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Home arrow Philosophy arrow Philosophy, History, and Tyranny: Reexamining the Debate Between Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve

Kojeve’s “Tyranny and Wisdom”

At the heart of Kojeve’s response to Strauss is the Hegelian argument concerning the Master-Slave dialectic, used to explain an alternative appreciation of the Hiero. Kojeve shares with Strauss the unusual opinion that the philosopher as philosopher has no desire to rule, but he argues against Strauss that precisely the philosopher’s love of wisdom drives him, in order to avoid the potential prejudices of the cloister or sect, to go out in public, seeking greater inter-subjective certainty, and that this is bound to lead sooner or later to a confrontation with political authorities like the tyrant but that it eventually contributes to the political-moral transformation of the world.

But Kojeve appears to miss the parts and the intention of Strauss’s argument that we have highlighted. Where Strauss had spoken of “bringing to light the nature of political things,” and of “the problem, or of the problematic character, of law and legitimacy,” Kojeve presents Strauss as arguing that “the ‘enlightened’ and ‘popular’ tyranny [Xenophon] has Simonides depict is an unrealizable ideal,” and that “the aim of his Dialogue is to convince us that it would therefore be better to renounce tyranny in any form before even having tried to establish it” (OT 138). And against Strauss’s claim that the wise man is satisfied with self-admiration while the practicing statesman or tyrant is driven by erotic desire to win the affection of the many, Kojeve finds it “perfectly obvious” that erotic desire has “nothing to do with politics,” which is instead the realm of Hegelian “recognition” (OT 142).[1] Where Strauss had presented dialectics as a path toward the grasp and confirmation of the problem of law, Kojeve understands dialectic to be a “method of investigation” for “the philosopher,” one that requires him to “‘educate’ his interlocutors” (OT 162). Finally and relatedly, Kojeve thinks “the philosopher,” like everyone else, wishes to “‘deserve’” admiration (OT 156); he claims that “everyone” knows the “‘disinterested satisfaction’ that comes with the feeling of ‘having done one’s duty’” (OT 159). And if the philosopher is in a hurry to have done with politics, it is in order “to return to more noble occupations” (OT 165). Kojeve’s response thus overlooks the fact that desert, worthiness, and the noble are among the very subjects of dialectical investigation.

  • [1] Contrast Thucydides 2.43.1, 3.45.5-6, 6.13.1, 6.24.
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