Sunday, 20 October 2013

Friedrich Carové, the battle of nations and the "Liberation of Germany"

This weekend marks the bicentenary of the Battle of Nations (Völkerschlacht) at Leipzig from 16-19 October 1813 that ended Napoleonic rule in Europe. Whilst Hegel was present in the vicinity of the equally significant Battle of Jena in October 1806 and we have a contemporary letter giving his impressions, his reaction to the Battle of Leipzig is harder to trace. The above memorial was erected to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle in 1913.

Hegelianism and the Battle of Nations at Leipzig

 The Battle of Nations at Leipzig in October 1813 marked the end of the German "Wars of Liberation" (Befreiungskriege). It took place between Russian, Prussian, Austrian and Swedish military forces and the Napoleonic army. Around 600,000 soldiers took part of whom 92,000 were killed or wounded. It was the largest ever battle to that date. It led to the Congress of Vienna in 1815 which inaugurated the Restoration period of European politics that lasted from 1815 to 1830. This was the setting for the public events of almost all of the rest of Hegel's life.

Hegel was in Nuremberg in 1813, teaching at the Aegidiengymnasium. Whilst he kept in touch with Friedrich Niethammer by letter, his correspondence for 1813 is sparse and seems to make no reference to the battle, despite his known interest in contemporary events and habit of reading the newspapers. His brother Ludwig had died during the Napoleonic campaign in Russia. In the Philosophy of Right (1821) he saw reason present even in warfare. However, in defining tragedy as a conflict of two rights, he would surely have been open to interpreting the battles of his lifetime as tragic in nature.

Friedrich Carové

One relevant contemporary text is a collection of Three Speeches given to the Student Societies of Heidelberg and a Poem on the Leipzig Battle of Nations published by his friend Friedrich Carové (1789-1852, above) in October 1817 for the Wartburg Festival in the same month, a few months after the first edition of Hegel's Encyclopaedia appearedthe Preface of which is dated May 1817. This was published whilst Hegel was a Professor at Heidelberg and Carové was associated with him both as pupil and personal acquaintance. Hegel gave the lecture course that became the Philosophy of Right twice there. Hegel and Robert Wesselhöft, who convoked the Wartburg Festival on the 4th anniversary of the battle and 300th anniversary of the Reformation, were known to each other through the Fromann family in Jena, who were caring for Hegel's natural son Ludwig Fischer (see D'Hondt, Hegel en son Temps, 167-68).

The speeches paint a picture of religious liberation starting in the early 16th century and giving rise three centuries later to a challenge to "political superstition". Carové says:
that the whole of human history can be conceived only as an unwavering, continuous development of reason; that superstition, delusion and prejudice, however long they eke out a semblance of life, necessarily give way before the eternal words of reason, as ice disappears before fire, or night before the light.
There is however a historical sense embodied in his idea of reason. This is common ground with Hegel.

The poem itself is titled "The Liberation of Germany". It was written early in 1814 when news of the battle was fresh. This was before Hegel moved to Heidelberg, though the eventual publication date is at the start of Hegel's time there. In his Preface, Carové says that the battle is a New Year's Day for the German people and a "road to the rejuvenation of the Fatherland".

The poem itself speaks of French tyranny over Europe and the return of law and freedom. Scheming has set brother against brother. At last however, "for joy and peace, Fatherland and honour":
One flag now unites the German brothers,
Unites them in a higher sacred bond
Perhaps Prussia and Austria are meant. The battle is lost and won. God blesses the cause of freedom. The heroes must be honoured.

There is no saying how much of this Hegel would have endorsed. According to Jacques D'Hondt, Hegel tried to appoint Carové as his assistant in Berlin in 1818, but without success. Carové was involved with the general Burschenschaft, a modernizing patriotic student movement with various tendencies (Hegel en son Temps, 91, 150-51). By 1820, Carové was forbidden to teach on account of his relations with the student societies and Hegel intervened on his behalf (see letters to Daub, 9 May 1821; to Hinrichs, 28 May 1821), but again without success. Carové went on to be a private teacher. His Story without an End was translated into English by Sarah Austin in 1834 and later satirised by Charles Dickens. In later life, he was a member of the 1848 Frankfurt Parliament and wrote works on religion.

Hegel's relations with the student societies are sometimes brought up in evaluating his politics. The case of Carové suggests the danger in this that these societies contained a range of views.

It occurs to me in general that following bicentenaries in Germany -as well as those of Hegel's books - may be a good way for our generation to get a feel for the environment in which Hegel created his philosophy. Here is a video on the battle:


Friedrich Carové. Drei Reden, gehalten an die Burschenschaft zu Heidelberg und ein Gedicht über die Leipziger Völkerschlacht. Eisenach: Bärecke, 1817.

Eduard Dietz. Neue Beiträge zur Geschichte des Heidelberger Studentenlebens. Heidelberg: Petters, 1903 [reprints Carové above].

G.W.F. Hegel. Correpondance II [Letters from Carové & notes]. Paris: Gallimard, 1963.