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Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-

Volume 5
Article 15
Issue 3 Reflections on Fanon


“Le Nègre et Hegel”: Fanon on Hegel, Colonialism,

and the Dialectics of Recognition
Phillip Honenberger
Temple University, jwph2@temple.edu

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Recommended Citation
Honenberger, Phillip (2007) "“Le Nègre et Hegel”: Fanon on Hegel, Colonialism, and the Dialectics of Recognition," Human
Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Vol. 5: Iss. 3, Article 15.
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Journal of the Sociology of Self-

“Le Nègre et Hegel”

Fanon on Hegel, Colonialism, and the
Dialectics of Recognition

Phillip Honenberger
Temple University

Abstract: In a well-known chapter of Peau noire, masques blanc [1952], Franz Fanon argues that
the Hegelian master-slave dialectics does not apply to the relation between white, colonial mas-
ter and black, colonized slave. Some scholars have suggested that Fanon misreads Hegel and
thus fails to distinguish the colonial dialectics from the Hegelian. In this article I argue that
Fanon’s reading of Hegel is accurate and insightful, and that Fanon effectively articulates the
colonial situation as one in which, because of racism and the suspension of armed struggle, the
very initiation of the dialectics of recognition has been elided.

INTRODUCTION and black, colonized Slave. A central reason

for the divergence, according to Fanon, is
In “Le Nègre et Hegel,”1 Franz Fanon fa- the way in which racism functions, within
mously argues that the Hegelian dialectics the colonial context, to prevent the possibil-
of recognition between master [Herr] and ity of fully reciprocal recognition. Evaluat-
slave [Knecht]2 does not fully apply to the ing the significance of Fanon’s engagement
relation between white, colonial Master with Hegel, Fanon scholar Nigel Gibson
writes that “Fanon’s introduction of race
into the master/slave dialectic is a pro-
1 This text is a section of the penultimate found though largely overlooked original
chapter of Franz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blanc contribution developed in the context of
(Editions de Seuil: Paris, 1952), 195-200. [Fanon,
Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam
Markmann (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 216- 2 G. W. F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes
222.] These will hereafter be cited as “Pn” and (Hamburg: Verlag Von Felix Meiner, 1952), 143
“BS.” The translation given here is often my [Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. by A. V.
own. I have tried to consistently translate Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977),
Fanon’s “le nègre” as “the negro,” and his “le 113.] Hereafter cited as PhG and PhS, respective-
Noir” as “the black.” ly.
Phillip Honenberger is a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at Temple University. His current research focuses on
the inter-continental history of philosophy in the modern period, including German, French, British, Amer-
ican, African and Caribbean sources. From the author: Sincere thanks are due to Lewis Gordon, without
whom I could never have learned enough about Franz Fanon (and how to most productively read Franz
Fanon) to write this paper, and Vincent Beaver, without whom I’d not have stumbled upon the article by
Ethan Kleinberg.


the postwar “Hegel” renaissance in FANON’S HEGELSCHRIFT

France.”3 Historian of French philosophy
Ethan Kleinberg, however, is less sanguine In the Herrschaft und Knechtschaft sec-
about the originality and success of Fanon’s tion of the Phänomenologie des Geistes, Hegel
reading of Hegel, and charges that “in his examines three possibilities of relation be-
attempt to distance the colonial slave from tween two consciousnesses. As is charac-
the Hegelian Slave, Fanon actually paral- teristic of Hegel’s dialectical method, these
lels Hegel’s movements.”4 If Kleinberg is three possibilities are presented as a pro-
correct, then Fanon’s colonial dialectics re- gressive sequence. They include: (1) non-
iterates aspects of the Hegelian dialectics, recognition, where each consciousness
mistakenly supposing that they are not in- treats the other as a mere thing; (2) a fight to
cluded within Hegel’s theory.5 Thus, the death, where each consciousness recog-
Fanon’s “attempt to distance himself from nizes the other as an absolute threat to its
Hegel” in “Le Nègre et Hegel” would actu- own autonomy; and (3) submission of one
ally result in his analysis’s “subsequent consciousness to the other, which leads to
subsumption into the dialectic.”6 But, as I master-slave relations. This last stage in-
will argue, such a reading underestimates cludes the following sub-stages: (a) the ap-
the depth of Fanon’s interpretation of He- pearance that the slave’s recognition of the
gel, as well as the subtlety of Fanon’s ac- master will secure the master’s certainty of
count of the very different colonial his own autonomy, (b) the realization that
dialectics. such certainty cannot be gained from the
slave’s recognition, and (c) the slave’s pro-
gressive realization of freedom both as an
individual consciousness and in relation to
3 Nigel C. Gibson, Fanon: The Postcolonial
the natural world.
Imagination (Oxford/ Cambridge: Polity Press, Fanon’s text presents three ways in
2003), 30. Cited as “Gibson 2003” hereafter. Gib-
son also notes that “[w]hile Alexandre Kojeve’s which the colonial dialectics and the Hege-
influential reading of Hegel is part of the con- lian dialectics diverge. First: According to
text, Fanon’s critique of Hegel is original,” and Fanon, there has never been a true struggle
that “[r]ather than simply dismissing Hegel as a
philosopher of imperialism, [Fanon] engages between colonial master and slave.7 Thus
the methodological core of this key thinker of Fanon writes that “One day the white mas-
European modernity—the dialectic.” (Gibson ter recognized, without conflict, the black
2003: 30).
4 Ethan Kleinberg, “Kojève and Fanon: The slave” (Pn 196/ BS 217). This means that
Desire for Recognition and the Fact of Black- the Hegelian dialectics of recognition have
ness” in Tyler Stovall and Georges Van Den Ab- never really been set in motion in the colo-
beele, eds., French Civilization and Its Discontents:
Nationalism, Colonialism, Race (Lanham, MD: nial context. Second, the colonial master
Lexington Books, 2003), 115-128, p. 116. Cited as does not want recognition from the slave,
“Kleinberg 2003” hereafter. Though Kleinberg but rather work (Pn 199/ BS 220). Because
claims to be comparing Kojève’s Hegel with
Fanon’s Hegel, there are few differences be- the black slave is, according to the colonial
tween Kojève’s Hegel and Hegel himself that are master’s racism, not even fully human, it
significant for our analysis here. would be absurd for him to seek recogni-
Though Kleinberg admits that “Fanon is
correct in his diagnosis of an incompatibility be- tion from the slave. Thirdly, in the colonial
tween the Hegelian system and the colonial sys-
tem,” he argues that “this becomes explicit not in
his critique of the dialectic, but in his phenomeno- 7 Again, this claim must be read in historical
logical investigation into ‘the Fact of Blackness’.”
(Kleinberg 2003: 116). Thus, on Kleinberg’s read- context. It may be that a true struggle did occur
ing, the interpretation of Hegel presented in “Le subsequent to that time (say, in the Algerian rev-
Nègre et Hegel” alone is still suspect. olution), a point which would not threaten the
6 Kleinberg 2003: 116. legitimacy of Fanon’s analysis.


dialectics, the slave cannot achieve his free- white and black.
dom through labor upon the object. Rather, One day the White Master, without con-
he focuses his attention on the (impossible) flict, recognized the Negro slave.
project of becoming like the Master—that But the former slave wants to make him-
is, becoming white.8 self recognized (Pn 196/ BS 217).
Fanon’s “Le Nègre et Hegel” focuses on Thus, the lack of conflict at the basis of
the first of these three divergences—the the dialectics between black and white
lack of mutual recognition at the outset of means that the former slave (the black) has
the colonial dialectics. The text begins: not had a chance to prove his or her human-
ity. Having presented his main thesis,
Man is human only to the extent to Fanon proceeds to the first step of his argu-
which he tries to impose his exist- ment, a sketch of the reciprocity that lies at
ence on another man in order to be the foundation of the Hegelian dialectics.
recognized by him. As long as he Fanon highlights the lack of such reci-
has not been effectively recognized procity as a defining feature of the colonial
by the other, it is this other that will dialectics. Fanon’s interpretation, however,
remain the theme of his action. It is relies on Hegel’s account of the transition
on this other, it is on the recognition from simple consciousness to self-con-
of this other, that his human value sciousness, a development marked in He-
and reality depend. It is this other gel’s text by the transformation of Life
in which the meaning of his life [le [Leben] into Self-consciousness [Selbstbe-
sens de sa vie] is condensed. (Pn 195- wusstsein] in the immediately preceding
6/ BS 216) section of the Phänomenologie (entitled “The
Truth of Self-Certainty” [“Die Wahrheit der
Though the expression is somewhat Gewißheit seiner selbst”]). There Hegel artic-
more voluntaristic than Hegel’s, this pas- ulates the difference between merely natu-
sage is likely an interpretation of the second ral life and specifically human self-
stage of Hegel’s dialectics of recognition, consciousness in terms similar to Fanon’s:
where the two consciousnesses recognize “Self-consciousness achieves its satisfac-
each other as potential rivals for the status tion only in another self-consciousness.”10
of absoluteness, and thus each seeks to im- For Hegel as for Fanon, the distinction be-
pose itself on the other. Fanon seems to be tween “merely living” [nur lebendige] con-
bringing in resources from elsewhere in sciousness and a living self-consciousness
Hegel when he implies that (a) this moment [lebendiges Selbstbewußtsein] is to be found
is a pre-requisite of one’s humanity and in the fact that a “self-consciousness exists
that (b) the achievement of this humanity for a self-consciousness.”11 In other words,
requires mediation through the conscious- as Fanon puts it, “[i]t is in the degree to
ness of the other.9 In any case, Fanon claims which I go beyond my own immediate be-
that reciprocal recognition has not occurred ing [mon être-là immédiat] that I apprehend
between white and black: the existence of the other [l’ètre de l’autre] as
There is not an open conflict between
9 Especially Hegel’s summary of the transi-
tion from “consciousness” to “self-conscious-
8 As Fanon puts it, “In Hegel, the slave ness,” in the immediately preceding section of
turns away from the master and turns toward the Phänomenologie, “Die Wahrheit der Gewißheit
the object. Here the slave turns toward the mas- seiner selbst.” See the analysis of the following
ter and abandons the object” [“Chez Hegel, l’es- few paragraphs of this paper.
clave se détourne du maître et se tourne vers l’objet. 10 “Das Selbstbewußtsein erreicht seine Be-
Ici, l’esclave se tourne vers le maître et abandonne friedigung nur in einem andern Selbstbewußtsein.”
l’objet.”] (Pn 199/ BS 221). (PhG 139/ PhS 110)


a natural and more than natural reality.”12 that Hegel himself did not further explore.
Fanon then raises the possibility that This kind of recognition would seem to pre-
“[t]he other… can recognize me without vent the progress of the dialectic, and
struggle” (BS 219), and he cites Hegel in de- would represent a falling-back upon the
fense: “The individual who has not staked terms of a relation between conscious-
his life, may, no doubt, be recognized as a nesses where one does not recognize the
person, but he has not attained the truth of other as an independent self-conscious-
this recognition as an independent self-con- nesses. It is precisely this possibility that
sciousness.”13 Because Fanon follows this Fanon associates with the colonial dialec-
passage with the claim that “historically, tics.
the Negro steeped in the inessentiality of
servitude was set free by his master,” it THE COLONIAL DIALECTICS
seems that Fanon is here concerned to lo-
cate the colonial dialectics at the precise
In the second half of “Le Nègre et Hegel,”
point where, in the Hegelian dialectics, an
Fanon shifts from a close-reading of He-
individual [Individuum] has been recog-
gel’s text to an elucidation of the thesis that
nized as a person [Person] without being
there is a lack of reciprocal recognition in
recognized as an independent self-conscious-
the colonial context. This is Fanon’s exposi-
ness [selbständigen Selbstbewußtseins]. If so,
tion of the alternate dialectics of colonial
Fanon would be highlighting a possibility
master and slave. Here three forces have
11 Describing the transition from a con- combined to prevent the Hegelian dialec-
sciousness of life to a consciousness of conscious- tics from being set in motion.
ness, Hegel writes: “Life [Leben] points to First, the black slave has neglected to
something other than itself, viz. to conscious- fight for his independence. Thus, Fanon
ness [Bewu‚tsein], for which Life exists as this
unity, or as genus” (PhG 138/ PhS 109). And: writes that “[h]istorically, the black,
“The differentiated, merely living, shape [nur plunged in the inessentiality of his servi-
lebendige Gestalt] does indeed… supercede its in- tude, was freed by the master. He did not
dependence in the process of Life [Prozesse des
Lebens], but it ceases with its distinctive differ- fight for freedom” (Pn 198/ BS 219). Sec-
ence to be what it is. The object of self-conscious- ondly, the white master grants the black
ness [der Gegenstand des Selbstbewußtsein], slave his political freedom out of generosity
however, is equally independent in this negativ-
ity of itself; and thus it is for itself a genus, a uni- rather than political necessity. Fanon
versal fluid element in the peculiarity of its own writes: “One day a good white master who
separate being; it is a living self-consciousness had influence said to his friends, ‘Let’s be
[er ist ein lebendiges Selbstbewußtsein]” (PhG 140/
PhS 110). And finally: “A self-consciousness ex- nice to the negroes…’” (Pn 198/ BS 220).
ists for a self-consciousness. Only so is it in fact Third, at the foundation of both of these
self-consciousness; for only in this way does the moments is a paternalistic racism that in
unity of itself in its otherness become explicit for
it (PhG 140/ PhS 110). principle cannot be eliminated through the
12 “C’est en tant que je dépasse mon être-là im- new political freedom of the slave. This rac-
médiat que je réalise l’être de l’autre comme réalité ism is present even behind the apparently
naturelle et plus que naturelle” (Pn 196/ BS 217).
13 Cited in BS 219. Hegel’s original German generous “gift” of freedom to the former
reads: “Das Individuum, welches das Leben nicht black slaves. This is the meaning of the ap-
gewagt hat, kann wohl als Person anerkannt wer- parently paradoxical claims that (1) “[t]he
den; aber es hat die Wahrheit dieses Anerkanntseins
als eines selbständigen Selbstbewußteins nicht erre- negro is a slave who has been permitted to
icht.” (PhG 144/ PhS 114). And Jean Hyppolite’s adopt the attitude of master” and (2) “[t]he
French translation, from which Fanon quotes, White is a master who has permitted his
reads: “L’individu qui n’a pas mis sa vie en jeu peut
bien être reconnu comme personne, mais il n’a pas slaves to eat at his table” (Pn 198/ BS 220).
atteint la vérité de cette reconnaissance d’une con- Because of racism, the true relation be-
science de soi indépendante.” (Pn 197-8)


tween white and black can remain that of constituted by this newly dictated “free-
master and slave, respectively, regardless dom,” the former slaves remain merely
of their apparent equality at the legal, polit- “acted upon” in a different way: “The up-
ical and even economic level. Fanon’s colo- heaval reached the Black from without. The
nial dialectics is thus understandable as a Black was acted upon. Values [valeurs] that
description of the stunted possibilities of had not been created by his actions, values
action from a former slave who finds him- that had not resulted from the systolic tide
self in a situation constituted by these three of his blood, danced in a colored whirl
forces: namely, (1) has been set free, (2) with- around him” (Pn 198/ PS 220). The “val-
out a struggle, (3) into a racist social world. ues” [valeurs] of which Fanon speaks in the
After having been set free, for the most passage are undoubtedly the classical
part “the Black contented himself with French ones, such as “freedom” and
thanking the White, and the most brutal “equality.” Fanon’s point here is subtle: No-
proof of this fact is the impressive number tions such as that of democratic political
of statues erected all over France and the freedom, which arose in a European con-
colonies, showing white France stroking text, are systematically related to other Eu-
the kinky hair of this brave negro whose ropean notions which, considered as a
chains had just been broken” (Pn 198/ BS whole, are different from the defining con-
220). On the other hand, it is sometimes the cepts of traditional, pre-colonial African so-
case that the recently freed slave seeks a cieties. This is not to say that European
struggle. Such occasions, however, are values are incompatible with the traditional
quickly dissolved: ones; rather, they are completely foreign. In
the wake of colonialism, however, the tra-
When it does happen that the negro ditional values have been all but destroyed,
looks fiercely at the White, the both physically and symbolically. What re-
White tells him: “Brother, there is mains is a system of valuation (the Euro-
no difference between us.” And yet pean system) foreign to the traditional
the negro knows that there is a dif- societies, which nonetheless asserts itself as
ference. He wants it. He wants the universal.15 Thus, a bit further in this sec-
white man to turn on him and
shout: “Damn nigger” [<<Sale 14 Fanon’s diagnosis should not be identi-

nègre>>]. Then he would have that fied with an outright fatalism. There are true
possibilities for liberation, according to Fanon,
unique chance—to “show them…” but they require a deeper break with the terms
of the post-colonial situation than is allowable
But most often there is noth- within a simple search for recognition. Often
enough, it requires violence. See “Concerning
ing—nothing but indifference, or a Violence,” in Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the
paternalistic curiosity. (Pn 199/ BS Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York:
221) Grove Press, 1969), 35-106.
15 In another article, Fanon provides a sug-
gestion about how this problem must ultimately
Thus, the possibility of initiating any- be resolved. See his essay “Racism and Culture,”
thing like the Hegelian dialectics of recog- in Franz Fanon, Towards the African Revolution
(New York: Grove Press, 1969), 31-44, esp. 44:
nition within the situation constituted by “The end of race prejudice begins with a sudden
these three anti-dialectical forces is still incomprehension. The occupant’s spasmed and
null. The former slave may yearn to “make rigid culture, now liberated, opens at last to the
culture of people who have really become broth-
himself recognized,” but such yearning is ers. The two cultures can affront each other, en-
necessarily in vain.14 rich each other. … [U]niversality resides in this
Fanon further notes the way in which, decision to recognize and accept the reciprocal
relativism of different cultures, once the colonial
in their sudden introduction to a world status is irreversibly excluded.”


tion Fanon writes that “the negro knows DOES FANON MISREAD HEGEL?
nothing of the cost of freedom, for he has
not fought for it. Occasionally he has Kleinberg criticizes Fanon’s reading of
fought for Liberty and Justice, but always Hegel on three points: (1) Fanon’s claim
white liberty and white justice, that is to that in the colonial situation, but not for He-
say, the values [valeurs] secreted by the gel, there has not been reciprocal recogni-
masters” (Pn 199/ PS 220-1). Thus, insofar tion at the outset of the struggle, (2) Fanon’s
as the black slave is free, he is free merely at claim that whereas Hegel’s master wants
the level of his white mask. He is a being recognition, the colonial master merely
that is apparently free but really still subser- wants work, and (3) Fanon’s claim that the
vient. Fanon goes on to highlight the trag- colonial slave cannot, like Hegel’s slave,
edy of this situation when he compares the achieve his eventual independence
freedom of the former slave with the free- through labor. On all three counts, how-
dom of a white youth: ever, Kleinberg underestimates the depth
of Fanon’s understanding of Hegel, as well
The former slave, who can retrieve as the subtlety of Fanon’s account of the co-
in his memory neither the struggle lonial dialectics.
for liberty nor the anxiety for liber- Kleinberg claims it is a mistake when
ty of which Kierkegaard speaks, “Fanon assumes that there is a reciprocal
sits unmoved in the face of the relationship of recognition in Hegel, which
young White who plays and chants is not present in the colonial relationship
on the tightrope of existence. (Pn between the white master and the black
199/ PS 221) slave,” since even on Hegel’s account recip-
rocal recognition is impossible (Kleinberg
The cause of this lack of freedom in the 2003: 118). In doing so, however, Kleinberg
former slave is twofold. On the one hand, overlooks the fact that, at the outset of the
there is no memory of struggle in the Hegelian dialectic, the equality of the two
former slave’s consciousness. Thus, the consciousnesses as consciousnesses is as-
slave himself cannot be certain of his own sumed. Hence, while this initial reciprocity
absolute value. On the other hand, the rac- is unstable and will lead the dialectic on-
ism inherent in the colonial and “post”-co- wards to further stages, it is nonetheless
lonial world prohibits the simple inclusion true that the Fanonian “assumption” of a
of blacks’ Liberty into Liberty full-stop. reciprocal relationship at the outset of the
It is the confluence of these three mo- Hegelian dialectic is not unjustified. Fanon
ments within the situation in the French could hardly have made himself clearer on
Antilles—namely, (1) lack of struggle on this point than when he writes that “[i]l y a,
the part of the slaves, (2) a gift of “freedom” à la base de la dialectique hégélienne, une réci-
from the side of the masters, and (3) a rac- procité absolue qu’il faut mettre en évidence”
ism which permeates relations between [“There is, at the base of the Hegelian dia-
former masters and slaves—that explains lectic, an absolute reciprocity that must be
why the Hegelian dialectics have here been emphasized”] (Pn 196/ BS 217).
pre-verted into a colonial “anti”-dialec- In other words: By jumping from the
tics.16 beginnings of the Hegelian dialectic (which
serve as the focus of Fanon’s analysis) to its
16 The term and concept of “anti-dialectics”
further developments in his attempt to ana-
lyze the adequacy of Fanon’s reading,
is borrowed from Sekyi-Otu. See Ato Sekyi-Otu,
Fanon’s Dialectics of Experience (Cambridge, Kleinberg’s criticism refers to movements
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 47-55.


within the dialectic that, if Fanon is right, consciousness [that is, the slave’s]
have not yet come to pass within the colo- whose nature it is to be bound up
nial context. Furthermore, even if there is an with an existence that is indepen-
apparent parallel between the two cases—a dent, or thinghood in general. The
possibility whose significance is negated lord puts himself into relation with
once the dehumanizing role of racism both of these moments, to a thing as
within the colonial dialectics is under- such, the object of desire, and to the
stood—this parallel cannot be the result of consciousness for which thinghood
the same dialectical process since, as Fanon is the essential characteristic [i.e.,
notes, the initial conditions of the colonial the slave’s consciousness]… Here,
situation and the Hegelian situation do not therefore, is present this moment of
correspond. recognition, viz. that the other con-
Fanon’s reading implies that, in He- sciousness sets aside its own being-
gel’s account, unlike in the colonial situa- for-self, and in so doing itself does
tion, the master expects recognition from what the first does to it. (PhG 146/
the slave, whereas in the colonial situation PhS 115-116)
such recognition (given by the slave to the
master) is not even desired. But Kleinberg Of course, this relation between the
writes that two does not ultimately allow for true rec-
ognition, as a further turn in the dialectic
the [Hegelian] Master is not satis- reveals: “But for recognition proper the mo-
fied with the recognition of a Slave ment is lacking… The outcome is a recogni-
who has not proven to be fully hu- tion that is one-sided and unequal.”17
man and thus [the Hegelian Mas- Nonetheless, the Hegelian master does ini-
ter] continues in search of tially expect recognition from the slave, just
validation. Thus, contrary to as Fanon’s reading suggests.18 Otherwise,
Fanon’s assertion, there is no recog- how could one make sense of Hegel’s sub-
nition [between Hegelian master sequent claim that “this object [that is, the
and slave] possible with or without slave] does not correspond to its Notion,”
struggle. At this stage of the dialec-
tic, for Hegel, like for Fanon, there 17 Hegel continues: “In this recognition the

is no reciprocity or recognition. unessential consciousness [i.e., the slave con-

sciousness] is for the lord the object [Gegen-
(Kleinberg 2003: 119) stand], which constitutes the truth of his
certainty of himself. But it is clear that this object
According to Kleinberg, for both Hegel does not correspond to its Notion, but rather
that the object in which the lord has achieved his
and Fanon “the relationship of the Master to lordship has in reality turned out to be some-
the Slave is the same: ‘What he wants from thing quite different from an independent con-
the slave is not recognition but work’” sciousness. What now really confronts him is
not an independent consciousness, but a depen-
(Kleinberg 2003: 119). But Fanon rather dent one. He is, therefore, not certain of being-
than Kleinberg has the correct reading of for-self as the truth of himself. On the contrary,
Hegel here. Describing the master’s rela- his truth is in reality the unessential conscious-
ness [that is, the slave consciousness] and its un-
tionship to the slave, Hegel writes that essential action” (PhG 147/ PhS 116-117).
18 More precisely we should say that “it is

The lord is consciousness that ex- expected” that the master will achieve recogni-
tion in this way, since, while this section of the
ists for itself… [I]t is a conscious- Phänomenologie discusses transitions out of ap-
ness existing for itself which is pearances and into realities, it does not always
mediated with itself through an- do so in terms of the appearances to the con-
sciousnesses involved. But this point is a rather
other consciousness, i.e. through a technical one.


and that it “in reality turn[s] out to be some- other specific stage of the dialectics, then it
thing quite different from an independent is unfair to bring in the results of later
consciousness” (PhG 147/ PhS 116-7)? Such stages as counter-arguments to claims
formulations indicate that, from the van- made about the stage under direct consid-
tage point of a prior expectation, this slavish eration.
consciousness appeared to be able to pro- Finally, Fanon claims that the colonial
vide a basis for the master’s own sense of slave, unlike the Hegelian slave, does not
absolute worth. According to Fanon, how- achieve his liberation through work but
ever, it is precisely this expectation that rather focuses on the desire of becoming
could not arise within the colonial dialec- like the master. Kleinberg writes that
tics. This is what Fanon means when he
writes that “[f]or Hegel there is [an origi- [w]hen Fanon claims in his foot-
nal] reciprocity; here [i.e., in the colonial sit- note that ‘the [colonial] slave here is
uation] the master laughs at the in no way compatible with the [He-
consciousness of the slave.”19 The fact that gelian] slave who loses himself in
the Hegelian master’s attempt at achieving the object and finds in his work the
recognition from the slave also fails, accord- source of his liberation,’ one must
ing to a further stage of the Hegelian dialec- ask ‘Why?’
tics, has no bearing on the adequacy of
Fanon’s own account, which emphasizes When Fanon continues that
the differences in initial conditions between ‘the Negro wants to be like the
the Hegelian and the colonial situation. Master,’ we can respond that for
What is at the root of the error in these Kojève, too, the slave wants to be
two mistaken criticisms of Fanon? As is like the Master in overcoming his
well-known, dialectical arguments involve fear of death and moving toward
opposite and even contradictory stages. As Self-Consciousness. (Kleinberg
Kleinberg himself writes, the Hegelian 2003: 120)
“battle for recognition is a paradox.”20 Any
successful study of the dialectics therefore 20 This point is echoed by Fanon scholar Ni-
requires careful attention to the precise gel Gibson and by Hegel himself. Gibson writes,
stage at which the analysis in question is “The process appears contradictory because the
being carried out. In other words: if the master/slave dialectic starts with the idea of
genuine reciprocity, though it does not come to
context of analysis is the Hegelian dialec- fruition there but only begins its journey. It is the
tics as a whole, then it is just as true to say failure to attain reciprocity that drives the dia-
that each of the two consciousnesses must lectic on” (Gibson 2003: 33). And Hegel opens
the section on Herrschaft und Knechschaft with
acknowledge the potential absoluteness of the following (the first line of which Fanon him-
the other—as claims Fanon—as it is to say self uses as the opening of “Le Nègre et Hegel”):
that one (the Master) cannot acknowledge “Self-consciousness [Selbstbewußtsein] exists in
and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so ex-
the potential absoluteness of the other (the ists for another [für ein anderes]; that is, it exists
Slave)—as Kleinberg seeks to counsel only in being acknowledged [Anerkanntes]. The
Fanon—since Hegel himself says both at Notion of this its unity [Einheit] in its duplica-
tion [Verdopplung] embraces many and varied
different stages of the dialectics. Alterna- meanings [vielseitige und vieldeutige Ver-
tively, if the context of analysis is one or an- schränkung]. Its moments, then, must on the one
hand be held strictly apart, and on the other
hand must in this differentiation [Untersc-
19 “[L]e maître ici diffère essentiellement de ce- heidung] at the same time also be taken and
lui décrit par Hegel. Chez Hegel il y a réciprocité, ici known as not distinct [nicht unterschieden], or in
le maître se moque de la conscience de l’esclave. Il ne their opposite significance [oder immer in ihrer
réclame pas la reconnaissance de ce dernier, mais son entgegengesetzten Bedeutung]” (PhG 141/ PhS
travail” (Pn 199/ BS 220). 111).


Nigel Gibson, however, anticipates whites, itself predicated on three factors: a

Kleinberg’s criticism and responds to it lack of armed struggle by blacks, a “gift” of
when he writes that freedom given to blacks by whites, and an
entrenched anti-black racist ideology. 23
One could argue that Hegel’s slave On the one hand, the issue of the con-
also wants to emulate the master. nection between Fanon and Hegel may
However, for the Black slave to be seem an obscure and merely scholastic one,
like the master means something especially in comparison with the larger
quite different, namely, looking like problems of domination, freedom and
the master—in other words, be-
coming White. This internalization 22 Incidentally, one could argue that, per
of the desirability of being White, Fanon’s analysis, it is the humanity of racist Eu-
Fanon notes, is “a form of recogni- ropeans that is ultimately thrown into question
tion that Hegel had not envisaged.” by the racist suspension of the dialectics of rec-
ognition. Since, as Fanon puts it, “[m]an is hu-
[BS 63] (Gibson 2003: 37) man only to the extent to which he tries to
impose his existence on another man in order to
Thus, it is the existence of racism be recognized by him,” the European colonial-
ist’s decision to seek not recognition but rather
within the colonial dialectics which prohib- work from the slave results in the exclusion of
its the productive development of the He- the colonialist from the Hegelian dialectics as
gelian dialectics in this direction. Another well. If the European colonizer shirked his or
her humanity by refusing to recognize the black
way to put this point is that no matter how slave, then it follows that, in response, the black
effective or creative the black slave may be- slave may legitimately refuse to recognize the
come in his or her labor upon the object,21 white master’s humanity, and thus pursue vio-
lence as a means of re-establishing political
he or she will—so long as the existing racist equality. Fanon expresses this point especially
social structure remains in place—still be dramatically at the conclusion of his essay on
black, and hence be (according to the logic “The ‘North African Syndrome’,” in Toward the
African Revolution, trans. pp. 3-16: “Don’t push
of the racist colonial social structure) noth- me too far. Don’t force me to tell you what you
ing more than a “machine-animal-human,” ought to know, sir. If YOU do not reclaim the
rather than simply a human.22 man who is before you, how can I assume that
you reclaim the man that is in you?... If YOU do
not sacrifice the man that is in you so that the
CONCLUSION man who is on this earth shall be more than a
body… by what conjurer’s trick will I have to ac-
quire the certainty that you, too, are worthy of
It is wrong to suppose that Fanon seri- my love?” Such violence is hardly aimed at
achieving recognition from the other, however.
ously misreads Hegel in “Le Nègre et Hegel.” In fact, insofar as it is, Fanon would perceive it
Rather, Fanon effectively juxtaposes the pe- as misguided. See also “Concerning Violence”
culiar features of the colonial master-slave in Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, pp. 35-106.
23 It would also be wrong to suppose that
relation to the outlines of Hegel’s classical Fanon’s reading of the Hegelian Master-Slave
model. He does this by pointing to a basic dialectic imputes racism to the dialectic itself
lack of recognition between blacks and considered as a theoretical artifact. Fanon’s pri-
mary point about the Hegelian Master-Slave di-
alectic is only that it is not sufficient to fully
21 One may take this excellence to any ab- describe the relevant features of the colonial sit-
surd degree one wishes—superpowers, etc.— uation (for the reasons elucidated above). His
and it is clear that racism can still function as a point is not that Hegel’s dialectics are in them-
trump card, introducing radical doubt into the selves wrong (nor Eurocentric nor racist—
recognition of humanity of even the most pro- though I suppose it is possible that they are these
ductive and creative of former slaves. Let any- things). In this sense, Fanon is best read as point-
one who attempts to establish the inferiority of a ing out and analyzing features of the Master-
race on the basis of “empirical inquiry” consider Slave relation, within the colonial situation, that
this thought-experiment before beginning their Hegel himself had not studied or considered
“research.” (For a contrary view, see Kleinberg 2003: 122).


truth with which both Hegel and Fanon

made it their life’s work to wrestle. On the
other hand, both Fanon’s and Hegel’s
projects involved careful study and critique
of the recorded wisdom of those who had
come before them, as evidenced in Fanon’s
case by the very existence of his He-
gelschrift. If we continue to be interested in
“Le Nègre et Hegel”, as scholars, thinkers, ac-
tivists or just human beings, it is likely be-
cause a human being’s actions, thoughts
and words are somehow inseparable, just
as all humans are, at some level, also insep-
arable. Thus, when we read Fanon reading
Hegel, we follow Fanon in the attempt to
better grasp the nature of ourselves.


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ence. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univer-
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Turner, Lou. 1996. “On the Difference between the
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