28 April 1902|
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Died||4 June 1968
Alexandre Kojève (French: [alɛksɑ̃dʁ koʒɛv]; April 28, 1902 – June 4, 1968) was a Russian-born French philosopher and statesman whose philosophical seminars had an immense influence on 20th-century French philosophy, particularly via his integration of Hegelian concepts into continental philosophy. As a statesman in the French government, he was instrumental in the creation of the European Union. Kojève was a close friend of, and was in lifelong philosophical dialogue with, Leo Strauss.
Kojève was born Aleksandr Vladimirovič Koževnikov (Russian: Алекса́ндр Влади́мирович Коже́вников; IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr vlɐˈdʲimʲɪrəvʲɪtɕ kɐˈʐɛvnʲɪkəf]) in Russia to a wealthy and influential family. His uncle was the abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, about whose work he would write an influential essay in 1936. He was educated in Berlin and Heidelberg, Germany. He completed his PhD, on the Russian religious philosopher Vladimir Soloviev's views on the union of God and man in Christ under the direction of Karl Jaspers. Early influences included the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the historian of science Alexandre Koyré. Kojève spent most of his life in France, and from 1933 to 1939, he delivered in Paris a series of lectures on Georg 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.
Kojève died in Brussels in 1968, shortly after giving a talk at the European Economic Community (now the European Union) on behalf of the French government. In his later years, he had repeatedly expressed the position that what Marx called the European proletariat no longer existed, and the wealthy West sorely needed to help developing countries to overcome widespread poverty through large monetary gifts similar to the Marshall Plan.
Though not an orthodox Marxist, Kojeve was known as an influential and idiosyncratic interpreter of Hegel, reading him through the lens of both Marx and Heidegger. The well-known "End of History" thesis advanced the idea that 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 "End of History" is different from Francis Fukayama's later thesis of the same name in that it points as much to a socialist-capitalist synthesis as to a triumph of liberal capitalism. Mark Lilla notes that Kojève rejected the prevailing concept among European intellectuals of the 1930s that capitalism and democracy were failed artifacts of the Enlightenment that would be destroyed by either communism or fascism. In contrast, Kojève, while initially somewhat more sympathetic to the Soviet Union than the United States, devoted much of his thought to protecting western European autonomy, particularly so France, from domination by either the Soviet Union and the United States. He believed that the capitalist United States represented Right-Hegelianism while the state-socialist Soviet Union represented Left-Hegelianism; victory by either side, he posited, would result in what Lilla describes as "a rationally organized bureaucracy without class distinctions."
Some of Kojève's more important lectures on Hegel have been published in English in the now classic Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, in 1947. His interpretation of Hegel has been one of the most influential of the past century. His lectures were attended by a small but influential group of intellectuals including Raymond Queneau, Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, André Breton, Jacques Lacan, and Raymond Aron. His interpretation of the master-slave dialectic was an important influence on Jacques Lacan's mirror stage theory. Other French thinkers who have acknowledged his influence on their thought include the post-structuralist philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.
Kojeve's correspondence with Leo Strauss has been published along with Kojève's critique of Strauss's commentary on Xenophon's Hiero (see below on their friendship and debate). In the 1950s, Kojève also met the rightist 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's other publications include a little noticed book on Immanuel Kant, and articles on the relationship between Hegelian and Marxist thought and Christianity. His 1943 book, Esquisse d'une phenomenologie du droit, published posthumously in 1981, contrasts the aristocratic and bourgeois views of the right. Le Concept, le temps et le discours, extrapolates 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".
Kojève also challenged Strauss' interpretation of the classics in the voluminous Esquisse d'une histoire raisonnée de la pensée païenne, which covers the pre-Socratic philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, and Neoplatonism. 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."
Friendship with Strauss
Kojève had a close and lifelong friendship with Leo Strauss which began when they were philosophy students in Berlin. The two shared a deep philosophical respect for each other. Kojève would later write that he "never would have known [...] what philosophy is" without Strauss. In the 1930s the two began a debate on the relation of philosophy to politics that would come to fruition with Kojeve's response to Strauss' On Tyranny. Kojève, a senior statesman in the French government, argued that philosophers should have an active part in shaping political events. Strauss, on the other hand, believed that philosophy and politics were fundamentally opposed, and that philosophers should not have a substantial role in politics, noting the disastrous results of Plato in Syracuse. Philosophers should influence politics only to the extent that they can ensure that philosophical contemplation remains free from the seduction and coercion of power. In spite of this debate, Strauss and Kojève remained friendly. In fact, Strauss would send his best students to Paris to finish their education under Kojève's personal guidance. Among these were Allan Bloom, who endeavored to make Kojève's works available in English (and published the first edition of Kojève's lectures in English), and Stanley Rosen.
Kojève and the USSR
In 1999, Le Monde published an article reporting that a French intelligence document showed that Kojève had spied for the Soviets for over thirty 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.
In any case, Kojève's contribution to international French economic policy was more than substantial. Though Kojève often claimed to be a Stalinist, he largely regarded the Soviet Union with contempt, calling its social policies disastrous and its claims to be a truly classless state ludicrous. (Kojève's cynicism towards traditional Marxism as an outmoded philosophy in industrially well-developed capitalist nations prompted him to go as far as idiosyncratically referring to capitalist Henry Ford as "the one great authentic Marxist of the twentieth century.") He specifically and repeatedly called it the only existing country 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 Reign of Terror of the French Revolution.
In a commentary on Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man, Roger Scruton calls Kojève "a life-hating Russian at heart, a self-declared Stalinist, and a civil servant who played a leading behind-the-scenes role in establishing both the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the European Economic Community" and states the opinion that Kojève was "a dangerous psychopath".
- Alexander Koschewnikoff, Die religiöse Philosophie Wladimir Solowjews. Heidelberg Univ., Dissertation 1926.
- Alexander Koschewnikoff, Die Geschichtsphilosophie Wladimir Solowjews. Sonderabdruck. Bonn, Friedrich Cohen, 1930.
- Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, edited by Allan Bloom, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.
- Alexandre Kojève, “Interpretation of the General Introduction to Chapter VII [i.e., the Religion Chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit]", translated by Ian Alexander Moore. In Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy 20 (2014): 15-39, online .
- 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, p. 95-113, 1964.
- Alexandre Kojève, "Tyranny and Wisdom", in Leo Strauss, On Tyranny - Revised and Expanded Edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 135-176, 2000.
- Alexandre Kojève, Esquisse d'une doctrine de la politique française (27.8.1945). Published in La règle du jeu 1 (1990). English translation by Erik De Vries: Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy. In Policy Review 2004, p. 3-40, online .
- Alexandre Kojève, Düsseldorfer Vortrag: Kolonialismus in europäischer Sicht. In: Piet Tommissen (Hg.): Schmittiana. Beiträge zu Leben und Werk Carl Schmitts. Band 6, Berlin 1998, pp. 126–143. English translation and comment, incl. Schmitt-Kojève correspondence: Erik De Vries: Alexandre Kojève — Carl Schmitt Correspondence and Alexandre Kojève, "Colonialism from a European Perspective". In: Interpretation, 29/1 (2001), pp. 91–130.
- Alexandre Kojève, Essai d'une histoire raisonée de la philosophie païenne. Tome 1-3. Paris, 1968; 1997.
- Alexandre Kojève, Kant. Paris, 1973.
- Alexandre Kojève, Le concept, le temps et le discours. Paris, 1991. English translation by Robert B. Williamson: The Concept, Time and Discourse. St. Augustine's Press, South Bend IN, 2013.
- Alexandre Kojève, L'empereur Julien et son art d'écrire. Paris, 1997.
- Alexandre Kojève, Les peintures concrètes de Kandinsky. Paris, 2002 (1936).
- Alexandre Kojève, La notion d'authorité. Paris, 2004. English translation by Hager Weslati: The Notion of Authority. Verso, 2014.
- Alexandre Kojève and Auffret D., L'idée du determinisme dans la physique classique et dans la physique moderne. Paris, 1990.
- Alexandre Kojève and Bibard L., L'athéisme. Paris, 1998.
- Alexandre Kojève, Oltre la fenomenologia. Recensioni (1932-1937), Italian Translation by Giampiero Chivilò, «I volti», n. 68, Mimesis, Udine-Milano, 2012. ISBN 978-88-5750-877-1.
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