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In Jan Patočka’s philosophy of history World War One stands out as an event that represents both a crisis point for Europe, and an opportunity to establish a new mythology. This mythology is based on the sacrificial action of the soldiers at the front line of trench war in World War One. Through emulating the example set by these soldiers, Patočka in his late work proposes, a redemptive force emerges through which Europe can recover the missing awareness of a more full meaning of life (and death). This chapter explores the significance of World War One in Patočka’s late thought and offers a thorough explanation and critique of Patočka’s mythologizing of the war. I will pay particular attention to Patočka’s reading of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Ernst Jünger, who explicitly cites as sources for his view of soldier’s sacrifice in his Heretical Essays. These influences lead to a highly, and some would argue an overly romanticized view of the role of sacrifice in social change. I will instead argue for a more ambiguous approach to sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of the First World War soldier.
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