A New Translation of Kojeve’s “Atheism”

9780231180009Long before Francis Fukuyama popularized the phrase in the 1990s, the French philosopher and government official, Alexandre Kojève, had come up with his own theory about “the end of history.” Kojève thought that egalitarianism in the French model–an admixture of liberalism and socialism–was the telos to which the ages had been tending, and that further debate among competing political and ideological commitments had become unnecessary. Kojève did not have too much impact in America, but he had a large influence in Europe, and was important in the founding of the European Economic Community, the predecessor of today’s European Union, the current state of which shows, yet again, that one should always view confident statements about history’s end with some caution.

Later this fall, Columbia University Press will release a new translation (by Jeff Love) of Kojève’s unfinished book, Atheism, the central theme of which appears to be the impossibility of finding any real source of transcendent authority outside politics. Sounds very much like a Eurocrat, actually. Here is the description from Columbia’s website:

One of the twentieth century’s most brilliant and unconventional thinkers, Alexandre Kojève was a Russian émigré to France whose lectures on Hegel in the 1930s galvanized a generation of French intellectuals. Although Kojève wrote a great deal, he published very little in his lifetime, and so the ongoing rediscovery of his work continues to present new challenges to philosophy and political theory. Written in 1931 but left unfinished, Atheism is an erudite and open-ended exploration of profound questions of estrangement, death, suicide, and the infinite that demonstrates the range and the provocative power of Kojève’s thought.

Ranging across Heidegger, Buddhism, Christianity, German idealism, Russian literature, and mathematics, Kojève advances a novel argument about freedom and authority. He investigates the possibility that there is not any vantage point or source of authority—including philosophy, science, or God—that is outside or beyond politics and the world as we experience it. The question becomes whether atheism—or theism—is even a meaningful position since both affirmation and denial of God’s existence imply a knowledge that seems clearly outside our capacities. Masterfully translated by Jeff Love, this book offers a striking new perspective on Kojève’s work and its implications for theism, atheism, politics, and freedom.

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