Alexandre Kojève

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Western Philosophers
twentieth-century philosophy
Name: Александр Владимирович Кожевников, Aleksandr Vladimirovič Koževnikov
Birth: April 28, 1902 (Russia)
Death: June 4, 1968 (Brussels)
School/tradition: Hegelianism/Marxism
Main interests
Notable ideas
Influences Influenced
Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Martin Heidegger, Alexandre Koyré, Karl Jaspers, Vladimir Soloviev, Wassily Kandinsky, Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, Werner Heisenberg Raymond Queneau, Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Andre Breton, Sartre, Jacques Lacan, Raymond Aron, Foucault, Derrida, Allan Bloom, Francis Fukuyama, Giorgio Agamben

Alexandre Kojève (Александр Владимирович Кожевников, Aleksandr Vladimirovič Koževnikov) (April 28, 1902 – June 4, 1968) was a Marxist and Hegelian political philosopher, who had a substantial influence on Twentieth-Century French Philosophy. His lectures were attended by virtually every prominent French intellectual of his day, including Raymond Queneau, Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Andre Breton, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Lacan and Raymond Aron. Other French thinkers have acknowledged his influence on their thought, including the post-structuralist philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. His most influential work was Introduction à la lecture de Hegel (1947), which summarized many of his lectures and included, in full, some others.

Kojeve's reading of Hegel was an anthropologizing one that emphasized the negation of the slave who ultimately triumphs over the master because he engages in work while the master becomes irrelevant by becoming primarily just a consumer of the slave's labor. Kojeve's thesis that humankind is approaching the "end of history" has been both triumphed and challenged from numerous quarters.



Kojève was born in Russia, and educated in Berlin and Heidelberg, Germany. He completed his Ph.D. under the direction of Karl Jaspers. Early influences included the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the historian of science Alexandre Koyré. Kojève would spend most of his life in France where in Paris from 1933-1939 he taught a series of lectures on Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's work, Phenomenology of Spirit. After World War II, Kojève worked in the French Ministry of Economic Affairs as one of the chief planners of the European Common Market.

Prior to going to France, Kojève studied under the existentialist thinker Karl Jaspers, submitting his doctoral dissertation on the Russian mystic Vladimir Soloviev's views on the mystical union of God and man in Christ. Kojève's uncle was the abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, on whom Kojève wrote and with whom he maintained a correspondence. It is said that Kojève knew Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan dialects alongside his French, German, Russian, English, and classical Greek.

Kojève died in Brussels in 1968, shortly after giving a talk at the European Economic Community (now European Union) on behalf of the French government. In his later years he had repeatedly expressed the position was that what had—in Marx's time and afterward—been known as a European proletariat, no longer existed, and the wealthy West sorely needed to help developing countries to overcome widespread poverty through large monetary gifts (in the mold of the Marshall Plan).

Hegelian Influence

Kojeve is best known for his humanistic reading of Hegel through the lens of Marx.

Hegel's work Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807) is translated alternatively as The Phenomenology of Spirit or The Phenomenology of Mind in English; the German word Geist has connotations of both spirit and mind in English. Roughly taking the form of a Bildungsroman, it explores the nature and development of its protagonist—mind/spirit—showing how it evolves through a process of internal contradictions, developing from the most primitive aspect of sense-perception through all of the forms of subjective and objective mind, including art, religion, and philosophy, on the path toward absolute knowledge that comprehends this entire developmental process as part of itself. This self-knowledge is quite literally for Hegel the development of self-consciousness– the Socratic dictum to "know thyself." It also lays out an entire system of metaphysics, ethics, and political philosophy.

Hegel's myth

Hegel's project is to explain the history of Spirit (the Holy Spirit) coming to know itself. In order to explain how this works, Hegel uses a kind of primordial myth about the development of self-consciousness, as two consciousnesses encounter one another. Hegel's idea of self-consciousness is not the contoured brain of natural science, but one with a history; one that must have passed through a struggle for freedom before realizing itself.

The abstract language used by Hegel never allows one to interpret this myth in a straightforward fashion. It works on multiple levels; it can be read as self-consciousness coming to itself through a child's or adult's development, or self-consciousness coming to be in beginning of human history, or as that of a society or nation realizing freedom.

The myth occurs in a number of stages, and proceeds through Hegel's idea of "sublation" (Aufhebung), the lifting up of two contradictory moments to a higher unity, as Spirit comes to know itself through the object, man.

Initial encounter

First, the two "consciousnesses" meet and are astounded at coming to see another person. They can choose to ignore one another, in which case no self-consciousness forms and each views the other merely as another object. Or, they become mesmerized by the mirror-like other and attempt, as they previously did with their own body, to assert themselves.

According to Hegel,

"On approaching the other it has lost its own self, since it finds itself as another being; secondly, it has thereby sublated that other, for it does not regard the other as essentially real [real in the concepts a pre-self-consciousness] , but sees its own self in the other."[1]


One "consciousness" sees another "consciousness" and finds its own pre-eminence and control has been compromised. It ignores this other or sees it as a threat to itself. Its own self-certainty and truth has forevermore been shattered. The only means of re-asserting itself, in order to proceed toward self-consciousness, is by entering into a struggle for pre-eminence.

Death struggle

A struggle to the death ensues. However, if one of the two should actually die, the achievement of self-consciousness fails. Hegel refers to this failure as "abstract negation" not the negation or sublation required to achieve self-consciousness. What ensues is a game of "chicken", as one flinches in the "struggle to the death," allowing himself to be subjected to the will of the other, the master who is recognized in the eyes of the slave, thus achieving self-consciousness.

Enslavement and mastery

Truth of oneself as self-conscious is achieved only if both live, the recognition of the other gives each one the objective truth and self-certainty required for self-consciousness. Thus, the two enter into the relation of master/slave.


However, this state is not a happy one and does not achieve full self-consciousness. To achieve recognition requires that it be done by another self-consciousness. The defeated self-consciousness no longer really qualifies as such: he is a slave. The master's self-consciousness is dependent on the slave for recognition and also has a mediated relation with nature; the slave works with nature and begins to shape it into products for the master.

The master only has an evanescent desire/pleasure relation to things whereas the slave sees his work objectified in products. The course of history is the course of slaves gaining greater mastery over the material world, while masters become weak and ultimately, in a final dialectical contradiction, the slave becomes master over the master because he has become strong while the master has become weak.

Only when slavery is abolished and there is mutual recognition will both fully achieve self-consciousness. For Hegel, the further development of self-consciousness in history then passes through the stages of the unhappy consciousness before it finally achieves freedom.


There are some ironies if not inconsistencies in the Hegelian ur-drama. Since self-consciousness requires the recognition of another self-consciousness, the recognition of the slave does not qualify. In the moment of enslavement, he forfeits the qualification to recognize the master. Thus, neither a slave nor a master can be considered as fully self-conscious. If a person who has already achieved self-consciousness could be enslaved, then self-consciousness must be considered not as an individual achievement, or an achievement of natural and genetic evolution, but as a social phenomenon.[2]

Kojeve's reading of the master-slave dialectic

Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit was an attempt to collapse all the difference between subject and object that had been in constituted in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. So while the "Spirit" of Hegel's argument was human, it was also fully divine, the Holy Spirit. Kojeve's reading fully emancipates Hegel from any metaphysical residue. Kojeve's reading in an anthropomorphizing one. Kojève argued that Hegel's intentions were to illustrate that overcoming the fear of death was the only way to achieve true freedom. This was not actually stated by Hegel (in truth at points in this work he makes a direct argument against the use of force as the manner in which history develops).

For Kojeve, the key section of the Phenomenology is the Master-Slave dialectic (Herrschaft und Knechtschaft in German), which is at the core of self-consciousness. The master and slave relationship was much discussed in the 19th and 20th century, especially because of its connection to Karl Marx's conception of class struggle as the motive force of social development. This idea had previously provided the inspiration for Søren Kierkegaard's conception of the God–sinful bondsman relationship and for Friedrich Nietzsche's Master-slave morality. Hegel's master-slave trope, and particularly the emphasis laid on recognition, has been of crucial influence on Frantz Fanon's description of the colonial relation in Black Skin, White Masks. [3] But it was perhaps nowhere as influential as it was in the famous reading by Kojeve, simply entitled An Introduction to the Reading of Hegel.

For Kojeve, the goal of the struggle is not "Spirit coming to know itself," as it had been in Hegel, but rather a development in hominization. The goal is recognition, what he equates with Hegel's self-consciousness. Man was born and history began with the first struggle, which ended with the first masters and slaves. Man is always either master or slave; and there are no real humans where there are no masters and slaves. History comes to an end when the difference between master and slave ends, when the master ceases to be master because there are no more slaves and the slave ceases to be a slave because there are no more masters. A synthesis takes place between master and slave: the integral citizen of the universal and homogeneous state created by Napoleon.[4]

This is Kojève well-known "End of History" thesis, which is generally stated as ideological history in a limited sense had ended with the French Revolution and the regime of Napoleon and that there was no longer a need for violent struggle to establish the "rational supremacy of the regime of rights and equal recognition."

Kojeve's version of the "End of History," in truth, is more nuanced and points as much to a socialist-capitalist synthesis as to a triumph of Liberal capitalism.

The End of History does not itself resolve the tension within the idea of equality—the ideal of equal recognition that is rationally victorious with the End of History embodies elements of market justice, equal opportunity, and “equivalence” in exchange (the “bourgeois” dimension of the French Revolution). But it also contains within it a socialist or social democratic conception of equality of civic status, implying social regulation, welfare rights, and the like.


Kojeve and Strauss

Kojève also had a lifelong friendship and correspondence with the US political philosopher Leo Strauss; their correspondence has been published along with a critique Kojève wrote of Strauss's commentary on Xenophon in On Tyranny: Including the Strauss-Kojève Correspondence.[6]. Several of Strauss's students went to Paris to meet Kojève in the 1950s and 1960s. Included in those was Allan Bloom, who endeavored during his lifetime to make Kojève's works available in English language translations. It is worth noting, however, that some of the Straussian interpretations of Kojève remove some of the nuance and even some of the irony from his work: Kojève is sometimes presented as a Machiavellian Mephistopheles, a grand and ingenious defender of evil, and at other times as an unambiguous Leftist. In the 1950s, Kojève also befriended the noted Rightist legal theorist (and former Nazi) Carl Schmitt, whose "Concept of the Political" he had implicitly criticized in his analysis of Hegel's text on "Lordship and Bondage." Another close friend was the Jesuit Hegelian philosopher Gaston Fessard.

Other works

In addition to his lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, Kojève has published other articles and books in French, a book on Kant, and articles on the relationship between Hegelian and Marxist thought and Christianity. A book Kojève wrote in 1943 was published posthumously in 1981 by the French publisher Gallimard under the title Esquisse d'une phenomenologie du droit in which he contrasts the aristocratic and bourgeois views of right. Le Concept, le temps et le discours, also published by Gallimard, further extrapolate on the Hegelian notion that wisdom only becomes possible in the fullness of time. Kojève's response to Leo Strauss, who disputed this notion, can be found in Kojève's article 'The Emperor Julian and his Art of Writing' published in Ancients and Moderns: Essays on the Tradition of Political Philosophy in Honor of Leo Strauss, edited by Joseph Cropsey, as well as in the above-mentioned edition of Strauss's On Tyranny. Kojève also challenged Strauss' interpretation of the classics in a 1000+page book "Esquisse d'une histoire raisonnée de la pensée païenne," including one volume on the pre-Socratic philosophers, one on Plato and Aristotle, and one on Neoplatonism. His posthumously published book on Immanuel Kant received little attention. Recently, three more books have been published: a 1932 thesis on the physical and philosophical importance of quantum physics, an extended 1931 essay on atheism ("L'athéisme"), and a 1943 work on "The Notion of Authority;" like "Le Concept, le temps et le discours" these have not been published in English translation.

Claim of espionage

In 1999 Le Monde published an article reporting that a French intelligence document showed that Kojève had spied for the Soviets for over 30 years. The claims of this document (and even its existence) are disputed, and it has never been released. Kojève's supporters tend to believe that if it were true, it was probably unsubstantial as spying per se and a result of his megalomaniacal personality, a pretense to be a philosopher at the end of history influencing the course of world events.

Kojève on Stalinism

In any case, Kojève's contribution to international French economic policy was more than substantial. Though Kojève (ironically or seriously, it is not known) often claimed to be a Stalinist, he also regarded the Soviet Union with contempt, calling its social policies disastrous and its claims to be a classless state ludicrous. He specifically and repeatedly called it the only country living in which 19th-century capitalism still existed. His Stalinism was ironic to the extent Stalin had no political chance to lead the Weltgeist; yet, he was serious about Stalinism to the extent that he regarded the utopia of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the willingness to purge unsupportive elements in the population, as evidence of a desire to bring about the end of history, and as a repetition of the Revolutionary Terror of the French Revolution.


Kojève's interpretation of Hegel has been one of the most influential of the past century. His lectures were attended by virtually every prominent French intellectual of his day, including Raymond Queneau, Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Andre Breton, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Lacan and Raymond Aron. Other French thinkers have acknowledged his influence on their thought, including the post-structuralist philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. His most influential work was Introduction à la lecture de Hegel (1947), which summarized many of his lectures and included, in full, some others.

A recent work that uses this argument is Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama admits in the work that his understanding of Hegel is mostly Kojèvian, in particular his conception of the end of history as an ultimate stage of history, while it is, according to Georg Lukacs' interpretation, not a transcendent end but an aim immanent to the never-ending process.

Francis Fukuyama, drawing heavily on Hegel as seen by Kojève, developed his own "End of History" thesis, which states that Liberal capitalism has proven to be more efficient than other economic and political systems in garnering the technological requirements necessary to master nature, banish scarcity and meet the needs of humanity. This theory sparked much controversy when published by Fukuyama in his work The End of History (1992).


Books and Essays by Kojeve

  • Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.
  • Alexandre Kojève, Outline of a Phenomenology of Right. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000.
  • Alexandre Kojève, "The Emperor Julian and His Art of Writing," in Joseph Cropsey, Ancients and Moderns; Essays on the Tradition of Political Philosophy in Honor of Leo Strauss. New York: Basic Books, 1964, 95-113.
  • Alexandre Kojève, "Tyranny and Wisdom," in Leo Strauss, On Tyranny - Revised and Expanded Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, 135-176.

Books about Kojeve, his Hegel interpretation and/or the 'End of History'

  • Anderson, Perry, "The Ends of History" in his A Zone of Engagement. New York: Verso, 1992, 279-375.
  • Butler, Judith, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  • Cooper, Barry, The End of History: An Essay on Modern Hegelianism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984.
  • Devlin, F. Roger, Alexandre Kojeve and the Outcome of Modern Thought. Lanham: University Press of America, 2004.
  • Drury, Shadia B., Alexandre Kojeve: The Roots of Postmodern Politics. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
  • Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Macmillan, 1992.
  • Niethammer, Lutz, Posthistoire: Has History Come to an End? New York: Verso, 1992.
  • Roth, Michael S., Knowing and History: Appropriations of Hegel in Twentieth-Century France. Ithaca: Cornell, 1988.
  • Rosen, Stanley, the title essay in his Hermeneutics as Politics. New York, Oxford University Press, 1987, 87-140.
  • Singh, Aakash, Eros Turannos: Leo Strauss & Alexandre Kojeve Debate on Tyranny. Lanham: University Press of America, 2005.
  • Strauss, Leo, On Tyranny - Revised and Expanded Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.


  1. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Arnold V. Miller, and J. N. Findlay. Phenomenology of Spirit. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977. ISBN 0198245300)
  2. Philip Moran. Hegel and the Fundamental Problems of Philosophy. Philosophical currents 29. (Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner Pub. Co, 1988. ISBN 906032207X)
  3. Frantz Fanon. Black Skin, white Masks. (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 62. ISBN 0802150845
  4. Alexandre Kojève, Gerhard Lembruch, Iring Fetscher, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel: eine Vergegenwärtigung seines Denkens Kommentar zur Phänomenologie des Geistes. (Suhrkamp taschenbuch, 97. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000. ISBN 3518276972)
  5. Robert Howse, Kojeve's Latin Empire, 2004. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  6. Leo Strauss. On Tyranny: Including the Strauss-Kojève Correspondence (edited by Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth)


  • Drury, Shadia B. Alexandre Kojève: The Roots of Postmodern Politics. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. ISBN 9780312120924
  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, Arnold V. Miller, and J. N. Findlay. Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977. ISBN 0198245300
  • Howse, Robert Kojeve's Latin Empire, 2004. OCLC 96990314 Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  • Moran, Philip. Hegel and the Fundamental Problems of Philosophy. Philosophical currents, v. 29. Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner Pub. Co, 1988. ISBN 906032207X
  • Nichols, James H. Alexandre Kojève: Wisdom at the End of History. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007. ISBN 9780742527775

External links

All links Retrieved December 18, 2007.


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