Authority : Avital Ronell

The analysis of divine authority in effect is an analysis of human authority: without being aware of it, man projects on God that which he discovers—more or less unconsciously—in himself to a degree such that one can study him by studying ‘his’ God.”11 Kojève shrinks the infinite projection to what we might call a “microspective” size, inverting the “mythic” relationship: God accommodates the microscopic gaze as man inflates.

The ontological proof of God’s existence, Kojève further contends, rests on the metaphysical placement of divine authority as the authority of the Father, who is seen as cause.12 Every variant of human authority is rooted in the authority of the Father, which feeds the tendency to locate paternal authority in power and political authority. Moreover, God the Father is cast as author of a work (oeuvre), who exerts authority over the Oeuvre.13 What interests Kojève about this God-the-Father constitution, besides the status of formal cause underlying what has been created ex nihilo, is that man has consciously and voluntarily renounced any and all “reactions” against divine authority.

No one goes up against God, not for long, in any case, and not for good—if the graffiti in public bathrooms are an indication (“Nietzsche is dead. –God”). Any thoughts of formulating a reaction to divine acts are given up as vain illusions. This puzzle and its political implications fascinate Kojève. What accounts for the unconditional surrender of human reactivity? How does the “recognition” of divine authority embed itself and brake human drivenness? Authority, which once again, is not the same as power or force, prepares the act, if it is an act, of extreme renunciation.

Recognition of authority means giving up any and all reactions to it and consists in renouncing resistance. This is far from the Hegelian sense of recognition that involved in his analysis and Kojève’s commentary the famous fight or flight reflexes in the arena of death’s prestige. Kojève, for his part, in the context of nailing authority, goes on to say that God is always the God of our ancestors (“Dieu d’Abraham, d’Isaac et de Jacob”), which accounts for the sacred character of “tradition” and its binding tendencies.14 Tradition as such exercises authority: “one renounces voluntarily and consciously ‘reacting’ against tradition to the extent that such a ‘reaction’ would be a reaction against oneself, a kind of suicide.”15 Coming from a philosopher, this is quite a statement.

Philosophy is “traditionally” one of the more parricidal entries in the cultural history of behaviors, among the most tradition-eating practices that typically takes on its own tradition in order to demolish it. We cannot get into the possibility of a death drive installed in the very workings of the philosophical order, though one would be right to suppose that a suicidal impulse accompanies these tracks. At the level of the conscious and political mapping toward which Kojève is turned, tradition needs to be upheld to a certain determinable degree at least.

If I had more energy, I would want to investigate what makes it necessary for Kojève, according to the precepts of his argument, to hold tradition in place, while everything around it, including divine myth, crumbles. The decision on his part to offer a retention package to tradition, in order to maintain its stature, may be related to the fact that he is inching toward the sections that provide some reflections on disruptions in the sense of history and, also implicitly, in history as conveying the possibility and designated tradition of sense. Clearly panicked at the massive tear in tradition, he has his eye on Hitler’s advent—the relentless marker of brute force propped on fake and trumped up tradition; Hitler delivered a blow to and rupture with authority, breaking identification with any recognizable figure of authoritative imposition and deliberately pushing aside the paternal base.

11. Alexandre Kojève, La Notion de L’Autorité, 54.

12. Alexandre Kojève, La Notion de L’Autorité, 85.

13. Alexandre Kojève, La Notion de L’Autorité, 88.

14. Alexandre Kojève, La Notion de L’Autorité, 86.

15. Alexandre Kojève, La Notion de L’Autorité, 87.

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