Hegel and colonialism


Online workshop, 26 de novembro, 2021

The period in which Hegel lived witnessed important events in colonial history, such as the colonization of Australia, the Haitian revolution, and the South-American wars for independence, as well as public controversies about colonialism and slavery. Hegel was well aware of Europe’s colonial past and present and of debates about colonialism (including critics like Raynal and Herder). Moreover, many central topics in Hegel’s work bear on colonialism, including freedom, property, recognition, the master-slave-relation, history and progress. Colonization is a topic in both §248 and §351 of Hegel’s 1821 Philosophy of Right, and the transcripts of Hegel’s lectures on the Philosophy of History contain several discussions of colonial conquest, rule and decolonization in the Americas, as well as of colonialism in India.

This workshop addresses some of the questions that Hegel’s discussion of colonialism raises: Does he lend philosophical support to colonial projects, and if so, how? Or is his attitude towards colonialism better described as neutral or critical? How does Hegel understand the economy of colonialism or imperialism, and to what extent does he anticipate later accounts thereof? Does Hegel provide theoretical tools that can still be of use in discussing (post)colonial phenomena, or is Hegelian thought more part of the problem than of the solution?


Programação (Horário de Brasília)

06h30 Abertura
06h45 Daniel James (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf) & Franz Knappik (Universitetet i Bergen): Hegel on the ‘absolute right’ to colonialize
In what is probably his best-known discussion of colonialism – section 248 of the Philosophy of Right – Hegel presents colonization as a solution to the problem of poverty in civil society. This passage gives rise to the question as to why Hegel seems so nonchalant about colonization (and the evils that accompany it). Some commentators have suggested that Hegel’s discussion is merely descriptive, not normative (and certainly not affirmative). Against this reading, we will argue that Hegel’s nonchalant remarks express an overall positive stance towards colonialism, which includes the claim of normative grounds for colonization. These grounds can be found in what he calls “the absolute right of the Idea to step into existence in legal determinations and objective institutions” (PR § 351). This right is “absolute” for Hegel insofar it applies independently of whether “the actualisation of the Idea appears in the form of divine legislation and favour, or in the form of force and wrong” (ibid.). We thus take Hegel’s statement of this right to suggest that colonization is justified to the extent that it facilitates the emergence of more modern institutions and, ultimately, of rational states in the colonized territories and thus contributes to the realization of ‘reason in history’ – even if its actualisation appears “in the form of force and wrong”.  

07h15 Christopher Yeomans (Purdue University): Hegel on the banality of colonialism
For us, European colonialism stands out as one of if not the singular world phenomena of the last 500 years.  Perhaps only the rise of capitalism, or of 20th-century totalitarianism, competes with colonialism as a causal picture of modern world history.  In contrast, Hegel thinks of European colonialism as being normatively continuous with two different phenomena that he thinks are everywhere in world history: the violent founding of states and the conquest of some states by others.  Thus, on the one hand, Hegel’s view is weaker than the advocacy of or apology for European colonialism that is often attributed to him but on the other hand stronger.  It is weaker in the sense that Hegel’s guiding thought is that whether something is actually a nation is primarily determined by whether it can organize itself sufficiently to stand on its own in international competition, military and otherwise.  On the other hand, Hegel’s view is stronger than an apology for colonialism because it generalizes to far smaller differences in institutions and laws than simply the presence or absence of the principle of the nation-state.

07h45 Debate
08:00 Pausa
10h00 Angelo Narváez León (Universidad Católica Silva Henriquez, Santiago de Chile): Religion and politics in the Hegelian philosophy of late colonialism

In The Origin of Capitalism, Ellen Meiksin Woods argued that the main difference between the Spanish and Portuguese empires, and the English empire, was that, despite their geographical extension, the Iberian crowns never managed to transform wealth hoarding into capitalist accumulation. This more or less Marxist approach to the problem of the historical trajectories of mercantilism and capitalism in a scenario of complex coexistence and dispute between the 16th and 19th centuries, allows us to elaborate a fundamental question in the context of the Hegelian philosophy of history: Isn’t this difference one of the foundations of the distinction between what we might call, on the one hand, the late colonial experience and, on the other, the proto-imperialist experience of Victorian modernity?
Always keeping in mind the possibility of a broad (and unrestricted) perspective of the Hegelian philosophy of history and law that allows us to read it further and despite its literality, an interesting aspect of this distinction is how colonial expansion appears in Hegel’s philosophy determined by both coexisting dimensions at a turning point of the world-economy trajectory.  
This approach also allows us to (re)read two important questions within the Hegelian framework: how the religious determination of individual and social experience reappears in this context of capitalistic inflection; did politics and the state change -at one point or another- during the colonial expansion? In Hegelian logical terms, our interest here does not lie in the beginning of the distinction (as in Weber or Troeltsch), but in the way in which this difference manages to express the concrete relationships that economics, politics and religion acquired in the context of an already global transformation.

10h30 John-Baptiste Oduor (Essex University): Hegel’s Theory of Imperialism and its Limits
Imperialism, or the expansion of a country’s political and military jurisdiction beyond its own borders, has undoubtedly been central to the economic development of the capitalist states of the global North. Marxist economists and sociologists have long argued that capitalism’s need for new opportunities for investment necessitates its expansion from developed nations in the core to less developed states in the global periphery. In making these arguments Marxists theorists from Rosa Luxemburg to Samir Amin have sought to provide an explanation, not adequately theorized in Marx’s own writings, of capitalism’s ability to extend its own life. Perhaps surprisingly, Hegel, in two dense paragraphs in the Outlines of the Philosophy of Right, develops a theory of imperialism that argues that the compulsion for firms to expand into foreign markets is caused by an economic crisis of overproduction. Although Hegel’s theory is underdeveloped, it nevertheless provides an outline of the causes of economic stagnation which overlap with those found within contemporary economic theories proposed by theorists such as Robert Brenner. This paper uses the analytic tools of the twentieth-century Marxist tradition to reconstruct Hegel’s theory of imperialism. Drawing on Hirschman’s classic paper ‘On Hegel, imperialism, and structural stagnation’ I will show that the German idealist developed a plausible theory of the causes of economic stagnation and incentives for imperialism. Having reconstructed Hegel’s theory of overproduction as caused by imperialism, I will show that one of the chief limitations of this theory is that it does not provide an adequate explanation of underdevelopment in the periphery. Instead, Hegel takes for granted the economic inequality that makes countries in the colonized world appear to colonizing countries as markets for labour and goods. Following the work of Brenner, I will argue instead that internal dynamics within states on the periphery must also be taken into consideration to provide a plausible theory of imperialism.

11h Debate
12h15 Coffee break

12h45 Filipe Campello (Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife): Where does the Absolute speak from? Shifts between politics and history in Hegel
In this talk, I discuss the connection between philosophy, history and colonialism in Hegel. Attention to the reciprocal relationship between history and philosophy within his project allows to put Hegel against himself, suggesting that the critical potential of his philosophy ends up being compromised by substantialist perspective of history derived from an excluding notion of rationality. At the same time, I argue that Hegel’s philosophy also allows us to situate critique in the tracks of our available vocabulary – a genealogy of semantic and political disputes at the same time; a type of dynamism which normatively comprises the historical construction of our social practices, rescuing the political potential from an essentialist notion of history.

13h15 Nikita Dhawan (Technische Universität Dresden): Can non-Europeans philosophize? German orientalism, Hegel’s capricious chauvinism and postcolonial antinomies
In the Western philosophical tradition, self-contradictions disqualify a theory or thinker. This hostility to discrepancies presumes “reality“ must be consistent. In my talk, I will address three peculiar antinomies that haunt Anti-/Post-Colonial and Hegel studies. I will begin by addressing POSTCOLONIAL STUDIES’ “Indology antinomy“, namely, the claim by Edward Said that there is no direct relation between German Orientalism and Empire. In the second section, I will outline HEGEL STUDIES’ “India antinomy“, namely, Hegel’s fascination with and dismissal of Indian philosophy. Finally, I turn to RADICAL ANTI-COLONIAL THOUGHT’s “Hegel antinomy“, wherein thinkers like Frantz Fanon criticize Hegel’s racism and chauvinism, even as they attempt to “use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house“.

13h45 Debate
15h Fechamento


O evento ocorrerá em inglês e será totalmente online. Para participar como ouvinte, envie por favor um e-mail para hegelantikolonial@gmail.com com "Registration Hegel and Colonialism” no cabeçalho. O link de acesso será enviado pouco antes do início.

Link: https://hegelantikolonial.wordpress.com/hegel-and-colonialism/