Alexandre Kojève

Alexandre Kojève (Russian: Александр Владимирович Кожевников, Aleksandr Vladimirovič Koževnikov; April 28 1902June 4 1968) was a Marxist and Hegelian political philosopher, who had a substantial influence on twentieth-century French philosophy.


Kojève was born in Russia, and educated in Berlin and Heidelberg, Germany. He completed his Ph.D., on the Russian mystic Vladimir Soloviev's views on the mystical 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 in 1933-1939 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'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, shortly after giving a talk at the European Economic Community (now European Union) on behalf of the French government. In his later years he had repeatedly expressed the position 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 help developing countries to overcome widespread poverty through large monetary gifts (in the mold of the Marshall Plan).


An idiosyncratic reader of Hegel through the lens of Marx, Kojève is best-known for his "End of History" thesis, which stated 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 version of the "End of History" is more nuanced and points as much to a socialist-capitalist synthesis as to a triumph of Liberal capitalism.

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, 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 political philosopher Leo Strauss; their correspondence has been published along with a critique Kojève wrote of Strauss's commentary on Xenophon. 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, and Stanley Rosen. It is worth noting, however, that some of the Straussian interpretations of Kojève remove some of the nuance and even some of the irony from his work: Kojève is sometimes presented as a Machiavellian Mephistopheles, a grand and ingenious defender of evil, and at other times as an unambiguous Leftist. In the 1950s, Kojève also befriended the noted rightist legal theorist (and former Nazi) 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". Kojève also challenged Strauss' interpretation of the classics in the voluminous book Esquisse d'une histoire raisonnée de la pensée païenne, that includes 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.

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 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 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 (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 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.



Primary literature

  • Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.
  • 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). Publicated in La regle 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, S. 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), p. 91-130.

Secondary literature

  • Anderson, Perry, "The Ends of History" in his A Zone of Engagement, New York: Verso, pp. 279-375, 1992.
  • Butler, Judith, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  • Cooper, Barry, The End of History: An Essay on Modern Hegelianism, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984.
  • Darby, Tom. "The Feast: Meditations on Politics and Time" Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1982.
  • Devlin, F. Roger, Alexandre Kojeve and the Outcome of Modern Thought, Lanham: University Press of America, 2004.
  • Drury, Shadia B., Alexandre Kojeve : The Roots of Postmodern Politics, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
  • Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and the Last Man, New York: Macmillan, 1992.
  • Kleinberg, Ethan, Generation Existential: Heidegger's Philosophy in France, 1927-1961, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005.
  • Lilla, Mark, Alexandre Kojève: The Reckless Mind. Intellectuals in Politics, New York: A New York Review Book, 2001.
  • Niethammer, Lutz, Posthistoire: Has History Come to an End?, New York: Verso, 1992.
  • Roth, Michael S., Knowing and History: Appropriations of Hegel in Twentieth-Century France, Ithaca: Cornell, 1988.
  • Rosen, Stanley, the title essay in his Hermeneutics as Politics, New York, Oxford University Press, pp. 87-140, 1987.
  • Singh, Aakash, Eros Turannos: Leo Strauss & Alexandre Kojeve Debate on Tyranny, Lanham: University Press of America, 2005.
  • Strauss, Leo, On Tyranny - Revised and Expanded Edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

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