Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Philosophie

Hegel (anti)kolonial

Everyone interested is welcome to join us for two forthcoming hybrid events in the series "Hegel (anti)kolonial". Both events take place at HU Berlin, main building, Unter den Linden 6, room 2070A, and are streamed via Zoom. 
For more information, incl. abstracts and Zoom registration, please visit

When historians of philosophy turn to study the history of racism as it intersects with their discipline, they tend to focus on biological racism in spite of the fact that the strictly biological idea of race – where race is understood as divorced from culture – is largely a recent development. From the last quarter of the eighteenth century, racism more broadly understood was spread largely through the philosophy of history. Indeed, if one looks at contemporary racial ideologies they very often renounce biological racism and present their ideas in the form of philosophical histories. This means that the dominant tendency that has persisted since the end of the Second World War to attack racism by insisting that there is no basis in biological science for the existence of races as normally conceived misses its mark. This lecture seeks to reorient and reframe the philosophical discussion of racism by re-examining the contributions of such figures as Voltaire and Kames, through Hegel and Gobineau, to Spengler and Yockey.

#5 WORKSHOP: HEGEL, SLAVERY AND ABOLITION. Tuesday, August 30th, 10.30-18.30 CEST
This workshop addresses Hegel's philosophical stance on slavery, especially in the context of colonialism. While Hegel's famous dialectic of lordship and bondage in the Phenomenology of Spirit has often been read as emancipatory critique of oppressive relations such as slavery, and his theory of freedom praises the notion that all human beings are entitled to freedom as an insight that is pivotal to modernity, there are various places in Hegel's oeuvre where he takes a deeply ambivalent position when it comes to slavery. Thus, in lectures from his Berlin period, he revisits the dialectic of lordship and bondage in order to present colonial slavery as a necessary precondition for liberation that serves to educate and discipline enslaved people, and he claims that transatlantic chattle slavery marks a progress vis-à-vis the cruelties that characterize, in his account, traditional forms of life in Africa. And in a long remark following section 57 in his Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Hegel constructs the contemporary debate on slavery as an "antinomy" in which both sides grasp a partial truth: those who reject slavery are right insofar as slavery is ultimately unjust; yet at the same time, those who defend slavery are right insofar as humans are initially "natural beings" that have to go through a process of education in order to become free—a process in which slavery has a legitimate place. This ambivalent assessment of slavery is matched by remarks that Hegel makes in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History about abolition, one of the biggest moral and political issues in his lifetime: Hegel favours gradual abolition, rejecting demands for an immediate abolition of slavery on the grounds that enslaved people have to be sufficiently educated before they are capable of a life in freedom.

How can we exactly understand Hegel's pronouncements on slavery, and what are their underlying philosophical motivations? How do they connect to other parts of his system, such as his views on property and personality, and his theories of race and of history? How can we understand Hegel's place in 19th century debates on slavery and abolition, and how do these issues relate to more recent philosophical engagements with Hegel? These are some of the questions that we are going to discuss at our workshop.

10.30 Daniel James (Heinrich-Heine-University Duesseldorf), Franz Knappik (University of Bergen): Welcome and Introduction: Hegel on Slavery - Texts and Contexts
11 Robert Bernasconi (Pennsylvania State University): Hegel and the Alleged Necessity of African Slavery

11.30 David James (University of Warwick): Does Hegel's Theory of the Relationship Between Personality and Property Justify Colonial Oppression?

12 Discussion

13.15 Lunch break

14.30 Lydia Moland (Colby College): The Failed European: Images, Narrative, and Racist Hierarchy in Hegel's Philosophy of History

15 Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (University of Warwick): Hegel and Heyrick

15.30 Discussion

16.45 Coffee break

17.15 Josias Tembo (Radboud University): Hegel's African Subject and the Lord-Bondsman Dialectic: Thoughts on Fanon's and Mbembe's Renditions

17.45 Discussion

18.30 End

Both events are organized by Daniel James and Franz Knappik, with the support of Tobias Rosefeldt (HU Berlin) and funding by Thyssen Foundation.