Adam Tooze in the London Review of Books:
On 13 October 1806 a young German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, had an encounter with world history. En route to their annihilation of the Prussian forces 24 hours later, Napoleon and his army were marching through the East German university town of Jena. Hegel couldn’t disguise his terror that in the ensuing chaos the recently completed manuscript of The Phenomenology of Spirit might get lost in the mail. But neither could he resist the drama of the moment. As he wrote to his friend Friedrich Niethammer, ‘I saw the emperor – this world-soul (Weltseele) – riding out of the city on reconnaissance. It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrated here at a single point, astride a horse, reaches out over the world and masters it.’
Two hundred years later, in rather more sedate circumstances, the Berkeley historian Daniel J. Sargent, addressing the American Historical Association, also evoked the world spirit. But this time it came in the person of Donald Trump and he was riding not on horseback, but on a golf cart. Trump can be compared to Napoleon, according to Sargent, because they are both destroyers of international order. In the wake of the French Revolution, Napoleon wrecked what was left of the legitimate order of Europe. Trump, in turn, has apparently ended the American world order, or, as Sargent prefers to call it, Pax Americana.
Sargent’s is an extraordinary suggestion, even though overenthusiastic historic comparisons have now become commonplace.