Alexandre Kojève: revolution and terror
When discussing the French Revolution and Napoleon in his lectures from 1933 to 1939, Alexandre Kojève had in mind events in Russia. The clash between the “old order,” with its Masters, and the worker Slaves corresponded for him more with the images of pre-revolutionary Russian journalism than with the wigged aristocrats and French bourgeoisie of the end of the eighteenth century. In his lectures, behind Napoleon, as a revolutionary emperor, there exists, however secretly or openly, the figure of Stalin, with his plans for the “building of socialism in one country,” his five-year plans, collectivization, and terror. Kojève’s ontology and anthropology diverge both from Hegel’s version of the two as well as with Marxism, incorporating different theses from Nietzsche and Heidegger’s Daseinanalytik. Just as in The Phenomenology of Spirit, terror plays a central role in interpreting revolution, yet it is conceived in the spirit of a Heideggerian “being-toward-death.” The relation between Master and Slave begins with fear of death, and it is destroyed by fear of death in the face of revolutionary terror. In this article, Kojève’s philosophy converges with the various versions of “left Nietzscheanism,” which were particularly widespread in prerevolutionary Russia.