Hegel and Kojeve: The struggle for recognition and the end state

Kojeve, Outline of a Phenomenology of Right

Kojève (2000)

As a student of political theory I find myself asking why the left so often aligns itself with the philosopher GWF Hegel. Reading Hegel’s Philosophy of Right I am repeatedly struck by how his political conclusions seem to be the converse of those I thought a good leftist should espouse. Monarchy as the ideal regime; war warranted for the sake domestic peace; these are not ideas that I thought sat comfortably with the left. In the post that follows I look to Hegel’s work via a comparison with the more recent philosopher, Alexandre Kojève, who, at minimum, uses Hegel as a mouthpiece (if you want to argue that he doesn’t represent Hegel’s ideas with fidelity).


Two of the key ideas that pervade Alexandre Kojève’s Outline of a Phenomenology of Right are the ‘struggle for recognition’ and the ‘universal and homogenous state’. Kojève adopts these ideas from the work of the philosopher GWF Hegel. I will attempt to fulfil two tasks relating to these two ideas. Firstly, I will question how faithfully Kojève re-presents Hegel’s philosophy. Secondly, I will analyse these ideas as presented in Kojève’s Outline. On the first task I find that Kojève faithfully re-presents Hegel’s notion of the struggle for recognition but that his and Hegel’s theories of the state diverge. On the second task I find that there are some inconsistencies in Kojève’s argument. For example, in the Outline, Kojève presents contradictory positions on the possibility of love in the primordial state in which the ‘struggle for recognition’ takes place. Kojève also makes use of a theory of human foresight that is so complex that it would need further justification to be believable. Finally, I will argue that the reason why Kojève’s and Hegel’s state theories diverge rests on the fact, admitted by Kojève, that his philosophy hoped to persuade people to bring about the universal and homogenous state.

The struggle for recognition

Kojève’s philosophical anthropology («)

In his Outline of a Phenomenology of Right, Alexandre Kojève begins his philosophical anthropology by stating that there are two kinds of desire: animal and human (2000, § 35, pp. 211-12). All animals, humans included, desire those things that contribute to the preservation of life. The object of animal desire is that which is conducive to attaining this end. For example, an animal desires food for sustenance. By taking the desired object into itself, the animal preserves its life. The animal of the species Homo sapiens, however, differs from animals of other species because it has the capacity to desire to be the object of desire. This, Kojève argues, is the particularly human desire: the desire to be desired. This is the desire for recognition. Humankind is, therefore, the species that can have as the object of its desire the desire of another rather than the mere natural desire for those things that sustain life. One form this particularly human desire takes is the desire to be loved. As Kojève states, ‘to desire a desire is to want to be loved’ (2000, § 35, p. 211). More fundamental than the desire to be loved, however, is the desire to be recognised as human, Kojève argues (ibid.). But Kojève then takes his philosophical anthropology one step further, arguing that humans can only be distinguished as human insofar as they successfully make themselves the objects of another’s desire. The particularly human desire is the desire for recognition, but a human only becomes human when this desire for recognition becomes a reality — when they are, in fact, the object of another’s desire. Hence, Kojève states of man: ‘he exists as a human being only to the extent that he is recognized’ (ibid.).

Man’s distinctly human desire for recognition is at odds with his animal desire to preserve his life, however. ‘Natural desire being in the final analysis the “instinct of self-preservation” … anthropogenic desire must be able annul [sic] this “instinct”’, Kojève contends (2000, § 35, p. 211). The human desire must be able to annul the animal desire to preserve one’s life. Immediately Kojève continues: ‘In other words, in order to be realized as a human being, man must be able to risk his life for recognition’ (ibid.). Again, he continues, in the following sentence: ‘It is this risk of life (Wagen des Lebens) which is the genuine birth of man, if it is carried out as a result of the desire for recognition alone’ (ibid.). The proof of one’s humanity rests on one’s willingness to risk life for recognition — to set aside the animal desire to preserve one’s life in order to fulfil the human desire for recognition.

It is worth noting that, at this point, Kojève’s conclusion that risking life is the birth of man — that one only becomes human by risking his life for recognition — does not follow necessarily from his argument. From Kojève’s premiss that anthropogenic desire must be able to annul animal desire, or even that man must be able to risk his life for recognition, it does not follow that man must risk his life for recognition. The conclusion that man must risk his life for recognition rests on a further premiss: recognition cannot be reciprocated. For Kojève’s conclusion to hold, the recognition of one person must be to the exclusion of the other. For example, consider two people, A and B, in a struggle for recognition. On Kojève’s model if A recognises B — that is, if B becomes the object of A‘s desire — it cannot at the same time be the case that B recognises A. Kojève states, ‘the Struggle is the expression of a will of mutual exclusion–that is, at the limit, the annihilation of one by the other’ (2000, § 37, p. 220). Man desires the desire of another man; however, because all men desire the same, whenever one man attempts to make himself the desire of another the other will be likewise attempting to make himself the object of desire. Both men desire to be recognised and both are willing to risk their lives to fulfil this desire for recognition. Hence, Kojève contends, the struggle for recognition begins as a struggle to the death (2000, § 35, p. 212).

The conflict between love and the struggle to exclude the other («)

Kojève’s philosophical anthropology faithfully represents Hegel’s position on human desire. Hegel states in the Phenomenology of Spirit:

…the relation of … two self-conscious individuals is such that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle. They must engage in this struggle … And it is only through staking one’s life that freedom is won … The individual who has not risked his life may well be recognized as a person, but he has not attained to the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness … just as each stakes his own life, so each must seek the other’s death…
(1977, § 187, pp. 113-14)

Kojève’s conclusion that the desire for recognition involves a struggle to the death is faithful to Hegel, but it contradicts Kojève’s statement, noted earlier, that to desire a desire is to want to be loved (2000, § 35, p. 211). In his Outline, Kojève claims he shies away from referring to recognition as love because the term is either too vague or too narrow (ibid.). But what his premiss that the struggle for recognition is a mutual struggle for exclusive recognition makes clear is that he shies away from the term because recognition, so construed, is distinctly not love insofar as love is at least possibly reciprocal.

Kojève argues that Hegel likewise abandons love as a form of recognition because, unlike the recognition sought by the master, love is not a motive force in history (Riley 1981, pp. 19-20). Love is not a motive force in history because its object is limited to the person or being of the loved one. This love may extend to one’s family or circle of friends, but rarely further. Recognition properly so-called, the type of recognition sought in the struggle to the death, is a desire for universal recognition of one’s humanity, Kojève contends (1946, p. 351). The primordial struggle for recognition is the struggle to get another to recognise oneself as a particular consciousness. Initially, this struggle is the struggle to be the desire of one other, like love, but, unlike love, its result is not mutual recognition as the desire of the other. Moreover, this struggle not only has a different outcome to love, it also has a different aim. Unlike love, each person must enter the struggle with the ultimate desire to be desired by all others — to be recognised universally — and not just to be desired by one’s initial antagonist.

Kojève’s master/slave dialectic («)

The struggle to the death for recognition has two possible outcomes, Kojève argues: one adversary surrenders to the other, or both die in the struggle. In the latter case, both adversaries possess an equal desire for recognition and fight to the death to achieve it. In the former case, one adversary subordinates his human desire for recognition to his animal desire for self-preservation and recognises the superior humanity of the other — the other proving his superiority by proving that he was willing to ‘go all the way’ for the sake of recognition (Kojève 2000, § 35, p. 212). In this case, the victor becomes master, and the vanquished slave. However, the victor finds the recognition of the slave unsatisfying. The slave is not the master’s equal because the slave was not willing to struggle to the death for recognition. The struggle for recognition is, therefore, doomed from the start. The slave, as slave, goes unrecognised as human because his animal desire prevailed; but what recognition the master gains from the struggle is inevitably unsatisfactory because it is recognition from someone who failed to prove their humanity — a mere slave. Hegel concurs when he writes that

…the object [the slave] in which the lord has achieved his lordship has in reality turned out to be something quite different from an independent consciousness. What now really confronts him is not an independent consciousness, but a dependent one.
(Hegel 1977, § 192, pp. 116-17)

As Kojève states, what was meant to be the outcome of the struggle for recognition — gaining recognition of one’s humanity — turns out to be ‘pure illusion’ (2000, § 35, p. 212).

Human redemption through the slave («)

Nevertheless, the struggle for recognition is not entirely futile. Although as a consequence of the struggle the slave goes unrecognised, he still desires to be recognised. The slave still possesses the idea of humanity as the desire for recognition. Importantly, however, the slave enters any subsequent struggle for recognition already recognising the other of a master. Accordingly, Kojève argues, when victorious in a subsequent struggle for recognition the slave will recognise those whom he will require to recognise him (2000, § 35, p. 213). The victorious slave thus becomes the citizen: the victor capable of mutual or reciprocal recognition. Kojève states,

…if man is only born in the opposition of Master and Slave, he is only fully and actually realised in the synthesis of the Citizen, who is a Master to the extent that he is recognized by others and a Slave to the extent that he himself recognizes them … Man is therefore real only to the extent that he is a Citizen.
(Kojève 2000, § 35, p. 213)

As this passage clarifies, it is only as citizens that humans achieve satisfying recognition. However, if the truly human recognition comes with citizenship — with mutual recognition — then it is worth asking what is the purpose of the initial struggle. Kojève himself states that ‘the Master appears in history only in order to disappear. He is only there for there to be a Slave’, who thereafter becomes a citizen (2000, § 35, p. 213). The recognition of the citizen supplants the recognition one seeks in the primordial struggle. Once the possibility arises for citizenship as a form of mutual recognition, the need for mastery as a form of unilateral recognition ceases. No longer is there any reason to risk one’s life for recognition (Roth 1985, p. 296). Hence, although reciprocal recognition was not possible in the initial struggle, it is possible when the slave is victorious in a later struggle. However, this mutual recognition is citizenship, not love.

Problems with Kojève’s account of the struggle for recognition («)

Kojève’s account of the master/slave dialectic gives rise to the question: If satisfying recognition only comes through citizenship then why is it at all necessary that the initial desire for recognition lead one to subject another? If one person desires recognition from another then is it not, from the start, the case that subjection is inimical to recognition? Certainly, as just illustrated, Kojève argues that subjection fails as a form of recognition. The master is unfulfilled by recognition from the slave — someone who is less than he is. So what would lead one person to think that their desire for recognition would be fulfilled by the subjection, essentially the dehumanisation, of another? Is it not a paradoxical solution to the desire for recognition? And would the paradox not be apparent to the man who, in looking for a means by which to fulfil his desire, thought to himself, ‘I know how I’ll fulfil this desire, I’ll subject another to my will and thereby be recognised’? The answer for Kojève (and Hegel) rests in the fact that although from the perspective of the victor the struggle for recognition is perverse, it creates the possibility for a synthesis of master and slave in the citizen (2000, § 35, p. 213). There is a fundamental problem here for Kojève, however.

There is an inconsistency in Kojève’s account of the master/slave dialectic (2000, § 35, pp. 212-13). Two adversaries, A and B, meet in a state analogous to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature in which both possess roughly equal capacities to defend themselves against others (Howse & Frost 2000, p. 14). A and B enter a struggle; one of them, say B, decides that he would rather submit than die in the struggle for recognition. The victor becomes the master, the vanquished the slave. Now Kojève argues, as does Hegel (1977, § 188, p. 114), that the master does not kill his opponent because killing the opponent is inimical to the initial goal of gaining recognition (2000, § 35, p. 212). The master thus spares the slave’s life in return for subjection and servitude. However, Kojève argues, the master finds recognition from the slave unsatisfying because it is recognition from a mere slave, a person who is not his equal because he was not willing to struggle to the death for recognition. But here is the inconsistency as it relates to a master’s foresight. In Kojève’s model of the struggle for recognition neither of the adversaries had the foresight to recognise that the struggle for recognition would be futile — that the only possible outcomes were death or unsatisfactory recognition for the master. [1] Nevertheless, the master had the foresight to realise that killing B would be inimical to recognition; if B is dead, B cannot recognise anyone. However, if the master had the foresight to realise that killing B would be inimical to recognition, then why did the master not realise that making B a slave or accepting B as a slave would also result in an unsatisfying form of recognition?

This is the inconsistency in Kojève’s account. For some reason the master had the foresight to know that killing B would deprive himself of recognition, but the master lacked the foresight to know that accepting B as a slave would also deprive himself of recognition. What is more stupefying, neither party had the foresight to realise that the struggle was always doomed to fail as an endeavour in gaining recognition. In the one instance the master possesses foresight, yet in the other two he does not. This is a complex theory of foresight for which Kojève must give an account if his master/slave dialectic is to hold. It is unsatisfactory to merely assert that in one case masters have the foresight to realise what will lead to recognition, and in the other two they lack this foresight. It would seem that, on a simple account, people (as potential masters) have the foresight to know what is sufficient for recognition or they do not know what is sufficient for recognition. It seems too convenient for Kojève’s case that the master has the foresight to know that killing B will prevent recognition, but lacks the foresight to see that entering the struggle for recognition is doomed to failure and that accepting B as a slave will make for unsatisfying recognition. This is particularly the case since the particular ‘foresight combination’ in Kojève’s account is the only one that would lead to the possibility of the citizen synthesis. It is only when masters see that killing adversaries is inimical to recognition but fail to see that entering the struggle is futile and that accepting B as a slave will be unsatisfactory for recognition that the possibility arises for slaves to become citizens.

Struggle as the genesis of justice («)

Kojève focuses on the master/slave dialectic because he believes it is the basis for justice. The master/slave dialectic leads to the development of more complex means of human fulfilment. The brute recognition of the anthropogenic struggle creates the possibility for justice. Two parties enter the struggle for recognition of their own will or freely (Kojève 2000, § 37, p. 219). As both parties enter the struggle freely, they enter the struggle as equals. This equality is the condition required for justice. As Kojève states, ‘The anthropogenic Struggle … is just because it is by definition equal, because it is engaged under the same conditions by the two adversaries’ (2000, § 37, p. 221). Justice as equality is the justice of the primordial struggle, and it is the justice recognised by the victor of that struggle: the master. This ‘aristocratic justice’ of the master is the justice that derives from the equality of the participants when entering the struggle. This equality exists until one submits to the other or both die in the struggle. The outcome of the struggle is unequal, i.e. the vanquished is consequently subordinated to the victor, but the equality of beginning makes the inequality of the outcome just (Kojève 2000, § 37, p. 222).

The equality of the primordial struggle creates the conditions for a subsequent justice of equivalence. The master spares the life of the slave in return for recognition; the slave submits to the master in return for sparing his animal life. Thus, although one is now a slave and the other master, the outcome of the struggle has created a justice of equivalence whereby the recognition received by the master is equivalent to the spared life enjoyed by the slave. Their conditions are not equal but the slave and master both benefit from their respective conditions, and in this the outcomes are equivalent. This justice of equivalence is the justice of the slave, or ‘bourgeois justice’ (Kojève 2000, § 37, p. 222).

At this stage ‘right’ is no part of the relations between participants in the anthropogenic struggle. In the struggle for recognition A is trying to subjugate B and vice versa. But neither A nor B can judge what is a ‘right’ outcome of the interaction because A would say it is when he is master and B would say it is when he is master. The question of right only arises when an ‘impartial and disinterested third’, a person C, enters the interaction between A and B to determine what is a right outcome of the interaction according to an idea of justice (Kojève 2000, § 38, p. 227; Roth 1983, p. 448). Accordingly, the master/slave dialectic in its purest form is not concerned with the question of right. It is only when an arbiter enters the interaction that ‘right’ can be realised. Before such a time, the only concern for both A and B is to subjugate the other and thus attempt to receive recognition of their humanity. This outcome is just, but through the arbitration of an impartial and disinterested third it becomes ‘right’. The benefit of right over justice is that, as Kojève notes, ‘Droit [right] can be applied to all social interaction, whatever they may be … And without this universalism, Droit would not be what it is’ (2000, § 39, p. 235). An impartial and disinterested third can apply the idea of right universally, to all social situations. And the impartial and disinterested third par excellence is the state, or, more particularly, the civil servants executing the functions of the state. This leads Kojève to the conclusion that the idea of right, as universal, is best served via a universal and homogenous state.

Kojève includes the master/slave struggle in his account merely to create the possibility for the citizen. He writes:

Just as mastery fuses with servitude in citizenship, (more or less) aristocratic [master] Justice will one day fuse with (more or less) bourgeois [slave] Justice in the synthetic justice of the Citizen properly so-called, of the citizen of the universal and homogenous State.
(Kojève 2000, § 35, p. 214)

Kojève may believe that using Hegel’s master/slave dialectic in this way is the only means by which he can get from the primordial struggle for recognition to the universal and homogenous state. However, the implication of the struggle for unilateral recognition as the starting point of human phenomena is that, as Kojève notes, ‘all human phenomena have as their basis War and Economics’: the war for unilateral recognition and the economics of lordship and slavery (2000, § 35, p. 215). But given the dubious initial state in which the struggle for recognition takes place (a state devoid of the possibility for reciprocal and satisfying recognition, i.e. love) and the complex account of foresight on which it is based (antagonists recognising that they should not kill the other but not recognising that they are engage in a futile struggle for recognition), it is doubtful whether the master/slave dialectic is an adequate genesis for all human phenomena.

Kojève’s universal and homogenous state

Patrick Riley agrees that Kojève is most faithful to Hegel on the topic of the master/slave dialectic (1981, p. 18). Hegel and Kojève both argue that the struggle for recognition accounts for human progress — the progressive realisation of the idea of right. Both argue that the struggle for recognition transforms into the truly human mutual recognition of citizenship, which is realised through the state. However, Riley adds, Hegel’s and Kojève’s theories of state diverge considerably. Whereas in the Philosophy of Right Hegel finds the ultimate realisation of right in a broadly ‘Westphalian’ system of sovereign nation-states, Kojève concludes that the ultimate realisation of right is achieved in a universal and homogenous state (UHS).[2]

The universal and homogenous state versus Hegel’s end state («)

Hegel begins his theory of state by arguing that it is only as a member of a state that the individual can live an ethical life. The ethical life is a life of reason and, as such, corresponds to the universal over the particular. As Hegel writes: ‘Unification pure and simple is the true content and aim of the individual, and the individual’s destiny is the living of the universal [that is to say ethical] life’ (1952 [1821], § 258, p. 156). This universal life is achieved in the state. The state is, then, a further development of the universal Idea through a constitution, a codification of right (Hegel 1952 [1821], § 260, p. 160). However, in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, unlike Kojève’s Outline, the state never takes the form of universality or homogeneity. Hegel recognises as valid a system of independent nation states. He writes, ‘The nation state is … the absolute power on earth. It follows that every state is sovereign and autonomous against its neighbours’ (1952 [1821], § 331, p. 212). He continues,

…states are to that extent in a state of nature in relation to each other … There is no Praetor to judge between states; at best there may be an arbitrator or mediator, and even he exercises his functions contingently only, i.e. in dependence on the particular wills of the disputants.
(Hegel 1952 [1821], § 333, p. 213)

As Hegel sees it, this relation of states to each other can never be fully overcome.

The main reason that Hegel concludes that a UHS is not possible is that any state is a unity — an individual unit — whether it be one sovereign nation state among many or a UHS. Every state, as such, has individuality. However, Hegel writes, ‘Individuality is awareness of one’s existence as a unit in sharp distinction from others’ (1952 [1821], § 322, p. 208, italics added). The authority of the individual state rests on its recognition by other states (Hegel 1952 [1821], § 331, p. 213). But because a universal and homogenous state has no ‘other’, nothing exists to recognise it in its individuality or to recognise its authority. Therefore, a universal and homogenous state is not possible.

There is also a practical reason why Hegel ends with a Westphalian system of states. War, Hegel argues, is beneficial to the ‘ethical health’ of citizens (1952 [1821], § 324, p. 210; § 334, p. 214). War shifts attention from domestic affairs to an external threat. As he writes (while at the same time ridiculing Kant):

…just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would be the result of a prolonged calm, so also corruption in nations would be the product of prolonged, let alone ‘perpetual’, peace.
(Hegel 1952 [1821], § 324, p. 210)

Many a domestic unrest has been avoided and the power of the state consolidated by waging international war, Hegel contends.

Comparing Kojève and Hegel, the obvious question is why, when both Hegel and Kojève begin from the struggle for recognition do their conclusions or theories of state differ so considerably. Riley argues that Hegel’s and Kojève’s theories of state differ so considerably because Kojève exaggerates the importance of recognition in Hegel’s work (1981, p. 20). He argues:

Indeed it might be argued that Kojève ignores Hegel’s actual theory of the state, and advances in its place what Hegel’s theory would have been if Mastery, Slavery, recognition, and satisfaction had been the only political notions which he used.
(Riley 1981, pp. 18-19)

Hence, Riley asks of the divergence between Kojève’s UHS and the end state in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

…how far … can one expect [Philosophy of Right] to theorize the “universal and homogenous state” which Kojève hopes to find at the “end of history?” The answer must be “not very far” for the state outlined in the Philosophy of Right is neither “universal” nor “homogenous.” It is certainly not “universal,” for Hegel envisions a political world which continues to be divided into nation states … and speaks of war as the preservative of the “ethical health” of nations. But neither is there “homogeneity,” since the “universal class” is drawn from the middle class, and since Hegel preserves a whole gradation of social classes from monarchs to an “impoverished rabble”–not least in the ranks and orders of his “civil society.”
(Riley 1981, p. 27)

Although it is an obvious question as to why Hegel’s and Kojève’s theories of state diverge so considerably, it is not a question which everyone accepts as legitimate. Michael Roth argues that, ‘it would be a complete mistake to try to understand or evaluate Kojève’s work on the basis of its faithfulness to Hegel’ (1985, pp. 295, 299). Roth’s reason for this position is that, he argues, Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel was recognised as ‘violent’ — was intended to ‘explode’ Hegel’s texts (1985, pp. 294-95). Roth adds, ‘Kojève found in Hegel a language he could appropriate in order to speak to the philosophical issues which chiefly concerned him’ (1985, p. 295). Thus, Roth also argues, Riley’s argument that Kojève exaggerates aspects of Hegel’s work and thereby ‘seriously distorts’ Hegel’s ideas is, as Kojève himself described such criticism, ‘puerile’ (Roth 1985, p. 299; Riley 1981, pp. 13, 19). Whether Kojève merely uses Hegel as a mouthpiece for his own work or not, the fact remains that through both the Introduction to the Reading of Hegel and the Outline, Kojève, at least in part, re-presents the ideas of Hegel. As such, the question of how adequately he presents Hegel’s ideas is legitimate.

Kojève’s and Hegel’s end states: a point of convergence («)

There are points of convergence between Hegel’s and Kojève’s end states. Formally, his and Hegel’s states have the same relation to forms of private conscience. Riley summarises Hegel’s analysis of the relationship between the state and private conscience:

Since the “good” is most frequently defined in terms of the amount of rational freedom “realized” in the Hegelian state, the state cannot “give recognition to conscience in its private form as a subjective knowing, any more than science can grant validity to subjective opinion.” It may tolerate—rather than “recognize”—less-than-universal forms of conscience, if it is strong enough to afford such toleration (and “modern” states are, in Hegel’s view); but it need not, and in some cases it should not (if it is too weak).
(Riley 1981, pp. 21-22; Hegel quotes from Hegel 1952 [1821], § 137, p. 91)

Riley here draws attention to the fact that Hegel’s state can only recognise objective claims of conscience and merely tolerates claims that are less-than-universal. Hegel’s and Kojève’s states treat the relation between objective and subjective conscience identically. Kojève’s UHS is similarly blind to the individual’s subjective claims of conscience. Indeed, it is the idea that justice be universal that drives Kojève to conclude that what is required is a universal state (Kojève 2000, § 15, p. 94; Howse & Frost 2000, p. 6). The UHS prevents anyone from escaping the universal idea of justice; it makes the entire globe the jurisdiction the UHS’s determination of right. As Roth succinctly notes of Kojève’s UHS: ‘Only children and the insane do not accept the end state willingly’ — do not willingly accept the state as the source of claims of right (1983, p. 449). In Kojève’s UHS there is no room for a conception of justice that challenges that of the state, but neither is there in Hegel’s end state. The only difference is the form that the end state takes in Hegel’s and Kojève’s works.

Kojève’s and Hegel’s end states: points of divergence («)

One reason for the divergence between Hegel’s and Kojève’s end states could rest not in Kojève’s exaggeration of the master/slave dialectic and the role of recognition but in the different tasks of the Outline and the Philosophy of Right. In the Outline Kojève is concerned to take justice ‘to the limit’. The Outline, therefore, is not an historical analysis so much as an hypothesis about what the just state should be like. As Howse and Frost summarise:

The Outline presents the universal and homogenous state as something to be achieved, not through tyranny or empire, but through legal integration between states that results in a kind of supranational constitutional order, informed and unified by a single, definitive concept of justice.
(Howse & Frost 2000, p. 3)

As such, Kojève’s UHS is the ‘limit case’ of an idea of justice (Kojève 2000, § 15, pp. 91-92). Contrariwise, in the Philosophy of Right Hegel is concerned to analyse the forms of sublation that occur throughout the development of history. Consequently, the UHS differs from Hegel’s end state because Hegel was concerned with apprehending the idea of right behind the actual state of affairs in the world. As he states in the Preface of the Philosophy of Right:

…since philosophy is the exploration of the rational, it is for that very reason the apprehension of the present and the actual, not the erection of a beyond, supposed to exist, God knows where, or rather which exists, and we can perfectly well say where, namely in the error of one-sided, empty, ratiocination.
(Hegel 1952 [1821], Preface, p. 10)

Another reason for the divergence rests on the distinction Kojève makes between realising the end of history and actualising the end of history (Roth 1985, pp. 297-98). Hegel realised that the end of history as an idea occurred with the Napoleonic Wars and the institution of the Napoleonic Code, but Kojève’s ‘end of history’ is actualised when right is achieved in the universal and homogenous state. Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel was an attempt to actualise the end of history. His interpretation intentionally diverged from Hegel’s work because, as Kojève himself stated:

…every interpretation of Hegel, if it is more than small talk, is only a program of struggle and work … And that means that a work of Hegel interpretation has the significance of a work of political propaganda.
(Kojève 1946, p. 366. Cited in Roth 1985, p. 297)

Therefore, as a work of political propaganda Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel focused on those elements in Hegel’s work that Kojève thought were effective for actualising the universal and homogenous state — namely, the struggle for recognition and the master/slave dialectic. The former reminded people that behind all historical change lies a struggle to the death; the latter, that the universal and homogenous state is in the interests of history’s slaves — those failed masters who achieve recognition through citizenship.

Kojève’s deliberate interpretation of Hegel with the intent to create political propaganda may account for his neglect of love as a legitimate form of recognition. Love, as Kojève himself states,

…attributes an absolute value, not to the action (Tun), but to the given-being (Sein) of the loved one: one loves someone ‘without reason’, that is simply because he is, and not because of what he does.
(Kojève 1946, pp. 350-51. Cited in Riley 1981, p. 19)

As such, love values the object and not the action. If Kojève’s work is political propaganda and political propaganda is intended to affect change, then his focus on the struggle for recognition and his exclusion of love as a legitimate form of recognition make sense. The struggle for recognition places action — the action of mastery and subjection, and the action of work subsequently conducted by the slave as a sublimated form of recognition — at centre stage. As a piece of political propaganda, however, Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel only remains relevant until the advent of the UHS, at which time it may be possible to acknowledge that love as a form of mutual recognition precedes the struggle for unilateral recognition.

To wrap this post up, in the first half I have shown that in his Outline of a Phenomenology of Right Kojève faithfully re-presents Hegel’s idea of the struggle for recognition as a starting point for his state theory but concludes, unlike Hegel, that the most developed notion of justice is achieved in a universal and homogenous state. At the same time I drew attention to the two main problems with the struggle for recognition as presented by Kojève. The first problem is that Kojève presents a contradictory position on love. The second problem is that he utilises a theory of human foresight that is so complex that it needs further justification to be believable. However, for Kojève and Hegel to begin from similar starting points but end with different theories of state there must be significant points of difference in their thought. In the second half of this post I have shown that Kojève and Hegel had different aims in creating their state theories, which is a possible causes of their divergence. As illustrated, in his Outline Kojève was creating an hypothesis on the ideal state while in the Philosophy of Right Hegel was analysing the ‘present and actual’ state of affairs as a basis for the rational state. Furthermore, through his work Kojève hoped to explicate the conditions for actualising his universal and homogenous state whereas Hegel believed the existing states system sufficed as a model for the rational state. When these different aims are considered, Kojève’s neglect of love as a possible solution to the primordial human desire for recognition makes sense. If his aim was to produce a work of political propaganda with the intention of bringing about change in the world then one can understand why he would emphasise a form of recognition that attributes an absolute value to the action of struggle rather than one which values the ‘given-being’ or Sein of another for what they already are.

Entry by Dylan Nickelson
Last updated on December 17, 2009
(All rights reserved)


[1] Another option is that the adversaries recognised that the true victor would be the vanquished, because only the vanquished retains the possibility, and thus the idea, of still gaining recognition through a new form — citizenship. However, entertaining this possibility would just add to Kojève’s troubles because it would rest on the idea that the adversaries enter the struggle for recognition desiring to lose, that is, desiring not the desire of another but desiring to have one’s desires go unrecognised. [Back to text]

[2] I refer to Hegel’s model of the states system a ‘Westphalian’ because it broadly reflects the states system established subsequent to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which formed the basis for autonomous sovereign states with supreme, unqualified and exclusive political and legal authority over a given territory (McGrew 2001, pp. 29-30). [Back to text]


Hegel, GWF (1977), Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. AV Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

—- (1952 [1821]), Philosophy of Right, trans. TM Knox, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Howse, R & Frost, B-P (2000), ‘The Plausibility of the Universal and Homogenous State’, in A Kojève, Outline of a Phenomenology of Right, Rowman & Littlefield, New York, pp. 1-27.

Kojève A (1946), ‘Hegel, Marx et le Christianisme’, Critique (August-September), pp. 339-366.

—- (1970), ‘Hegel, Marx, and Christianity‘, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer).

—- (2000) Outline of a Phenomenology of Right, B-P Frost (ed.), trans. B-P Frost & R Howse, Rowman & Littlefield, New York.

McGrew, A (2001), ‘Globalization and Global Politics’, in J Baylis & S Smith (eds.), The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 19-38.

Riley, P (1981), ‘Introduction to the Reading of Alexandre Kojève‘, Political Theory, vol. 9, no. 1 (February), pp. 5-48.

Roth, MS (1983), ‘A Note on Kojève’s Phenomenology of Right‘, Political Theory, vol. 11, no. 3 (August), pp. 447-450.

—- (1985), ‘A Problem of Recognition: Alexandre Kojève and the End of History‘, History and Theory, vol. 24, no. 3 (October), pp. 293-306.

4 thoughts on “Hegel and Kojeve: The struggle for recognition and the end state

  1. Dylan,
    its not Hegel’s political conclusions –it the triadic structure of family, civil society and state, their internal dynamic logic, and the interrelationships between the three. It’s a much more sophisticated model of our society than the market/state model of liberalism.

  2. Hi Gary,

    Hegel’s model of society is much richer than the liberal model, and I can see why it is the greater focus of Philosophy of Right. But I remain perplexed as to how one separates the model of society from the political conclusions.

    No doubt it can be done, unless we take Hegel’s conclusions as strictly implied by his analysis of society (which forms the basis of the model). It’s just that the political conclusions strike me as requiring a rebuttal from anyone of the Left who wishes to take up the triadic model but not at the same time appear to endorse the political conclusions.



  3. Pingback: The Left Which is Not One, Part 2: The Ferocious Necessity of Power, Or, to change the world, you must accept what currently is… | The Loyal Opposition to Modernity:

  4. Pingback: More notes on the Left Which is Not One (archive 2012) | Symptomatic Commentary

Respond, rebuke, participate: