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Alexandre Kojève

(1902—1968)


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(1902–68)

Russian-born French philosopher and political theorist. The nephew of the great Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, Kojève had a privileged upbringing in pre-revolutionary Russia. In 1918 he was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks for small-time black market activities. He was duly released and because he was unable to further his studies under the new regime he fled to Poland. From there he moved to Heidelberg in Germany where he studied with Edmund Husserl, and Karl Jaspers. He started reading Hegel then, but would later claim that he was unable at that point to make head or tail of it. He soon moved on again, this time to Paris, where he was to spend the rest of his life. There he met his countryman Alexandre Koyré, whose lectures he attended along with Georges Bataille. In 1933, at Koyré's invitation, Kojève commenced lecturing on Hegel's religious philosophy at École Pratique des Hautes Études. Among the regular attendees was psychoanalystJacques Lacan, SurrealistsRaymond Queneau (who would later edit the lectures and publish them) and André Breton, and the philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Eric Weil. Accordingly it is generally said that Kojève taught the French how to read Hegel. Influenced by his friend and mentor Koyré, Kojève emphasized the importance of Napoleon's victory at Jena to Hegel, claiming this episode was the embodiment of Hegel's thesis concerning the ‘end of history’ in which the dialectic of master and slave is finally transcended. He later corrected this claim by saying Hegel was premature in his pronouncement by a century and that it was in fact Stalin who most perfectly realized this thesis, only to renounce it a few years later and revert to his original position. For Kojève the end of history arrives with the advent of the universal and the homogenous. Initially he thought this was realized in communism, but he subsequently changed his mind and saw that it is actualized fully in the abundance of American-style capitalism. Kojève's most famous work was Introduction à la ‘Phenoménologie de l'esprit’ (1947), translated as Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (1980). After the war, at the invitation of one of his former students Robert Marjolin he joined the Ministry of Finance and worked as an adviser in the international trade section, though he continued to write as well and engaged in a famous debate with the American conservative philosopher Leo Strauss. See also fukuyama.

Further Reading:

P. Anderson A Zone of Engagement (1992).D. Auffret Alexandre Kojéve (1990).J. Butler Subjects of Desire (1987).M. Roth Knowing and History (1988).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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