American Philosophy

St. Louis Hegelians

How did Denton Jacques Snider interpret Friedrich Hegel?

Denton Jacques Snider (1841–1925) thought that Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy (Berlin, 1820 and published as the Philosophy of History in 1858), was not able to achieve a full system of thought, but that his “principle of evolution” held the greatest promise for future philosophy. He read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind (1910, first published as Philosophy of Spirit in 1817) as a guide for how the individual can achieve total self-understanding through the analysis of his experience as a mirror of the history of his times.

So the St. Louis Hegelians tried to analyze their own times as an expression of the Absolute. There was thus a comparison between Hegel’s vision of the Absolute in Napoleon Bonaparte and Snider’s understanding of the U.S. Civil War and the end of the Great St. Louis illusion (which was shattered by the civic realization that Chicago had outpaced them in population). Snider’s insight that Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind “is a book written in a Romantic style, which destroys Romanticism,” has been considered subtle and sophisticated by his commentators. He meant by this that Hegel had a grand project but ran out of optimism about human history and the Absolute itself.


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