Alexandre Kojève

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Alexandre Kojève (Александр Владимирович Кожевников, Aleksandr Vladimirovič Koževnikov) (April 28 1902 - 1968) was a Marxist and Hegelian political philosopher, who had a substantial impact on intellectual life in France in the 1930s.


Kojève was born in Russia, and educated in Berlin and Heidelberg, Germany. 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.


A "Marxist of the right," as he called himself, Kojève came to postulate as early as the 1950s that while Karl Marx's philosophy of history was correct, and that history was progressing towards the emergence of a universal and homogeneous state, it would be liberal capitalist in character, rather than socialist or communist. The then-dominant idealistic tradition in France was of a Kantian type with little influence of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's idealism, which had been popular in Germany, England and Italy. Coming in the heels of Alexandre Koyré's understanding of Time in Hegel, Kojève helped change this in France, albeit in somewhat different terms than those existing at that time in Germany and Italy.

Liberal capitalism had proven to be more efficient in garnering the technological requirements necessary to master nature, banish scarcity and meet the needs of humanity. This view created much controversy when it was restated by Francis Fukuyama in his work The End of History (1992), which drew heavily on Hegel as seen by Kojève. Kojève's views on this were reprinted in the Spring 1980 (Vol. 9) edition of the French journal Commentaire in an article entitled 'Capitalisme et socialisme: Marx est Dieu; Ford est son prophète.' Some critics of Fukuyama have pointed out that his reliance on Kojève obscures some of the bleaker dimensions of Kojève's idea of the "end of history."

Some of Kojève's more important lectures on Hegel have been published in English in Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on Phenomenology of Spirit. Kojève's interpretation of Hegel has been one of the most influential of the past century. His lectures were attended by intellectuals 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.

Kojève also had a lifelong friendship and correspondence with the US conservative thinker Leo Strauss; their correspondence has been published along with a critique Kojève wrote of Strauss's commentary on Xenophon in Strauss, Leo On Tyranny: Including the Strauss-Kojève Correspondence (edited by Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth). 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 the Straussian interpretation of Kojève is slanted and often patronizing: Kojève is regularly presented as a Machiavellian Mephistopheles, a grand and ingenious defender of evil.[citation?] In the 1950s, Kojève also befriended the former Nazi legal theorist 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.

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.

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, right after a giving talk at the European Economic Community (now European Union) on behalf of the French government. One of his repeatedly expressed positions in later years 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 support developing countries through large monetary gifts (in the mold of the Marshall Plan) that would permit them to overcome widespread poverty.

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 persona, of his pretense to be a philosopher at the end of history influencing the course of world events. 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.

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