The nineteenth-century Germans focused so much on philosophy partly in order not to compete with the protean genius of Goethe, who had dominated all the other literary genres in Germany for so long. And so we have Hegel, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer defining, among other things, the concept of tragedy. But it is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel who concerns me here, because he formulated some concepts apt to our foreign policy debates regarding armed intervention, particularly in the Middle East.
Hegel notes that one example of a tragic situation is when a family duty is in conflict with a wider social or universal duty: a foreign policy parallel to this could be when the interests of state are in conflict with the wider interests of humanity—with both points of view more or less justified. Edith Hamilton, the mid-twentieth-century American classicist, interpreting Hegel, says “the only tragic subject is a spiritual subject in which each side has a claim on our sympathy.” Another earlier interpreter of Hegel, the English literary scholar A. C. Bradley, said that tragedy “appeals to the spirit” because “it is itself a conflict of the spirit.”
Read the full op-ed in The National Interest.
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