedy. He e&pressed then the opinion that the modern tragedy was differing from the old
one essentially in that we do not hae fate any more of which men will succumb and that in
the place of the ancient +atum has appeared politics. $t should thus be used as the modern
destiny for tragedy, as the power of circumstances to which the indiidual has to bend to. 7
'=ectures, p.?(>). Hegel"s interest for politics conceied as a destiny probably lies in his
biography # Hegel was the son of a +inances ciil serant of the !urtemberg du%edom who
opened the family circle to political and administratie problems. He alues as well the
historical circumstances # Hegel"s youth coincides with 7 this glorious sunrise 7 which was to
him the +rench .eolution. 6oreoer, Hegel lies, writes and teaches in an economically,
socially and politically behind9the9times /ermany. 5olitics are thus 7the power of
circumstances 7 which forms Hegel"s indiiduality. But the conersation between Napoleon
and /oethe was of special interest to Hegel 9 his whole life a reader of Dha%espeare 'C) 9
because his ision of history is on the one hand theatrical, and on the other hand political. $t is
theatrical because world history is the stage on which are played the historical dramas, the
comedies and the tragedies whose main actors are historical heroes, nations, Dtates, 8mpires.
But it is also political because world history, ruled by the dialectic and progressie reali-ation
of freedom consists in the necessary transition from democracy to aristocracy, then to
monarchy. $n the theater of modern history, which constitues the last act of the drama of the
Absolute, Napoleon is the hero who organi-es the Dtate. 6ore precisely, Hegel is the
sha%espearean philosopher of the Napoleonic drama but he is also, with the Dtate being the
diine on earth, the theologian of the Napoleonic Dtate.
The 8mpire of Napoleon did not interest Hegel, nor was he interested in the Kantian idea of a
federation of Dtates reali-ing a peace both uniersal and perpetual. !e %now why # Dtates are
indiiduals whose moral duty should oblige them to %eep constant peaceful relationships, but,
since they are indiiduals, they are compelled to e&clude each other and to %eep sometimes
aggressie relationships. But the idea of nation does not fascinate Hegel either# while he was
reporting in the Bamberg Newspaper, at the pea% of the 8mpire, the capture of Eant-ig, the
+riedland battle, the Tilsit peace, the 5ortugal e&pedition, the bombing of :openhagen by
Admiral /ambier, the Dpanish war and the 8rfurt meeting, +ichte, in his Eiscours K la Nation
allemande called on the /erman elites to defeat the despotism of Napoleon, whom he calls
7the man without a name.7 $t is only the solution brought by Napoleon to the problem of the
Dtate which interests Hegel. After the fall of the 8mpire, the return of the %ings and
Napoleon"s death, Hegel dedicated himself to political philosophy # he wrote 8lements of the
5hilosophy of .ight, published in (2?(, the year of Napoleon"s death '(3). The coincidence
of Napoleon"s disappearance and the publishing of 8lements illustrates the Hegelian idea of
philosophy being the retrospectie thoughts about a bygone world. 7As the thought of the
world7 he writes, 7 philosophy appears only at the time when reality has ended the processus
of its formation and has accomplished itself. !hat the concept teaches us, history shows with
the same necessity # one must wait until the reality had reached its maturity for the ideal to
appear in front of the real, sei-e the world in its substance and rebuild it under the form of an
intellectual empire... 6inera"s owl flies away only at nightfall.7 '5refaces, p.>C). $n
8lements, Hegel brings to light the main traits and ideals of the modern Dtate that Napoleon,
in the noise and the furor of the historical fights, had established and organi-ed.
=et us leae it to historians to decide to which e&tent the political and military reforms carried
out, after the (23> disaster, by the 5russian ministers 'Dtein and Hardenberg) and generals
'Dchamhorst ad /neisenau) imitate or not the model of the +rench Dtate, reolutionary and
imperial. =et us dismiss as well the false idea according to which the Hegelian philosophy of
Dtate would only copy the 5russian Dtate, progressie before the fall of 8mpire, reactionary
afterwards.
!hat matters here are the fundamental traits of the Hegelian Dtate, thus of the modern Dtate,
and at the same time, the Napoleonic. !hat are they* $n his admirable Hegel et l"Ltat 8. !eil
has them perfectly brought out # the Hegelian Dtate is an hereditary and constitutional
monarchy. $t is strongly centrali-ed in its administration, decentrali-ed on the economical
leel, with a body of professional ciil serants, no Dtate religion, and soereignty outside
and inside. All these traits 9 apart from the first one which can be discussed 9 characteri-e the
modern Dtate and correspond to the reality of the Napoleonic Dtate. $n particular, the fact that
Hegel stresses the monarch"s will '((), the counsellors of the 5rince, the role of the
goernment and the administration demonstrates to me that he brings out from the
Napoleonic Dtate the nature of the modern Dtate. The originality of the Hegelian philosophy
of Dtate is triple # first, the model of the modern Dtate is not, to Hegel, 8nglish but +rench.
!hile the +rench political philosophy 9 from 6ontesquieu to :hateaubriand 9 adopted
8nglish ideas, the /erman political philosophy, particularly Hegel, adopted the +rench ideas.
A liberal philosopher, Hegel does not thin% that the 8nglish political institutions guarantee
ciil freedom or political freedom '5rJcis de l"8ncyclopJdie des sciences philosophiques, <
>;;). 6oreoer, the /erman philosopher holds a singular place in 8uropean thought of the
first half of the (Cth century because he is, it seems to me, the only one who understood,
faced with the thunder of historical eents, the nature of the Napoleonic Dtate # he cannot be
lin%ed with the group of 5russian patriots, nor the one of Austrian reactionaries, nor the one
of the +rench9spea%ing liberals. At last and aboe all, Hegel neer thought that the
Napoleonic Dtate was a despotic Dtate. $n his correspondance, his boo%s and his lectures,
Hegel says or writes that the Napoleonic Dtate, based on the equality of rights, reali-es
freedom in modern history. +rom $ena to Berlin, his judgement did not ary. $n a letter to
Niethammer, dated August ?C, (23A, Hegel wrote # 7The /erman princes hae not understood
yet the idea of a liberal monarchy, nor tried to reali-e it. Napoleon will hae to organi-e all
this. 7 ':orrespondance, T.(, p.(A3) '(?). !hen the 8mpire had anished from the theater of
the world, Hegel denounces, in a letter addressed to Niethammer @uly >, (2(4, the return of
the 7 beaers 7 of the 7 fleas 7. The 7 bugs 7 who claim to restore the feudal and clerical
institutions. At last, around (213, in Berlin, in his last lectures dedicated to the philosophy of
history, more precisely to the :onsulate and the 8mpire, Hegel teaches to his students that
Napoleon 7 turned '...) towards the outside the boundless power of his character, subdued
8urope and spread all oer his liberal institutions.7 '=ectures on the 5hilosophy of History, e,
p.1;1).
5athetic, tragic and epic hero on the scene of modern history because he is the instrument of
the Absolute, man of action and thought, but also 5rince of the battles, law teacher, founder
and organi-er of the Dtate on the political leel, Napoleon embodies therefore, li%e a new and
ultimate Theseus, the Hegelian hero.
Bonaparte, +irst :onsul, had as%ed of de Iilliers in (23( a four9hour tal% and a four9page
report summari-ing Kant"s philosophy, but Napoleon 8mperor did not %now Hegel, nor read a
page of the secretary of the Absolute # moreoer, /ermaine de DtaHl, in Ee l"Allemagne,
published in (2(3, neer mentions the name of the /erman philosopher. $f The
5henomenology of 6ind, published in (23A, whose manuscript for the publisher had crossed
the +rench lines in a mail coach to arrie at $ena, had been quic%ly translated, and if the
8mperor had read it, he probably would hae thrown it into a fire # 5henomenology is the
most difficult boo% of modern philosophy and, li%e Hegel, Napoleon did not appreciate the
ideologist. Napoleon would probably not hae understood Hegel, but Hegel did understand
Napoleon. 0ne must be a great philosopher to understand a great man. Because he was
calculating the forseeable and unforeseeable consequences of his deeds, Napoleon was acting
as a man of thought, but Hegel thought as a man of action because the Absolute appeared,
according to him, in historical actors and actions. The commentators on the Hegelian wor%s
interpret, in an opposed manner, the theme of the end of history. .ecently, the American
disciple of Kojèe, +. +u%uyama, in his boo% entitled =a fin de l"histoire, assures that
Napoleon put modern history to an end. 8. !eil considered that the modern Dtate, organi-ed
by Napoleon, did not constitute to Hegel the completion of uniersal history, while Kojèe
judged that the uniersal and homogeneous Dtate founded by Napoleon constituted the
beginning of the term. The solution of this problem does not lie, in my opinion, in 8lements,
nor in The =ectures, but in Aesthetics. There Hegel opposes the heroic age 7to the prosaic
character of the present time.7 Thus the modern history, the 8mpire which is bygone from the
scene of the world, is prosaic. $t is not poetic any more, and consequently, it cannot be epic
any more. 7The monarchs nowadays7 Hegel writes, 7are not, li%e the heroes of the mythical
age, the physical pea% of the !hole, but a center, more or less abstract, of institutions firmly
established and protected by laws and constitutions. The monarchs nowadays hae let the
most important goernmental acts escape from their hands. They do not spea% the law any
more , the finances, the ciil order and public safety are not their special tas% any more...7
'Aesthetics, p.?>;). The reader of this chapter is gripped by a %ind of nostalgia and
melancholy. All institutions able to assure freedom and equality hae been established up to
the time of Hegel so that Napoleon is the last hero of uniersal history '(1). No hero will
come after him 9 and, actually, no hero came. By writing that modern monarchs are not the
7physical pea% of the !hole7 any more, does Hegel remember the quasi9Theophanic
sensation he felt while watching Napoleon passing by on a horse, 0ctober (1, (234, in $ena *
7$ saw the 8mperor 9 this soul of the world 9 go out from the city to surey his reign , it is a
truly wonderful sensation to see such an indiidual, who, concentrating on one point while
seated on a horse, stretches oer the world and dominates it.7



Of Heroes, Villains, and Valets
34.3(.C( 9 (?#33 A6 M by /ertrude Himmelfarb
Dhare on print 5rint 5E+
NNo man is a hero to his alet.O The dictum is generally attributed to the Eu%e of :ondJ in
the reign of =ouis P$I. Hegel amplified it to read# NNo man is a hero to his alet, not because
the former is no hero, but because the latter is a alet.O
This emended ersion of the proerb first appeared in (23A in HegelQs 5henomenology of
6ind and was later repeated in his 5hilosophy of History 'where he too% the occasion to
remind his readers that it was he who originated it, not /oethe, who had been gien credit for
it). Hegel had a proprietary interest in heroes because they were the Nworld9historical
indiidualsO whom he saw as the crucial agents in the progress of history. By the same to%en,
he had nothing but contempt for those small9minded men, men with the souls of alets, who
reduce historical indiiduals to their own leel of sensibility and consciousness#
!hat schoolmaster has not demonstrated that Ale&ander the /reat and @ulius :aesar were
drien by such passions Rfor conquest and fameS and were, consequently, immoral* +rom
which it immediately follows that he, the schoolmaster, is a better man than they because he
has no such passions, and proes it by the fact that he has not conquered Asia nor anquished
Earius and 5orus, but enjoys life and allows others to enjoy it too.
The schoolmaster loo%s at a historical figure and sees only a priate person. He is li%e the
alet, Hegel says, who Nta%es off the heroQs boots, helps him into bed, %nows that he prefers
champagne, and the li%eOTand %nows nothing more about him. NHistorical personages fare
badly in historical literature when sered by such psychological alets. These attendants
degrade them to their own leel, or rather a few degrees below the leel of their own
morality, these e&quisite discerners of spirit.O
HegelQs schoolmasters are our professors. They are the academic critics who treat the masters
of literature with all the reerence of a alet, who put Dha%espeare to bed, so to spea%,
remoing his boots, ta%ing off his clothes, tuc%ing him in, secure in the %nowledge that he is
only a man li%e themseles, and that they can read, interpret, and deconstruct his plays as if
they had written themTas if, to use the current jargon, he is no more NpriilegedO than they,
as if his Nauthorial oiceO has no more NauthorityO than the oice of the critic. !e may also
find HegelQs schoolmasters among those academic historians who loo% for the essence of
history not in the great eents of public life but in the small eents of priate life, who reduce
public figures to the leel of priate persons, who recogni-e no statesmen but only
politicians, who see no principles in public affairs but only self9sering interests.
0ne can appreciate HegelQs point about heroes and alets without being quite so enthusiastic
about some of his heroes. Hegel himself does not absole his heroes of immorality. N!orld9
historical indiiduals,O he says, are not ery NconsiderateO of those who stand in their way.
They are li%ely to Ntrample down many an innocent flower, crush to pieces many thingsO in
their path. And for this they are indeed subject to Nmoral reprehension.O They are also, he
reminds us, subject to the misfortunes that commonly befall great men. They die young, li%e
Ale&ander, or are murdered, li%e :aesar, or end their lies in e&ile, li%e Napoleon. They are
not, in fact, happy menTwhich may be of some consolation, Hegel obseres, to those lesser,
enious men who cannot Ntolerate greatness and eminenceO and can only Ncritici-e the great
and belittle greatness.O
$t may also be of some consolation to %now, as Hegel tells us elsewhere, that his %ind of hero,
the Nworld9historical indiidual,O is a thing of the past. N0nce the RmodernS state has been
founded, there can no longer be any heroes. They come on the scene only in unciili-ed
conditions.O Belieing 8ngland to be the most ciili-ed of countries, Hegel would not hae
e&pected to find such heroes there. But he might hae found another species of hero in the
8minent Iictorians, who did not aspire to change the course of uniersal history and had no
need, therefore, to trample underfoot Nmany an innocent flower.O They did, howeer, e&hibit
an indiiduality, a force of character and mind, that proo%ed the schoolmasters of their own
time and of later times.