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Carl Schmitt on Kojève: excerpts from the ‘Glossarium’
Carl Schmitt learned of Kojève in 1948, the year after the famous Introduction à la lecture de Hegel were published. He probably read his…
Carl Schmitt learned of Kojève in 1948, the year after the famous Introduction à la lecture de Hegel was published. He probably read his name earlier, e.g. in Strauss’ 1938 The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, where the author mentions Kojève in the context of a future project on the connections between Hobbes and Hegel. He was rather unknown back then, though; Schmitt probably forgot about him. His fame came with the Introduction. In 1951, Schmitt wrote to his friend and protégé Armin Mohler (who was Ernst Jünger’s private secretary at that time):
The discovery of Hegel’s phenomenology of the mind was as tremendous an awakening as that which began around 1905 with the discovery of Hölderlin. It is a pity that you cannot find the time to read Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction à la lecture de Hegel.
The correspondence between these eminent intellectuals was arranged by Iring Fetscher, a German academic who researched Rousseau, Hegel and Marxism. Kojève enthusiastically affirmed Schmitt’s wish for his postal address; they started exchanging letters.
In 1957 Schmitt arranged for Kojève to hold a lecture on colonialism at the “Rhein-Ruhr-Club” (a private club for intellectuals, politicians and industrialists. Hjalmar Schacht, Minister of Economics under Hitler, attended the club’s meetings sometimes) in Düsseldorf. In 1968, Rudi Dutschke and other leaders of the West German student movement invited Kojève to a meeting. He told them to stop doing political activism and learn Ancient Greek instead; then he left and went on to visit the pariah Schmitt: “Where else would you go in Germany? Carl Schmitt is the only one worth talking to.”
The philosopher and scholar of Judaism Jacob Taube, who was Kojève’s host during his stay in Berlin, later regretted that he had avoided visiting Schmitt; he was even envious of Kojève’s impartiality with regards to Schmitt’s Nazi past that had made him a persona non grata in most academic circles in Germany.
In his Glossarium, a private notebook that covers the years from 1947 to 1958, Carl Schmitt mentions Kojève several times. Since the Glossarium has not been published in English, I will translate some of those entries:
April 3rd, 1955
The three intellectuals, raised to mythical figures: Hamlet, Don Quixote and Faust. Three bookworms, three results of the art of printing; Hegel’s god-taking; H. conquers god-taking through understanding; com-prendre; through and for reason. Kojève, Introduction p. 215: Hegel already sees the ambivalence and double-edgedness of such take-overs: he took his own life (Phenomenology S. ), employee — employer. The old enigma of the German language: to take oneself can also mean to take oneself away; to take and lose will mean the same thing in a deceitful way.
April 17th, 1955
The state as the big distributor is also the big taker. It takes what is to be distributed partly by means of taxation and the collection of duties, partly by means of confiscation, by way of depriving certain inhabitants of its territory or certain people of their rights, which it declares to be hors-la-loi or simply treats that way. The utopian society — both that of the liberal free market economy and that of the Marxist state of the future — supposedly does not take anymore, but only produces, and in such infinite quantities that sharing and distributing is no longer a problem. So then not only taking but also sharing and distributing actually stops, and there is only production, only creation. Then the great God-taking is completed. Then human society will be the God who only gives and does not need to take anything, because he creates everything from nothing. That is political theology. This is the continuation of the philosophy of labor that Fichte and Hegel began and that Karl Marx completed. This philosophy of labor is the great God-taking. But the earthly God, who creates from nothing in order to give without taking, first creates the nothing from which he creates; i.e. he takes.
Who can understand this knowledge of God-taking today? None of today’s Christians of state and society. No celibate bureaucrat — he only becomes malicious when he hears about it — and no Pharisee. So I guess I have to wait for a Jew. Maybe Jacob Taubes; maybe Kojève. After all, it was only Jews who recognized the grotesque impudence of this E.[rich] K.[aufmann] and called him out: Kurt Hiller, Kempner. Unfortunately I can’t do that.
June 9th, 1955, Feast of Corpus Christi
A monstrous second encounter (comparable only to the first one, in January, with the Stephanus narrative, chapter 7 Acta Apostulorum, about the killing of the heir by the Jews) during the High Mass at home in my study, among the books that fall into my hands at this hour — while I stay away from the High Mass. This is where all the vibrating oracles vibrate. So the second such encounter, which makes me certain that Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit is an inspired book of the German faith: p. 175/6:
“Apprehending itself in this way, it is as if the world had for it only now come into being ; previously it did not understand the world ; it desired it and worked on it, withdrew from it into itself and abolished it as an existence on its own account, and its own self qua consciousness-both as consciousness of the world as essence and as consciousness of its nothingness. In thus apprehending itself, after losing the grave of its truth, after the abolition of its actuality is itself abolished, and after the singleness of consciousness is for it in itself Absolute Essence, it discovers the world as its new real world, which in its permanence holds an interest for it which previously lay only in its transiency ; for the existence of the world becomes for self-consciousness its own truth and presence; it is certain of experiencing only itself therein.”
So: first the grave must be lost, that is, the dead God must have risen again. So, since the end of the crusades, as Kojève (Introduction p. 81) correctly says. I read this today in Kojève and during the Corpus Christi procession in 1955. Losing the grave here means resurrection, extermination of extermination, killing death, all Christian dialectic (yesterday I wrote to Kojève).
January 17th, 1957
I asked Kojève: what did mankind need when the atomic bomb was invented? and asked him for an authentic Hegelian answer. He replied: humanity needed a moral alibi to have an excuse not to wage wars anymore. For a new humanity is beginning, without war, without games, without heroism, without risk, total welfare is beginning. We are not at the end of all security, but at the beginning of total security. This was Kojève’s apparently optimistic response. He added that this new paradise was not his paradise.
Side note: “In Düsseldorf (Kojève’s lecture)”
February 3rd, 1957
Kojève avoided current events in his lecture on European colonialism (16. 1. 57 in Düsseldorf). Yet the topicality of the subject exploded at every corner. For me it was an incredible, unexpected gain that the specific meaning of the “Großraum” became apparent: Großraum is the provisional name for the dimension of the developing world, in view of the division of the earth into developed and underdeveloped peoples and regions: Art. 4 of the Truman Doctrine as the present nomos of the Earth. We found that it is unfortunately difficult to explain the wonderful formula: Nehmen/ Teilen/ Weiden (taking / sharing / grazing) into French; especially the wonderful word that elevates production and consumption to the higher unity of consumption, the word: Weiden. How helpless are the Spanish attempts at translation — toma de tierra, presa de tierra, ocupacion, instalación for taking land; apacentamiento for grazing! One could despair! The greatest difficulty is that the Western supposedly giving capitalism and colonialism has no name. “No one can baptize this child,” Kojève said verbatim. Socialism is a recognized name, but “giving capitalism” and “giving colonialism”, no one will believe us. There is no capitalism that gives, that is, that doesn’t take; that would be crazy. Giving without taking is not for man, that would be God’s business. And that is a God who can create the world from nothing.
What can the taker give? A name! And that is missing. No one can baptize this strange child, this capitalist who develops purchasing power. Nor is “Fordism” a fitting name, while, as I said, socialism still sounds good in spite of everything and thus brings about a historical legitimation, by virtue of which 200 million Russians, ascetically renouncing their own consumption, over 600 million Chinese, Indonesians and other peoples “develop”!
I read the chapter Plotnoi in Mutius’ Katorgan, and became suspicious because it smelled too much of Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage. How is one supposed to infiltrate the present world order? Just as original Christianity infiltrated the Roman Empire? That would be the problem of asceticism. Those who practice asceticism today sabotage the pure consumer society. Keynes already said that. That the Russians are ascetics today can only be justified by the fact that they claim to organize an all the more comfortable consumer society for tomorrow. Otherwise they would be the saboteurs of the new paradise. Nicolas asked about the patriot. I answered him: the patriot is neither producer nor consumer as such. So what does he really want? He must go on strike. But even the strike can — if properly organized — become an institution of the pure consumer society.
August 12th, 1958
When I talked with A. Kojève about the falsification of the sacrament and complained about the withdrawal of the wine, he replied: the layman has too much blood anyway. At that moment I realized that he was a cleric and I a layman.