In Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre , Girard admits that Hegel’s analysis of the master/slave relationship, especially as mediated through Kojeve’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit (which emphasizes the role of desire), helped shape his understanding of mimetic desire and its role in fomenting violence.

In Girard’s view, though, Hegel stops short: “It is obvious that, for there to be recognition, the master, who makes me exist simply by looking at me, must not be killed! Human consciousness is not acquired through reason, but through desire. Adversaries thus enter into conflict in order to gain recognition. The desire for recognition prevents them from killing each other. How would they be able to recognize each other if one of them died or they were both killed?” Thus “the master-slave dialectic has always seemed to me to be conciliatory” and it prevented Hegel from arriving at a “sufficiently radical conception of violence” (31-32).

Quite a thing to say about a philosopher who characterized history as a “butcher-block”!

More on: Philosophy, Politics

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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