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New Left Review I/142, November-December 1983

Chris Arthur

Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic and a Myth of Marxology

There is a widely held view that Marx was profoundly influenced by the Master–Servant (‘Herrschaft und Knechtschaft’) dialectic in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. This view was first popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre, who refers in his Being and Nothingness (1943) to ‘the famous Master-Slave relation which so profoundly influenced Marx’. [1] J.-P. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, London 1958, p. 237. Sartre does not explain how he knows this. [2] Marcuse in a review of Being and Nothingness says: ‘Sartre makes reference to Marx’s early writings . . .’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, March 1948. But in fact there is no such reference. Marcuse probably has in mind this remark about the ‘Master-Slave’ influence on Marx—a view held independently by Marcuse and which he had already linked to Marx’s early writings (see below). Probably this remark reflects the influence of Alexandre Kojève’s lectures on Hegel in the nineteen-thirties. Kojève presents a reading of the Phenomenology which centralizes the place of the Master–Servant dialectic in it, in a quasi-Marxist interpretation. [3] A. Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (1947), New York 1969. (Kojève may have assumed that Marx himself read it in the same way. However, it is one thing to read Marxism back into Hegel, it is another to generate it out of Hegel.) Three years after Sartre we find Jean Hyppolite again saying that the dialectic of domination and servitude is the best-known section of the Phenomenology because of ‘the influence it has had on the political and social philosophy of Hegel’s successors, especially Marx’. [4] J. Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Evanston 1974, p. 172. Also: ‘the famous dialectic of the Master and Slave that became the inspiration of Marxian philosophy’. Studies on Marx and Hegel (1955), New York 1969, 1973, p. 29.

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Chris Arthur, ‘Hegel’s Master/Slave Dialectic and a Myth of Marxology’, NLR I/142: £3

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