On the Ends of History

Alexandre Kojève and the Philosophy of History

This event has now concluded. Check out the audio of the day in our resources section here.

The 2016 MSCP Spring Workshop, a free 1-day event of papers and discussion, will be organised around the idea of The Ends of History.  All welcome. Free registration below.

Where: 4th Floor Linkway, John Medley building, UniMelb.
When: 9.30am - 4.30pm, Friday, Dec 2

ambrosian bibleSpeakers

  • Emily Finlay
  • Justin Clemens
  • Robert Boncardo
  • Jess Marian
  • Mark Hewson
  • Ali Alizadeh
  • Robyn Adler
  • Bryan Cooke


The notion of the end of history appears:

  • In apocalyptic and millenarian imaginings at the intersection between politics and religion
  • In Hegel and Marx and the political movements that took inspiration from their thought
  • In the philosophy of history as a critical challenge to history as an academic discipline

It enters with renewed force into French philosophy with the lectures of Alexandre Kojève, given in the late 1930s, on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Kojève’s lectures combined a new understanding of Hegel with elements from Marx and Heidegger and initiated a new direction in French philosophy, one that is propagated through the motifs of negativity, desire, dialectic, economy and excess in the thought of Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Giorgio Agamben.

The workshop will discuss the legacy of Kojève, and contend with questions such as:

  • What role do philosophies of history and philosophies of desire play in the drama of 20th and 21st century 'continental philosophy' – and to what do these philosophies owe (respectively) to Hegel and to Marx?
  • Is it in any way possible, today, to maintain something like a philosophy of history and, if so, what might this look like?
  • How should philosophy approach eschatology, Messianism, apocalyptism and nihilism, in both their various historical and contemporary forms?
  • Is it possible that today, we find ourselves poised between the sense of an ending and what Alain Badiou calls the possibility of a "rebirth" of history?



9.30am Bryan Cooke

10am Justin Clemens

10.55am Morning tea

11.10am Jessica Marian

10.40am Robyn Adler

12.30pm Lunch

1.15pm Emily Finlay

1.45pm Mark Hewson

2.35pm Afternoon tea

2.50pm Ali Alizadeh

3.20pm Robert Boncardo

4pm Panel Discussion



The Cracked Looking Glass of the Servant: Reflections on the Future of the End of History
Bryan Cooke

In this paper, I shall attempt to introduce participants to the curious idea of the end of history and suggest some of the reasons why an organisation like the MSCP might devote an entire workshop to reflections upon it. The paper will proceed, first, by a reflection on the multiple possible interpretations of the ‘end of history’ (in secular and in a religious register), an introduction to the historical importance of Alexandre Kojève’s thought; reflections on the curious relationship between Kojève and Leo Strauss and, finally, on the place of millenarianism and anti-millenarianism; Messianism and apocalypticism within both Marxist and explicitly anti-Marxist traditions. In concluding the talk, I shall discuss some of the ways in which the rejection of the idea of the end of history at once poses a unique opportunities and a series of impasses for contemporary attempts to revive universalist or egalitarian politics, even and especially because the dominant (if fragile) political consensus against which such a politics correctly strives arguably grounds itself  on a (disavowed) form of the ‘end of history’ thesis, i.e. the idea that ‘capitalist-parliamentarianism’ or ‘neo-liberalism’ is the only possible response to the problems of government, the ostensible finitude of human knowledge and the multifarious nature of human desire. In the end, the purpose of my talk is to introduce the audience to the problematic of the workshop and the continuing relevance of the idea of the end of history because and not despite the fact that this notion (at least in its Kojèvian form) is often considered risible. My final remarks shall be devoted to addressing the theme of contemporary pathologies of recognition and the way that these point to the survival of a certain Kojevian *problem* even if these problems require a vision of liberation that would operate from entirely different principles.


History Caught By Its Tail
Dr Justin Clemens

In aphorism 519 of Human all too Human, Friedrich Nietzsche writes, under the heading 'Truth as Circe, that: 'Error has transformed animals into men; is truth perhaps capable of changing man back into an animal?' Alexandre Kojève was in no doubt: the truth of desire was that it would have to end by ending ‘man’ as such. For Kojève, human history is a history of desire, of 'desires desired,' in which the ramifying forms of desire – having negated the animal-in-man upon which they rely, the other-man, and, finally, each other – would fulfil themselves by annihilating themselves. Jacques Lacan liked this story of anthroposenesence quite a lot, but he didn't believe it. He took up several of its elements, and placed them in different departments: in the mirror; in the pot; in slime; and, finally, in science itself. This paper will discuss how Lacan made a Frankenstein’s Monster of Kojève's End.


Legacies and Spectres of the French Writer's Purge
Jessica Marian

Following the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, France began the trials of citizens accused of treason and crimes of collaboration – this was l’épuration, the purge. With the leading political figures of the collaboration still in hiding and exile, some of the first to go to trial were writers who had supported collaboration. The French literary and intellectual community participated actively in the purge. In particular, the trial and execution of Robert Brasillach – a young novelist and journalist, and editor of the far-right newspaper Je suis partout – left the literary world dumbstruck and gave rise to hotly contested debates concerning the notion of the responsibility of the writer, the degree and limits of that responsibility, as well as the role and nature of writing and literature. This talk will examine the responses of Jean Paulhan (De la paille et du grain), Jean-Paul Sartre (Qu'est-ce que la literature?) and Maurice Blanchot (La Littérature et le droit à la mort). All of these responses are marked by these thinker’s engagements with Alexandre Kojève and his theories of terror and the end of history. The writer’s purge seems to be little known amongst contemporary critics, but I hope to demonstrate that it marked a pivotal moment in the history of French philosophy. Further, drawing upon the ghostly hauntology of Derrida’s Spectres of Marx, I argue that it would haunt/that it will haunt, the French intellectual scene for many decades to come.


Reading Kojève at the disco at the end of history
Robyn Adler

It is difficult to read at a disco, so I attempt to do something very simple in this paper which is to outline, step by step, some ideas from Kojève’s corpus around authority, recognition and justice in order to disentangle his project from the reputation he has been left with as a result of Fukuyama’s inversion of it.  As Kojève’s project was an attempt to mise  à jour the work of Hegel, I will then attempt to mise à jour the work of Kojève in the era of the Trumpian thing.  With a necessary detour via the friend-enemy distinction in Schmitt and populism’s dependence on the same divisive and homogenizing logic, I propose to put alongside the very alongside of parousia, the exousia that always escapes it.  Exousia, as authority conceived differently to auctoritas as that which refers to the (concrete) foundation of the patria, implies recognition only in so far as it is an invitation to respond as a singularity, one by one.  By thinking singularity as constitutive of a collective logic that constructs images around the trou, the hole at the centre of being, resistance to the disco is considered as the political imperative of having to tell stories-truths as constituent fictions.  That is to say, the imperative of putting the disc0 back into discourse.


The Necessary End
Dr Emily Finlay

This paper will argue, through the commentaries of Maurice Blanchot, for the necessity of imagining an endpoint for history, while at the same time ensuring that such an end remains elusive and is never definitively achieved – whether it is revealed as a false end, or merely held at bay. One of the ways in which Blanchot engages with the idea of the end of history is by considering Kojève's understanding of what happens to 'discourse' at this speculative horizon. Blanchot's recasting of Kojève posits the end as a unity or community, albeit a necessarily dystopic one. Using the unsettling vision of a Kojèvean end-state proffered by Blanchot's 1947 Le Très-Haut as a starting point, this paper seeks to interrogate the implications of an eschatological viewpoint – what is it that history seeks? – and the necessity of an end: even if an end is in many ways undesirable, what might it mean for history to be infinite and what might be the consequences of believing it to be so?


Bataille on Religion
Dr Mark Hewson

With the formation of the Acéphale.movement in the late 1930s, Bataille advances a social and cultural critique which understands its own position as "religious". The Theory of Religion provides the conceptualization of the positive sense given to religion in this movement. At the centre of this theory, it will be shown here, is a historical distinction between ecstatic religion and moral and law-preserving religion.


The End of the End that Never Was
Dr Ali Alizadeh

Was Napoleon's victory at the Battle of Jena the historic perfection of Man's Fight for universal recognition as a Man-God with the power for the post-historical eradication of the Master/Slave divide? Sadly not. It was more or less a sordid attempt at imposing bourgeois expansionist ideology on the world. And Kojeve's theses -- and those of his Master Hegel and his Slave Fukuyama -- were also more or less reactionary bourgeois attempts at prematurely ending the radical event of the French Revolution and its consequences.


Sartre and History; or, How to Totalize Without a Totalizer
Dr Robert Boncardo

Sartre’s most significant work was the Critique of Dialectical Reason, published in two volumes. The first, subtitled Theory of Practical Ensembles, appeared in his lifetime, while the second, The Intelligibility of History, was published posthumously. Together they constitute Sartre’s most exhaustive attempt to establish the logical structures of history: the necessary forms of its evolution. As is well known, Sartre’s efforts were geared towards verifying the explanatory primacy of Marxism, which he famously called “the unsurpassable horizon of our time”. Clarifying the stakes of his project in The Intelligibility of History, he wrote that “Marxism is strictly true if History is totalization. It is no longer true if human history is decomposed into a plurality of individual histories”. In this talk, I’ll explain the meaning of the strange term “totalization” by clarifying the logical structures of what Sartre saw as the two fundamental forms of sociality: seriality and the group. As I’ll show, these two modes of collective existence correspond to two logically-distinct forms of totality, which together do not constitute a higher synthesis, but rather serve to incessantly de-totalize History, making it a process that is at once intelligible yet without a telos. Sartre’s achievement, I’ll argue, is therefore to have discerned the limits of historical reason, and in doing so to have pinpointed the place where events in their absolute contingency and praxis in its irreducible uncertainty are to be found.


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