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Hegel, war and the tragedy of imperialism

Tyler, Colin



This article contextualises Hegel's writings on international order, especially those concerning war and imperialism. The recurring theme is the tragic nature of the struggles for recognition which are instantiated by these phenomena. Section one examines Hegel's analysis of the Holy Roman Empire in the context of French incursions into German territories, as that analysis was developed in his early essay on 'The German Constitution' (1798-1802). The significance of his distinction between the political and civil spheres is explored, with particular attention being paid to its implications for Hegel's theory of nationalism. The second section examines Hegel's development of the latter theory in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), stressing the tragic interpenetration of 'culture' and intersubjective recognition. A recurring theme here is the influence of this theory on Hegel's interpretation of Napoleon's World-Historic mission, as that was revealed in his contemporaneous letters. Section three traces the tragic dynamic underlying the discussion of war between civilised states in The Philosophy of Right (1821). Section four examines three other types of imperial action in Hegel's mature writings, particularly The Philosophy of History (1832). These are relations between civilised states and culturally developed yet politically immature societies; colonial expansion motivated by capitalist under-consumption; and conflict between civilised states and barbarous peoples. It is concluded that it is misleading to claim that Hegel glorified conflict and war, and that he did not see domination by 'civilised states' as the 'final stage' of World History.


Tyler, C. (2004). Hegel, war and the tragedy of imperialism. History of European ideas, 30(4), 403-431.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 31, 2004
Online Publication Date Jan 10, 2012
Publication Date 2004-12
Print ISSN 0191-6599
Electronic ISSN 1873-541X
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 30
Issue 4
Pages 403-431
Keywords Philosophy; Sociology and Political Science; History
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