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7676: Hegel's idea of the relations btw lordship and Bondage & Haiti (fwd)

From: Rose-May Guignard <guignard@vt.edu>


Critical Inquiry
Summer 2000
Volume 26, Number 4

Excerpt from "Hegel and Haiti" by Susan Buck-Morss

"Where did Hegel's idea of the relation between lordship and bondage
originate?" ask the Hegel experts, repeatedly, referring to the famous
metaphor of the "struggle to death" between the master and slave, which for
Hegel provided the key to the unfolding of freedom in world history,
and which he first elaborated in The Phenomenology of Mind, written in Jena in
1805-1806 (the first year of the Haitian nation's existence) and
published in 1807 (the year of the British abolition of the slave trade).
Where, indeed? The intellectual historians of German philosophy know only
one place to look for the answer: the writings of other intellectuals. Perhaps
it was Fichte, writes George Armstrong Kelly, although "the problem of
lordship and bondage is essentially Platonic.1 Judith Shklar takes the common
route of connecting Hegel's discussion to Aristotle. Otto
Poggeler--and there is no finer name in German Hegel scholarship--says that
the metaphor does not come from even the ancients, but is a totally
"abstract" example.2 Only one scholar, Pierre-Franklin Tavar, has ever
actually made the connection of Hegel and Haiti, basing his argument on
evidence that Hegel read the French abolitionist, the Abbe Gregoire 3...But
even Tavar deals with the later Hegel, after the master-slave dialectic had
been conceived.4 No one has dared to suggest that the idea for the dialectic
of lordship and bondage came to Hegel in Jena in the years 1803-5 from
reading the press--journals and newspapers. And yet this selfsame Hegel, in
this very Jena period during which the master-slave dialectic was first
conceived, made the following notation:

        Reading the newspaper in early morning is a kind of realistic morning
prayer. One orients one's attitude against the world and
        toward God [in one case], or toward that which the world is [in the
other]. The former gives the same security as the latter, in that
        one knows where one stands.5

We are left with only two alternatives. Either Hegel was the blindest of all
the blind philosophers of freedom in Enlightenment Europe, surpassing
Locke and Rousseau by far in his ability to block out reality right in front
of his nose (the print right in front of his nose at the breakfast table); or
Hegel knew--knew about real slaves revolting successfully against real
masters, and he elaborated his dialectic of lordship and bondage deliberately
within this contemporary context.6

        George Armstrong Kelly, "Notes on Hegel's 'Lordship and Bondage,'" in
Hegel's Dialectic of Desire and Recognition: Texts and Commentary, ed. John
(Albany, N.Y., 1996), p.260; hereafter abbreviated "N." Kelly insists that
Hegel's writings have to be considered within "Hegel's own time," but it is a
time of thought ("N,"
p. 272). He considers therefore the philosophical differences between Fichte,
Schelling, and Hegel: Fichte's thematic was the more general one of mutual
recognition (a theme
Hegel treated earlier), whereas in the master-slave dialectic "Hegel is
defending a doctrine of original equality that is curiously and dangerously
denied by Fichte" ("N," p. 269).
Many interpreters choose to discuss Hegel on this point in terms of Fichte,
thereby reducing the importance of Hegel's specific example of recognition,
first introduced in 1803,
the relationship of master and slave. See, for example, Robert R. Williams
(who in turn follows Ludwig Siep): "The story of recognition is a story about
Fichte and Hegel"
(Robert R. Williams, Hegel's Ethics of Recognition [Berkeley, 1997], p. 26).
        See Judith N. Shklar, "Self-Sufficient Man: Dominion and Bondage," in
Hegel's Dialetic of Desire and Recognition, pp. 289-303, and Otto Pöggeler,
Hegels Idee
einer Phänomenologie des Geists, 2d ed. (1973; Freiburg, 1993), pp.263-64.
        See Pierre-Franklin Tavarès, "Hegel et l'abbß Grßgoire: Question noire
et rßvolution française," in Rßvolutions aux colonies, pp. 155-73. The Abbß
Grßgoire was surely the most loyal supporter of Haiti among the French
abolitionists. In 1808 he wrote De la littßrature des Nègres, which managed to
circumvent Napolean's
censorship on the subject "ingeniously" by ostensibly dealing with the
literary efforts of blacks writing in French and English: "The book was mainly
about African sociey, but
in it Grßgoire also took the opportunity to praise the Dominguans Toussaint
Louverture and Jean Kina (Who had led a revolt on Martinique) and to observe
that, if Haiti was
still politically unstable, this had also been true of France in the 1790s"
("HA," p. 117). Asked in the mid-1820s to accept a bishopric in Haiti,
Grßgoire refused, disappointed
with the conciliatory attitude of Haiti toward France when the Haitian
President Boyer agreed to pay a huge indemnity to the former colonial planters
in return for recognition;
see "HA," p. 128.
        I have yet to see Tavarès's original article, "Hegel et Haiti, ou le
silence de Hegel sur Saint-Domingue" in the Port-au-Prince journal Chemins
Critiques (March
1992). Nor have I read his doctoral dissertation, "Hegel, critique de
l'Afrique (Doctorat, Paris-1, 1990). It appears that he deals predominantly
with French rather than German
sources and that he has not consulted contemporary journals. From the article
I have seen, his conjecture seems to be that Hegel's concern for abolitionism
came later, in the
1820s, and may have been a nostalgia for his early revolutionary dreams.
Schüller, Die Deutsche Rezeption haitianischer Geschichte in der ersten
Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts ,
briefly mentions Hegel, but only his late writings (1820s), and does not
suggest the direct influence I am arguing for here; nor does she suggest that
Hegel read Minerva.
        Karl Rosenkranz, Georg Wilhelm friedrich Hegels Leben (1844; Darmstadt,
1977), p. 543. Note that this biography is still the canonical one for Hegel,
hence its
republication in 1977 (and again in 1998). Although philosophical accounts of
Hegel's development have been numerous and other biographies do exist, it is
astonishing that
Hegel has found no modern biographer to replace Rosenkranz definitively. See,
for example, Horst Althaus, Hegel und die heroischen Jahre der Philosophie:
Eine Biographie
(Munich, 1992). Although certain objects of Hegeliana have received
microscopic analysis (the watermarks on his manuscript papers, for example),
there are startling gaps in
our knowledge of his life. There are multiple reasons for this unevenness,
beginning with the fact that Hegel moved repeatedly (from Würtemberg to
Tübingen, Bern, Frankfurt,
Jena, Bamberg, Nürnberg, and Heidelberg) before settling in Berlin for the
last decade of his life, and he himself disposed of many documents, including
personal papers, before
he died. His (legitimate) son Karl was responsible for the archive after his
death and may have repressed some of the sources. (Hegel's illegitmate son
Ludwig, conceived in Jena
in 1806 when Hegel was writing The Phenomenology of Mind, died in 1831, the
same year as his father, in Indonesia as a member of the Dutch merchant
        The Phenomenology of Mind does not mention Haiti or Saint-Domingue, but
it does not mention the French Revolution either, at points where the experts
are in
total agreement in reading the revolution into the text. Of Hegel's devotion
to newspapers and journals we havbe abundant evidence, from his student days
in Tübingen, when he
followed the French revolutionary events, to the Frankfurt years in the late
1790s, when he read newspapers with pen in hand, to the 1810s and 1820s, when
he recorded
excerpts from the British Papers, the Edinburgh Review and Morning
Chronicle... Immediately after finishing The Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel
left Jena for Bamberg to
become himself editor of a daily newspaper, which foundered when Hegel was
accused by the censors of disclosing the whereabouts of German troops (Hegel's
defense was that
he had taken this information from other, already published news sources.)

Susan Buck-Morss, is professor in the department of government at Cornell
University. She is the author of The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W.
Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt Institute (1977) and The Dialectics of
Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (1989).