The Lord and the Bondsman

Andrew Cole

in The Birth of Theory

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2014 | ISBN: 9780226135397
Published online September 2014 | e-ISBN: 9780226135564 | DOI:
The Lord and the Bondsman

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This chapter supplies a crucial reinterpretation of Hegel’s master/slave--or better, “lord/bondsman”--dialectic. Scholars from Kojève on have misrecognized the ways in which Hegel writes this episode as a fundamentally feudal narrative depicting the struggle for possession (specifically, for land) between the Herr and the Knecht. For Hegel, this episode has contemporary significance not because of any supposed reference to ancient slavery or the Transatlantic slave trade, but because he himself lived in a time when feudalism (Grundherrschaft or Herrschaft) was still practiced in Germany, as historians have long acknowledged. Hegel, in short, is critiquing contemporary social and economic conditions as powerfully as would Marx. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Marx’s insights into the Herrschaftsverhältnis (master-servant relation) and suggests that Marx learned to demystify capital by contrasting it with feudalism, as conceived in Hegelian terms. In particular, Marx and later theorists follow Hegel in understanding that the uneasy coexistence of feudalism and capitalism necessitates the use of dialectics.

Keywords: Hegel; Marx; master-slave dialectic; lord-bondsman dialectic; feudalism; historiography; German history; slavery; modes of production; historical materialism

Chapter.  9412 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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