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Hegel, Identity Politics and the Problem of Slavery

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This article examines the relevance of Hegel's philosophy and political thought, and especially his views on slavery, for contemporary identity politics. It offers an account of Hegel's metaphysical beliefs and explores the relevance of those beliefs for our understanding of his views on ‘the self'. It is suggested that for Hegel all individual selves are comprised of two component elements, one of which possesses the quality of universality and the other that of particularity. The particular self, or the particular component of an individual self, is a social construction. It is this dimension of the self that provides all individuals with their determinate social identity. The article applies this insight to a reading of the well‐known ‘master–slave' section of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, which presents Hegel's understanding of the role that slavery has for the development of self‐consciousness. The article considers two interpretations of Hegel's views on slavery. One of these considers slavery to be a socio‐historical phenomenon, a social institution associated with a particular type of society. The other thinks of ‘slavery', using the term in a quite different sense, as being a necessary condition for the development of self‐consciousness in all societies everywhere. As such, slavery is an ahistorical or supra‐historical phenomenon that could never be transcended. The article concludes by suggesting that a modified version of this second interpretation of Hegel's views on slavery in the Phenomenology has provided a source of theoretical inspiration for an anarchist critique of social institutions that was developed by a number of French social theorists and philosophers in the twentieth century.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-04-01

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