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Alexandre Kojève and philosophical Stalinism

Abstract

Alexandre Kojève not infrequently claimed that he was a Stalinist. While many have ignored his claim, this paper takes it seriously and outlines several aspects of Kojève’s thought that allow one to read Kojève as a philosopher of Stalinism, as one who articulates the self-consciousness of Stalinism. These aspects are three: (1) Kojève’s association of finality and freedom with the overcoming of individuality; (2) the attempt to achieve finality and freedom so defined in the universal homogeneous state, and (3) the structure of that state as an essentially juridical administrative system. The question remains, however, whether one can truly overcome individuality while one is still living, the conflict between individual material existence and the overarching state being irresolvable.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Kojève is fully aware of the irony of this phrase and in his early manuscript Atheism, he also rejects suicide as a practical matter claiming that one should not end one’s life in order to be free because that realization is at once annihilation as well (Kojève 2018, p. 155). Still, Kojève appears to waver. Although Kojève ensures us that the negation of the human and of life is the aim and end of the human in the Hegel lectures, he presents his argument about the intimate connection between freedom and suicide more circumspectly in Atheism while still noting that “[I]f there is suicide, there is freedom” (Kojève 2018, p. 155). Specifically, Kojève argues in Atheism that one is free when one is willing to commit suicide even if one does not—the capacity to exercise the decisive power over one’s own life and death is itself the fullest expression of the freedom one can attain while not actually killing oneself (Kojève 2018, p. 90). Whether Kojève continued to maintain this view is an intriguing question. His discussion of Buddhism in his later work on Kant suggests a harsher perspective that denies the full expression of freedom to anyone who remains alive. For it is indeed difficult to know if one is truly free at any moment when one decides not to exercise the power to kill oneself—is the underlying reason for not exercising that power an expression of freedom or of the fearful instinct for self-preservation in one of its many guises? How can one ever know?

  2. 2.

    The “instinct” for self-preservation is not merely the desire to live because life is “good,” but also the apparently base desire to live even in the most dreadful of situations where there can be no hope of future felicity.

  3. 3.

    My translation. Like most of Kojève’s writings, this book was published posthumously.

  4. 4.

    In this case, the reliance on Schmitt is explicitly avowed by Kojève on p. 144 of the French text of the treatise (p. 134 in the English translation).

References

  1. Flay, J. (1984). Hegel’s quest for certainty. Albany: State University of New York Press.

  2. Kojève, A. (1968). Introduction à la lecture de Hegel. Queneau, R. (Ed.). Paris: Gallimard.

  3. Kojève, A. (1969). Introduction to the reading of Hegel (J. H. Nichols, Jr., Trans.). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

  4. Kojève, A. (1970). Hegel, Marx and christianity (H. Gildin, Trans.). Interpretation, 1(1), 28.

  5. Kojève, A. (1973). Kant. Paris: Gallimard.

  6. Kojève, A. (1981). Esquisse d’une phénomenologie du droit. Paris: Gallimard.

  7. Kojève, A. (2007). Outline of a phenomenology of right. (B.-P. Frost & R. Howse, Trans.). Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield.

  8. Kojève, A. (2018). Atheism. (Love, J., Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press.

  9. Weslati, H. (2014). Kojève’s Letter to Stalin. Radical Philosophy, 184, 7–18.

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Correspondence to Jeff Love.

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Love, J. Alexandre Kojève and philosophical Stalinism. Stud East Eur Thought 70, 263–271 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11212-018-9312-6

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Keywords

  • Freedom
  • Homogeneous
  • Humanity
  • Individuality
  • Alexander Kojève
  • Stalin/Stalinism
  • Suicide
  • Universal