Susan Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History
HEGEL AND THE SAINT-DOMINGUE REVOLUTION – ‘PERFECT TOGETHER?’:
As Susan Buck-Morss herself has stated, the article “Hegel and Haiti” was something of “an intellectual event when it appeared in Critical Inquiry in summer 2000.”1 She is being modest. The article created a critically effervescent discussion as it burst onto the academic scene regarding Hegel’s relation to the Saint-Domingue Revolution (SDR). With the article, Hegel and Haiti became, so to speak, engaged and wedded, not anomalous, in thought. What Buck-Morss had intellectually brought together, nothing intellectually could put asunder or render incongruent. For the next twelve years, the discussion never became defervescent. It irrepressibly carried on with the publication of her small monograph entitled Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (HHUH) in 2009.
In short, since the article’s inception, it expanded and continued primarily through critical encomiums and reviews of the monograph in many intellectual journals and blogospheres of art, cultural anthropology, literary theory, political theory, post-colonial studies, as well as studies on the African diaspora. It should be noted, however, that her monograph and the effervescent discussion it spawned were buoyed by the recent work of historians on the SDR such as John Garrigus, David Geggus, Carolyn Fick, Joan Dayan, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Madison Smartt Bell, Laurent Du Bois, and Jeremy Popkin.2 Their work, individually and combined, over the past 25 years, sustained and enhanced the recent attention to and relevance of the SDR. It also allowed for an intellectual public of non-philosophers to find plausible at least, obvious at most, that the SDR was the significant world-historical event in the Age of Revolution. Once this matter was accepted, then even the detail that Hegel took notice of it could not be far-fetched to North Atlantic scholars.
Buck-Morss’ thesis is manifold and consists of the following six claims. First, Hegel was inspired by the events of the SDR while he was in the early Jena phases of working through his dialectical conception of lordship and servitude. Second, he came to know about the SDR came from the leading political magazine of his time, Minerva, which covered since 1792 the events of the SDR and ran a yearlong continuing series on the SDR from autumn 1804 to winter 1805, detailing the prior 10 years of the SDR. Third, Hegel’s chapter in his 1806 Phenomenology of Spirit (PhS), “Lordship & Servitude,” was an allusion to, albeit never a direct representation or endorsement of, real plantation bondsmen engaged in triumphant revolt against real plantation overlords within the confines of the SDR. Fourth, even this allusion inexplicably yet unreasonably gave way later to Hegel’s racially derogatory claims that blacks generally are prone to be without historical relevance. Fifth, since then, this allusion has given way to the outright reticence of Hegel-scholars who, for the most part, believe Hegel’s relation to the SDR and to blacks generally does not have any resonance for his philosophy at all. Finally, sixth, a conception of universal history, first proffered by Hegel, needs to be reconstituted, but on a basis other than that proffered by him. It would take the SDR as an impetus in the construction of such a history rather than as an item having fallen into oblivion.
For the aforementioned historians of the Caribbean, Buck-Morss’ claims are a matter of jot and tittle. Nothing about the SDR for them rides on her claims, despite the fact that their work on the SDR is of great magnitude to hers. In contrast, for theoreticians of the Caribbean, her claims have been a matter of utmost importance and a source of their exuberant critique of Hegel in three ways. First, they rightly modify their conviction that Hegel’s Eurocentrism, his support of colonialism, and his contention of anti-black racism was maintained not in ignorance, but in cognizance, of the SDR and its success. Second, they expand the intellectual audience beyond current Haitian and African scholars who already knew about Hegel’s familiarity with the SDR. Third, they offer grounds for repudiating the later Hegel’s general premise that blacks do not have history in the “true sense of the word.” In short, Buck-Morss’ claims become grist to the theoreticians’ mill as they argue, contrary to Hegel in their minds, for the humanity, rationality, and historical character of blacks. The edge to her arguments and the thrust of her claims sharpen and propel their belief that Hegel could not and would not offer a genuine assessment of spirit’s world-historical character in the Caribbean, his surreptitious cognizance of the SDR and its plausibility as the signal event that established basic structures of freedom notwithstanding.
Yet the reticence of Hegel-scholars towards Hegel’s own cognizance of the SDR is reflective of their indifference to the SDR and consistent with their presumption that the SDR represents an insignificant blip on Hegel’s philosophical “radar screen.” This presumption may be driven by their continued acknowledgement that, for Hegel, only the French Revolution (FR) took center stage for his philosophy; that race and racial chauvinism were impertinent to it; and that blacks could not be delineated in it as people thinking and acting under the idea of freedom. The edge and thrust of Buck-Morss’ arguments and claims are thus blunted and thwarted by this presumption and indifference.
In the remainder of this essay, I shall examine Buck-Morss’ arguments and claims with two points in mind. First, her interpretation of the relation of Hegel and the SDR should not be foiled by an inured reticence concerning Hegel’s Eurocentrism, his backing of colonialism, and his allegation about the unhistorical status of blacks. She is on point here. However, her interpretation relies too heavily on what Hegel has said or not said rather than on what his philosophy is warranted to say or not. Hence, secondly, it forecloses reasons, Hegel’s secret cognizance of the SDR and his derogatory comments on blacks notwithstanding, that Hegel’s philosophy or idealism is entitled to proffer on behalf of the world-historical character of the SDR as the fulfillment of the idea of freedom through African ethno-racial lines. That is to say, her interpretation impedes what is actually evidentiary from his idealism to support the historical status of the SDR as a “spiritual” accomplishment in full and to delineate that accomplishment’s African ethno-racial cultivation in terms of spirit’s self-development. In bringing together Hegel and Haiti, she takes what Hegel says, but does not measure its validity in light of what Hegel’s philosophy (or idealism) is warranted to defend or criticize. In short, she wrongfully believes that his secret cognizance about the SDR and his derogation of matters African are in sync with what his philosophy is entitled to say about the SDR and such matters.
With these two points in mind, I shall engage in a reconstruction. I seek to clothe the SDR in arguments, sustained by Hegel’s idealism, that grant it a more advantageous meaning than previously pondered by Hegel himself. For example, (1) if Hegel’s comments about blacks are racially derogatory, his philosophical thesis on “natural spirit” needs to be addressed to explain his racialism. (2) If Hegel’s secret awareness of the SDR is to be discussed, his philosophical thesis about political revolutions ought to be on the table to clarify the differences and similarities between the SDR and the FR. (3) If Hegel’s chapter “Lordship & Servitude” in his PhS is inspired by the SDR, his philosophical thesis about the structure of the chapter and the relation between the chapter and the rest of the PhS ought to be front and center to account for why the SDR cannot be such a model. Finally (4), if Hegel’s conception of universal history is to be reconstituted, his philosophical thesis that “concrete universality” is expressed in terms of “spirit’s self-determination in time” must be elucidated to show that history in the “true sense of the word” does not cote black peoples. These four items are not given consideration in HHUH. They will be considered here, hopefully with some clarity and concision.
II. “History in the True Sense”
Buck-Morss’ book is a response to what is arguably Hegel’s best known claim about non-white people – Africans “do not have history in the true sense of the word.” Her examination of Hegel and the SDR is her attempt to reject his claim. She seeks (a) to show that “Haiti indeed stands at the vanguard of the history of modernity” (HHUH, 137-38); (b) to criticize what she calls “Eurocentric models of history” as well as the so-called postmodern “plurality of alternative modernities” or models of history (HHUH, ix); and (c) to resurrect what she calls “universal history worthy of the name,” which is distinct from Hegel’s, since his does not offer “the conceptual ordering of [that] which sheds light on the political present” (HHUH, x.) This entails, as she nicely puts it, “changing the compass heading of particular historical data” (HHUH, x) in order to “free the facts from embedded histories and simultaneously expand the porosity of a global social field” (HHUH, 149.)
It seems that her conception of “universal history” is similar to Hegel’s conception of “history in the true sense of the word,” but without, what she calls, his “exclusionary conceptual frame” (HHUH, 110) and his negligence of the political present. However, “universal history” is, for Hegel, the complete historical survey of the world in general. This is not what Hegel has in mind when he speaks about history in its “true sense.” As stated previously, history’s “true sense” is rather “spirit’s self-determination in time” under the auspice of freedom or the “Idea of freedom” in spirit’s self-conscious development. More importantly, it expresses history’s normative, not empirical or existential, dimension.
For Hegel, it serves as a benchmark for assessing whether, how, and to what extent a people have or have not framed their own cognitive and practical orientations under the Idea of freedom. History in the true sense then would be construed in terms of the incremental and ongoing satisfaction of that benchmark, thereby making history’s movement purposive. Furthermore satisfying this normative benchmark distinguishes people that are “world-historical” from those that are not and allows the former to be reflexively aware on how and why they have met that benchmark.
It is therefore important to understand Hegel’s aforementioned claim about Africans in this context. In the book, Guns, Germs & Steel, for example, Jared Diamond has argued that “history followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.” In effect, Diamond is contending the movement of history, say, for Africans would be in line with persistently long-term impact of environmental factors and material duration – geographic, climatic, and demographic constraints – which vary among and for different peoples. Hegel’s position, in contrast, would stake the claim that the movement of history, say, for Africans would be in accord with the degree to which they increasingly orient their own knowing and acting toward explanations both in accordance with and for the sake of the norm of freedom. So if Africans are without history in the “true sense,” it is not due to the influence of environmental factors or to any empirically independent fact of the matter. It would be due to the degree to which they decreasingly orient their own cognitive and practical enactments towards that norm and increasingly towards explanations more tropistic, naturalized, or causal than not.
Admittedly all this is quite abbreviated, sounds vague, and does not seem to take our understanding cogently very far. Yet this view takes Hegel’s claim about Africans in a direction far from that of the longstanding orthodox version – that Africans without history in the “true sense” are not part of universal history, without humanity, without capacity to develop their own potential, without reason. Critics of Hegel hold that he promulgates the orthodox version. By holding this view, however, they distort what the course of history in the “true sense” would be for Africans from Hegel’s philosophical position. Be mindful that, for Hegel, this course over time would be that wherein (1) a people knew and lived through their orientations that only one was free, to (2) a people who knew and lived through their orientations some were free, to (3) a people who knew and lived through their orientations that all are free in an ongoing manner. Under the orthodox view, Africans are permanently, ontologically, or naturally at, say, stage 1, if not lower, in this course of self-development or history in the “true sense,” incapable of further self-development beyond that stage.
Contrary to the orthodox view, if Africans are at stage 1 in the course of self-development, they are stalled only “for the time being” due to either a temporary reliance on warrants as natural responses to nature’s imperatives or a provisional impediment to their expansion of freedom not yet overcome, given the caliber of their reasons in that historical stretch of time. Hegel’s position affirms that Africans are rational by virtue of their mastery of nature. It holds that they would be in line with being both “free from and free in the natural world.” It would support the idea that Africans do engage in enactments, incrementally downplaying the cognitive and ethical appropriateness of their warrants as natural responses to nature’s imperatives while simultaneously upgrading the caliber of their warrants from such responses to those freely proffered and undertaken for the sake of coming to grips with such imperatives and taking themselves as agents. This idea puts Africans directly on the course of history in the “true sense.” To grasp it, however, requires understanding Hegel’s notion of “natural spirit” and the racialism attached to it.
III. Hegel’s Racialism
Buck-Morss points out that it was not uncommon to portray enslaved Africans or blacks “as an undifferentiated mass” (HHUH, p.124). Even Hegel referred to Africans as an “undifferentiated and concentrated unity” in his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History (LPWH). The designation entailed the total absence of diversity among blacks, the full-scale racialization of blacks. Indeed it is manifest in referring to each and every black person as ‘Negro.’ For Hegel, it was also evidence for denying their possession of history. Despite this view’s commonplace, however, it is erroneous to contend that this designation defines Hegel’s philosophical position on blacks. In truth, the designation compromises it, because differentiation and diversity are characteristic of Hegel’s philosophical position on races. If Hegel and Haiti are to be ‘perfect together,’ his position on races is essential. It relies on his notion of “natural spirit,” about which Buck-Morss raises nary a word.
“Natural spirit” is Hegel’s nascent non-dualism between, on the one hand, the sentience and, on the other, the impetus or movement of spirit. So spirit is sentient (not immaterial) whose movement reflects (a) an ever-decreasing reliance of cognitive and ethical enactments on explanations based on nature and (b) an ever-increasing and, ultimately, free and full ongoing reliance of them on the reflective approval of its own reason-giving and reason-sharing warrants. This impetus is neither a natural response to natural stimuli nor steps in the natural maturation of a sentient being toward its natural end. It does speak to that and how spirit is gradually differentiated from nature’s imperatives as sources of justification. But it also points to the degree and extent spirit is so differentiated, from which Hegel’s racialism emerges.
Hegel characterizes races as “natural spirits (Natürgeister)” in his Philosophy of Subjective Spirit (PSS). They are movements of spirit discernible in natural and geographical limits, limits that mark the degree in which a race’s development is minimal or not. They are groups of sentient, human beings, the variety of which is manifest geographically and the identities of which are differentially conveyed less by some particular sentient feature(s) that marks them definitively than by particular accomplishments conveyed in their distinctive conventions and socialized emotional temperaments. Regardless of their sentience, races are portrayed by the degree and extent each racial group develops, i.e., “spiritually” distances its accomplishments (habits, emotional demeanors) as responses from nature’s imperatives. These accomplishments are differentiated and diversified across and within races.
Hegel’s philosophical position does lead him to the belief that racial groups develop differently, unevenly, and in different degrees over time. Nowhere does Hegel argue for or embrace the equality of races. But we should not confuse Hegel’s views on the comparative levels of development with the levels of development themselves. The developmental stage of any given race must be variable. A racial hierarchy may be rigid. By virtue of races’ accomplishments, however, the stages of development cannot be and, hence, the hierarchy cannot be constantly in stasis. A race’s development cannot be fixed. For example, if dark pigmentation, a certain physiognomy, and a geographical location in equatorial Africa were physiologically and geographically hard and fast, they would not be evidence of a fixed and unalterable boundary to a race’s enactments and its capabilities to advance with reason its enactments even further, under the auspice of freedom, from nature’s imperatives as an explanatory source.
Hegel has an argument for this position. It is found in his discussion of what he calls “peoples,” “nations,” or “national spirits (Nationgeister).” Today we would call them “ethnicities,” i.e., culturally organized groups within races, each minimally bearing some political end grounded in the cultivated relevance of their habits and dispositions. Hegel’s introduction of “peoples” seems to some to be his move away from racial differentiation (difference and diversity across races) to ethnic differentiation (difference and diversity within races.) The consequence of this alleged shift would be to regard all non-whites races incapable of differentiating and diversifying themselves ethnically and to remain “undifferentiated masses” racially. Hegel also contends in PSS that “the philosophy of history has the world-historical significance of peoples as its subject matter.” For some, like Robert Bernasconi, this means that ethnic differentiation (national spirit) displaces racial differentiation (natural spirit) at the level of history. The consequence would be to disqualify all non-white races from being historical agents or subjects.
But these two consequences would not be correct to draw. Immediately following the aforementioned statement, Hegel maintains that “if we take ‘world history’ in its broadest sense, such significance will be the highest development achieved by the original disposition of the national character, the most spiritual form achieved by the natural spirit dwelling within nations.” Thus natural spirits (races) are not displaced; they are still operative in terms of “peoples.” Races and ethnicities, natural and national spirits, overlap each other. A race, under Hegel’s position, would then be what Linda Martín Alcoff and David Goldberg have called an “ethno-race,” albeit for different reasons. Ethnicities, belonging to the same racial group, cultivate the degree and extent to which each incrementally advances, under the auspice of freedom and in the face of conflicts, the rationality of its habits of heart, mind, and body further from nature’s imperatives and closer to expressions of comportment freely undertaken and socially acknowledged. Since the achievements obtained by a “people” in the movement of spirit vary in each racial group, there is variability in stages of development. Stages of development would vary within different ethnicities of a racial group and across the ethnicities of different racial groups.
Hegel never laid out this thesis with respect to Africans. But nothing from his idealism would preclude it. Furthermore his idealism would not warrant Africans from being so precluded; otherwise Africans would be an anomaly not to spirit, but to natural spirit. As an ethnicized race, black peoples would be neither naturally precluded in full from that gradual “movement” of historically expressing their cultivated differences from nature as an explanatory source nor would they be historically precluded in full by the degree and extent they carry out this cultivation.
Now this conclusion stems from attending to natural spirit. By so attending, Hegel’s position is not committed to a full-throated racialism. Otherwise racial variety would be set beforehand by the invariability of each race’s so-called racial essence, a view wrongly attributed to Hegel by both K. Anthony Appiah and Paul Gilroy. In fact, Hegel’s racialism is invoked rather weakly, since racial variety is an outcome reliant on the variability of reasons for ethnicities to adopt attitudes and demeanors they call their own in the face of struggles with others and even with themselves. Indeed it is rather thin, since these adopted manners would be shared, altered, contested, and even eliminated over the course of time such that any acquired sedimentation in ethno-racial membership would be ever periodically amended or would lead eventually to something “post-ethnoracial.” Although prominent Hegel-scholars have given recently excellent interpretations of natural spirit, they have discounted or misinterpreted its connection to Hegel’s racialism.3 Critics of Hegel, on the other hand, attend to his racialism but, with the lone exception of Michael Hoffheimer, flout altogether natural spirit and its connection to his racialism. It is not surprising then that critics speak against Hegel’s racialism as the occasion for blacks’ expulsion from history, never realizing that it is, through natural spirit, the initial occasion for their entry into it.
Due to natural spirit, the cultivated and differentiated habits and dispositions amongst black ethnic populations, like all other ethno-racial populations, are never given. They are rather always accomplished and always open incrementally to further development over time as self-ascriptions acknowledged by themselves and other populations. The givenness or “naturalness” of habits and dispositions is “overcome” or strongly affected by people’s reasons for holding them, revising them, opposing them, purging them, all of which are reasons socially mediated, less likely or no longer reactions to natural imperatives, and oriented toward the free and reflective endorsement by one and thereby all.
Hegel’s philosophical position interprets this process as the way ethno-racial members constitute themselves as agents over historical time. Indeed considerable effort is required to delineate this process more extensively and to include more material than presented so far. Still, in short, Hegel’s position affirms the thesis that the pace of this historical process among ethno-races does and will vary. But it also offers the view that the purpose of it shall not. The purpose is to reveal the historical scope in which ethno-racial members think and act according to and for the sake of freedom’s growth through the caliber of their reasons.
There are number of points to heed here. Textually in Hegel, the differences among, say, the ethno-racial paces of this process are taken to serve the comparison for the ascendancy or detraction of ethno-races and their relevance to history. This is a factor in the charge of racism against Hegel. However, philosophically for Hegel, they serve the comparison for how far the caliber of reasons of ethno-racial groups contributes to the resolution of their own cognitive or practical problems with a concomitant expansion of freedom as their ongoing goal. Theirs is thus an outcome of natural spirit’s role in the “true sense” of history. Hence, for the sake of history in the “true sense,” ethno-racial differences are fluid, used for comparing at any particular period the degree of success of ethno-races achieve in expanding freedom historically through the quality of their reasons.
It is then quite likely, contrary to the orthodox view, for a black-ethnic population, with members thinking and acting in a manner where none are free, to give way to another black-ethnic population, with members thinking and acting in a manner where one is and thereby all are free. A black ethnic population can therefore be incorporated in the course of history in the “true sense” that Hegel’s position articulates, despite his racially derogatory statements to the contrary.
IV. Hegel and the SDR
As Hegel himself says, Africans are “imbued with natural spirit.” In that light, then, black ethnicities can be, left to their own devices, free from the imperatives of the natural world as an explanatory source of their attitudes or behaviors and free in taking up their attitudes and behaviors in that world. If this is the case, blacks as sentient beings are not naturally, but come to be “spiritually” free, not free by nature, but free by virtue of their own accomplishments across time and over struggles. This is a thesis Buck-Morss can neither buy nor adopt, since she never considers Africans in terms of natural spirit. The “spiritual” elucidation of Africans does not appear in her narrative, because she does not concede that Hegel’s later account would underwrite the growing realization of freedom from nature and in the world. Indeed, for her and for most, Hegel’s later account reveals his reticence or ignorance or racism (or all three), which undermines this view. That is why, for Buck-Morss, the SDR is the spur to ending Hegel’s silence on Haiti, to negating his view of Africans as impertinent to history, and to circumventing his conception of history in the “true sense.”
So if the “natural spirit” route for black ethno-racial populations is to have weight, it must be possible to specify and explain, along Hegelian lines, (a) how Africans, in the course of their self-development, were stalled at lower stages only pro tem, not permanently; (b) what was the provisional impediment to their self-development; and (c) and how and why they “overcame” it through the caliber of their reasons. Given the wheelhouse of Hegel’s thought, the specification and explanation would come from an analysis of enslavement and revolution.
Generally many Hegel-scholars believe that Hegel takes struggle and revolution to be conducted for the sake of freedom. Some believe that he even makes them the tenet of his philosophy; that “only his philosophy is the philosophy of revolution.” Hegel’s conception of freedom for them enables political struggles and revolutions to acquire legitimacy through the removal of all forms of traditional political authority that hinder freedom and the replacement of these forms with political arrangements in support of individual freedom for all. If these are to occur legitimately, Hegel’s philosophy of revolution is intended to address the problem of the political realization of the idea of freedom, and many believe that he comes to address it through his lifelong embrace of the FR alone.
But there are two questions to keep in mind. First, could the SDR have philosophical significance in the jurisdiction of Hegel’s thought? Second, if so, would it be in terms of his philosophy of revolution? To the first question, the answer is ‘yes,’ but not in the way Buck-Morss contends. Again, be mindful she believes the SDR, not the FR, as the spur to Hegel’s philosophical considerations especially in the PhS. His philosophy of revolution would originate with the SDR clearly in his mind. This is not the same as contending that the SDR would be the struggle of a black ethno-racial population guided by the quality of their reasons toward the expansion of freedom for all, consistent with the principle of natural spirit and history’s purpose in the “true sense.”
To the second question, the answer is ‘no,’ as long as revolution is not that which ought to acquire political legitimacy. It is rather the outcome of revolution that may so. Hegel is clearly attuned to this matter. Hegel’s so-called “philosophy of revolution” entails a critique of the right to revolution, hence a critique to a revolution’s acquisition of political legitimacy. If the SDR is subject to Hegel’s line of thought, it thus would be subject to this critique. It is unclear where Buck-Morss stands on this point, since she does not explicitly proffer a view on it, despite the rightful pre-eminence she gives to the SDR itself. Still the SDR, in accordance with Hegel’s conception of revolution, would have to be consistent with this critique.
Hegel’s critique pertains to the idea that the right to act under the idea of freedom neither can be nor include the right to revolution. The capacity for or the act of revolution are not the right to it. On this point, Hegel agrees with Kant that there can never be a right to revolution, but with a major difference. Kant regards revolutions as matters of the “state of nature.” They are catastrophes spurred “naturally” by a sovereign when s/he violates the rights of the people and by people’s belief that they have a right to rebellion for themselves against the sovereign for such violation. However, for Kant, both the sovereign and the people are wrong. The sovereign as a despot vacates the civil state to re-enter, rather than to exit, the “state of nature.” The people are oriented toward acting under the idea of freedom outside of their obligation to enter and remain in the civil state.
Hegel, on the other hand, does not regard revolutions as steps back into the “state of nature.” They are rather action-repertoires of violent resistance, which fail necessarily to be effective rationally in a normative sense. To be rationally effective in a normative sense is for a free person to have a justifying reason for an action or action-repertoire whose authority would rest on political arrangements enabling such a reason to be institutionally recognized. It is impossible, Hegel maintains, for revolutionary activity to be rationally effective in a normative sense. Albeit free, it cannot sustain a reason whose authority rests on political institutions incorporating it as a norm to be acknowledged. The “negative freedom,” as Hegel puts it, exhibited in revolutionary activity is “the destruction of the whole subsisting social arrangement, the elimination of individuals who are objects of suspicion to any social arrangement, and the annihilation of any organization which tries to rise anew from the ruins.”
No social/political arrangement of the modern world, for Hegel, would enable a reason for or a right to revolutionary activity even under the idea of freedom. Empirically a social/political arrangement would disable it for the sake of its own existence and possession of power. Normatively such an arrangement would disable it for the very sake of the right to act under that idea. Hegel thus criticizes the right to revolution, because the reason to engage in such free yet “destructive” activity must always be detached from the capacity of any social/political arrangement to incorporate it normatively for the sake of being recognized. Hegel is not giving a critique of revolution; he is giving only a critique of the right thereto.
Contrary to the analysis of Nick Nesbitt, for example, Hegel’s philosophy then can embrace the SDR without endorsing a right to revolution for the SDR. The same would hold true for the FR. But what distinguishes the SDR from the FR in the Hegelian standpoint, since Hegel never compared them? Buck-Morss and noted historians of the SDR argue that the abolition of plantation slavery is, first and foremost, the SDR’s distinguishing feature. Now they recognize that the FR was framed under banners such as “Live Freely or Die” and “Rather Death than Slavery.” These banners were subsequently employed in and apropos to the SDR. But Buck-Morss and historians of the SDR also claim that the banners carried different senses for each revolution.
Such banners in the FR are a “metaphor,” they say, for freedom from tyranny. They do not bear any direct reference to the “peculiar institution” against which enslaved African insurgents fought in the SDR. Since no French revolutionary was ever physically enslaved in the “peculiar institution,” “freedom from slavery” never referred unequivocally to freedom from plantation slavery for them. It is right to construe the abolition of plantation slavery as the SDR’s distinguishing feature. But it is less than clarifying to make the distinction between the FR and the SDR rest on the distinction between the metaphorical and the direct reference of, say, “freedom from slavery” or “death than slavery.” A better formulation of the distinction between the FR and the SDR can be had and is forthcoming below.
In the FR, such banners represented the motivational impetus to the revolutionary act of abolishing slavery as abolishing, in the face of physical death, (a) the despotic coercion of the sovereign. Although French revolutionaries were able to act under the idea of freedom, they were unable, as members of a polity, to secure the right to act under this idea in the eyes of the sovereign. They thus risked death to undo the tyranny and to secure this right. In the SDR, however, such banners represented, first, the motivational impetus to the revolutionary act of abolishing slavery as abolishing, in the face of physical death, (b) the social condition wherein one is under the despotic coercion of any other individual’s will along racial lines for the most part. They further represented ultimately the impetus of repudiating the despotic coercion of the sovereign as in the French case.
Enslaved African insurgents were willing to risk physical death (1) to end their enslavement, (2) to abolish enslavement, and (3) to stop and eliminate, in Orlando Patterson’s words, “secular excommunication” or “social death.” As a consequence, they (as well as the French revolutionaries) could not act as if they had a right to revolution. What right entitles one to the high risk of physical death? Yet, without the right, there was still the will to engage in revolution freely, the will of enslaved Africans in the SDR to press Europeans to the point of not even putting the risk of their own death in abeyance for the sake of slavery’s abolition. Unlike the FR, the SDR made known that the political realization of the idea of freedom alone was insufficient to undermine the normative support for despotic coercion as found in the “peculiar institution.” Its resistance against colonial oppression and its eventual establishment of a civil state under a constitution, wherein all persons, as individuals, could rightfully act with recognition under the idea of freedom, became distinctly concomitant with SDR’s abolition of slavery in order to act under the idea of freedom.
Admittedly there is nothing in Hegel’s work to confirm explicitly that he endorsed this view of the SDR. Yet it is possible, I believe, to argue that this view can be fully in accord with Hegel’s philosophical position. Buck-Morss and critics of Hegel, however, would seriously challenge this possibility. They are of the mind that Hegel does not believe blacks are capable of abolishing slavery. And they can quote Hegel himself to support their stance. “This condition [the lack of self-control as a distinguishing feature of the Negro] is capable of no development or culture, and as we have them [Negroes] at this day, such have they [Negroes] always been. The only essential connection between the Negroes and the Europeans is slavery….We may conclude slavery to have been the occasion of the increase in human feeling among the Negroes.” In short, Africans as “Negroes” are slaves to their passions, do not develop “spiritually” on their own, and are enslaved in the “peculiar institution” to mitigate, at least, their moral and psychological bondage to their passions.
But, as stated above, reliance on such a quotation is expressive of the orthodox stance regarding Hegel and blacks. Such reliance affirms the consequences of dismissing or discounting both Hegel’s conception of “natural spirit” and his attribution of it to blacks. It is a reliance, however, that is disowned when Hegel’s philosophical position is not taken to represent the orthodox stance. As I stated earlier, if it is not disowned, blacks are left to be regarded as anomalies not only to spirit, but to natural spirit as well. No “spiritual” accomplishment, pro tem or otherwise, could emerge from Africa’s and its diaspora’s racially black populace, leaving the SDR and its outcomes disavowed or silenced, as Sibylle Fischer has said, in Hegel’s scheme.
Still there is enough evidence to infer that Hegel’s position could endorse the view that the SDR’s abolition of plantation slavery was conducted both in accord with acting under the idea of freedom and for the sake of politically realizing that idea for all as a “spiritual” achievement. The evidence comes from
Hegel’s analysis of slavery. Hegel was familiar with the two prevailing opinions on slavery prior to and during the SDR. They were the opinion defending slavery and the opinion criticizing it. The former upheld it, because it took Africans to be naturally sub- or non-human, hence fit for enslavement and not fit for freedom. The latter condemned it, because it took slavery as contrary to natural right, hence contrary to the idea that all humans, including Africans, are free by nature. Hegel rejected both opinions.
Hegel rejected the former, because the defense of slavery required a conception of sub-humanity wholly subject to the imperatives of nature and hence totally without the “spiritual” impetus to break from those imperatives. He rejected the latter, because the rebuke of slavery was based on natural right and never reflected the rebuke as “spiritual” achievement stemming from significant risk to life in order to act under the idea of freedom. This point enables Hegel to claim that it is the responsibility of those who are themselves enslaved to risk life, in principle, to struggle to the death, in order to act for the sake of that achievement. For Hegel, those enslaved who do not take that risk for the sake of that achievement bear the onus of their enslavement, even if their enslavement, as Hegel states, “occurs in a world where, even as a wrong, slavery is still right.”
Hegel’s assertion appears ensorcelling on its face. It is not. He is asserting that those enslaved have a responsibility to fight against and abolish slavery, because the onus of their enslavement lies with them, despite the institutional endorsement of slavery. Furthermore this responsibility to fight against slavery, even to the point of death, does not establish their right to do so by revolutionary means because, despite slavery’s wrongness, the political arrangement endorsing it is “still right.” In effect, then, (a) those enslaved have a responsibility, under the idea of freedom, to abolish enslavement. Otherwise the onus of enslavement is hung around their necks. However, (b) this responsibility does not entail the right to revolution to undo the institutional arrangement endorsing it. There is nothing bewitching in Hegel’s stance here, because (b) only precludes the right to engage, not the act of engaging, in revolution to abolish slavery under the idea of freedom, an act which (a) affirms.
Nonetheless Hegel’s stance on slavery does generate confusion, as exemplified in two remarks made by Buck-Morss. She claims first that, for Hegel, “slaves were better off in the colonies than in their African homeland, where slavery was ‘absolute’” (HHUH, pp. 67-68.) She further claims that Hegel endorsed the gradual rather than the speedy abolition of slavery or “gradualism” (HHUH, p. 68.) She supports the latter claim by citing Hegel. “Slavery is unjust in and for itself, for the essence of humanity is freedom. But humans must first become mature before they can be free. Thus it is more fitting and correct that slavery should be eliminated gradually than it should be done away with all at once.” Let us examine her first claim.
As we are aware, Hegel remarks about Africa were given to distortion and exaggeration. Still he was versed in the existence and flourishing of institutions of servility on the African continent. Prior to the Atlantic slave trade, slavery took on a range of forms in Africa and was fully embraced by different kinds of African polities – civilizational, “agro-politan,” and small settlements. In these polities, slavery was a response either to low population densities (satisfying the need for enlarging kin groups by kidnapping people from other villages), or to the desire to have servants and clients (satisfying the demand for punishing wrongdoers and debtors from their own village), or to the rules of war (satisfying the demands of the victors over the vanquished with captives from war.)
Yet, in the context of Hegel’s philosophical position, it is unclear what Buck-Morss’ comparison in her first claim amounts to. If enslaved Africans “were better off in the colonies than in their homeland where slavery is ‘absolute,’ it is not because they ate, lived, slept better or worked less coercively under the conditions of slavery in the colonies than in the homeland. The comparison must be based on the degree and extent the idea of freedom is binding on the relevant enactments and practices of those in the colonies and in the African homelands. Thus the comparison between African homelands and the colonies has to be made in terms of the magnitude in which that idea is enriched or not in areas where enslavement still rules, is still “right.” Buck-Morss mistakenly implies that Hegel makes and accepts this comparison independently of the relative development and efficacy of the idea of freedom. He does not, because the norm of abolishing slavery under the idea of freedom works more effectively in the colonies wherein all are in principle free (despite slavery’s flourishing) than in the African homeland wherein one is or some are in principle free (because of slavery’s flourishing.)
Regarding her second claim, Buck-Morss seems to contend that the gradualism embraced in Hegel’s philosophical position is identical with the gradualism expressed in his alleged political view on the abolition of slavery. What is problematic with her contention is that the gradualism conveyed in his philosophy refers to the incremental movement of spirit. For all intents and purposes, this incremental movement is not identical to gradualism understood as one side of the political debate between abolitionists on the elimination of slavery. Indeed that incremental movement can and does include challenges to the idea that all are free, which places demands on those resistant to the idea and sets in motion struggles around the idea. Even if struggles were lengthy yet successful, it is highly doubtful that Hegel would construe philosophically the acquisition of freedom for all in such struggles as an outcome slowly obtained in small steps rather than sharply all at once. Indeed Pierre-Franklin Tavares, whose work Buck-Morss rightly acknowledges for first bringing Hegel and Haiti together on the intellectual scene, states that Hegel “boldly went beyond the gradualist program of the British, American, and French abolitionists,” that Hegel endorsed the immediate elimination of slavery. Tavares may be correct, but this would not entail that the gradualism conveyed in Hegel’s philosophy and the gradualism conveyed in one side of a political debate on the approach to slavery’s abolition are in any way identical.
In any case, given what has been presented so far, Hegel’s philosophical position does allow interpretations favorable to understanding the SDR as signaling the capability of blacks to abolish slavery under the idea of freedom and to realize politically the right for all to act under that idea. To be sure, this stands in opposition to Buck-Morss’ view that Hegel’s own ignorance of and bigotry toward blacks in his philosophy of history contributed to his “ultimate concession to slavery’s continuance…and to the justification, nearly two centuries old, for the most complacent forms of Eurocentrism or cultural racism” (HHUH, p. 74.) Her view seems to cast Hegel and his philosophy as irredeemable. But, as we know, that is not the case for her. She believes she redeems Hegel and his philosophy by affirming there is for Hegel a strong, albeit unstated, relation between the SDR and “L&S” in his PhS. It is to this matter we now turn.
V. SDR and “Lordship & Servitude” (“L&S”) in the PhS
Generally “L&S” has been employed as the basis for understanding the PhS as social theory, critical of slavery and expressive of freedom in the development of spirit through labor or through existential aspects of mutual recognition or through the mediation of both labor and recognition. It has also been that part of Hegel’s work which has served as a longstanding and fruitful philosophical source for examining the African-diasporic slave experience among other things pertaining to blacks and their history and so-called identity. To name a few, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Charles Johnson, Orlando Patterson, Paul Gilroy, C.L.R. James, and Pierre-Franklin Tavares are noted scholars and men of letters who have drawn insights from “L&S” for their inquiries into or expressions of such matters. It would not be out of sorts to place Buck-Morss among them for HHUH.
As I stated previously, Buck-Morss acknowledged Tavares’ work on Hegel and Haiti. His work appeared prior to HHUH, but did not influence it. Her acknowledgement then is, say, that of a “fellow traveler” rather than that of one admitting to an intellectual debt. Consequently their interpretations of and analyses on Hegel and the SDR sometimes dovetail and sometimes part ways. Both read the PhS as social theory and contend that Hegel was cognizant of the SDR. Furthermore both regard the SDR as the inspirational source for the “young” Hegel’s so-called “master-slave dialectic.” Hegel formulated the dialectic of lordship and servitude during the period of the SDR with the SDR in mind. Both believe his silence about the SDR was carried out to avoid harmful repercussions that would come his way if his defense of it were explicit and public. Finally both regard “L&S” as the point d’appui of the PhS.
Nevertheless, although both read the PhS as social theory, Tavares tends to read it as historicist in scope. He conjectures that “L&S” is the outcome of Hegel’s preoccupation with slavery, which extended to both then contemporary manifestations of slavery and contemporary discussions and critiques surrounding it as well as the outright resistances to it. He takes “L&S” not as a description of the SDR, but as an allegory for thinking about slavery and envisioning its overthrow for the sake of freedom through the SDR. “L&S”s allegorical form conceals both Hegel’s anti-slavery beliefs regarding the SDR from the authorities and his allegiances to Freemasonry, which fostered this kind of secrecy and silence. Here Hegel’s silence on the SDR serves to protect him.
Unlike Tavares, Buck-Morss tends to read the PhS as that which is guided by practical aims bearing emancipatory concerns. Instead of conjecture, she offers documentary evidence that Hegel was aware of the SDR. She believes that “L&S” in the PhS reflects practical aims, since it is informed by the insurgency of enslaved Africans, resisting masters and abolishing slavery, under the auspice of freedom. She also generates the suspicion that the “mature,” not the “young,” Hegel used his silence about the SDR to quash its world-historical significance rather than to dodge the political risks in publically supporting it, thereby walking away from the stance of his “youth.” Here Hegel’s silence on the SDR undergoes transformation – from a silence protective of him to a silence suppressive of non-white others.
But, despite their similarities and differences and contrary to their respective views, the SDR is, at best, circumstantial and, at worst, inessential to “L&S” in the PhS. There are a number of reasons why using “L&S” as the “shape of consciousness” in the PhS to be informed by the SDR neither satisfactorily charts Hegel’s own arguments nor satisfactorily charts the arguments needed to delineate the appropriate “shape of consciousness” for incorporating the SDR within the PhS.
First, there is a piece of evidence in the PhS to suggest “L&S” has nothing to do with slavery whatsoever. In §187 of PhS in “L&S,” Hegel states the following. “It is only through staking one’s life that freedom is won…. The individual who has not risked life may well be regarded as a person, but he has not attained to the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness.” The dialectic of “L&S” is played out among persons, and this would signify that the aforementioned dialectic neither needs the historical institution of slavery nor needs to be reflective of such an institution to be operative.
Second, history is neither epistemically nor ethically criteria for assessing the success or failure of “L&S.” What is in play in “L&S” is whether what immediately matters for consciousness, rather than what is really independent of it, sets the standard for what counts as objective for knowledge and obligatory for action. Third, reciprocal recognition, a matter believed to be attained in “L&S” by the social theoretical reading of the PhS, is never reached in “L&S” and always serves as a promissory note to be reached much later in the PhS. Finally, staking or risking one’s life in “L&S” does not carry for Hegel any emancipatory concerns, because executing this risk provides only the conundrums of the “lord” and deferring this risk provides only the conundrums of the “servant.”
In effect, there is nothing in “L&S” either to reflect the conflict or the emancipatory effect engendered by the SDR or to guide the conflict or the emancipatory effect engendered thereby. The lord and the servant in “L&S” cannot and do not rely on an already extant life of spirit – existing cultural background, the laws or customs of their respective communities, historical traditions, some kind of Wittgensteinian rule-following, reciprocal recognition – to settle the threatening conflict prompted by self-presentation of the other. Hegel is working out and through the conditions in which the life of spirit can be presupposed and fully achieved self-consciously. In “L&S,” however, spirit cannot be presupposed, because it is only emergent, not settled, in that dialectic.
Accordingly Hegel and Haiti cannot be brought together in “L&S,” contrary to Buck-Morss’ and Tavares’ view. Furthermore Hegel’s silence on the SDR, protective or otherwise, would not be the issue that “L&S” resolves. As we know, Buck-Morss denies, albeit wrongly, the possibility that the work of the “mature” Hegel brings Hegel and Haiti together. But neither does “L&S” in the PhS. Is there then another “shape of consciousness” of the PhS wherein the SDR can be presented as an appropriate and relevant factor to it such that the insight of bringing Hegel and Haiti together in thought can be maintained?
VI. Coda: SDR & “Self-Alienated Spirit (Culture)” in the PhS
If we are to remain with the PhS, Hegel and Haiti can be brought together in thought only by turning toward the historically-oriented “shape of consciousness” – “Spirit” – or, more specifically, “Self-Alienated Spirit—Culture” (SASC). “Spirit” is a “shape of consciousness” encompassing a historical orientation whose narrative has been comprised solely of the “West,” so to speak, from its ancient Greek and Roman to its European content and focus alone. Specifically it is that by which rules for what counts as objective, ethical, and, and desirable are (a) presumed to bind our enactments to an intersubjective authority without discord and (b) achieved by undoing and revising the prior presumption binding our enactments to a newly authorized and better justified intersubjective authority with increasing contention yet increasing reconciliation for the sake of freedom for all. This movement from the presumptive to the achieved stage of spirit is the “life of spirit,” whose history Hegel seeks to capture.
But this movement is not smooth, because it also produces tensions. The life of spirit is the source of tension, even to the point of performative contradiction, in maintaining norms or rules for advancing the idea of freedom (freedom for one as freedom for all), but in conjunction with maintaining alternative rules which compromise or mitigate the advancement of this idea. This tension is what Hegel calls the life of spirit in its self-alienated form, i.e., spirit estranged from rules it produces and holds. In the PhS, he takes spirit’s self-alienated character as a consequence of the Enlightenment, wherein the life of spirit is the genesis for norms or rules that may be duplicitous, deceitful, treacherous, hypocritical, faithless, and empty, but nonetheless still useful. For Hegel, it contributes to the topsy-turvy relationships exemplified by those (played out among the aristocracy, the monarch, and the commoner) thinking and acting under the norm and acquisition of honor and by those (played out again among the three) thinking and acting under the norm and acquisition of wealth.
Although I shall not go into any substantive detail about these matters found in the PhS, nearly all Hegel scholars believe and take for granted that the “life of spirit” and its self-alienated form comprise a history exclusively of so-called “Western” culture whose content and focus are considered necessary, sufficient, and essential to spirit’s life and development. But this belief and assumption are incorrect.
The life of spirit in the PhS neither enables nor entitles its history to be so utterly deployed or employed, because its content is not restricted solely to “Western” norms and practices and its focus cannot be identified as specifically “Western.” First of all, the content is not constitutive, but illustrative of the life of spirit. There are no irrefutable best practices to the life of spirit. Furthermore the focus is on its capacity to constantly undergo destabilizing cognitive and ethical setbacks whose possible resolutions are understood as spirit’s own self-conscious yet historically conditioned achievements. It is this capacity defining the life of spirit which is open to historical narrative. The narrative does not necessarily embody a “local” claim particular to “Western” culture or white people. It also does not embody a universally anthropological claim extending the capacity automatically to all human groups. Rather it embodies a philosophical claim expressing conditions for the life of spirit to be at work at all.
When the life of spirit is characterized in this way, it is open to being rethought and illustrated by way of a “Black Atlantic” historical narrative. That is to say, in “Black Atlantic” history, the conditions for the life of spirit can be operative. However, in taking this narrative path, the life of spirit in its self-alienating form can have a “Black Atlantic” history wherein the tension produced is adopting rightly the idea of freedom in a culture where the utility sustaining slavery flourishes. The SDR would be the response consisting of action-repertoires overthrowing those elements sustaining the tension, viz., the utility of the “peculiar institution,” the color line, and racially “chauvinized” freedom. It would also be self-alienated itself. These elements contribute to the topsy-turvy relationships exemplified by those (played out among the French metropole, white commoners/colonists and free persons of color) thinking and acting under the norm and acquisition of wealth and by those (played out among white commoners/colonists, free persons of color, the monarch, and enslaved blacks, both bossales or African-born and creoles or SD-born of African descent) thinking and acting under the norm of freedom.
Although a fully detailed analysis of the SDR as a response to spirit’s self-alienated form in “Black Atlantic” history cannot be presented here, it is important to keep the following points in mind.
In “L&S,” the life of spirit is only emerging in the asymmetrical relationship between the lordly mode and the servile mode of self-consciousness, a relationship whose conditions precede the becoming of the life of spirit. In SASC, on the other hand, the topsy-turvy relationships are dependent on conditions presuming the life of spirit as extant. Buck-Morss is not acquainted with this point, and SASC does not rate a mention in her analyses.
White colonists in SD were ever organizing to monopolize political power in the colony and to sever the influence of the French metropole from supporting the rights and interests of free persons of color both prior and subsequent to the FR. They accepted slavery unconditionally because of its utility as wealth-producing.
Free persons of color were successful colonists and also unconditionally accepted the enslavement of Africans. They did so, because their acceptance of slavery was advantageous and useful to their campaign to receive from the French metropole what the French colony denied them – equal standing with white colonists politically.
So we have two ethno-racially distinct sets of free persons, one set bearing more political and economic advantage than the other and being confrontational against any campaign to distribute the advantages more evenly for the sake of the other. Yet both are indifferent, if not belligerent, to enslaved Africans, even though one of the sets, albeit politically distinct from them, is regarded as ethno-racially affiliated with them.
Furthermore white colonists’ pursuit of wealth via slavery compromised their political patria to French royal decrees, which dampened colonists’ absolute coercion over the enslaved. Their same pursuit later compromised their political patria to the French revolutionary decree concerning the “rights of man and citizen,” a decree they vehemently proscribed in SD.
The advancement of freedom and equality among free persons of color came at the price of their support for the continued maintenance of the “peculiar institution,” a support stemming from their original self-interest to gain French citizenship and power from that advancement.
However, the action-repertoires of enslaved bossales and creoles as successful African insurgents were impervious to spirit’s self-alienated form in the initial 1791 uprising in SD. The insurgents’ actions, plans for insurrection, and secrecy about those plans were steeped, sealed, and consolidated in their folk religion and folklore. When these are coupled with the capacity of many African insurgents to strategize and organize for warfare, the 1791 insurrection in SD was neither an expansion nor a duplication of the FR. The divinity of masters and overlords gave way to the divinity or divinities of those formerly enslaved in their destruction of plantations on the northern province of SD territory and their considerable, but not exaggerated, carnage of plantation owners and managers.
Although farfetched, vanquished colonists claimed that “philosophy was the ferocious blood mania, the invisible and perfidious arm that drove the insurgency of 100,000 enslaved Africans against them.” Some of them blamed the ideals of the Enlightenment for the African insurgency.
Regarding the first claim, if true, it would appear that African insurgents in the 1791 insurrection acted under the idea of freedom. But they did not. Rather they acted from vengeance. Vengeance was conducted in the insurgents’ course of action to undo the enslavement’s despotic coercion on them. The rightness of this act would turn not on the reflective subscription that anyone would regard it as beneficial to see it through. It would rather turn on the insurgents’ attachments to and dependencies on one another to see it through.
Regarding the second claim, if true, it would appear that African insurgents in the 1791 insurrection were committed to “universal emancipation based upon the Enlightenment idea of natural right.” But they were not so committed. Rather they would have understood their course of action and roles as shaped by (a) communally specific norms, (b) how each and every insurgent made those norms proprietary to them, and (c) how the adoption of those norms as their own was sustained by their attachments to and dependence on one another.
Hence nothing self-alienated would be at hand in their 1791 insurrection. But African insurgents’ non-participation in “self-alienated spirit” ceases once their insurrection and their status arising from it converge with the interests of the French metropole and the orientation of free people of color in SD. Without this convergence, the insurrection of August 1791 is not the start of the SDR, but simply a successful marronage, indeed the grandest. Although some prefer to link the SDR to marronage, such a linkage obscures rather than reveals the distinctive outcome of the SDR, viz., an African-based nation state, inclusive of all, in the Americas and the abolition of slavery, both of which were never achievements of marronage, but were achievements of the SDR under the idea of freedom.
For the sake of a “Black Atlantic” reconstruction of SASC, the SDR was the first “racial revolution.” Hence it cannot avoid, even philosophically, the role racial chauvinism played in it. It involved enslaved blacks and creoles as well as free persons of color (post-1791) increasingly acquiring freedom and the right to act freely over 13 years of conflict crossing eight thresholds: (a) the previously mentioned slave insurrection (1791); (b) the collapse of SD’s colonial system and the immediate abolition of slavery in SD (1793); (c) the warfare against England and Spain on behalf of France (1793-1798) (d) the general acquisition of the right to act freely in SD for one and all from France (1794); (e) SD’s attempted yet failed transformations from a plantation colony to a free society (1795-1800); (f) the constitutional maintenance of the right to act freely, under French sovereignty, in SD for one and all (1801); (g) the violent campaign against France’s attempt to turn SD back into a plantation colony and forfeit SD’s constitutional maintenance of the right to act freely for all its people (1802-1804); and (h) the constitutional emergence of both Haitian sovereignty and self-determination of one and all as Haitian people to think, act, and live rightly under the idea of freedom (1804).
From enslaved bossales and creoles to black insurgents against enslavement to guardians of emancipation and the right to act freely for one and all, there is a development and transformation of an ethno-racial people now responsible for the development and transformation of SD from an institutionalized plantation slave colony to an emergent and promising free society. All of this can be rendered consistent with both Hegel’s PhS, under SASC, and his later philosophical position.
I have given a brief, albeit incomplete, presentation on how and why Hegel’s “self-alienated spirit” in PhS is fully open to the “Black Atlantic” historical narrative, in which the SDR becomes the freely responsive overthrow of the normative framework that supported the performative contradictions of an “Enlightenment-oriented” culture involved in endorsing both the idea of freedom for one and all and the utility of slavery. This presentation critically devalues the thrust of Buck-Morss’ employment of “L&S” to argue for the same result. Earlier I also provided an account using natural spirit, stemming from Hegel’s later work, showing the development, along ethno-racial lines, of African-born and African-descended people initially coming to act and ultimately acting under the idea of freedom. This point rejected Buck-Morss’ position that the work of the “mature” Hegel undermined any possibility of comprehending the SDR as relevant to his thought.
In any case, there has been no bowdlerization or sanitization of Hegel’s philosophical position to establish the validity and viability of the relation of his position to blacks. There has been only the amplification of the “concrete universal,” in which spirit freely gives itself “Black Atlantic” content, if I may paraphrase Hegel. Blacks may have come to this outcome relatively “late” or “delayed,” metaphorically speaking, but never not at all.
Forty years ago, a young Angela Davis employed the currents of existential thought to provide a philosophical rendition on the reflections of Frederick Douglass. Her interpretation of Douglass was groundbreaking because, for the first time, it kicked down the door that, for better than a century, had blocked philosophical interest in and philosophical access to his thought. Philosophical work on Douglass’ thought is now a commonplace, due to her intellectual efforts. The same can be said of Susan Buck-Morss. Indeed it was Pierre-Franklin Tavares who earlier knocked on the door to let the combination in thought of Hegel and the SDR cross into what seemed to be a forbidden philosophical arena. But it was Buck-Morss who kicked down the door with her essay and monograph on Hegel and Haiti to push that combination in thought across the philosophical and broader intellectual threshold. Despite my disagreements with her on key points of that combination, I am able to express them here only as a result of walking into an intellectual space whose door she kicked down.
1. See Susan Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009), p. ix. Her monograph consists of two essays, each with its own introduction. The first is entitled “Hegel and Haiti,” which first appeared in the summer of 2000 in the journal Critical Inquiry. The second is entitled “Universal History,” whose first appearance is in the monograph but is a response to criticisms formulated initially to the first essay as a journal article. All quotations will be drawn from the monograph and cited in the text as HHUH.
2. John Garrigus, Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint Domingue (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006); David Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002); Carolyn Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991); Joan Dayan, Haiti, History, and the Gods (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995); Madison Smartt Bell, All Souls Rising: A Novel of Haiti (New York: Vintage Press, 1995); Laurent DuBois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004); Jeremy Popkin, You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). This is a representative, not an exhaustive, list.
3. For those noted scholars who discount this point, see Alfredo Ferrarin, Hegel and Aristotle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 234-83; Robert Pippin, Hegel’s Practical Philosophy: Rational Agency as Ethical Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 36-64.; and Michael Wolff, Das Körper-Seele-Problem: Kommentar zu Hegel, Enzyklopädie (1830), §389 (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1992), pp. 36-38; 69-71; & 170. For those noted scholars who misinterpret it, see Terry Pinkard, Hegel’s Naturalism: Mind, Nature, and the Final Ends of Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 64-68 & 81-82 n.55.