Kojeve, Plato, and the End of History
For having been an outspoken Marxist, Alexandre Kojeve was quite different from an average member of the socialist intelligentsia. Alexandre leaned heavily on the importance of the individual; in some ways making him much closer to a Western philosopher than a Marxist or Eastern philosopher. When it came to the individual, Kojeve felt it was of the highest importance that people better themselves to the fullest extent, and in order to fully self-actualize, people need to receive recognition from those they themselves “recognize as worthy of recognizing [them].” Kojeve holds this to be true for the tyrant and the philosopher alike, “And that is as true of the statesman as it is of the philosopher.” But how does one gain this recognition? How does one self-actualize? In this article I intend to illustrate how Alexandre Kojeve views the relationship between philosophy and wisdom, politics and wisdom, what these relationships mean for the essential character of history, what the essential character of history means for the “goal” of history, and where recognition fits into this puzzle.
To best understand the classical framework of philosophy, one must understand Plato’s allegory of The Cave, written in his great work The Republic. In it, Plato describes how it is as if human beings are from birth watching shadows being cast on a wall, grasping at the shadows believing them to be reality. Only through education (philosophy) can people move away from the shadows and see the world outside that is casting them (reality). Through the practice of philosophy, we may dispel the dogma and prejudice that keeps us from the truth, and here wisdom is found. However, just as it is a process to move from the shadows to seeing the light outside the cave; so too does the process of philosophy gradually move the individual from dogma and prejudice toward wisdom. After all, ‘philosophos’ means ‘lover of wisdom’ in Greek. It is important to understand from this view that the relationship between wisdom and philosophy is fundamentally tragic. The way Kojeve sees it through the eyes of Xenophon, philosophy rests on a timeless and infinite truth (characterized by the ideals of Simonides). Because of this, philosophy is never done, and can never be completed.
Having illustrated Kojeve (and Plato’s) understanding of the dynamic between wisdom and philosophy, let us now move to the relationship between wisdom and politics. Here is where recognition gets tied into this worldview. According to Kojeve, wisdom and politics are similar in that they are both driven by a desire for recognition. The wise man or the philosopher desires to be recognized for their intellect/wisdom/philosophy, while the politician, tyrant or sovereign desires to have their authority recognized. In addition, wisdom and politics have done a dance throughout the centuries and have been the primary driving forces of history itself. Kojeve feels that at first glance it appears as if tyrants and “political men” despise the philosophers and dismissed their advice. However, Alexandre says “But upon closer examination…Within the geographic realm of Western philosophy, perhaps the greatest Statesman, and certainly the one whom the great tyrants of our world have imitated for centuries was Alexander the Great.” As we know, Alexander the Great was the famous student of The Philosopher, Aristotle. So, the greatest Statesman and political man in the Western tradition, was a devout student of philosophy, and therefore a student of wisdom. In the time since Alexander passed, the greatest tyrants and Statesman have sought to imitate Alexander. The example of Alexander is one of many in which it is seen that wisdom and politics have been the driving forces of history. Because of the character of wisdom and philosophy laid out in the previous paragraph (moving closer and closer towards the truth), politics have worked to disseminate this wisdom into the public and the character of the State. This then leads us to what constitutes the essential character of history.
As I briefly outlined in the last paragraph, the dance between political and wise men throughout history has brought the process of philosophy to civilization as a whole. That is to say, that because political men, statesmen, tyrants, kings, sometimes heed the advice of philosophers and “wise men”, the process of philosophy whereby individuals move further and further away from dogma and prejudice, and towards truth, has been brought to the public and society as a whole. So now, society has moved further and further away from ignorance and towards truth and wisdom. This is the gradual manifestation of wisdom in time. This is the essential character of history.
So, if the gradual manifestation of wisdom in time, is the essential character of history, what does that say for the end of history, or the goal of history? Where will this character of history eventually lead? Let us take a closer look, as the answer to this question is a most important one. Because philosophy and wisdom necessarily lead to recognition, and wisdom is being gradually disseminated to the State throughout time, this leads to a State in which everyone finds recognition and satisfaction through wisdom. Because wisdom dispels the dogma, prejudice and superstition of ignorance, this brings about a State that is universal (so no one is oppressed or prejudiced against) and essentially homogeneous in character. In this state, no prejudice exists, and all have universal equal rights. In addition, everyone is able to self-actualize because of the wisdom and recognition everyone enjoys. Effectively, this is the end of history and the end of time.