Hegel uses the phrase “world-historical individuals” to describe those rare personages who play a major role in world history. Examples Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte. World-historical individuals benefit from the partial coincidence of their own subjective passions with the universal will of Spirit as it is expressed in the Spirit of the people. That people's Spirit is unconscious until it is brought to consciousness by the world-historical individual. Thus, world-historical individuals serve to bring Spirit to a new stage of self-consciousness and help to establish a new State.

These individuals are rarely (if ever) aware of universal Spirit itself, though they generally happen to know what the "next step" in the spiritual life of their people must be. They are also often morally dubious, a fact which Hegel claims lies outside the scope of philosophic history—since such issues concern subjective morality rather than universal ethical principles. Hegel therefore disparages any "psychological" analysis of world- historical individuals, seeing such analyses as little more than envious and spiteful musings.

Popular pages: Introduction to the Philosophy of History