Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

"Le Negre et Hegel": Fanon on Hegel, Colonialism, and the Dialectics of Recognition

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

"Le Negre et Hegel": Fanon on Hegel, Colonialism, and the Dialectics of Recognition

Article excerpt


In "Le Negre et Hegel," (1) Franz Fanon famously argues that the Hegelian dialectics of recognition between master [Heri] and slave [Knecht] (2) does not fully apply to the relation between white, colonial Master and black, colonized Slave. A central reason for the divergence, according to Fanon, is the way in which racism functions, within the colonial context, to prevent the possibility of fully reciprocal recognition. Evaluating the significance of Fanon's engagement with Hegel, Fanon scholar Nigel Gibson writes that "Fanon's introduction of race into the master/slave dialectic is a profound though largely overlooked original contribution developed in the context of the postwar "Hegel" renaissance in France." (3) Historian of French philosophy Ethan Kleinberg, however, is less sanguine about the originality and success of Fanon's reading of Hegel, and charges that "in his attempt to distance the colonial slave from the Hegelian Slave, Fanon actually parallels Hegel's movements." (4) If Kleinberg is correct, then Fanon's colonial dialectics reiterates aspects of the Hegelian dialectics, mistakenly supposing that they are not included within Hegel's theory. (5) Thus, Fanon's "attempt to distance himself from Hegel" in "Le Negre et Hegel' would actually result in his analysis's "subsequent subsumption into the dialectic." (6) But, as I will argue, such a reading underestimates the depth of Fanon's interpretation of Hegel, as well as the subtlety of Fanon's account of the very different colonial dialectics.

Fanon's HegelSchrift

In the Herrschaft und Knechtschaft section of the Phanomenologie des Geistes, Hegel examines three possibilities of relation between two consciousnesses. As is characteristic of Hegel's dialectical method, these three possibilities are presented as a progressive sequence. They include: (1) nonrecognition, where each consciousness treats the other as a mere thing; (2) a fight to the death, where each consciousness recognizes the other as an absolute threat to its own autonomy; and (3) submission of one consciousness to the other, which leads to master-slave relations. This last stage includes the following sub-stages: (a) the appearance that the slave's recognition of the master will secure the master's certainty of his own autonomy, (b) the realization that such certainty cannot be gained from the slave's recognition, and (c) the slave's progressive realization of freedom both as an individual consciousness and in relation to the natural world.

Fanon's text presents three ways in which the colonial dialectics and the Hegelian dialectics diverge. First: According to Fanon, there has never been a true struggle between colonial master and slave. (7) Thus Fanon writes that "One day the white master recognized, without conflict, the black slave" (Pn 196/ BS 217). This means that the Hegelian dialectics of recognition have never really been set in motion in the colonial context. Second, the colonial master does not want recognition from the slave, but rather work (Pn 199/ BS 220). Because the black slave is, according to the colonial master's racism, not even fully human, it would be absurd for him to seek recognition from the slave. Thirdly, in the colonial dialectics, the slave cannot achieve his freedom through labor upon the object. Rather, he focuses his attention on the (impossible) project of becoming like the Master--that is, becoming white. (8)

Fanon's "Le Negre et Hegel" focuses on the first of these three divergences--the lack of mutual recognition at the outset of the colonial dialectics. The text begins:

   Man is human only to the extent to
   which he tries to impose his existence
   on another man in order to be
   recognized by him. As long as he
   has not been effectively recognized
   by the other, it is this other that will
   remain the theme of his action. It is
   on this other, it is on the recognition
   of this other, that his human value
   and reality depend. … 
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