Alexandre Kojève

Russian-born French philosopher and statesman.
Alexandre Kojève
Born (1902-04-28)28 April 1902
Moscow, Russian Empire
Died 4 June 1968(1968-06-04) (aged 66)
Brussels, Belgium
Alma mater University of Berlin
University of Heidelberg
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
Institutions École pratique des hautes études
Main interests
German Idealism
Notable ideas
Subjects of desire[1]

Alexandre Kojève (French: [alɛksɑ̃dʁ koʒɛv]; 28 April 1902 – 4 June 1968) was a Russian-born French philosopher and statesman whose philosophical seminars had an immense influence on 20th-century French philosophy, particularly via his integration of Hegelian concepts into twentieth century Continental philosophy.[3][4] As a statesman in the French government, he was instrumental in the creation of the European Union. Kojève was a close friend of, and was in lifelong philosophical dialogue with, Leo Strauss.



Kojève was born Aleksandr Vladimirovič Koževnikov (Russian: Алекса́ндр Влади́мирович Коже́вников; IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr vlɐˈdʲimʲɪrəvʲɪtɕ kɐˈʐɛvnʲɪkəf]) in Russia to a wealthy and influential family. His uncle was the abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, about whose work he would write an influential essay in 1936. He was educated at the University of Berlin and Heidelberg, Germany. In Heidelberg he completed in 1926 his PhD thesis on the Russian religious philosopher Vladimir Soloviev's views on the union of God and man in Christ under the direction of Karl Jaspers. The title of his thesis was Die religiöse Philosophie Wladimir Solowjews (The Religious Philosophy of Vladimir Soloviev).

Early influences included the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the historian of science Alexandre Koyré. Kojève spent most of his life in France, and from 1933 to 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 was an extraordinarily learned man. A polyglot, he studied and used Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, Latin, and Classical Greek. He was also fluent in French, German, Russian, and English.[5]

Kojève died in Brussels in 1968, shortly after giving a talk at the European Economic Community (now the European Union) on behalf of the French government. In his later years, he had repeatedly expressed the position that what Marx called the European proletariat no longer existed, and the wealthy West sorely needed to help developing countries to overcome widespread poverty through large monetary gifts similar to the Marshall Plan.


Though not an orthodox Marxist,[6] Kojeve was known as an influential and idiosyncratic interpreter of Hegel, reading him through the lens of both Marx and Heidegger. The well-known "End of History" thesis advanced the idea 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 "End of History" is different from Francis Fukayama's later thesis of the same name in that it points as much to a socialist-capitalist synthesis as to a triumph of liberal capitalism.[7][8] Mark Lilla notes that Kojève rejected the prevailing concept among European intellectuals of the 1930s that capitalism and democracy were failed artifacts of the Enlightenment that would be destroyed by either communism or fascism.[9] In contrast, Kojève, while initially somewhat more sympathetic to the Soviet Union than the United States, devoted much of his thought to protecting western European autonomy, particularly so France, from domination by either the Soviet Union and the United States. He believed that the capitalist United States represented Right-Hegelianism while the state-socialist Soviet Union represented Left-Hegelianism; victory by either side, he posited, would result in what Lilla describes as "a rationally organized bureaucracy without class distinctions."[10]

Some of Kojève's more important lectures on Hegel have been published in English in the now classic Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, in 1947. His interpretation of Hegel has been one of the most influential of the past century. His lectures were attended by a small but influential group of intellectuals including Raymond Queneau, Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, André Breton, Jacques Lacan, Raymond Aron, Roger Caillois, Michel Leiris, Henry Corbin, Jean Hyppolite, and Éric Weil. His interpretation of the master–slave dialectic was an important influence on Jacques Lacan's mirror stage theory. Other French thinkers who have acknowledged his influence on their thought include the post-structuralist philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

Kojeve's correspondence with Leo Strauss has been published along with Kojève's critique of Strauss's commentary on Xenophon's Hiero (see below on their friendship and debate).[11] In the 1950s, Kojève also met the rightist legal theorist 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's other publications include a little noticed book on Immanuel Kant, and articles on the relationship between Hegelian and Marxist thought and Christianity. His 1943 book, Esquisse d'une phenomenologie du droit, published posthumously in 1981, contrasts the aristocratic and bourgeois views of the right. Le Concept, le temps et le discours, extrapolates 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".[12]

Kojève also challenged Strauss' interpretation of the classics in the voluminous Esquisse d'une histoire raisonnée de la pensée païenne, which covers the pre-Socratic philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, and Neoplatonism. 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."

Friendship with StraussEdit

Kojève had a close and lifelong friendship with Leo Strauss which began when they were philosophy students in Berlin. The two shared a deep philosophical respect for each other. Kojève would later write that he "never would have known [...] what philosophy is" without Strauss.[13] In the 1930s the two began a debate on the relation of philosophy to politics that would come to fruition with Kojeve's response to Strauss' On Tyranny. Kojève, a senior statesman in the French government, argued that philosophers should have an active part in shaping political events. Strauss, on the other hand, believed that philosophy and politics were fundamentally opposed, and that philosophers should not have a substantial role in politics, noting the disastrous results of Plato in Syracuse. Philosophers should influence politics only to the extent that they can ensure that philosophical contemplation remains free from the seduction and coercion of power.[11] In spite of this debate, Strauss and Kojève remained friendly. In fact, Strauss would send his best students to Paris to finish their education under Kojève's personal guidance. Among these were Allan Bloom, who endeavored to make Kojève's works available in English (and published the first edition of Kojève's lectures in English), and Stanley Rosen.

Kojève and the USSREdit

In 1999, Le Monde published an article reporting that a French intelligence document showed that Kojève had spied for the Soviets for over thirty 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 often claimed to be a Stalinist,[14] he largely regarded the Soviet Union with contempt, calling its social policies disastrous and its claims to be a truly classless state ludicrous. (Kojève's cynicism towards traditional Marxism as an outmoded philosophy in industrially well-developed capitalist nations prompted him to go as far as idiosyncratically referring to capitalist Henry Ford as "the one great authentic Marxist of the twentieth century."[15]) 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.[16]


In a commentary on Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man, Roger Scruton calls Kojève "a life-hating Russian at heart, a self-declared Stalinist, and a civil servant who played a leading behind-the-scenes role in establishing both the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the European Economic Community" and states the opinion that Kojève was "a dangerous psychopath".[17]


  • Alexander Koschewnikoff, Die religiöse Philosophie Wladimir Solowjews. Heidelberg Univ., Dissertation 1926.
  • Alexander Koschewnikoff, Die Geschichtsphilosophie Wladimir Solowjews. Sonderabdruck. Bonn, Friedrich Cohen, 1930.
  • Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, edited by Allan Bloom, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.
  • Alexandre Kojève, “Interpretation of the General Introduction to Chapter VII [i.e., the Religion Chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit]", translated by Ian Alexander Moore. In Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy 20 (2014): 15-39, online [2].
  • 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). Published in La règle 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 [3].
  • Alexandre Kojève, Düsseldorfer Vortrag: Kolonialismus in europäischer Sicht. In: Piet Tommissen (Hg.): Schmittiana. Beiträge zu Leben und Werk Carl Schmitts. Band 6, Berlin 1998, pp. 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), pp. 91–130.
  • Alexandre Kojève, Essai d'une histoire raisonée de la philosophie païenne. Tome 1-3. Paris, 1968; 1997.
  • Alexandre Kojève, Kant. Paris, 1973.
  • Alexandre Kojève, Le concept, le temps et le discours. Paris, 1991. English translation by Robert B. Williamson: The Concept, Time and Discourse. St. Augustine's Press, South Bend IN, 2013.
  • Alexandre Kojève, L'empereur Julien et son art d'écrire. Paris, 1997.
  • Alexandre Kojève, Les peintures concrètes de Kandinsky. Paris, 2002 (1936).
  • Alexandre Kojève, La notion d'authorité. Paris, 2004. English translation by Hager Weslati: The Notion of Authority. Verso, 2014.
  • Alexandre Kojève and Auffret D., L'idée du determinisme dans la physique classique et dans la physique moderne. Paris, 1990.
  • Alexandre Kojève and Bibard L., L'athéisme. Paris, 1998.
  • Alexandre Kojève, Oltre la fenomenologia. Recensioni (1932-1937), Italian Translation by Giampiero Chivilò, «I volti», n. 68, Mimesis, Udine-Milano, 2012. ISBN 978-88-5750-877-1.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Butler 1987, p. xxvi.
  2. ^ Warren Montag, Althusser and His Contemporaries: Philosophy's Perpetual War, Duke University Press, 2013, p. 30: "Althusser's critique of the two leading interpreters of Hegel, Alexandre Kojeve and Jean Hyppolite focuses on what he calls their 'existentialism'".
  3. ^ Butler 1987, p. ix.
  4. ^ Vincent Descombes, Modern French Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1980, pp. 158–9.
  5. ^ Frost, B.-P. (2011). Alexandre Kojeve: Wisdom at the end of history [Book review]. Society, 48, 192-194. Retrieved from [1]
  6. ^ Kołakowski, Leszek. Main Currents of Marxism. Trans. P. S. Falla. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2005. ISBN 0-393-06054-3. P. 929.
  7. ^ Kojeve, Alexandre (Spring 1980), ""Capitalisme et socialisme: Marx est Dieu; Ford est son prophète." ("Capitalism and socialism : Marx is God; Ford is his prophet")", Commentaire, 9 
  8. ^ Howse, Robert (2004), "Kojeve's Latin Empire", Policy Review (126), ISSN 0146-5945, archived from the original on 18 March 2008, retrieved 2008-04-14, The End of History does not itself resolve the tension within the idea of equality — the ideal of equal recognition that is rationally victorious with the End of History embodies elements of market justice, equal opportunity, and "equivalence" in exchange (the "bourgeois" dimension of the French Revolution). But it also contains within it a socialist or social democratic conception of equality of civic status, implying social regulation, welfare rights, and the like. 
  9. ^ Lilla 2001, 123-124
  10. ^ Lilla 2001, 124
  11. ^ a b Strauss, Leo, Gourevitch, Victor; Roth, Michael S., eds., On Tyranny 
  12. ^ published in Cropsey, Joseph, ed. (1964), Ancients and Moderns: Essays on the Tradition of Political Philosophy in Honor of Leo Strauss, Basic Books , as well as in the above-mentioned edition of Strauss's On Tyranny
  13. ^ Lilla 2001, p. 131.
  14. ^ Richard Webster (1994). "The Cult of Lacan: Freud, Lacan and the mirror-stage". Retrieved 2010-09-29. From Kojève Lacan learnt not only a version of Hegel but also the techniques of seduction and intellectual enslavement with which this charismatic teacher, who defined himself as a 'Stalinist of the strictest obedience', enthralled and mesmerized his students. 
  15. ^ Nichols, James H. Alexandre Kojève: Wisdom at the End of History. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. ISBN 0-7425-2777-8, ISBN 978-0-7425-2777-5. P. 90.
  16. ^ Geroulanos, An Atheism That Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought, pp. 133–134.
  17. ^ Roger Scruton, "The trouble with Islam, the European Union - and Francis Fukuyama"

Sources and further readingEdit

  • Bibard, Laurent, la Sagesse et le Féminin, L'Harmattan, 2005
  • Agamben, Giorgio (2004), The Open: Man and Animal, Stanford: Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-4737-7 
  • Anderson, Perry (1992), "The Ends of History", A Zone of Engagement, New York: Verso, pp. 279–375, ISBN 0-86091-377-5 
  • Auffret, D. (2002), Alexandre Kojeve. La philosophie, l'Etat, la fin de l'histoire, Paris: B. Grasset, ISBN 2-246-39871-1 
  • Butler, Judith (1987), Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France, New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-06450-0 
  • Cooper, Barry (1984), The End of History: An Essay on Modern Hegelianism, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-5625-3 
  • Darby, Tom (1982), The Feast: Meditations on Politics and Time, Toronto: Toronto University Press, ISBN 0-8020-5578-8 
  • Devlin, F. Roger (2004), Alexandre Kojeve and the Outcome of Modern Thought, Lanham: University Press of America, ISBN 0-7618-2959-8 
  • Drury, Shadia B. (1994), Alexandre Kojeve: The Roots of Postmodern Politics, New York: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-12089-3 
  • Filoni, Marco (2008), Il filosofo della domenica: La vita e il pensiero di Alexandre Kojève, Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, ISBN 978-88-339-1855-6 
  • Filoni, Marco (2013), Kojève mon ami, Turin: Nino Aragno 
  • Fukuyama, Francis (1992), The End of History and the Last Man, New York: Macmillan, ISBN 0-02-910975-2 
  • Geroulanos, Stefanos (2010), An Atheism That Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought, Stanford: Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-6299-6 
  • Kleinberg, Ethan (2005), Generation Existential: Heidegger's Philosophy in France, 1927-1961, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, ISBN 0-8014-4391-1 
  • Kovacevic, Filip (2014), Kožev u Podgorici: Ciklus predavanja o Aleksandru Koževu, Podgorica, Montenegro: Centar za građansko obrazovanje, ISBN 978-86-85591-29-7 
  • Lilla, Mark (2001), "Alexandre Kojève", The Reckless Mind. Intellectuals in Politics, New York: New York Review Books, ISBN 0-940322-76-5 
  • Nichols, James H. (2007), Alexandre Kojeve: Wisdom at the End of History, Lanham MA: Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 978-0742527775 
  • Niethammer, Lutz (1992), Posthistoire: Has History Come to an End?, New York: Verso, ISBN 0-86091-395-3 
  • Rosen, Stanley (1987), "Hermeneutics as Politics", Hermeneutics as Politics, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 87–140, ISBN 0-19-504908-X 
  • Rosen, Stanley (1999), "Kojève", A Companion to Continental Philosophy, London: Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 978-0-631-21850-0 
  • Rossman, Vadim (2006-01-18), Alexandre Kojeve i jego trzy wieloryby (nr 94), Poland: Europa, pp. 7–12 
  • Roth, Michael S. (1988), Knowing and History: Appropriations of Hegel in Twentieth-Century France, Ithaca: Cornell, ISBN 0-8014-2136-5 
  • Singh, Aakash (2005), Eros Turannos: Leo Strauss & Alexandre Kojeve Debate on Tyranny, Lanham: University Press of America, ISBN 0-7618-3259-9 
  • Strauss, Leo (2000), On Tyranny (Rev. and expanded ed.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-77687-5 
  • Chivilò, Giampiero; Menon, Marco (eds.) (2015), Tirannide e filosofia: Con un saggio di Leo Strauss ed un inedito di Gaston Fessard sj, Venezia: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari, pp. 335–416, ISBN 978-88-6969-032-7

External linksEdit