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Outline of a Phenomenology of Right by…

Outline of a Phenomenology of Right

by Alexandre Kojève

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The true origin of the 'End of History' debate, March 22, 2006

This is a remarkable work by the author that originated the `End of History' debate. Kojeve is perhaps most famous (in the English-speaking world) for his argument with Leo Strauss in `On Tyranny' and also his interpretation of Hegel in his `Introduction to the Reading of Hegel', which was a collection of notes to a course given by Kojeve in the thirties. This work (the `Introduction') can be correctly described as one of the first exercises in existential-Marxism thanks to its groundbreaking mixture of Hegel, Heidegger and Marx.

It (the `Introduction') is a very `dramatic' reading of Hegel in which Masters rise to mastery thanks to their willingness to fight, kill and die while those not as willing sink to the level of Slaves. The driving force in this struggle, btw, is neither Reason nor mere animal need but the all-to-human Desire for Recognition. But this is not the last word: mastery is an impasse; it goes nowhere, it can only reenact endlessly the Fight that created it. Slavery, however, through Work changes both the world and the slaves themselves. Thus Kojeve is correct to say that History is the history of the working slave. This struggle between Masters and Slaves dialectically unfolds until the appearance of the French Revolution, whose `Freedom, Equality, Fraternity' goes forth to change the world by bringing Recognition to all. It is Kojeve's contention that we have been living in post-history since that Revolution - in which History technically ended - with nothing happening except the rest of the world being brought into line with the Ideals of the Revolution. Thus Kojeve says (of Hegel, though he could have said it of himself too) that Hegel "definitely reconciles himself with all that is and has been, by declaring that there will never more be anything new on earth."

This line of thought is later made famous by Fukuyama in his popular book `The End of History and the Last Man'. Fukuyama reminds us that the `End of History' must mean, thanks to the cessation of Human Desire (struggle for recognition), a return to `animality'. This animality, of course, is the `Last Man' Nietzsche's Zarathustra so memorably mocks - `we have invented happiness' the last men recite, and then fall asleep. The argument between Strauss-Kojeve in `On Tyranny' boils down, after one strips away the exoteric, to the possibility that philosophy will be impossible in the Universal Homogenous State (UHS) that rises at the end of our post-history. Kojeve, in the end, bites the bullet and concedes that the Sages aren't philosophers properly understood; all they (the Sages) can do is reiterate, publicly or in their own minds, the process that led eventually, but necessarily, to them. Philosophy dies in the shadow of an Absolute and Circular Truth (i.e., absolute, unchanging; circular, no matter where one begins ones investigation one always ends with the same Truth) and never rises again.

It is with all this baggage (and doubtless more) that we English-speaking readers of Kojeve then turn to the Outline in the hope of some clarification of the myriad issues we are familiar with. Be prepared for a shock, the `Outline' has pretty much eschewed (or toned down) all talk of animality, tyranny, Sages, Desire and so forth. The translators, Frost and Howse, in their excellent introduction go so far as to characterize, I think correctly, the final goal of the Kojevean History (the full replacement of the rule of men by the rule of law) as a hyper-liberalism! The final state (UHS) rises, not through the dramatic confrontation between Masters and Slaves fighting over their Humanity but through the integration of economies and the syncing up of legal systems that comes along with it, i.e. globalization. It is certainly not the compelling and dramatic story of necessary tyranny and unrequited Desire that Kojeve (in)famously made in both the `Introduction' and the discussion with Strauss. (Kojeve, an admirer of Stalin, was capable of writing sentences comparing (and indeed, justifying) the rise of communism and Hitler insofar as both, in spite of what they intended, led, in fact, to further democratization! See Kojeve's `Introduction', p160, note.) However, this book, the `Outline', does nothing of the sort. It is a brilliant but measured technical study of the forces set loose by modern capitalism that lead, inevitably, to a global State. ...It is seemingly a book for technocrats - and technocrats only. One comes away with the impression that, for Kojeve, the modern world is a system of forces searching for equilibrium. The UHS is that unending equilibrium.

But why is there such a seeming disconnect between (at the very least!) the tone of the Outline and that of the Introduction? While it can be argued that Kojeve changed his mind about these matters I would say that Kojeve, an esoteric writer (like Leo Strauss) himself, intended these two books for very different audiences and very different purposes. The present work, the Outline, is intended to show those of us living in Posthistoire - remember, history `ended' for Kojeve with the French Revolution, our present post-history is the struggle to actualize the Ideals of the Revolution throughout the world; that actualization, when attained, is the UHS - what remains to be done. The `Introduction', by contrast, shows us how to think of this posthistoire. Thus the `Introduction' is propaganda, the `Outline' is plan.

The `Introduction', btw, does not necessarily put forth the `final form' of propaganda in the UHS. As Kojeve told Strauss:

"Historical action necessarily leads to a specific result (hence: deduction), but the ways that lead to this result, are varied (all roads lead to Rome!). The choice between these ways is free, and this choice determines the content of the speeches about the action and the meaning of the result. In other words: materially history is unique, but the spoken story can be extremely varied, depending on the free choice of how to act." (On Tyranny, p 256).

Thus `ideological' differences between the `Introduction' and the `Outline' are not significant for Kojeve. The `Introduction' presented a possible version of what to say; the `Outline' tells us what to do. ...This is Kojeve's strict modernism. The ancients and some moderns would append a cosmology to the system - something to dream about. Hegel has a philosophy of nature and a theology; his student Kojeve has neither. Plato writes a Timaeus, Nietzsche a Zarathustra; Kojeve does nothing of the sort. Only time will tell if this fidelity to the radical, atheistic Enlightenment will cost him everything.

This is a very readable translation with an excellent introduction, kudos to Frost and Howse! ( )
  pomonomo2003 | Jul 2, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 074255905X, Paperback)

Alexandre Koj_ve offers a systematic discussion of key themes such as right, justice, law, equality, and autonomy in which he presages our contemporary world of economic globalization and international law. Edited and translated (with Robert Howse) by Bryan-Paul Frost, this is the authoritative English language translation of a monumental work in political philosophy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:52 -0400)

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