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[CRIT 13.

3 (2011) 377-399] doi:10.1558/crit.v13i3.377

Critical Horizons (print) ISSN 1440-9917 Critical Horizons (online) ISSN 1568-5160

Fanon: Colonialism and the Critical Ideals of German Idealism

Stefan Bird-Pollan
Department of Philosophy, University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA

Abstract: I argue that Franz Fanon can usefully be situated in the tradition of German Idealism in the sense that he takes from Kant and especially Hegel the conception of agency as something to be achieved through struggle for the ideal of humanity as self-determining. Fanon sees the suffering cased by colonial rule in Africa and elsewhere as deriving from the systematic deprivation of agency by the colonial power. Using the work of Hegel, Fanon seeks to reconstruct the emancipatory project of the black man in close analogy to Hegels master-slave dialectic. The violence which Fanon sees as unavoidable in such a struggle is not violence for the sake of violence but, following Hegel, the violence that constitutes the subject in the first place. Keywords: Agency; Fanon; Hegel; Kant; Violence.

When, on the day of his death on October 10, 1961, French authorities confiscated copies of Frantz Fanons final book The Wretched of the Earth for being seditious, they probably did not realize that the seditious nature of the book lay not in undermining French values but rather in the books insistence on those very values against a state which had abandoned them. The Wretched argues not for the overthrow of the liberal state but for the realization of those ideals of universal respect championed by the founders of the two paradigmatic modern liberal states: France and the United States. Fanon challenged the French government to live up to its promise of honoring liberty, equality and brotherhood, promises that the colonization of parts of Africa and Asia had clearly violated. In short, Fanon demanded that we take up where the French revolution left off, fighting once again for liberty, equality and brotherhood, not just within the state but internationally as well.1
1. In his biography of Fanon, David Macey makes clear just how divisive the figure of Fanon turned out to be. There is no public building or street named for Fanon in mainland France.
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In this paper I would like to situate Fanon in the heritage of the French revolution and enlightenment ideas of freedom more generally. Though his work does not have the calm and cautious tone of some of the enlightenments most important figures, it shares with them the insistence of the ideal of universality and freedom. Fanons work, I will argue, is antithetical to the modern West only to the extent that the West has not lived up to its promise of guaranteeing liberty to all.2 Fanons work is revolutionary in the sense that it points to the radical shortcomings of nineteenth and twentieth century colonial policies in the context of the very ideas these states take themselves to be championing. In both his psychiatric practice and his theoretical writings, Fanon seeks to create the conditions under which liberty will become a reality for all. If this is a surprising claim, it is perhaps because liberalism takes itself to be fully instantiated by the sorts of conditions laws and markets which currently exist. However, this is clearly not how Fanon sees it. It is rather Fanons claim that as long as recognition is not extended to everyone, the just society, based on the ideals of the French and American revolution, do not yet obtain in any recognizable sense. It is rather the work of the historical dialectic to articulate the content or the structures that must arise from the idea of justice as universal recognition. In this sense, Fanons critique of colonialism through what I am calling the ideals of German idealism constitutes an effort to tear down and rebuild the very structures which, in Fanons case, the French state has brought about. The reason I characterize Fanon, perhaps against the intuitions of many, as an heir to German idealism is that, like his contemporary Theodor Adorno, Fanon believes that in order to create a just world, we need more, not less reason and that reason is properly articulated as universal in scope. Fanon, unlike Adorno however, is not afraid to understand historical events as the unfolding or articulation of this more inclusive rationality championed by both Kant and Hegel.3
His name has been suppressed along with the battle of Algiers and all that has to do with Algerian independence. Even in Martinique, where Fanon was born, his heritage is controversial. There the rue Frantz Fanon coexists uneasily alongside streets like rue de la Libert, rue Lamartine and rue Marat. See David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (New York: Picador, 2001), 1022. 2. This is not meant to deny Fanons revolutionary politics, which he and many others understood to be threatening to the French state and to the West more generally. Fanons decision to take a stand against the West earned him deep suspicion and the animosity of many European intellectuals who misunderstood his theory of violence. I will develop this point in the second part of the paper. 3. The reading of Hegel I present here is a critical reading which I differentiate from the anthropological reading which first emerged with Alexandre Kojve in the 1940s. A key feature of
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The argument proceeds in three parts. First, I offer a brief reading of what I consider to be the key elements of Kantian and Hegelian idealism as they pertain to both Fanons critical and positive projects. Second, I present Fanons critique of Hegel (in Black Skin, White Mask), arguing that Fanons critique enriches our understanding of the basis for the struggle for recognition in Hegel. He does so by showing that in the colonial situation, the colonized are not yet subjects in the sense of being able to realize their ends. Finally, after briefly considering the transition between Black Skin and The Wretched, I examine the outbreak of the revolutionary moment in
the Kojvian reading is to take the master-slave struggle as occurring between two actual mythical people who struggle, in different historical guises, to mutually recognize each other. This reading is further elaborated by Ludwig Siep and Jessica Benjamin (in a psychoanalytic vein), and has become prominent in the recognition theory of Axel Honneth as well as Charles Taylor. These readings all take as their point of departure not the Phenomenology but rather Hegels earlier writings on recognition in the so-called Jena-system of 18031805. The Jena system is a Realphilosophie which means that it is anthropological in the sense of being a reconstruction of the history of human actions and institutions. See, Ludwig Siep, Anerkennung als Prinzip der praktischen Philosophie (Freiburg Breisgau: Alber, 1979); Alexandre Kojve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Jr James H. Nicols (trans.) (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980); Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988); Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: the Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, Joel Anderson (trans.) (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995); Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992). On the Jena System see also, Italo Testa, La natura del riconoscimento: riconoscimento naturale e ontologia sociale in Hegel, 18011806 (Milano: Mimesis, 2010); Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Jenaer Systementwrfe III: Naturphilosophie und Philosophie des Geistes, vol. 8 Gesammelte Werke, Rolf-Peter Horstmann, (ed.) (Frankfurt: Meiner, 1976). The reading I have proposed, following writers like Pippin, McDowell, Brandom and Brinkmann as well as Adorno in reading the Phenomenology separately from the Jena system in the sense that the master-slave dialectic is not a struggle between two individuals but is, as I have elsewhere put it, about the development of subjectivity itself. That is, the master-slave dialectic is about the development of the very idea of a principle of action rather than about what sort of principle of action should be employed, as the anthropological reading argues. Stefan Bird-Pollan, Hegels Grounding of Intersubjectivity, Philosophy and Social Criticism 38, no. 3 (2012), 237-56; John McDowell, Hegels Idealism as Radicalization of Kant, in Having the World in View: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); John McDowell, The Apperceptive I and the Empirical Self; Toward a Heterodox Reading of Lordship and Bondage in Hegels Phenomenology, in Having the World in View; Robert Brandom, The Structure of Recognition; Self-Consciousness and Self-Constitution, Philosophy and Social Criticism 33, no. 1 (2007); Theodor W. Adorno, Drei Studien zu Hegel, in Gesammelte Schriften, Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann (eds) (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970); Robert Pippin, Hegels Idealism: the Satisfactions of Self-consciousness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Robert Pippin, Hegel on Self-consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011).
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Fanon, interpreting this as the newly awakened consciousness of agency and subjectivity itself. The revolutionary ideal will be understood in terms of the constitution of subjecthood itself. Here I will discuss Fanons infamous theory of violence as simply the shape that agency takes in the colonial context. There is, alas, not room in the confines of this paper to address what is perhaps the most tantalizing suggestion on Fanons part, namely that the struggle for recognition in the colonial context instantiates a new historical dialectic. This is the claim of the bulk of The Wretched and I hope to address this issue in a future project. The current paper must thus content itself with laying out the theoretical foundations for a renewed understanding of what a historical dialectic might have looked like from the perspective of a mid-twentieth century Hegelian rather than Marxist revolutionary. Part I: Kant and Hegel; the Categorical Imperative and the MasterSlave Dialectic Fanon shares with the German idealist tradition, running from Kant through Hegel, a central concern for freedom articulated as a demand both on the subject itself and on society at large.4 Let me sketch briefly an interpretation of German idealism so that the basic trajectory will begin to become clear. I will develop the account further in the body of the paper. Here I will take Kant as the paradigmatic figure although in the body of the text I will be engaging much more with Hegels appropriations of Kants philosophy. The reason for this shift in emphasis is simply that Kant sketches the problem to which Hegel and Fanon, in different ways, propose their own solutions. Kant sets out the problem of individual liberty, the dialectic between the is and the ought, in the strongest way for our purposes but what we are actually after is the two complementary proposals for its realization.
4. Fanons relation to Marxism is a difficult one. Though Marx is clearly in the idealist tradition, the various political implications of his thought create a schism in this lineage. See, for instance Robert Blackey, Fanon and Cabral, The Journal of Modern African Studies 12, no. 2 (1974): 195 and passim, as well as Paul Nursey-Bray, Marxism and Existentialism in the Thought of Frantz Fanon, Political Studies 20, no. 2 (2006). An obvious problem with the application of Marxism to the colonial situation was that of the lack of industrialization as well as the lack of existence of defined classes of workers and entrepreneurs. Sekyi-Otu situates Fanons challenge to Marxism as the worry that class might not be the final category of revolutionary conflict. See Sekyi-Otu, Fanons Dialectic of Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 4649.
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Kants basic claim is that we constitute ourselves through our actions, and that to constitute ourselves successfully, we must act consistently.5 Consistency is made possible by following the law of reason. If followed, the law of reason, which is to actions as grammar is to language, will produce not merely harmony within the subject but harmony between subjects. The law of reason, in its practical employment, is the categorical imperative, which states: So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.6 Thus, acting consistently with the law of reason yields the possibility of a world organized according to ethical principles. Self-constitution, for Kant and Hegel, as the idea of the moral law, is actually the idea of self-authorization itself; we constitute ourselves by orienting ourselves through adherence to an ideal. This ideal mediates the particular desires we experience, ruling some actions in and others out. Following the law of reason involves a dialectical tension between the present and the future, between our projects and our current condition but also between ourselves and other people. This tension, experienced as choice, and, in its privative mode, as suffering, underlies all of our actions. Two points must be made explicit in Kants account of reason and morality. The first is that in order to be a subject at all, we must be capable of willing. This can take the form of either willing independently of the moral law or taking it as the rule for our willing, as a motivating factor. From this it follows, as the second point, that willing in accordance with the universal law of morality is itself an achievement, something that we ought to do and can do, but just do not necessarily always ethically do. It is the difference between these two types of willing that Hegel takes up in his critique and extension of the Kantian position. Thus, Hegel aims to flesh out the historical movement from our fundamental ability to take the means to our ends (and hence our ability to will morally) to a state in which all agents actually do act with moral regard for others.7 For Hegel this account has to do with his famous theory of recognition which essentially states that it is only the fact of the existence of the other that makes moral
5. The self-constitution argument has been made most forcefully in Christine Korsgaards work with regard to Kant. See Christine M. Korsgaard, Self-Constitution; Agency, Identity, and Integrity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). For an account of self-constitution in Hegel see Brandom, The Structure of Recognition; Self-Consciousness and Self-Constitution. 6. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Mary J. Gregor (ed. and trans.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Akademie Ausgabe pagination: 4:429. 7. It should be noted that Hegel does not think, as Kant does, that the idea of the moral law can motivate directly. This has important consequences for the differences between these two accounts which, however, are not of great importance to the lineage I am sketching.
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respect both possible and necessary. This is so because in our daily preoccupations, in our non-human interaction, we are essentially concerned with individual desires, seeking to be as efficient as possible in fulfilling them. It is the appearance of the other that demands that we take the other into account as a limiting factor on our pragmatic decisions. For Hegel, then, the struggle for recognition, for the achievement of liberty and equality for all, is a historical task which works itself out as the progressive historical instantiation of justice between people via institutions. Fanons critique of Hegel draws attention to the particular situation in which the master-slave dialectic, the beginning of the struggle for recognition, arises. Fanon thus modifies Hegels account of the development of intersubjectivity by questioning its historical inevitability. Before we can develop this critique, however, let me recall the basics of Hegels own account. There are many ways of interpreting the master-slave dialectic and what I offer here is meant not so much as a textual exegesis as an indication of the problematic that I see as central to both Hegel and Fanons thought.8 One of the cardinal problems German idealism takes itself to address is that of how the self and the other relate. The self, so the thesis goes, must relate to the other as it relates to itself, that is, self-constitution and intersubjectivity go hand in hand. Hegels master-slave dialectic is meant to model a way in which material relations between individuals are themselves constitutive of the self s fundamental structure. One can only be autonomous in a society of autonomous subjects. That is, to be a complete self, one must have complete or near complete relations with others as well. The master-slave dialectic shows that the full and self-determining subject is an achievement, requiring the whole of human history to attain. The master-slave dialectic is of great importance because it shows how the process of self-constitution, the very origin of the subject, itself depends on the existing of an other with whom that subject is necessarily entwined. It is important to emphasize that the master-slave dialectic takes place between proto-subject and not between individuals, as Kojve, for instance, reads it. We are not here dealing, in my interpretation, with a Hobbesian state of nature but with the origins of subjectivity itself.9
8. I offer a more detailed account of this dialectic in Bird-Pollan, Hegels Grounding of Intersubjectivity. 9. This point is made especially strongly, perhaps overly so, by McDowell who argues that the master-slave dialectic actually takes place within the mind of a single individual. The point here is that for a social world to exist, mind itself must have certain characteristics which McDowell takes Hegel to be exploring here. This is a decisive rejection of the anthropological reading mentioned in footnote 3.
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The master-slave dialectic begins when two proto-subjects encounter one another and understand vaguely that the Gestalt they are encountering is in some way different than the other objects of the world. What each recognizes in the other is actually itself and its own claim to dominate the material world (178).10 The conflict arises because each wants to deny the other power over itself: each thus fights to preserve its absolute power over the world and hence itself (186). In denying human equality and connectedness, the conflict actually instantiates that very notion, albeit in a negative way: as human separateness and inequality, in the form of the master and slave relation. A turning point in both the struggle and the history of humanity is reached when, realizing that he cannot win, one of the subjects gives up its claim to domination and submits to the other (187). (Hegel has little to say about the winner since for him things remain essentially unchanged.) Submission, Hegel writes, liquefies the combatants very existence, causing him to be reconstituted in a different way (194). The slave, as he shall now be called, must relinquish all of his physical power to the master, becoming completely dependent on him. However, relinquishing physical power turns out not to deny the slaves existence, but merely to sublate it. Having forfeited his body, the slave now exists in his mind alone, wishing to be free and hence developing a concept radically at odds with his servitude: the idea of universal freedom. For Hegel, the most concrete concept is also the most abstract since neither allows for mediation.11 The new-found capacity for reflection allows the slave to understand himself as both bound by the master (in all of his actions) and as free in thought (since choosing death rather than bondage is still an option for him) (196). The master determines the slaves body, the slave determines his thoughts. Thus the dialectical tension between is and ought, between present and future is brought to consciousness. The master-slave relation thus models the development of the Kantian categorical imperative as radical freedom, but without any guarantee of its realization. The point is that the slaves desire for freedom is articulated simply as the demand for recognition or, in Kantian terms, respect of the slaves inherent value. But as a fundamental demand, the categorical imperative does not yet have any content, that is, does not demand anything in particular. It must be given content by the concrete practical problems
10. References are to the numbered paragraph in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, A. V. Miller (trans.) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977). 11. This point is a central premise of Hegels argument and will be given a fuller explanation below.
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which the slave encounters. However, in order to encounter concrete practical problems, the slave must come to see himself/herself as a subject who is the legitimate bearer of the demand for justice and freedom. This is the movement of history itself, for Hegel. In this way, the demand for freedom and the development of subjectivity are part of the same development. In the Phenomenology, the origin of subjectivity is understood in terms of the development of agency. As the slave works and reflects, he/she gradually realizes that his/her actions are really his/her own in a deeper sense than they are the masters. For it is the slave who must will to take the means to his/her ends, the master is merely the occasion of his/her actions. One way to put this is to see that by choosing life, the slave continues to authorize his slavery. It is the slaves decision to go on, not the masters. But the slave also realizes that as long as he/she lives, the master will constitute the outer constraint of his physical world. The struggle for recognition is born of the slaves insight that he/she is fundamentally self-authorizing hence fundamentally free on one level and that the master (in whatever form he might take: religion, the state, etc.) will always be for him/her a relative constraint. The tension between the ability to will freely and the ability to carry out ones actions is where the demand for justice resides. Overcoming the tension between is and ought would mean for the other no longer to be an obstacle to the selfconstitution of the subject as self-determining. Both would share the same normative commitments. This means that full self-constitution, human unity, can only occur when just social relations are achieved. This way of putting it also means that true humanity might only be achieved in full ethical life, the condition in which recognition obtains in a way that lets each individual be him or herself through the other rather than in opposition to the other. Before moving on to Fanons reading of Hegel, I note a few issues that will be central for my interpretation. The first is that the notion of subjectivity in Kant and Hegel means that the subject is constituted in a certain way: it is constituted as wanting to articulate itself according to the law of freedom. The account is thus critical in the sense that it contains within itself a standard of selfhood which may be in contrast with how the self actually is constituted. The account of the subject is thus an ideal. Further, this ideal of the subject is, by the very same argument about selfconstitution, the only possible motor for the self to be a self at all. That is, any self that is not a free self is a lesser self and must struggle to be a more adequate or complete self; it must struggle to achieve its selfhood. Here too the self is, we might say, expressive of its goals and critical of itself when it does not meet them.
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Finally, both the critical and the expressive axis of the self are in conflict with the external world in the sense that they articulate themselves in contradistinction to the world which resists them. The challenge is thus to overcome the unreflective unity of the material and social world into which the subject is born and to alter this world in a way that allow a fuller expression of freedom. Ultimately, of course, the goal is for the self to create a world in which it is at home, a world in which its particularity is recognized as necessary by the others whom the subject recognizes as necessary in their own particularity. This state is, for Hegel, ethical life and for Fanon the new humanism. This ideal, however, is not to be presupposed at the beginning of the account. It is the result of the hard work of the dialectic which progresses both through individual and collective struggle. Part II: Reinterpreting the Dialectic: Fanons Hegelschrift in Black Skin, White Masks We now turn to Fanons first account of Hegel. His most detailed textual discussion of Hegel comes in a short passage entitled Hegel and the Black which comes near the end of Black Skin. The passage is concerned with the question of the absolute priority of recognition and its impossibility in the colonial/racist context. Fanon seems to share the fundamentally Hegelian premise of subjectivity being constituted through intersubjectivity, writing that man is human only to the extent to which he tries to impose himself on another man in order to be recognized by him.12 However, Fanon also points out that, in the colonial context, such recognition is chimerical because there the black man is not recognized as an other by the white man, which means that no struggle for recognition can occur. Freedom comes rather when, one day, a good white master, who exercises a lot of influence, said to his friends: Lets be kind to the niggers.13 Thus the black man is set free. But this means that and this is the central problem Fanon diagnoses in the colonial context the black man does not know the price of freedom because he has never fought for it.14 Not having risked his life, as the slave in Hegel has, the black man is not existentially remade or unified by the experience of oppression in the same way Hegels slave is. As Fanon puts
12. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, Richard Philcox (trans.) (New York: Grove Press, 2008), 191. 13. Fanon, Black Skin, 195. 14. Fanon, Black Skin, 196.
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it, the black man went from one way of life to another, but not from one life to another.15 The black mans life is insufficiently changed because it is only the black mans situation and not his consciousness that has been altered. The black man has not constituted himself through the other and hence is left out of the dialectical struggle for justice. The black man thus fails to meet Hegels requirement: If consciousness fashions the thing without that initial absolute fear, it is only an empty self-centered attitude for its form or negativity is not negativity per se, and therefore its formative activity cannot give it a consciousness of itself as essential being.16 The new situation, however, does not leave the black man altogether unchanged. It instills in him a desire for recognition which, now that he is free, is forever foreclosed. His consciousness is forever caught between anger at the white man for oppressing him and gratitude that he is no longer quite as oppressed as before. Gratitude thus preempts the rage necessary to provoke a full confrontation, it inhibits the experience of suffering as a motivator for action. The conflict thus moves to the level of fantasy in which: the former slave wants his humanity to be challenged; he is looking for a fight; he wants a brawl. But too late: the black Frenchman is doomed to hold his tongue and bare his teeth.17 The central issue for Fanon is that Hegel assumes equality between the combatants which does not always obtain, that is, that Hegel does not see that there could be variants in the encounter between the two protosubjects.18 Fanon puts the charge thus: There is in fact a being for others,
15. Fanon, Black Skin, 195. 16. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 196. 17. Fanon, Black Skin, 196. 18. A fair amount has been written on Fanons reinterpretation of Hegels master-slave dialectic in Black Skin, White Masks. This literature explores the ways in which the master-slave dialectic in Fanon is constituted such that recognition on the Hegelian model, becomes impossible. Turner, for instance, argues that Fanon substitutes history for ontology in Hegels account, thus illuminating the struggle for recognition in new ways. The historical dialectic of racism constitutes the black mans body as an object unfit for recognition by the white man. This means that the black man is left with a double-consciousness in which he relates to himself as an other as well as to the white man, from whom he seeks recognition. See Lou Turner, Frantz Fanons Journey into Hegels Night of the Absolute, Quarterly Journal of Ideology 13 (1989); Lou Turner, On the Difference between the Hegelian and the Fanonian Dialectic of Lordship and Bondage, in Fanon: a Critical Reader, Lewis R. Gordon, T.Denean SharpleyWhiting, and Rene T. White (eds) (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996). Gibson argues that since the historical dialectic of racism constitutes the black man as a non-subject for the white man, the black man must undergo a regression into himself in order to overcome the socially constructed nature of the impasse in the struggle for recognition. Rejecting Sartres claim that negritude is only a minor stage in the dialectic, Fanon argues that a new humanism can only be born out of oppression by re-founding consciousness
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as described by Hegel, but any ontology is made impossible in a colonized and acculturated society.19 The point here appears to be that behind the ontology there lurks a historically contingent schema of values which itself informs the dialectic of master-slave.20 In order to become clearer about the implications of this thought, we must examine the colonial context with regard to how it constitutes the subject. If no struggle for recognition ensued from the confrontation between colonizers and the then native peoples, we must look for a different paradigm to explain their situation. I would like to follow out Fanons understanding of the colonized subject, as still incapable of the Hegelian struggle for recognition, by linking it with the idea of the natural consciousness in Hegel. It is important to note here that by linking the native to the pre-subjectivity in Hegels natural consciousness, neither Fanon nor I am claiming that the natives, the to-be-colonized subjects are inherently less developed than their European counterparts.21 Rather, the advent of colonization actually deprives them of their more advanced subjectivity, plunging them back, through the apparatus of colonial rule, into a state of proto-subjectivity. The advent of colonization is a trauma inflicted on the native population. One of the main senses in which colonialism is traumatic is that it creates institutions which systematically undermine not just the humanity of
through revolution. See Nigel Gibson, Dialectical Impasses: Turning the Table on Hegel and the Black, Parallax 8, no. 2 (2002). 19. Fanon, Black Skin, 89. 20. From a strict Hegelian point of view, this charge seems rather odd since the whole point of Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit is to develop an ontology of intersubjective relations in the first place. However, Fanons point need not be seen as in direct conflict with Hegels since Hegel does not claim that any and all historical situations proceed in the way Hegel describes. Rather, there may have been any number of ways in which particular historical confrontations worked themselves out. There might have been initial domination of one over the other without struggle, as Fanon here indicates. But such a confrontation, Hegel and Fanon agree, cannot constitute a self and hence did not result in a struggle for recognition. And this, indeed, is what Fanon is claiming for the colonial context: no consciousness raising or self-constitution was possible here because no struggle took place. 21. However, it must be noted that Hegel himself had unenlightened things to say about the African soul, characterizing it as totally foreign to European spiritual concerns. The Africans have not yet attained recognition of the universal; their nature is as yet compressed within itself; and what we call religion, the state, that which exists in and for itself and possesses absolute validity all this is not yet present to them. Kojve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, 17677. It seems to me that Fanons critique here can tell us something about why Hegel and many others have held such views, especially in the context of nineteenth century colonialism which precisely obscured the view of the subject in non-European countries.
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the colonized people but the possibility of their humanity. It is one thing to impoverish and exploit people, but it is another thing to make them believe that they are necessarily inferior.22 To do the latter is to deprive them of the concept of humanity itself. The problem of trauma, from the perspective of German idealism I have been laying out in this paper, is that it disrupts the dialectic of recognition. It interrupts the necessary connection between the idea of freedom and the action underlying freedoms motivational power. The idea of freedom means nothing for either Hegel or Kant if it cannot be acted upon and this is what the deprivation of the colonial subject of her agency brings about: the inability to act on her beliefs. To put it another way, perhaps more in accordance with Freuds conception of trauma, if what makes the subject a subject is the tension between ones origins and ones aspirations, then trauma is the interruption of this link, the inability to experience ones suffering as suffering.23 In terms of the earlier terminology, the traumatic event of colonialism is the colonized subjects inability to experience his or her suffering as suffering and hence as a motive for action. Fanons reworking of Hegels master-slave dialectic centers on what Fanon calls the person existing outside the struggle for recognition, who has not attained the truth of [] recognition as an independent self-consciousness.24 For this person, we might elaborate, recognition has not come because he is not an independent self-consciousness. This appears to be Fanons point recognition is only available for those whose consciousness is determinate
22. This perhaps indicates a difference between the colonial system and the exploitation of workers as discussed by Marx. Whereas Marx believes that it was possible to raise class consciousness among the workers, Fanon believes that the colonial context precludes this among the colonized. This is because one must be a subject in order to have ones consciousness raised to the next level. Where no consciousness exists, it cannot be raised. 23. For Freud, the tension relating from the self-preserving pleasure principle is in tension with the death drive which wants to dissipate all psychic energy by a sort of Liebestod with the object. The trauma occurs when the pleasure principle is short-circuited, when the psychic organization thus becomes unable to bind or to protect itself against unpleasant stimuli from the outside world. This means that the unpleasant experiences either from within or without are no longer protected against. The problem for the subject is that all of this occurs on the unconscious level, hence that the subject does not understand itself as psychically weakened but merely feels itself exposed to unpleasant experiences as a matter of life itself. The traumatized patient does not experience him/herself as ill at all, or rather, he or she cannot locate his/her ailment since it is that which should protect him/her from his/her ailment by bringing it to his/her attention what is wounded. See Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, James Strachey (ed.), vol. XIII, The Standard Edition of the Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth Press, 195374). For Fanons changing relationship with psychoanalysis see Alice Cherki, Frantz Fanon: a Portrait, Nadia Benabid (trans.) (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), 121. 24. Fanon, Black Skin, 194.
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enough to be able to confront, to experience her suffering as a reason to act. In order to act at all in a meaningful way requires the subject to see both itself and the other as ontologically firm. It is only that which is firm that is also subject to change and hence available to be struggled against for recognition and justice. However, the problem of the person, the colonized subject, is that, due to the trauma of colonization he is no longerbut also not yet such a subject. What is he then? Here we can turn briefly to Hegels account of the person, also referred to as consciousness in the natural setting or natural consciousness.25 Consciousness in a natural setting is the state of subjectivity prior to the meeting between the two proto-subjects in the master-slave dialectic. The natural consciousness is essentially undifferentiated, it does not have individuality because it does not understand itself as separate from the world. Rather, it believes itself to be the totality of the world. But this megalomania, as we might put it, actually means that it is also nothing, that it lacks ontological firmness. Natural consciousness cannot assert itself against the world and thereby differentiate itself because it is (in its mind) coextensive with the world. It does not suffer (self-consciously) from the world since it does not experience the world as opposing it. It is suffering without being able to articulate why. This trauma is described by Fanon as a division of the self into fantasy and body. The residue or trace of ones previous firmness or subjectivity is now expressed in fantasy, in dreams and in other liminal practices. It is the colonial subject itching for a fight, perhaps without fully realizing it.26 Fantasy, for Fanon, is a state of forced retreat into the passivity of observing mind. Being able to take the means to ones ends, acting, has become a psychological rather than a physical act. Suffering, for the colonial subject, is something that is experienced and worked through in fantasy rather than in reality. Because suffering is unconsciously worked out, it is prohibited from entering consciousness where it could lead to action and hence to political improvement. The memory of the idea of freedom is transferred to the imaginary and ineffective realm. The lived experience of the black man in the colonial context is one of contingency. Fanon argues that this can be seen in the reification of the black body itself into inconsequentiality. Not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man. Some people will
25. This account can be found in Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 16671. 26. This point allows us to recall another central dimension of the colonial trauma: the absence of a fight at the onset of colonialism. It is this missed fight which is repeated in fantasy, one might conjecture, as the future fight for independence and autonomy.
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argue that the situation has a double meaning. Not at all. The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man.27 The black man is purely constructed by the white man. But pure construction just means completely made up, as if out of paper or air, having no mass of its own. This is why it is so easy to both disregard the black man and to set him free. We have seen that the particularity of the colonial context makes it impossible for the black man to enter into conflict with the white man in order to attain recognition from him. This is so because, to repeat, colonialism deprives the black man of his substantiality first historically then psychologically. The impact of colonialism is not just that it deprives the native of his physical power but that this deprivation of physical power means that he comes to see himself as essentially ineffective and hence that he retreats into the world of fantasy, losing the ability to set ends for himself and thus losing an essential part of his subjectivity. This is a different account to what we see in Hegels master-slave dialectic since there the deprivation of physical freedom was precisely the precondition for the development of intellectual freedom which then reflected on the subjects physical freedom as well, setting up the tension which would lead to a just society. Fanons critique is thus that not all bondage leads to the idea of freedom. Fanons contention is that the dialectic can, as in the case of colonialism, be reversed or undone. This is not the place to enter into speculation about what this claim means for Hegels theory as a whole, but we can say that Fanons counter example to Hegels whiggish narrative means that either Hegel is wrong or that Hegel presents an idealized account which requires supplementation and updating. For Fanon, it is the latter, as he makes clear in The Wretched. Part III: The Wretched of the Earth and the Birth of Revolutionary Consciousness The nine years between the publication of Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, saw not only an increase in anti-colonial activity around the globe, but also a philosophical paradigm shift in Fanons thought.28 Whereas Black Skin had lamented the psychological inability of the traumatized black man to enter into the brawl with the white man, The
27. Fanon, Black Skin, 90. 28. Gibson has characterized the intervening years as Fanons search for an ideology with which to replace that of the colonial hegemony. See Nigel Gibson, Beyond Manicheanism: Dialectics in the Thought of Frantz Fanon, Journal of Political Ideologies 4, no. 3 (1999).
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Wretched sees the brawl as not only inevitable but as already in progress. Given Fanons skepticism of the possibility of the black man achieving this conflict in Black Skin, we must ask what has persuaded Fanon that such a conflict is possible after all. In other words, what makes him think that the ideal of equality is somehow available as a starting point for the dialectic of recognition, though it was not before.29 In this part of the paper we move on to the idea of a struggle for recognition in a more straightforwardly Hegelian vein. This is because The Wretched charts the development of a renewed form of self-consciousness in the colonial subject. Here, perhaps propelled by external events, the colonial subject becomes (once again) aware of himself as an agent, ideationally free and hence able to struggle for this freedom. The trauma of colonization is overcome as the sufferer becomes aware of his suffering. This permits the movement from fantasy or thought to practical reason or action and gives back to the black man both the need and the ability to take the means to his ends. These ends are the ends of freedom. But all this is only possible against the background of a (re)constitued self. In the colonial context, this idea translated into the idea that violence is itself constitutive of subjectivity. This has been Fanons most controversial contribution to post-colonial theory. I will argue, however, that in proposing it, Fanon is remaining consistent with the German idealist tradition and that the idea of violence is in no way gratuitous. The core idea in Fanons revision of German idealism, and one that is implicit in Hegels own account of subjectivity, is that human subjectivity originates in violence. This point can help us understand the difference in emphasis placed on the same starting point in both Black Skin and The
29. Bulhan argues that the emphasis on the psychological perspective in Black Skin was due to Fanons optimism about his profession of psychiatry. The Wretched, however, represents an acknowledgement that racism and racial oppression is too stubborn a phenomenon to be tackled psychologically alone hence Fanons new theory of revolutionary violence. Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression (New York: Plenum Press, 1985), 13841. Sekyi-Otu, by contrast, argues that the beginning of the dialectic in The Wretched is quite simply the pure act, a radical deed unanswerable, it would seem, to the austere ordinance of dialectical necessity. [The chapter] Concerning Violence proclaims this utter freedom of the anticolonial revolt from the constraints of legislated ends, the telos of history, by saying that for the colonized this violence represents absolute praxis (98). He locates this in terms of Marxs Theses on Feuerbach. However, for Fanon it is not labor but violence itself which is the school of action. Violence constitutes the Bildung of the colonial subject. Sekyi-Otu reads Fanons texts as dispensing with the necessity of recognition and hence as constituting an anti-text to the dialectical canon. This leaves Fanon free to break with the dialectic as well. See Sekyi-Otu, Fanons Dialectic of Experience.
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Wretched. On the surface, the two accounts appear similar. Both center on the inability of the colonial subject to assert itself against the colonial oppressor. Both see psychic frustration expressed in fantasy rather than in action, and finally both attribute this condition to the colonial subjects inability to be a subject. The Wretched thus starts off with an account of oppression in which the colonizer controls the colonized subject, ghettoizes him, murders him with impunity. The colonist keeps the colonized in a state of rage, which he prevents from boiling over.30 This containment leads the colonized subject to assert his ego in blood feuds, by throwing himself muscle and soul into his blood feuds, the colonized subject endeavors to convince himself that colonialism has never existed, that everything is as it used to be and history marches on.31 In this way, the significance of the colonizers is diminished. There is no real reason to fight [the colonizers] because what really matters is that the mythical structure contains far more terrifying adversaries.32 Thus the initial description of the colonial subject in The Wretched appears very much to bear the mark of the double consciousness of trauma explored in Black Skin. However, in The Wretched, Fanon soon turns away from this psychology of the oppressed and begins to explore the dialectics of oppression itself. By doing so, Fanon shifts between the internal perspective of the trauma lived by the colonial subject to the external view of relation between the colonized subject and the colonizer. This shift in focus is significant because it carries with it the possibility of a quasi-objective or intersubjective assessment of the colonized subjects predicament. I would like to characterize this shift in perspective as the shift from the internal perspective of trauma to the external perspective of a critique of ideology. I thus propose that trauma is the psychic analogue to the political or intersubjective condition of ideology. What is new, then, in The Wretched, is that the idea of life itself appears as a value, forming the outside boundary to ideology and is hence in a position to reveal the black mans suffering to him. Much can be tolerated and seen as part of life itself, but not everything. This criterion thus presents us with a first value through which intersubjective relations can be evaluated. Life is a concrete value and hence can provide a way of connecting the colonial subject to the oppressor. The concept life does this by being both the
30. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Richard Philcox (trans.) (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 17. 31. Fanon, The Wretched, 17. 32. Fanon, The Wretched, 19.
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most concrete and the most abstract. Seen concretely, it is conceived as just getting by, survival, but seen abstractly it is at the same time the right to get by the universal demand which makes sense even to the abject subject. This is what is captured in the dialectical revision of the Fichtean I am I, which Hegel has linked to natural consciousness. The I am I now functions as a type of self-authorization in which the I begins to gain some sort of distance from itself. The I sees itself as something, as living and being entitled to live. This double nature of life as concrete demand and abstract universal reinstates the dialectical tension between is and ought and sets history in motion. It is only with the emergence from the trauma of colonization that the subject grasps its condition. The concept of bare life is what the many iterations of repetition compulsion have hit upon in order to mediate its condition of unconscious suffering. Fanon puts the point thus: the colonized subject discovers that his life, his breathing and his heartbeat are the same as the colonists. He discovers that the skin of a colonist is not worth more than the natives. In other words, his world receives a fundamental jolt.33 This jolt is what begins the struggle for recognition. The colonial subject discovers it has a self, that the I am I is not a tautology, but a demand for equality.34 Taking up the parallel between Fanons account and Hegels account of the master-slave dialectic again, we can see that the intuition that the self and other are the same is actually the beginning of self-consciousness and with it, of intersubjectivity. For Hegel, as for Fanon, the struggle for recognition begins with a struggle to regain authority over oneself. Both are roused from their undifferentiatedness by encountering a subject which is the same as they are but which, paradoxically, is incompatible with them. The encounter requires action, a struggle through which each subject tries to achieve identity with its ideal. And this struggle, for both Fanon and Hegel, will provide the necessary idea of freedom which the subsequent development of history is based on. From the perspective of practical reason, we can see that the encounter with the other as an other fuses body and mind which were previously divided by trauma and reidentification with himself through an ideology. Here, then, the emerging self-consciousness manifests itself as an identification with the colonizer in the sense that the colonized subject sees his body as under his own control just as the colonizers body is under the colonizers control. Sameness of body means sameness of agency. The colonized subject thus assumes the possibility of agency previously reserved
33. Fanon, The Wretched, 10. 34. We might, paraphrasing Hegels Doppelsatz (the actual must become rational), put this as the I must become the I, must self-authorize itself by developing a reflective relation to itself.
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for the colonizer. If, in fact, my life is worth as much as the colonists, his look can no longer strike fear into me.35 The colonized subject now posits his agency as unencumbered by ideology. The connection of the value of life with agency is of great importance here since the act of valuing oneself motivates one to act. Life in its double sense concrete demand and normative orientation unifies the agent because it requires the agent to take the means to the end of overcoming this tension: to make concrete life conform to the ideal of life. By regaining control over his body, the colonized subject becomes aware of his own position in colonized society. Endorsing his values as values produces a self-conscious relation within the subject. The black man understands the Manichean world he faces, the logic of separation which keeps him down thus starts to overcome it. He takes his surroundings as his surroundings, and hence feels authorized to alter them.36 The black man sees the colonial world as both containing his values and falling short of his values. This means that he is in his world, able to differentiate conditions within it and hence no longer merely be confronted by it from the outside, as it were, peering in. We have moved from abstract knowledge to a practical comportment within the colonial world. Possible action, as I have noted, requires a dialectical tension between the actual and the possible. This tension has now been reinstated with the subjects awakening to the fact of colonization. Trauma, the inability to experience suffering, has given way to the very real feeling of rage and the consciousness of suffering. The colonial subject demands to be recognized as a subject, as ontologically firm. He makes himself ontologically firm by authorizing his own values, by insisting on his life over the life of the other. The first way that this demand for recognition occurs is through the positing of a universal demand: The minimum demand is that the last become the first.37 I take it that this minimum demand is the demand that the humanity of each be shown equal regard, that the bare life of the last
35. Fanon, The Wretched, 10. 36. Terry Pinkard has characterized the transition from natural consciousness to self-consciousness as the move from the awareness of oneself in social space to the ability to take things in social space as this or that (particular) thing, hence as having the ability to manipulate things in social space. This transition moves the subject from a passive experience of the world to an active one. The point about manicheanism, then, might be understood as the problem of the passive attitude of the colonized subject. Passivity means the inability to act, hence to differentiate structures in the world. The colonized subject is confronted with the colonial world as a fait accomplis which he can accept or reject, as if rejection were an option. Terry Pinkard, Hegels Phenomenology: the Sociality of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 47. 37. Fanon, The Wretched, 10.
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colonial subject be accorded as much value as the privileged existence of the first, the colonial governor. This Kantian or New Testament claim expresses the double nature of value as both concrete demand and universal ideal. The idealized demand of the colonial subject expresses the desire to rise above the particulars of praxis and to constitute itself as a species, or as a nation. Decolonization, Fanon writes is quite simply the substitution of one species of mankind by another, revising the lament of Black Skin, that the failure of the struggle between black man and white man yield only a change in the way of life, while decolonization will yield a change in the form of life.38 In terms of the Hegelian narrative, we can see the progression as follows: self-consciousness has arisen here, in the sense that the colonized subject has posited itself as a unity that has the authority to take the means to its ends. In order to do this, the self-consciousness understands itself as excluding the other. But, in excluding the other, the self-consciousness also constitutes the other as an other, thus setting the stage for the actual confrontation between the two subjects who will become master and slave. The double nature of values, described here from the philosophical perspective, is experienced by the (last) colonial subject as the concrete and unmediated demand of survival. This means that challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal, but the impassioned claim by the colonized that their world is fundamentally different.39 The colonial subject is not talking about universal values, the colonial subject embodies them. They are not mediated and will necessarily lead to conflict with those who oppose them. The colonial subject says I am while the colonizer says you are not, I am. The resolution of this conflict, it is important to see, will come either in the destruction of the one by the other or in the creation of a normative value which binds both colonial subject and colonizer. We are now in a position to turn to Fanons understanding of selfconstitution through violence. Our analysis of Fanon in terms of the question of practical reason should help us to avoid some of the pitfalls that have plagued other interpretations of Fanons position.40
38. Fanon, The Wretched, 1. Black Skin, 195. 39. Fanon, The Wretched, 6. Gibson notes that Fanons understanding of the hegemonic ideological force of colonialism changes between Black Skin and The Wretched. Whereas in Black Skin the colonial subject is still the product of the colonial situation, in Black Skin the colonial situation is characterized by unrelenting violence. In Algeria, for instance, colonialism has become openly violent and hence no longer needs (hidden) ideology to back it up. Nigel Gibson, Fanon: the Postcolonial Imagination (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003), 106107. 40. For a brief history of the reception of Fanons theory of violence see Macey, Frantz Fanon: a Biography, 1825.
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The first thing to note is that, for Fanon, violence is not a matter of choice. In the colonial context, agency manifests itself as violence because in the colonial context, the colonized subjects life is so restricted that all agency just appears as violence. This runs parallel to Hegels assertion that, in the confrontation between the two subjects conscious only of their own unity, the only option is violence because there is no commonality upon which to build. It is, interestingly from a dialectical point of view, the simplicity, the undifferentiated and unreflected nature of the demand for universal justice or recognition that produces the clash. The conflict in both Fanon and Hegel is violent by dialectical necessity rather than by choice.41 Fanons critique of colonialism and racism is a critique of the French states hollow assertion of universal freedom.42 Violence constitutes the self-consciousness of the colonized subject because it is the assertion of the colonial subjects will and body together against the colonizer. It is the assertion of bare life and of freedom the demand to be a selfconscious subject. But this demand can only be made real, and hence constitute the subject, if there is real opposition to it. This is the sense in which the demand for universality of recognition is experienced as threatening or negating by the other subject. Significantly, Fanon describes the occasion for the constitution of this new subject as a kind of madness. It is the madness of last resort: The colonized peoples, the slaves of modern times, have run out of patience. They know that such madness alone can deliver them from colonial oppression.43 This madness, I think, bears close resemblance to what Hegel says in the master-slave dialectic about the willingness to risk it all in the struggle for domination. For here too, each self-consciousness is prepared to risk life itself for the idea it has of its own existence. The zero point here, running out of patience, literally means that death is worth risking in order to put an end to oppression. The colonized subjects are
41. Arendt misses Fanons Hegelian heritage when she claims that Fanon celebrates revolutionary violence. Hannah Arendt, On Violence (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1970), 7172. Here we again see the difference between the anthropological and the critical reading. While Arendts anthropological reading takes Fanon to be calling for real violence between individuals for the sake of political ends, Fanon, in my critical reading, is here simply pointing to the reality of free action under colonial rule. Any effort to oppose colonial rule is automatically seen as violence simply by the fact that it opposes injustice. At this level of oppression, Fanon insists, no mediation is possible. 42. On this point see also Butler who argues that Fanon envisioned an openness to a universal bodily schema rather than violence as the hope for overcoming colonialism. This point contrasts with the view Sartre expressed in the preface to The Wretched of the Earth. Judith Butler, Violence, Non-Violence: Sartre on Fanon, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 27, no. 1 (2006). 43. Fanon, The Wretched, 34.
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willing to die for their ideals and this constitutes them as universal reflective subjects capable of carrying on the concrete political struggle for decolonization. Dialectically speaking, the madness of self-abandon which drives them to risk it all constitutes them as sane and rational. As I mentioned at the outset, there is no space within the confines of this paper to chart Fanons discussion of the development of the struggle for recognition in context of decolonization. It is worth pointing out, however, that Fanon is truly neo-Hegelian in the sense that he refuses the simple replacement of the colonial government by the government of the colonized. He is keenly aware of the ideological debt that the native intellectual owes to the colonizing power.44 The resolution of this problem, Fanon argues, has not yet occurred though it has taken on a direction. Conclusion In the introduction I suggested that Fanon was trying to force the state authorities to make good on what they purported to believe anyway, namely that humans are born free, equal and in brotherhood. It should now be clear, however, that these ideals are not at all self-evident but require realization through institutions which may fail, and clearly have failed at least in part, over the last two hundred years. Fanons insistence on the ideals of freedom has revealed that the meaning of these ideals is a work in progress. Fanon thus insists that the ideals of freedom are themselves reflective ideals, ideals which require both universal and concrete realization rather than lip service. The critical ideal of freedom, one which, I have argued, Kant and Hegel also hold, is reflective in the sense that its instantiation requires constant acknowledgement and attention to those institutions which purport to realize them. This means that we must constantly measure the state of the ideals relative realization in the political national state, for instance, against the ideals of freedom which gave rise to this instantiation. Fanons critique of colonialism and racism is just such a critique of the French states hollow assertion of universal freedom. The point I would like to finish with is that for Hegel as for Fanon, it is the inequality of the initial starting point, be it in colonialism or in the contingency of which of the two original Gestalts decides not to fight to the death, that provides the force for the demand for equality and universality which drives history. This point goes hand in hand with what I take to be
44. Fanons treatment of the intellectual in the pages of The Wretched provides a fuller account of the revolutionary vanguard than we get in Marx, and this is a welcome theoretical advance.
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Hegel and Fanons materialism: the idea that material conditions are necessarily arbitrary and that it is the work of subjectivity to renegotiate material conditions as reflecting our fundamentally equal status as subject. But, as I have said, this is an achievement and not a starting point. The fact of inequality, for both Hegel and Fanon, generates a normative demand for equality. But this demand, we can now see, is not independent of the fact of initial inequality but rather a consequence of it. This is what separates Fanon and Hegel from contemporary recognition theory which presupposes equality and hence must lack the critical dialectical force of the drive for justice.
Stefan Bird-Pollans research centers on bringing the insights of German idealism to bear on debates in contemporary meta-ethics and political theory. He has published papers on Hegel, Rawls and Korsgaard. He is currently writing a book working out Fanons twin commitments to Freudian Psychoanalysis and Hegelian idealism for Fanons psychopathology of colonialism and racism and his revolutionary theory of decolonization. He teaches philosophy at the University of Kentucky.

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