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Desire for Hegel: Judith Butler, Alexandre Kojève, and Subjective Spirit

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number1
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>15/03/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>Politica común
Issue number1
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In this paper I pay tribute to Butler’s reading of Alexandre Kojève, especially in his presentation of Hegel’s notion of desire. I suggest that Kojève’s radically anthropocentric reading of Hegel inaugurates a tradition of interpretation with which we are still living. I want then to argue the following: first, that Kojève (and many who have followed him) pursue an understanding of desire in Hegel that Hegel’s texts cannot support. As we shall see, for Hegel desire is not an end in itself, nor is it constitutive of subjectivity. In fact, in the Jena texts of which Kojève was aware (but perhaps not closely), desire is rejected as too “animal” a category to found subjectivity at all; second, the abandonment of Hegel’s absolute subjectivity in favour of what Kojève sees as the temporal consequences of the privileging of desire have the effect, not of positing an adequate anthropology, but of suspending the interpretation of time. Far from opening the way to reading Hegel as an “anthropology”, Kojève’s reading (and that of those who have followed him) has had the effect of reducing Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit to a philosophy of only subjective spirit. Hegel’s philosophy of absolute spirit at least provided for the possibility of providing a ground for social forms, since at each stage of the development of spirit humanity manifests the higher forms of the concept. Without any understanding of absolute spirit, humanity is reduced either to a pure constructivism, or, worse, as interpreting all social forms beyond those of individuality as forms of power. Put more starkly, Hegel’s subjectivity is made to come very close to Nietzsche’s. I want to conclude that Kojève’s reading (and what follows from it) constitute a “suspension” of Hegel’s thought as one of subjective, rather than absolute, spirit.