In The Notion of Authority, written in the 1940s in Nazi-occupied France, Alexandre Kojève uncovers the conceptual premises of four primary models of authority, examining the practical application of their derivative variations from the Enlightenment to Vichy France.
This foundational text, translated here into English for the first time, is the missing piece in any discussion of sovereignty and political authority, worthy of a place alongside the work of Weber, Arendt, Schmitt, Agamben or Dumézil.
The Notion of Authority is a short and sophisticated introduction to Kojève's philosophy of right. It captures its author's intellectual interests at a time when he was retiring from the career of a professional philosopher and was about to become one of the pioneers of the Common Market and the idea of the European Union.
“Kojève was a magician of thought ... undoubtedly, he was the inventor of the last grand narrative of philosophy and history, of which the neo-conservative ideologue Fukuyama was but a mediocre imitator.”
“Kojève’s lectures made a deep impression on his listeners – to more various and influential effect than probably any others in France this century”
“Kojève spoke of Hegel’s religious philosophy, the phenomenology of Spirit, master and slave, the struggle for prestige, the in-itself, the for-itself, nothingness, projects, the human essence as revealed in the struggle onto death and in the transformation of error into truth. Strange theses for a world beleaguered by fascism!”
“Alexandre Kojève’s originality and courage, it must be said, is to have perceived the impossibility of going any further, the necessity, consequently, of renouncing the creation of an original philosophy and, thereby, the interminable starting-over which is the avowal of the vanity of thought.”
“A brilliant Russian émigré who taught a highly influential series of seminars in Paris. Kojève had a major impact on the intellectual life of the continent. Among his students ranged such future luminaries as Jean-Paul Sartre and Raymond Aron.”
“Alexandre Kojève ... is one of the most notable Russian thinkers of the twentieth century ... the lectures represent an exceedingly important (and tendentious) interpretation of Hegel, if not an independent philosophical view in the guise of a seemingly objective scholarly commentary.”
“Bourgeois domination represented the arrival of the bourgeois end of history, in the form of a permanent present. Authority is disconnected from all its temporal support, having nothing left to offer. Kojève thus foresees the inauguration of simulacrum as the justification of authority. Kojève left an open letter that allows for ample discussion. And for as long as a determination of the coming times still has a role to play, a reprise of Kojève’s text will remain timely.”
“In recent decades, Kojève’s voluminous manuscripts and papers, held at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, have become available to researchers. Hager Weslati is among a new generation of scholars busily exploiting this material. A gramophone cannot possess authority, nor can a subject under hypnosis be said to respond to it—both examples are Kojève’s. Despite its apparent conservatism, there is an underlying revolutionary message. Discussions of Jacques Rousseau’s notion of the general will, the division of powers, the problem of tradition, and the impossibility of the political trial will all be stimulating for any political theorist.”
“This English translation of Alexander Kojève’s The Notion of Authority is an important addition to philosophical studies of authority and an essential text for understanding Kojève’s political thought. While Arendt and Marcuse favored a negative definition of authority, Kojève sought a positive definition—one that would be ultimately usable in his political present during WWII. The era of bourgeois domination commences in a fascination with only the present (this is why concerns of food and sex are paramount to the bourgeoisie). However, ultimately this present fails because it does not have a past or a future.”
“Through its pursuit of increasing depoliticization, neoliberalism undermines its own sources of political legitimacy and ultimately reduces human relations to the application of force in the service of individual ends. Kojève’s understanding of the nature of authority helps explain the distinctively political aspects of these developments.”
“Capably translated from French by Hager Weslati, this relatively short manuscript was written in 1942 in Marseille where Kojève had fled to escape the Nazi occupation. It attempts to answer a singular question that, in Kojève’s view, has been strangely neglected: What is authority? Kojève insists time and again that force does not constitute authority. To the contrary, having recourse to force shows a failure of authority.”