The rational historicism of Alexandre Kojeve: A study in the anthropology of the modern era
Philosophy began, historically, with the discovery of nature-that which is permanent, preceding, outlasting and remaining unaffected by human action. Nature is understood by way of contrast with art and convention, which are specifically human. Man himself is a natural species, yet has produced a nonnatural (artificial and conventional) world. The classical (Platonic-Aristotelian) explanation for this is that man, through reason, participates in a 'higher' nature of which his arts and conventions are imperfect actualizations. The perfection of this nature would be wisdom embodied in the life of a state. Modern thought, beginning with Hobbes, rejects this account. Man has no natural purpose; reason is a mere invention; the state exists by convention. But the convention at the origin of the state is authoritative for political practice ever after. It thus implies certain ends of its own, the establishment of world government being among them. Alexandre Kojeve clarifies and radicalizes Hobbes's unclassical anthropology by an original interpretation of Hegel's story of Master and Slave: Hobbes failed to grasp the significance of mastery. Kojeve uses the Master/Slave story to interpret the entire Hegelian philosophy of history. His notorious doctrines of the 'End of History' and the 'Universal Homogeneous State' are merely the consequences of modern thought itself. But they are subject to various possible interpretations, which he does not always help us to decide between. And the 'wisdom' which replaces philosophy at the end of history provides no more unequivocal guidance for our actions than did the classical doctrine of the 'natural end of man'