The Dialectics and Aesthetics of Freedom:
Hegel, Slavery and
19th Century African American Music

by Greg Harrison

1. Lordship and Bondage

Of all men’s fears, I think that men are most afraid of being what they are – in direct communication with the world at large. They fear reprisals, the most personal of which is that they won’t be understood…Yet every time God’s children have thrown away fear in the pursuit of honesty – trying to communicate themselves, understood or not – miracles have happened.

- Duke Ellington

The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed upon us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.

- Michel Foucault


Hegel believed that the true course of history existed beyond and beneath the consciousness and actions of individuals and nations. The study and stuff of history only revealed the manifest surface (Schein), the latent depth (Wesen) remained concealed. It was these latent processes, however, that would lead civilisation to such variously described states as Absolute spirit, Universality, Freedom, Reason and True Self-Consciousness. These were all terms used by Hegel to represent a state of immanence which would be attained through the workings of a historical dialectic. History itself was perceived as a process in which consciousness could attain this state of immanence through the dialectical development of self-consciousness and independence.

‘Immanence’ which denotes a condition of indwelling or inherentness within the universe was the ultimate resolution of the historical process in which there would occur a unification of fixed oppositions such as that of spirit and matter, soul and body, faith and knowledge, reason and sensibility, and subjectivity and objectivity. Hegel believed that: "To remove such fixed oppositions is the sole interest of reason" and, in his 1801 essay on Fichte and Schelling, claimed that the division of the original unity of consciousness was the source of the need for all philosophy. [1] In fact, for Hegel’s early work, the most fundamental opposition was that which existed between Schein and Wesen and his ambition was nothing less than to bring about a unification of these by uncovering the latent depth of the historical process and revealing the dynamic of history. It was an exegetic task, and in The Phenomenology of Mind Hegel undertook it with missionary zeal.

For Hegel, the state of immanence was attained by means of a dialectical and historical progression leading to Absolute Spirit, which manifested itself in Art, Religion and Philosophy and arose from common spirit (Volksgeist) in plurality. Greek philosophy provided Hegel with the fundamental forms and principles of classical logic, and many of the elements of dialectical reasoning appear in the work of Heraclitus, in Socratic method and most notably in Plato’s Parmenides. From a young age, Hegel had been much impressed with the vision of an idealised Hellas, a culture that, as Grey points out, placed man, not God, in the centre of the natural universe and conceived his worth to lie not in dependence upon a transcendent deity, but in the degree of independence and self-sufficiency. [2] Hegel carried many of these beliefs into his philosophy. Greek tragedy furnished Hegel with the conception of Schicksal, fate or destiny, and his dialectic has been interpreted as an identification of this concept of Fate with logic. Young equates Hegel’s weltanschauung with the tragic spirit and dominant theme of fate in Greek tragedy which is particularly evident in the work of Aeschylus and Sophocles.

Accordingly, the dialectical method itself is based upon a principle of negativity which an analysis of Schicksal shows to be similarly inherent within the concept of fate. Fate unites in itself the elements of necessity and negativity, the very elements which are the essential characteristics of Hegel’s dialectical logic. Furthermore, fate implies movement toward a predetermined end which is brought about through inevitable transition. Whilst it may wander in this ineluctable movement, in Hegelian dialectics, as in the ancient tragedies, it nevertheless must inevitably reach its finality. 

World History

The influence of Fate is perhaps most evident in Hegel’s notion of world history. Although it is a view that, from a contemporary standpoint, encompasses aspects of theology and teleology as much as it does historical philosophy, it has nonetheless had a profound impact upon Western historical thought:

World history is the expression of the divine and absolute process of the spirit in its highest forms, of the progression whereby it discovers its true nature and becomes conscious of itself. [3]

According to Hegel, throughout the course of history, world spirit manifests itself into national spirits which: ". . . in their necessary progression are themselves only moments of the one universal spirit, which ascends through them in the course of history to its consummation in an all-embracing totality." [4] Hegel believed then that the passage of world spirit was identifiable within the perceivable world and conceived of the Absolute as an attainable end to the historical process. Particularly in the Phenomenology of Mind and later in his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, he explored these themes within the philosophical context of the dialectic. It was a conception of world history that held freedom as the ultimate guiding principle and the unified resolution. "The spirit is free; and the aim of the world spirit in history is to realise its essence and to obtain the prerogative of freedom". [5] The underlying course and meaning of history for Hegel was, therefore, the actualisation of this principle of freedom. He believed that the operations of this process were exhibitable through dialectical reason and, in The Phenomenology of Mind, postulated the dialectical allegory of the master and the slave as a manifestation of the world spirit at work within a social and historical setting.

Before returning to the master-slave dialectic, however, some concepts central to Hegelian thought should be outlined here in order to understand further the dialectical process itself. Firstly, as has been mentioned, the concept of the dialectic has as its central motivating force the concept of negativity which is sharpened within the dialectic to the point of contradiction. Although common conceptions of the dialectic often include the form of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, these terms were never actually employed by Hegel but rather come from the work of Fichte and Schelling. As Young points out, Hegel does not define dialectic in terms of the triadic movement from thesis through antithesis to synthesis. Rather, as he points out: 

Dialectic. . . is characterised as negative reason, the function of which is to dissolve the fixed concepts of the understanding…By Contradiction, Hegel intends not simply a logical relation between incompatible propositions, but a relationship of conflict between things in the world. He does not mean that a formal logical relation is the moving principle of the world but that all finite things in nature and in history exhibit conflicting tendencies in themselves, by which they are driven on to the realisation of a more complete and concrete situation. [6]

Secondly, Hegel draws a distinction between the internal and external forms of the dialectic. In Hegel’s view, the concept that the dialectic of objective things must be internal to them since they can only grow and perish in virtue of contradictions actually present within them is pure sophistry. Alternatively, he conceived the true dialectic as internal to concepts or categories and as radically developing the flaws that they contain, causing them to ‘pass over’ (ubergehen) into another concept or category.  

Therefore particularly in Hegel’s early philosophy, it often appears as if it is the concepts themselves and not the thinker that conduct this operation and that they change and break down autonomously. Both Schelling and later Kirkegaard would criticise Hegel for this apparent ‘movement of concepts’. Nevertheless, though Hegel may have meant that the thinker follows the movement of concepts exposing their contradictions and proposing solutions, as Inwood points out, he also proposed that: 

. . . there is a parallel between the development of thoughts or concepts and the development of things that implies that dialectic is internal to both. In this sense, dialectic is not a method, in the sense of a procedure that the thinker applies to their subject matter, but the intrinsic structure and development of the subject-matter itself. [7]

In his Notes on Dialectics, C.L.R. James correctly insisted therefore that the key to the Hegelian dialectic lies in Hegel’s insight that: "thought is not an instrument you apply to a content. The content develops, changes, and creates new categories of thought, and gives them direction. . . . One of the chief errors of thought is to continue to think in one set of forms, categories, ideas, etc., when the object, the content, has moved on, has created or laid the premises for an extension, a development of thought." [8]

Dialectic then accounts for all movement and change, both in the world and in our thought about it. Not merely in the transience of finite things but in the elevation above the finite (Erhebung) which is effected by dialectical thought. Thus, given Hegel’s Lutheran background and beliefs, it is hardly surprising that the dialectical system should have assumed a religious significance within his philosophy. Although he has been frequently attacked for the assimilation of dialectical movement to the Power (Macht) of God, even stripped of its theological connotations, Hegel’s conception remains a powerful methodology for both philosophical and historical analysis because it presents us with a model of perpetual transition propelled by contradiction.  

The process by which contradiction brings about the realisation of a more complete situation is referred to by Hegel as ‘sublation’ (Aufheben). The German verb ‘aufheben’ contains within itself an ambiguity of which Hegel takes full advantage. It can mean either to keep or to preserve, to abolish or cancel out, and to raise or lift up. [9] The function of sublation is therefore threefold and Hegel uses all three concepts of the term within the dialectic. The tensions produced between the two conflicting states creates a dialogue or dialectic that sublates the initial terms while simultaneously preserving them within the higher state. The relationship between culture and language could serve as a good example of this process. The two are in a perpetual state of reciprocity which become manifest within world view (weltanschauung). Neither term is abolished within the notion of world view but are constantly transforming themselves and each other in their relationship with the third term.[10] Consequently, this concept of perpetual transformation and reciprocal transition is also central to the historical dialectic. 

If we seek to understand history and to comprehend it by means of philosophy, the most important and distinctive feature of the whole undertaking-indeed its very essence-is that we should discover and recognise this idea of transition. [11]

Hegel’s concept of transition is similarly linked with the notion of Fate and that of World Spirit. For Hegel, the world spirit is universal and the transition which takes place through national spirit leads toward the absorption of that spirit or principle into another or higher principle. Hegel illustrates this point by comparing the transition of nation to that of the individual: 

The individual goes through various stages of development as a single unit and retains his individual identity; so too does the nation, at least up to the point at which its spirit enters its universal phase...The determinate national spirit is but a single individual in the course of world history. The life of the nation brings a fruit to maturity, for its activity is directed to the fulfilment of this principle....the nation itself is not permitted to enjoy it, but must taste it instead in the form of a bitter draught. [12]

National Spirit

This last comment also introduces a particularly engaging aspect of Hegel’s concept of national history. Once the nation has completed its function, its influence is negated and the spirit passes over to another nation. Each nation must therefore perform its task in the actualisation of the principle of freedom but essentially perishes as this principle is realised. It is an historical concept that bears a striking resemblance to the Exodus story and the figure of Moses who, having led the Jews through the desert, passes away within sight of the promised land. It is hardly surprising then that Hegel employs the argument in Lectures on the Philosophy of World History to explain why slavery cannot be abolished immediately but should be phased out slowly – in his mind, world history is still wandering the desert. Thus in regard to the actual institution of slavery and more particularly the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Hegel could later claim that: 

Slavery is unjust in and for itself, for the essence of man is freedom; but he first must become mature before he can be free. Thus it is more fitting and correct that slavery should be eliminated gradually than that it should be done away with at once. [13]

The contradictions inherent within this view have obviously not yet passed into a higher principle for Hegel. He was capable of realising the philosophical significance of freedom whilst simultaneously defending its absence within the real world. Hegel’s racism - perhaps better described as cultural nationalism – and his apparent defence of slavery are therefore resolved for him within his notion of ‘readiness’ or the belief that the world has not yet reached the appropriate stage of development. Nonetheless, his inference that it was a failure on the part of the slaves’ consciousness to be free would come to figure prominently in the reception of the master-slave dialectic in nineteenth century America and particularly within arguments for slavery.  [14]

Though we shall return to the implications of these arguments at a later point, suffice it to say here that, Hegel’s work was concerned more with concepts of the Absolute than with the actuality. Whilst he could base the whole process of history on the ‘actualisation of the principle of freedom’, it was nonetheless unnecessary for him to denounce the subjugation of that principle within the real world. Such an apparent contradiction, however, also serves to highlight the centrality of Fate as a concept within his philosophy: Hegel believed the dialectic had yet to run its historical course. Furthermore, given that such a large part of his work was intended to be concerned only with latent depths, Hegel did not intend for his philosophy to have a direct contact with the manifest world. Indeed, it was on this very point that he attacked the work of one of his young students – Karl Marx - so vehemently. Although we can never fully reconcile Hegel’s views on slavery as an institution with the underlying notions of the master-slave dialectic, his beliefs can only be interpreted in hindsight as a combination of the historical period in which he worked and an almost ‘blind’ faith in the course of Fate and therefore the dialectic itself. 

The Master-Slave Dialectic

In The Phenomenology of Spirit, written in 1807, Hegel endeavoured to explain the dialectical relationship between culture, history and consciousness through the famous allegory of the master and the slave. By examining the social relations of power in regard to consciousness, Hegel believed that he could ‘lift the veil’ and reveal the dynamic and latent depth of history through the process of the transformation of consciousness. Placing his characters within a duality of dominance and subservience meant that Hegel was able to explore the interaction of those consciousnesses within a social relationship, based on power, which he believed would be transformed from one of dependence to one of true self-consciousness and independence. The master-slave dialectic was an allegory for this development of consciousness. 

In addition to this philosophical idealism, however, the nature of Hegel’s dialectic also served to reveal many of the paradoxes inherent within the actual social relationship of slavery. Thus, for subsequent theorists in a number of disciplines, Hegel’s choice of protagonists has proved to be exceptionally meaningful: 

It was Hegel’s genius to endow lordship and bondage with such a rich resonance of meanings that the model could be applied to every form of physical and psychological domination.....Hegel bequeathed a message that would have a profound impact on future thought...we can expect nothing from the mercy of God or from the mercy of those who exercise worldly lordship in His or other names; that man’s true emancipation, whether physical or spiritual, must always depend upon those who have endured and overcome some form of slavery. [15

Although Brion Davis’s comment highlights some of the fundamental historical and political implications of the master-slave dialectic, it should also be emphasised that Hegel was not simply addressing the question of power relations but rather, a complete historical and dialectical model in which concepts were only understandable in their relations and within the context of historical, and therefore transformative and mediating processes. Thus, as Binder proposes, categories must also be considered within their broader contexts:  

Hegel’s dialectical logic models a world in which particulars cannot exist independently of the whole. It is premised on the notion that concepts cannot be maintained independently of one another or of their historical context. Thus we cannot conceive of freedom except in relation to some correlative conception of slavery...A further implication of the to require us to place the institution of slavery in the context of an entire society. [16] 

As Binder suggests, rather than being a specific model of dominance and submission, Hegel’s dialectic was a series of wheels within wheels. It was an attempt to explain the historical process – of the way the world turns – through an examination of the transformation of consciousness within a social relationship that was itself transformed by and through these shifts in consciousness. Like all forms of dialectic, it was a process in which concepts and categories were never static but were marked by constant transformation and mediation. Consequently, besides providing us a model of a social relationship based on the discrepancies of power, Hegel’s master-slave dialectic reveals both the interdependent and transitory nature of that relationship and, even more importantly for this study, the means and processes of cultural development and the transformation of consciousness within that relationship.

Cut off at the Impasse - Lordship

The master-slave dialectic begins with two independent beings who, in the search for recognition from each other, engage in a life and death struggle. This is necessary because Hegel believes that "self-consciousness is only by being acknowledged or recognised." [17] In encountering another self-consciousness, it sets itself to sublate or cancel the other in order to become certain of its true being. This results in the ‘trial by death’ in which they attempt to "cancel themselves and are sublated as terms or extremes seeking to have existence on their own account." [18] As a result of the conflict, one of the participants is defeated. However, rather than slaying the vanquished, the victor chooses to enslave him. According to Hegel, this is essentially because the victor cannot receive the desired recognition from the vanquished if he does not exist, and the whole process would therefore have been futile. The position that exists at the completion of this first conflict is best described in Hegel’s own terms: 

The dissolution of that simple unity [solid independence] is the result of the first experience...Through this there is posited a pure self-consciousness and a consciousness which is not purely for itself. The one is independent, and its essential nature is to be for itself, the other is dependent, and its essence is life or existence for another. The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman. [19]

So, as would be expected, the master is positioned as an independent being and is recognised as such by the enslaved. However, given the central role played by negativity in the dynamic of the dialectic, appearances and expectations are exactly the reverse of anticipated conclusions. What actually occurs is that the master’s idea of himself as a true independent being and his concept of the outside world are not what they seem to be, and thus there is a disparity between the master’s consciousness and the actual situation.

The master’s conception of himself as truly independent and recognised as such by the slave is in contradiction to what has actually occurred. The master does not become an independent consciousness but instead, through his relationship with the slave, he is, in fact, a consciousness that is dependent upon the slave for recognition, and for his freedom. Therefore, the master, by being dependent upon the slave’s recognition, achieves a determinate freedom rather than an absolute one. His freedom is determined through his relation to the slave because the consciousness of the one is immediately mediated through its relation to the other: 

The unessential consciousness is, for the master, the object which embodies the truth of his certainty for himself. But it is evident that this object does not correspond to its notion; for just where the master has effectively achieved Lordship, he really finds that something has come about quite different from an independent consciousness. It is not independent, but rather a dependent consciousness that he has achieved. [20] 

This in turn brings the master to a point which Kojeve referred to as the ‘existential impasse’. The recognition which he sought through the initial conflict is not what is achieved. By enslaving the other and relegating them to a position of subordination, the master cannot receive the recognition of himself as an independent being because firstly, his own freedom is dependent upon the slave and secondly, that recognition is not of sufficient value coming as it does from one relegated in social status. As can be seen from the quotation above, at first the master does not realise the disparity between the reality of the situation and his impression of it.  

It is at this point therefore that the first great insight of the dialectic is revealed. Following the initial fight, the fate and consciousness of the two parties is no longer independent. They have become inextricably linked in an historical process which necessitates some form of resolution. They must, in effect, sink or swim together in their historical process. The process of a ‘coming to self-consciousness’ is therefore a dualistic one. The slave must recover his self-consciousness not only for his own survival, but to resolve the existential impasse of the master. Similarly, the master must recognize the fact that his fate is now directly dependent upon the development of the consciousness of the slave. The anticipated independence of the master becomes not only a dependence upon the bondsman for his present form of self-consciousness, but even more importantly, rests upon the possibility of the future development of that consciousness to a state of true self-consciousness or independence.

Leaving him at his impasse, Hegel thus turns away from the master and focuses his attention on the situation of the slave. Accordingly, this is also the antithesis of normal expectation. For Hegel, the consciousness of the slave is essentially in a position of potentiality, and he is in no doubt as to the possibilities inherent within the slave consciousness. In fact the whole process of historical progress is now dependent upon it. It is the slave who will bring the world spirit to its immanence through the sublation of the repressed slave consciousness:

…just as lordship showed its essential nature to be the reverse of what it wants to be, so, too, bondage will, when completed, pass into the opposite of what it immediately is: being a consciousness repressed within itself, it will enter into itself, and change round into real and true independence. [21]

Going even further than this, Kojeve’s anthemic interpretation places the slave as the instrument and agent of all historical change:

There is nothing fixed in him. He is ready for change; in his very being, he is change, transcendence, transformation, education; he is historical becoming at his origin, in his essence, in his very existence...the experience of the fight predisposes the slave to transcendence, to progress, to History. [22]

Bondage and Labour

Hegel posits the concept of work (Arbeit) and (Bildung) - the educative formation of the worker by work - as the means by which the slave consciousness will enter into itself and change round into real independence. By working upon the world, the slave will transform the world and subsequently his own consciousness in its relationship with the world. It is a process of reciprocity between consciousness and the outside world and therefore in Hegelian terms, a dialectical one. Through work and labour, the consciousness of the bondsmen comes to itself through the object that they themselves have formed:

The repressed and subordinated type of consciousness, on the other hand, becomes, in the formative activity of work, an object to itself, in the sense that the form, given to the thing when shaped and moulded, is his object. [23]

Therefore, through formative activity, the slave consciousness becomes objectified within the mind of the slave. It is this relationship with the object of his own formation which will then enable the slave to begin the journey through the stages of consciousness that Hegel envisions are necessary for the attainment of true independence. Stace’s reading of the dialectic is particularly helpful here in regard to the relationship between the consciousness and will of the slave and the product of his labour: 

In moulding the object he alters it by putting himself into it. It is no longer a mere independent object but is what his will makes it. It is now dependent upon him. And in abolishing its independence he attains self-consciousness, for it is the independence of the object that which constitutes consciousness proper, and the abolition of this independence which brings about the development of self-consciousness. In putting himself into the object he sees himself there, and this awareness of himself in the other is self-consciousness. Independence and self-consciousness are the same. [24]

Similarly, Kojeve interprets this dialectical relationship thus:

In his work, he transforms things and transforms himself at the same time; he forms things and the world by transforming himself; he forms himself by transforming things and the world. [25]

In his interpretation, Kojeve categorically maintains that this labour must only be in the service of the master. Hegel, however, is more ambiguous in this regard. Although the slave must serve, labour itself is not constrained within the idea of that service. Rather, service is a precondition upon which labour can produce the genesis of development. As will be discussed at a later point, the ramifications of this notion of labour as being either, only in the service of the master or, broadened to include formative activity outside that service are fundamental to the theoretical implications of this work. Therefore, it must be stated from the outset that I entirely disagree with Kojeve’s interpretation of ‘work’ and would suggest that the notion of work-upon-the-world should include all formative activity. Such a reading does not constitute a denial of either the nature of slavery within the real world nor that depicted in Hegel’s allegory. While service is, in the majority of cases, a direct consequence of slavery, I would suggest that the notion of the slave’s work itself has far broader connotations and implications that are revealed both in the philosophical concept of Bildung and appear repeatedly in the actual history of slave cultures. Work can therefore consist of that activity which is performed in the service of the master, that which is performed by the slave but not in the service of the master and even that which constitutes either a direct or surreptitious form of resistance to the will of the master. [26]

Therefore, in this study, Arbeit will be interpreted as including all formative activity performed by the slave upon the world. Although this predominantly involves a carrying out of the will of the master in a state of servitude, it also includes any activity that is an expression and an application of the slave’s own will and in addition, that which is a combination of the master’s and slave’s will. Hegel himself draws a distinction between service and labour: "By serving he cancels in every particular aspect his dependence on and attachment to natural existence, and by his work removes this existence away." [27] Likewise, in an apparent contradiction to his already stated belief that the slave’s work can only be in the service of the master, Kojeve later writes, "And thus in the long run, all slavish work realizes not the master’s will, but the will - at first unconscious - of the slave, who – finally - succeeds where the Master – necessarily - fails." [28] Therefore, even Kojeve agrees that it is not the will of the master but that of the slave which, through their work, will eventually come to transform the relationship, the world and themselves. Such an interpretation is also highlighted in Marcuse’s reading of the dialectic. Marcuse placed the notion of Labour at the centre of the process and tied this concept directly to the formation and transformation of the slave’s being-for-itself consciousness: 

Labor is...the vehicle that transforms this relationship. The laborer’s action does not disappear when the products of his labor appear, but is preserved in them...The objects of his labor are no longer dead things that shackle him to other men, but products of his work, and, as such, part and parcel of his own being. [29] 

Stages of Consciousness

For the development of consciousness to begin, however, Hegel believed it was necessary that the slave had been totally ‘infected’, having internalised the negative reality and endured absolute fear so that "the entire content of its natural consciousness has been tottered and shaken", otherwise it is still inherently a determinate mode of being, having a "mind of its own". [30] Pure bondage and the destruction of the self are therefore necessary to the process. For Hegel, the conditions of fear and service are therefore as essential to the dialectic as that of formative activity. Only once these conditions were present could the slave then enter into the various stages of consciousness in the coming to full self-consciousness. Hegel describes the stages through which the slave consciousness passes as Stoicism, Scepticism, the Unhappy Consciousness and eventually Christianity (which itself involves three further stages).

For Hegel, it is consciousness itself which is inciting these transformations by its very nature and its desire for recognition and ultimate unity. It is therefore a highly organic process. By its action and existence and in relation to the other and the objective world, consciousness begets the formation of new forms of consciousness in a seemingly perpetual dialectic. As he states, "...consciousness itself is thoroughgoing dialectical restlessness", and it is this trait that necessitates the process of transformation toward "the hope of becoming one". [31]

In the initial stages of the process, the desire for recognition and thus the transformation of consciousness occur within the context of the master-slave relationship; after realising the state of Unhappy Consciousness, consciousness then enters into a relationship with the ‘pure unchangeable’ evident in the stages of Christianity. ‘The hope of becoming one’ will then ultimately depend upon this relation of the particular consciousness to the pure unchangeable or God. "For the attempted immediate destruction of its actual existence is affected through the thought of the unchangeable and takes place in this relation to the unchangeable." [32]

The first stage of slave consciousness is that of Stoicism. In this state, the slave consciousness contains the abstract notion of freedom but this has not yet engaged with the actuality of either their situation or the objective world. "Freedom of thought takes only pure thought as its truth, and this lacks the concrete filling of life. It is therefore, merely the notion of freedom, not living freedom itself." [33] Hegel therefore describes it as a form of ‘thinking reality’. Kojeve similarly characterizes Stoicism as a ‘state of inaction’. "The slave tries to persuade himself that he is actually free simply by knowing that he is free - that is - by having the abstract idea of freedom." [34]

By engaging this abstract idea with the actual condition, however, there is a realization on the part of the slave of this abstract notion of freedom within the real world which, given the nature of the relationship, necessarily takes a negative attitude towards it. "Scepticism is the realisation of that of which Stoicism is merely the notion, and is the actual experience of what freedom of thought is; it is in itself and essentially the negative, and must so exhibit itself." [35] The slave thus enters into the second stage of consciousness - referred to by Hegel as that of Scepticism and by Kojeve as skeptic-nihilism - in which the slave consciousness no longer finds its truth in the will or service of the master: 

This consciousness in consequence takes a negative attitude towards the relation of lordship and bondage. Its action, in the case of the master, results in his not simply having his truth in and through the bondsman; and, in that of the bondsman, in not finding his truth in the will of his master and in service. [36] 

Likewise the master, confronted by a developing slave self-consciousness, must also begin to re-examine himself, because it is in this stage that the slave consciousness realises its first ‘moment of self-consciousness’. Rather than perceiving itself at the mercy of the process, the slave consciousness realises that its freedom and the course of the dialectic is manifest in the real world and is to be determined through its own actions and existence. Their consciousness is therefore simultaneously determined by and a determinate of the entire process in its ongoing transformation: 

Dialectic as a negative process. . . appears to consciousness in the first instance (stoicism), as something at the mercy of which it is, and which does not exist through consciousness itself. In scepticism, on the other hand, this negative process is a moment of self-consciousness which does not simply find its truth and its reality vanish. . . By means of this self-conscious negation, self-consciousness procures for itself the certainty of its own freedom, brings about the experience of that freedom, and thereby raises it into truth. . . . Sceptical self-consciousness thus discovers, in the flux and alteration of all that would stand secure in its presence, its own freedom, as given by and received from its own self. This certainty does not arise as a result out of something extraneous and foreign. . . Rather consciousness itself is thoroughgoing dialectical restlessness. [37] 

However, as a result of this movement from Stoicism to Scepticism there occurs a further division of consciousness and the development of a state that Hegel describes as the Unhappy Consciousness (unglückliches Bewusstsein). This is brought about through the realisation that the fate and therefore the historical consciousness of the two parties is not, as was first believed, entirely separate but is in fact interdependent and requires the eventual unity of both. It is, as Hegel describes, "one consciousness which possesses these two modes within it" and it is within the Unhappy Consciousness that a new attitude arises which is "...the consciousness of this contradiction within itself." [38] Hegel summarises the development of this state thus:

In Stoicism, self-consciousness is the bare and simple freedom of itself. In Scepticism, it realizes itself, negates the other side of determinate existence, but in so doing, really doubles itself, and is itself now a duality. In this way the duplication, which previously was divided between two individuals, the lord and the bondsman, is concentrated into one. Thus we have here that dualizing of self-consciousness within itself, which lies essentially in the notion of mind; but the unity of the two elements is not yet present. Hence the Unhappy Consciousness, the alienated soul which is the consciousness of self as a divided nature, a doubled and merely contradictory being. . . it is a double-consciousness. It is itself the gazing of one self-consciousness into another, and itself is both, and the unity of both is also its own essence; but objectively and consciously it is not yet this essence itself - is not yet the unity of both. [39]

Once it has reached this stage of the dialectic, consciousness then assumes the aspect of ‘changeable consciousness’, and enters into three more stages of development in its relationship to the ‘unchangeable’ or the ‘historic Christ’. This first condition is the state of Devotion (Andacht) which Hegel envisioned as "a kind of thinking in terms of music". He describes it thus:

It is pure emotion which for us…has found itself and satiated itself, for although it is no doubt aware in feeling that the ultimate reality is cut off from it, yet in itself, the feeling is self-feeling; it has felt the object of its own pure feeling, and this object is its own self. [40]

In this return to self, we find appearing its second attitude, a return to the condition of desire and labour. It is however an altered relationship of the slave consciousness to their own labour: 

The actual reality, on which desire and work are directed is, from the point of view of this consciousness, no longer something in itself null and void, something merely to be destroyed or consumed; but rather something like that consciousness itself, a reality broken in sunder, which is only in one respect essentially null, but in another sense also a consecrated world. This reality is a form and embodiment of the unchangeable for the latter has in itself preserved particularity; and because, qua unchangeable, it is a universal, its particularity as a whole has the significance of all actuality. (Hegel’s italics) [41]

Within this new universal relationship to the consecrated reality, there has come to light the third stage in the movement of consciousness and Hegel explains the movement toward this final stage as a direct consequence of the preceding stages: 

In the first situation we had only a "notion" of actual consciousness, the inward emotion, which is not yet real in action and enjoyment. The second is this actualisation, as an external express action and enjoyment. . . With the return out of this stage, however, it is that which has got to know itself as a real and effective consciousness, or that whose truth consists of being in and for itself. This third attitude, wherein this genuine reality is one term, consists in so relating this reality to absolute universal being, as to show it to be mere nothingness. [42]

Thus, for Hegel, the master-slave dialectic leads inevitably from a consciousness ‘rent in two’ to a unified form of ‘Absolute Universal being’ which he describes in terms of a ‘real and effective consciousness’. The reality and the perception of that reality are unified in their relationship to the unchangeable which Hegel concludes denotes the truth of that reality as being ‘mere nothingness’. [43] This last comment is particularly remarkable as it appears to accord with the Buddhist belief that true enlightenment comes to realise this world as illusory. For Hegel, however, it is not so much the illusion of reality that is revealed as the conception of the nothingness of the individual in their relationship to God. Individual self-consciousness is thereby negated in this relationship and the subordinate consciousness assumes a ‘pitiably destitute’ character in regard to both its own actions and existence. Nevertheless, it is through this negation that Hegel presents his positive resolution to the dialectic.

For giving up one’s own will is only in one aspect negative; in principle or in itself, it is at the same time positive, positing and affirming the will as an other, and, specifically, affirming the will as not a particular, but universal. (Hegel’s italics) [44]

Having reached this understanding, consciousness then realises that its own action and existence constitute action and existence in their universal aspect and thus arises the idea of Reason, or what Hegel describes as – "the certainty that consciousness is, in its particularity, inherently and essentially absolute, or is all reality." [45] Steven B. Smith describes this resolution clearly:

For Hegel, the effectual truth of the divine logos is a reconciliation of the human and the divine, the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God. The meaning of the Christian logos is not to be revealed in the beyond, but within or at the ‘end of history.’ [46]

Thus, Hegel concludes the master-slave dialectic with a complete form of sublation – a negation of self-consciousness which is simultaneously preserved within the realm of the spiritual. For this, he has been much maligned. [47] Nonetheless, it is not specifically Hegel’s theocratist resolution to the master-slave dialectic that is the direct concern of this study, though, as we shall see later, it does raise some fascinating questions in the light of historical evidence. Rather, what is of primary importance here is the concept of work-upon-the-world and the process of transformation considered within an historical context.  

The World the Slaves Made

In The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx wrote:

. . . the outstanding achievement of Hegel’s Phenomenology and of its final outcome, the dialectic of negativity as the moving and generating principle, is thus first that Hegel conceives the self-creation of man as a process, conceives objectification as loss of the object, as alienation and transcendence of this alienation; that he thus grasps the essence of labour and comprehends objective man – true because real man - as the outcome of man’s own labour. [48]

Here Marx highlights the centrality of the concept of labour to the master-slave dialectic as a means of transcending alienation. The idea that labour, particularly in a condition of subordination, can be transcendental and ‘self-creating’ is certainly one of the great legacies of the dialectic. Indeed, endowing the concept of Labour with this transcendent value was perhaps Hegel’s genius. Work is revealed by Hegel as not only being able to change the world, but the consciousness of the one who works, and therefore, their relationship with that world. Entering into a dialectic with consciousness and the world creates a process whereby work becomes a powerful and effective force available to the development of the individual or culture. Furthermore, by linking the development of consciousness with the labour and will of the slave - its action and existence - Hegel reveals the potentiality for a resolution to the dialectic which, assuming that he was even partly right, should exhibit itself to some extent within the real world as a force or pattern towards forms of social and/or cultural transition. If this is the case, then there emerges the possibility of further engaging the master-slave dialectic as an illuminative philosophical model of some historical and social significance.

Indeed, considering the manifest similarities between the master-slave dialectic and the history of the African slaves and their descendents both within and alongside North American history, it is quite remarkable that so little has been written comparing and contrasting the two. Although Hegel’s dialectic has certainly had an extensive and significant influence upon modern hermeneutics throughout a range of disciplines, there have been relatively few works that deal with the possibility of a direct historical correspondence. While Marx engaged the dialectic directly in regard to social and political processes, it would seem that only Fanon and to a lesser extent, Sartre explicitly examined the dialectic within the specific context of colonialism and race consciousness; and the latter, I believe, did so quite unsuccessfully. [49]

Nevertheless, it is these issues raised by the juxtaposition of Hegel’s model with an historical example of slavery that are crucial to this work, particularly in regard to questions surrounding the development of cultural consciousness. If we temporarily suspend disbelief in regard to the master-slave dialectic and accept it as Hegel intended - as revealing the latent depth of actual history - it immediately brings to the surface some fundamental questions in regard to the history of the African slaves in America.

What did the slaves produce through their labour that brought about a transformation in their consciousness? What cultural, racial, communal and/or spiritual forms of consciousness were created or transformed? What form of transition took place and what effects did this have on the dominance of the masters? How did these forms produce a transformation and/or objectification of consciousness? It is these questions and those arising from them that will therefore provide the foundation for much of the empirical analysis and speculation contained in this study.  

Volksgeist and Labour

Before engaging with these questions however, it is first necessary to reiterate that I believe that Hegel was not merely referring to manual labour in his conception of work-upon-the-world. Rather, his notion of Arbeit should encompass any formative activity which contains the potential to transform the world of the slave and the master. This includes both the production of goods, the performance of service and, perhaps most importantly in the condition of slavery, the creation and practice of art and religion. As a number of sociologists and historians have pointed out, due to the oppressive restraints placed upon slaves in regard to social conditions and the negation of political freedom, artistic and religious practices often take on a far more crucial role than they do in a free society. In a comment reminiscent of C.L.R. James’s claim that revolutionary mass movements take forms that are often cultural and religious rather than explicitly political, Paul Gilroy has recently written, "In the severely restricted space, sacred or profane, art became the backbone of the slaves’ political culture and of their cultural history." [50]

Furthermore, when considered within the context of African-American slave history, such insights reveal not only the potential of art and religion as vehicles for social and political transformation but moreover, the connections between that process of change and the notion of self-consciousness or, as George Rawick described it, "the inner life of the slaves." As Robin Kelly has pointed out, it was in fact James’s achievement to trace the formation of a distinctive black cultural nationalism back to this inner life. [51] It must also be noted, however, that the much earlier work of W.E.B. Du Bois, and particularly the historicism found in The Souls of Black Folks, though less explicitly political than Rawick, and concerned primarily with the immediate post-bellum period, was also crucial in the development of this correlation.

Indeed, probably the closest assimilation of the Hegelian master-slave dialectic in regard to African American historical and race consciousness appears within Du Bois’s work. Quite surprisingly though, throughout his voluminous published work and correspondence, Du Bois never actually seems to mention either Hegel or the master-slave dialectic, even though it is believed that he studied Hegelian philosophy both in Berlin and in America under Santayana. [52]

Furthermore, it is in the period leading up to the publication of Souls that Hegelianism became prevalent in American philosophy and social thought. Though largely symptomatic of the resurgence of nationalist sentiment during and after the Civil War, the prominence of Hegelian historicism at this time must surely have had an impact on the work of Du Bois as it did on other pre-eminent writers of the time. As Shamoon Zamir points out, Du Bois’s "dialogue" with Hegel must be seen therefore within the context of these nationalist invocations of Hegelian thought in nineteenth-century America. [53] Nevertheless, even if we accept that Souls did engage with aspects of Hegelian historicism, Du Bois’s unique vision was not only extraordinary for its time, but one which continues to exert a significant influence in contemporary African American studies.  

Souls and The Phenomenology

The Souls of Black Folks is an exceptionally insightful and poetic work. Published in 1903, it was a collection of thirteen essays and one short story assembled from pieces the author wrote between 1897 and 1903. As he makes clear in his preface, Du Bois never intended the work to be seen as a straightforward history but rather as an attempt "to sketch. . . the spiritual world in which ten thousand thousand Americans live and strive." [54] As he would comment later, it was also therefore a highly subjective vision - a poetic history - which was intended to "depict a world as we see it who dwell therein." [55] In so doing, Du Bois constructed a deeply compelling vision of the ‘fate’ and historical consciousness of the African American people and their relationship to white America which evoked many elements of the master-slave dialectic and Hegelian historical philosophy in its interpretation.

In Hegel’s design, the six peoples who had already realised their historical and spiritual destinies were the Chinese, Indians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Germans. As mentioned earlier, Hegel did not consider the Africans within this group but rather saw them as on the "threshold" of history. Africa was, he claimed, no part of the historical world: "In this main portion of Africa, history is in fact out of the question." [56] Du Bois, however, by characterising the African American as a ‘seventh son’ who appears as a latecomer on the stage of world history, fundamentally revised Hegel’s conception of historical philosophy:  

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is sort of a seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second sight in this American world, - a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, - an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. [57] 

Thus, as Robert Gooding-Williams has argued, Souls is a kind of Hegelian philosophy of African American history (my emphasis). [58] Though his evidence remains somewhat circumstantial, Gooding-Williams believes that the philosophical model for Du Bois’s conception of historical process is likely to have been Hegel’s Phenomenology. Certainly, there are a number of similarities. In his study of Du Bois, Zamir further underlines the significance of these connections: "What Hegel’s idealist philosophy makes available to Du Bois is a complex model for thinking about the relationship of consciousness and history." [59] Correspondingly, for Du Bois, this model does not simply involve the relationship between African American consciousness and history but rather that of America itself. As is the case in the Phenomenology for the master and the slave, in Souls, the fate of American consciousness is dependent upon the unfolding relationship and the ensuing dialogue or interaction between these two separate but inextricably entwined forms of consciousness. Moreover, it is this dialectic that will determine the course of American history. [60]

Presenting these similarities is not meant to suggest that there is either an identity of meaning or a complete parallelism between the theories present in the Phenomenology and Souls but rather that there are unmistakable associations which serve to illuminate both works. In regard to this argument and in his footnotes to W.E.B. Du Bois and American Political Thought, Adolph L. Reed Jr. has presented an insightful if somewhat scathing attack on the tendency of many recent theorists and particularly Jacqueline Stevens to draw direct correlations between the two works. Although lengthy, Reed’s footnote is worth reproducing here in its entirety for both the light it sheds on recent theories surrounding this question and the possibilities it raises for a new interpretation:  

. . . Jacqueline Stevens "Beyond Tocqueville, Please!" American Political Science Review 89 [December 1995]: 987-990 rejects the argument that Du Bois’s early views about race were embedded in the premises and categories of neo-Lamarckian discourse, adducing the authority of Paul Gilroy, David Levering Lewis, and Joel Williamson to support her assertion that Du Bois’s ideas derived instead from Hegelian roots. In the first place, however, the sources she cites do not effectively do the work for which she enlists them. Neither Gilroy (Black Atlantic, p134) nor Williamson (The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South since Emancipation [New York and Oxford, 1984] pp402-413) provides more than suggestive, inferential support for the claim that Du Bois’s double-consciousness formulation is distinctively Hegelian. Both rely crucially on extrapolating from the fact of Du Bois’s academic engagement with Hegel to conclude that superficial textual similarities must reflect the latter’s influence. Gilroy - whose acknowledged objective of establishing a black diasporic consciousness leads him to stress connections to "European ways of linking race, nation, culture, and history " as an antidote to an "American intellectual ethnocentrism" (Black Atlantic, pp134 and 137) – rests his argument for Du Bois’s definitive Hegelianism ultimately on Williamson (Black Atlantic, pp134.) Yet Williamson himself does not establish the claim on especially solid ground: "In what ways was Du Bois’s solution Hegelian? It was not, in fact, purely Hegelian. . . Du Bois was eclectic. Habitually, he surveyed the field of contemporary knowledge, used what he wanted, and left the remainder to drift. . . It would be fruitless to search for a one-to-one appropriation of Hegelianism in Du Bois’s essay." (The Crucible of Race, pp402-3) Williamson decides that Du Bois’s text is nonetheless "fundamentally Hegelian" – principally because he believes it "heavily laden with such favored Hegelian words as ideal, consciousness, strife and self; spirit, soul and genius; conflict and contradiction; Freedom. . . and of course, folk." (The Crucible of Race, pp 403) Williamson combines this observation with facts of Du Bois’s biography to launch an interpretation that requires – like those proffered by Gilroy and Gooding Williams ("Philosophy of History") – abstracting from the specific content of Du Bois’s essay to construct conceptual parallels with Hegel at the level of metatheory; these are often quite general and remote, requiring for their force prior commitment to belief in specifically Hegelian influences. 

Lewis is not much more helpful to Stevens’s claim. While Lewis contends that Du Bois "borrowed more or less intact notions of distinct, hierarchical racial attributes" (Biography of a Race, p139) from Hegel, he also notes that the "vocabulary of Du Bois’s generation resounded with the racialisms of Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau, Edouard Drumont, Francis Galton, Thomas Carlyle, and Bishop William Stubbs, with evolutionary buzzwords ranking ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ races according to pseudo-anthropological findings." (p.148) The key point, which I have argued in this chapter, is that Du Bois’s formulation resonates with a particular discourse of racial hierarchy – rooted in the nature/culture dichotomy and the evolutionism prominent in the social sciences – that was hegemonic among his contemporaries. Whether or not Du Bois’s participation in that discourse was mediated through frames drawn specifically from Hegel’s texts is. . . both much more easily alleged than demonstrated and ultimately beside the point. At issue is not whether Du Bois derived his formulations via Hegel, Lamark. . ., or elsewhere, but whether his formulations bear the stamp of the discursive field within which he generally operated and how taking account of his relation to that discursive context illuminates his thought.

What is troublesome and ironic about Stevens’s objection is that, for all her intentions to break with establishmentarian conventions, in insisting on reducing the discussion of Du Bois’s racial views to a matter of determining ahistorical lineages of influence, she reproduces perhaps the most barren and formalistic tendency in the study of the history of political thought. [61]

Not only does Reed survey the argument well, pointing out the lack of strong evidence directly linking Du Bois to Hegel, but more importantly, he makes fundamentally clear the pointless nature of merely situating Du Bois’s work as being Hegelian. The key point that Reed is making here is that unless we attempt to illuminate or further understand his thought, relating Du Bois’s work to Hegel’s is of little or no value. If we are to take Reed’s advice, however, this illumination should not simply be sought by relating the work of Du Bois to Hegel; rather, it must work both ways, and we should equally seek to illuminate aspects of the master-slave dialectic and Hegelian historicism through a reading of Du Bois. Indeed, this correlation becomes even more imperative when situating either work within the context of American slave history. Certainly, in this regard, it is not Du Bois’s work that needs illuminating so much as Hegel’s. As a result, rather than searching for Hegel within the work of Du Bois, perhaps what we should actually be doing is searching for Du Bois within our reading of Hegelian historicism and in determining what, if any relationship, Hegel’s work might bear to the real world. Only then can we better understand what not only Hegel, but Du Bois himself was up to.

The Phenomenology and Souls

It is certainly clear that Du Bois does not adopt the Hegelian dialectic intact but rather adapts it to his own ends. This is true both in the broader sense of historical consciousness and even more so in the nature of the ‘negative’ movement which drives the dialectic and the means by which consciousness transforms and represents itself in work-upon-the-world: 

Souls does not reproduce the grand idealist historical schema of the Phenomenology; instead it adapts to its own ends the micro-level sense of the negativity of historical experience that is embodied in Hegel’s account of the "unhappy consciousness." [62]

Indeed, as Zamir’s comment above suggests, it is precisely the fact that he did not reproduce Hegel’s grand schema that enabled Du Bois to engage aspects of the dialectic and situate them within an actual and ongoing social reality. Du Bois was thereby able to consider not only the social and historical legacies of the master-slave relationship within notions of African American and indeed American consciousness but furthermore, to explore many of those issues which Hegel’s dialectic had excluded but which arose as a direct result of the history of slavery in America. Issues such as those of race consciousness, the economic and social consequences of slavery, the condition of ongoing cultural exclusion and the nature of work in the formation of cultural self-consciousness were all of vital importance to Du Bois’s conception of African American culture and history, and, as he showed, continued to be so for American history and consciousness well after emancipation. This was, in fact, the genius of Du Bois – selectively to endow many of the underlying forces and categories of historical philosophy with an ongoing historical and social actuality. By doing so, Du Bois not only presented us with an unprecedented reading of the relationship between history and consciousness in post-bellum America, but in addition to this, and perhaps even more remarkably, introduced a phenomenological manifestation of Arbeit into that relationship.

Thus in The Souls of Black Folks, Hegel’s theory of work can be seen as expanded to include the cultural activity of music. For Du Bois, however, that work which is seen to contain the potential to transform the consciousness of those who produced it as well as the nature and course of the relationship itself was referred to not as ‘work’ but rather as a ‘gift’. Nevertheless, like the Hegelian notion of the slaves’ work-upon-the-world, for Du Bois this gift was both a means of historical becoming and an inherent part of American national spirit and, therefore, self-consciousness:

Your country? How came it yours? . . . Here we have brought three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song - soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonised and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; the third, a gift of the spirit...we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs and generation after generation have pleaded with a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song, our toil, our cheer and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth the giving? Is not the work and striving? Would America have been America without her Negro people? [63]

It was no coincidence either that Du Bois should place the gift of story and song at the head of this list. It was these spirituals or ‘sorrow songs’, as he referred to them, that Du Bois presented as the transcendent representation of African American volksgeist and self-consciousness within the context of American history. [64] Du Bois believed that these songs, which resonated with the contradictory impulses of hope and sorrow, embodied both the historical consciousness and the experience of African Americans within the New World. They also represented therefore the nature and course of the ‘spiritual striving’ of a people whose consciousness he equated with that of a ‘double consciousness’. While we shall return to this concept in more detail, put briefly, Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness referred to the dual state of African American consciousness which he believed was simultaneously a part of American consciousness and history and yet not entirely American. It was the twoness of being both an American and a ‘Negro’ and remained therefore a consciousness split in two.

In ‘A House Divided Against Itself ’, Kendall Thomas has argued that this condition of double consciousness was a direct result of the tactics employed by the slaves to deal with the condition of slavery. Being excluded from a recognized participation within American society and culture meant that the slaves had to employ tactics with which to develop a separate but related consciousness and culture. [65] Furthermore, Thomas believes that Du Bois’s double consciousness can be equated with that of Hegelian Unhappy Consciousness. As Hegel described it, this was ‘...the alienated soul which is the consciousness of self as a divided nature, a doubled and merely contradictory being.’ [66]

After emancipation, the political consciousness of African-Americans remained split, Unhappy Consciousness, imprisoned in a ‘halfway house’ on the road from emancipation to freedom. This is in part the meaning of my earlier claim that the history of mastery and slavery is not yet finished. That experience echoes even today in the jangling dissonance between abstract ideals of equality and mutual recognition of our ‘color-blinded’ legal and political systems and their distorted racist expression in the actual state of affairs. [67]

As Thomas points out, Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness is a conception that bears a resemblance to aspects of Hegelian Unhappy Consciousness. It should also be noted, however, that in the Phenomenology, Unhappy Consciousness was a state that characterised not so much the slave consciousness as that of the entire relationship. Thus, I would propose that although Hegel’s conception of Unhappy Consciousness can certainly be likened to that of Du Bois’s double consciousness, it is perhaps more akin to the relationship that emerged in the southern states of America between masters and slaves both around the time of the Civil War and subsequently. Therefore, it is a form of consciousness which not only characterises slave consciousness but also master consciousness and the nature of the relationship itself. As in the Hegelian condition (and as we shall see in chapter six), it is in this historical period that the world of the masters was a world turned upside down and the world of the slaves one rent in two. Nevertheless, it was the same world and the one historical destiny which the master and slave shared. As Thomas suggests, however, neither this form of Unhappy Consciousness or the double consciousness of the African American as identified by Du Bois were resolved through the process of emancipation but appear to have been further split by events surrounding the Civil War.

Despite their differences, both Hegel’s concept of Unhappy Consciousness and Du Bois’s double consciousness thus depict a state of duality which necessitated a form of resolution and, although less theocratic in its interpretation, Du Bois’s historical resolution was remarkably similar to that of Hegel’s. For Du Bois, the synthesis that would be reached in the unified self-consciousness of African-Americans was, as in the master-slave dialectic, a synthesis which would complete the dialectic of the National, or in this case, American Spirit. Zamir describes the two resolutions thus:

The first proper resolution of this divided self is achieved in the freedom promised by national culture, what Hegel calls Sittlichkeit. . . Du Bois’s recognition that "double-consciousness" can be overcome only when the Black American can become "a co-worker in the kingdom of culture" mirrors the state of Sittlichkeit. [68]

However, the fundamental difference between the two forms of resolution arises from the fact that it was not Hegel but Du Bois who identified a tangible form and activity with which to represent slave self-consciousness and a means of its transformation. Whereas Hegel posited the conceptual form of Arbeit, Du Bois actually pointed to something in the real world. Nevertheless, like Hegel, for Du Bois it was these forms and the activity with which they were produced that contained the potential to bring about some form of resolution. [69] I would contend, therefore, that the inherent similarities between the Hegelian concepts of Arbeit and Bildung and Du Bois’s use of the ‘sorrow songs’ as a ‘gift’ provide us a means by which we can not only trace an affiliation between the thought underlying Souls and the Phenomenology but, even more importantly, understand how to situate both works within an historical and social context. As Reed’s comments (cited earlier) suggest, the question of whether or not Du Bois’s conception was directly founded upon the Hegelian categories of Arbeit and Bildung is not of primary importance. Rather, the focus of our attention should be upon Du Bois’s unique contribution to our understanding of the relationship of history and consciousness in America at the end of the nineteenth century as well as the light his work might shed upon any interpretation of Hegelian historicism and the master-slave dialectic situated within the context of an actual historical and cultural process. Read as such, The Souls of Black Folks remains a remarkable and influential work. 

A Nation Within a Nation

Whether considered as fundamentally Hegelian or not, the direct and indirect influence of Du Bois’s text on subsequent theorists ranging through the entire field of African American studies is significant. Indeed, Arnold Rampersad has gone so far as to argue that Du Bois’s theory of double consciousness represents the exclusive paradigm for all of modern African American literature. Accordingly, he has observed that while the works of such influential figures as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Ishmael Reed have all offered compelling insights, much of this seems to ". . . come out of. . . The Souls of Black Folks – and most precisely from Du Bois’s image of the divided souls." [70]

Likewise, Du Bois’s concepts have had a profound, if somewhat more indirect, influence upon the work of many recent American slave historians such as George Rawick, Lawrence W. Levine, Eugene D. Genovese and Sterling Stuckey, who, as Reed points out, "have advanced accounts that treat slavery as the cauldron for creation of a distinctive black culture in the New World." [71] Consequently, the crucial role that religious and artistic practices occupied amongst slave communities in antebellum America has been well documented and remains a central theme in the more recent work of many slave historians. [72] 

In what is probably his most influential work, Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made, Eugene Genovese utilised this theme to develop the idea of a ‘folk dynamic’ which he believed was evident in the religion of the African American slaves. Essentially, Genovese believed that a dynamic arose within slave culture through the creation of an autonomous identity and unity in the historical development of Afro-American Christianity. In a piece that draws heavily upon many of the concepts contained in Souls and in the Phenomenology, Genovese explains this process in regard to African American Christianity:  

It enabled them to retain enough of Africa to help them to create an appropriate form for the new content they were forging and to contribute to the mainstream of American national culture while shaping an autonomous identity. Their religion helped build an American Christianity both directly and as a counterpoint and laid the foundation for a ‘black’ Christianity of their own. That is, it made possible a universal statement because it made possible a national statement. But for blacks, the national statement expressed a duality as something both black and American, not in the mechanical sense of being an ethnic component in a pluralistic society, but in the dialectical sense of simultaneously being itself and the other, both separately and together, and of developing as a religion within a religion in a nation within a nation. [73]

Later in his study, Genovese elaborates on this conception of African American Christianity in regard to function. Within the context of slavery, and therefore in a condition of social and cultural subjugation, Genovese claims that it was the ‘folk dynamic’ evident in the historical development of their religion that saved the slaves from being suspended between a lost African culture and a forbidden European one:

[The slaves] found themselves shut out by white racism from part of the dominant culture's value system, and they simultaneously resisted that system both by historically developed sensibility and by necessity. Accordingly, they developed their own values as a force for community cohesion and survival, but in so doing they widened the cultural gap and exposed themselves to even harder blows from a white nation that could neither understand their behavior nor respect its moral foundations. [74]

As Genovese notes, it was a process that occurred not only within the sacred realm but one which encompassed the development of secular art forms and, most particularly, music. He thus identifies elements of the folk dynamic as similarly evident within early forms of African American slave music such as the holler:

As expression, both in themselves and in the legacy they left for the blues singers yet to come, they contributed to the collective in a strikingly dialectical way, for they provided a form for a highly individualistic self-expression among a people whose very collectivity desperately required methods of individual self-assertion in order to combat the debilitating thrust of slavery's paternalistic aggression. [75]

As he points out, in an environment of severe subjugation, musical forms and practices can simultaneously be a means of affirming self-consciousness and (to some extent), a means of negating the limits imposed upon individuals and groups by social conditions. Furthermore, the development of such forms and activities does not occur within an historical or cultural vacuum but rather provides a legacy which continues to influence the process and the course and nature of the relationship itself. In fact, the overwhelming majority of antebellum and late nineteenth century African American musical forms and traditions exhibit many of the characteristics that Genovese cites for African American Christianity and the processes of their transformation can also be said to possess the same ‘folk dynamic’ as that of religion. As we shall see, for much the same reasons and to many of the same ends, African American slaves transformed the musical landscape in the same way that they transformed Christian practices. Moreover, and particularly in regard to musical development, this was not a process that was contained within their own culture but one which would also have significant implications for the musical culture of the United States and indeed the entire world. Before we return to this, however, it is first necessary to explore briefly the emergence of this dialectical approach to African American nationalism in recent slave studies in order to understand both its lineage and its implications for this work.

Dialectics and Black Nationalism

As previously mentioned, the direct influence of George Rawick’s work on the formulation of Genovese’s ‘folk dynamic’ (or cultural dialectics) can hardly be overstated. Much of Genovese’s work in the sixties had followed that of Stanley Elkins and interpreted in the experience of slavery a tradition of abject dependence and nihilistic revolt. By 1970, however, his contact with Rawick had convinced him that this was not the case. Implicitly attacking Elkins’ thesis, Rawick had noted that: "...under slavery, the American Negro instead of becoming a brutalised and infantilized creature built a community and culture out of the remnants of the African past and out of the American experience." [76] Directly referring to the Federal Writers Project interviews, which he had examined intensively, Rawick claimed: "It was out of the life and the community portrayed in the Slave Narrative Collection that the modern Negro community grew and it is within the traditions of that experience that the present Negro movement takes place." [77] Thus, as Lichtenstein demonstrates, Rawick’s approach was also "strikingly dialectical", and owes much to the historiography of C.L.R. James and Du Bois: 

From this, Rawick developed the ideas that would take shape as From Sundown to Sunup. First, the insistence, derived from James, that a black liberation movement "objectively" pushed forward the class struggle; second, the recognition that African Americans drew on their unique historical experience, their own cultural "tools," in conducting this struggle; and third, Rawick’s vigorous dissent from both Stanley Elkins’ account of slaves as abject victims and the communist historiography of slavery dominated by the figure of Herbert Aptheker. [78]

In From Sundown to Sunup (1971), Rawick argued that the slaves’ ‘self-activity’, found in religion, culture, the family, and the forging of a community, became the arena of credible, realistic and relentless opposition to slavery. [79] Furthermore, drawing upon the work of scholars such as Du Bois (Souls) and Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks), Rawick suggested that the extreme oppression which the slaves experienced created an "ambivalence of personality" and therefore an "inner contradiction" in the soul of the oppressed. [80] For Rawick, the daily effort of the enslaved to wrestle with and overcome this contradiction represented the most dynamic expression of self-activity. Although Sundown was attacked for its historical flaws and tended to suffer under its own interpretative weight, the themes of self-activity and inner contradiction would directly and profoundly influence the work of Genovese in the early 1970s, and, as Lichtenstein points out, would lead to his "...reconceptualisation of the historical trajectory of black nationalism." Furthermore, (and more importantly for us) both Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness and Hegel’s master-slave dialectic maintained a significant influence on Rawick’s work. [81] Thus, it was around this time that aspects of the master-slave dialectic also began to resonate within Genovese’s own approach to the antebellum roots of black nationalism:

Four years later, in 1970, Genovese took to the pages of the New York Review of Books to unveil the prolegomenon to his magisterial work, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974), arguing that "the fate of master and slave was historically intertwined and formed part of a single social process." Genovese began here for the first time to give positive weight to the autonomous "decisive elements of community discipline" forged in the slave quarters. In a footnote he confessed that his 1966 essay "failed to appreciate black slave culture and its implications," and attributed his new perspective to his encounters with Rawick during the intervening years. This was quite a turnaround for Genovese, who in an editorial comment on Rawick's 1964 International Socialism essay, had characterised Rawick's work as "sheer drivel." [82]

Not surprisingly, when Sundown to Sunup appeared in 1971, Genovese was one of the few critics capable of recognising Rawick’s original contribution to the field and offered unqualified praise: "Rawick’s demonstration of [black] distinctiveness...ought to help bury the absurd notion that black nationalism can be understood as merely or even primarily a pathological reaction to white racism...[Rather] slavery laid the foundations for the emergence of two peoples whose national differences are as great as their similarities." [83] As Lichtenstein observes, Genovese realised the significance of this dialectical approach; for in Sundown he found that "...nationalism had a historical logic of its own, rooted in the culture developed by the slaves themselves." [84]

Thus, there appears an intellectual tradition of ‘dialectical black nationalism’ that extends backward from the relatively recent work of scholars such as Genovese, Levine, and Stuckey; through George Rawick to C.L.R. James; and, simultaneously, through Rawick back to Du Bois. Although here, the affiliation becomes more obscure, there also appears in the work of Du Bois, (and, of course, in James and Rawick) a marked Hegelian influence. However convoluted, the influence of Hegel’s dialectic, and its ‘refraction’ through the work of Du Bois thus remains an underlying (though often unacknowledged) current in contemporary African American slave studies. Gilroy similarly highlights this influence as "a definitive characteristic of the intellectual history of the black Atlantic" and describes it as: "a preoccupation with the striking doubleness that results from this unique position – in an expanded West but not completely of it." [85]

Social Death and Resurrection

Two hundred years after Hegel wrote The Phenomenology of Mind, the questions raised by his unerring faith in the progress of world spirit and the progression of the dialectic can be examined with the aid of hindsight. The legacy of Hegelian historical philosophy has certainly been extensive throughout our own period, and its influence on Karl Marx alone fundamentally transformed national and international politics and political thought. Taken alone, the master-slave dialectic thus raises questions fundamental to any study of modern history and culture and has been identified by Habermas as inherent within much of the work of contemporary theorists of modernity. Indeed, we could add to this a great number of post-modern theorists who, by even positing the notion of an identifiable post-modern condition or epoch, are busily deconstructing and reconstructing Hegelian concepts of zeitgeist. The reliance upon the concept of historical periods as being directly related to a general condition or spirit is itself pure Hegelianism.

In The Black Atlantic, Paul Gilroy has recently explored many of the issues of race and modernity in relation to the master-slave relationship. He has suggested that Hegel correctly posited slavery as the precondition of modernity and that, when read as such in regard to issues of race and culture, the dialectic offers up profound insights into the questions of modernity which "...have not always been concerned to look at modernity through the lenses of colonialism or scientific racism." Thus, Gilroy contends: "A return to Hegel’s account of the conflict and forms of dependency produced in the relationship between the master and the slave foregrounds issues of brutality and terror which are also too frequently ignored." [86]

He further believes that focusing on these problems will transcend the current unproductive debates of Eurocentric rationalists on the crises of modernity which either ignore the experience of slavery in their accounts of modernity or find it in the shortcomings of the Enlightenment project. The importance of rereading Hegel’s master-slave dialectic in the light of modern history is similarly highlighted in the work of Steven B. Smith who, in ‘Hegel and the Problem of Slavery’, observed the following: 

In fact, Hegel makes not just the infusion of liberty, but the disappearance of slavery, into a litmus test for the difference between the ancient polis and the modern state. The principle of Freedom was both the causal agent and the final state of the ‘problem whose solution and application required a severe and lengthened process of culture’ [87]

In Lectures on the Philosophy of History, Hegel had prophesied that America was "the country of the future, and its world-historical importance has yet to be revealed in the ages which lie ahead – perhaps in a conflict between North and South America." [88] Considered alone, Hegel’s comment would tend to suggest that the history of slavery in America might provide us an historical process to compare with his model of consciousness in transition. However, considered in conjunction with the fact that many of the underlying elements of the master-slave dialectic actually appear within the recent history of the United States, such a reading appears even more feasible. In juxtaposition, modern American history and Hegel’s allegory raise countless questions in regard to culture, race and consciousness which, as Gilroy suggests, have too often remained submerged within historical and intellectual debates of modernity. Unfortunately, many of these questions cannot be interpreted adequately within the confines of this work. Consequently, the issues that the remainder of this study will focus upon are, for the most part, those emanating from Hegel’s concept of Arbeit and Bildung, although the social implications of these aspects will be examined (to some extent) with regard to questions of recognition, self-consciousness and the historical relationship itself. This will involve an inquiry into the correlations and discrepancies that exist between the function, form and making of nineteenth century African American music in a social context and the concepts and processes found within the master-slave dialectic. 

The dialectic provides us with an historical and philosophical model of interdependency and reciprocity. Originating from a search for recognition, there arise the opposing states of lordship and bondage. However, within this duality emerges an interdependency in which the slave is dependent upon the master, and moreover, the master grows increasingly dependent upon the slave. (Historically, this is evident in both the economic and social sense – particularly in regard to recognition) There follows a process in which the consciousness of the slave enters a period of transition and this takes place through the slave’s work-upon-the-world. By transforming the world, the slave consciousness enters into a reciprocal relationship with that world - a dialectic of consciousness/labour, labour/world, and consciousness/world. Through its transformative relationship with the world, slave consciousness emerges as the dynamic force in both its own development and subsequently, in the development of the master consciousness and the course of World Spirit and history.  

However true this may be in terms of American history and World Spirit, this study will confine itself to an examination of the process in regard to nineteenth century African American music as a form of labour in the Hegelian sense. As will become evident in the following chapters, throughout this period the slaves not only retained aspects of their traditional African musical forms and practices but, in addition, adopted elements from the New World which they synthesized to produce entirely new musical forms and traditions. Thus, whilst shaping an autonomous identity for themselves and often accentuating cultural differences, they also, simultaneously, contributed to American national culture and helped to build an American music. In so doing, they created a music within a music for a nation within a nation. The music of the slaves was therefore both a significant part of a people’s historical becoming in a new world and a contribution that passed (in a dialectical sense) from a collection of folk forms and traditions into what is arguably the most influential musical source of the twentieth century.

Although (as Orlando Patterson has demonstrated) slavery is essentially a form of social death, perhaps it is within the rebirth of social life and the formation of volksgeist or cultural self-consciousness, in which religious and aesthetic forms are so crucial, that there exists the potential for going beyond the limits imposed upon them and us.


1 Young, W., Hegel’s Dialectical Method: its Origins and Religious Significance, Nutley, NJ, Craig Press, 1972, 133. [-> main text]

2 Ibid., 125. [-> main text]

3 Hegel, G.W.F., Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, (trans. Nisbett, H.B.) Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996, 65. [-> main text]

4 Ibid., 65. [-> main text]

5 Ibid., 63. [-> main text]

6 Young (1972), 132. [-> main text]

7 Inwood, M., A Hegel Dictionary, Oxford, Blackwell, 1992, 82-83. [-> main text]

8 James, C.L.R., Notes on Dialectics, London, Allison & Busby, 1980, 15. (also Cardozo 1501) [-> main text]

9 The semantics of the term are remarkably similar to the etymology of ‘carnivale’. This derives from the Latin, carne levare, meaning literally to either ‘consume’ or ‘keep’ the flesh. [-> main text]

10 The concept of a World View was first explicitly formulated by Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey referred to Weltanschauung as: ". . . a general view of the universe and the place of human beings in it, especially as this view affects conduct." Also see the later work of Friedrich Nietzsche and the work of Edmund Husserl, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud and Ferdinand de Saussure, around the turn of the century. For useful comments on this configuration, see Hans Georg Gadamer, ‘The Problem of Historical Consciousness,’ in Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, Paul Rabinow and William Sullivan (ed.), trans. Jeff L. Close, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1987. H. Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought 1890-1930, New York, Vintage Books, rev. ed.. For this idea in regard to socio-linguistics see, Whorf, Benjamin Lee, Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1956; Sapir, E., ‘The Status of Linguistics as a Science’ in E. Sapir, Culture, Language and Personality (ed. D. G. Mandelbaum). Berkeley, University of California Press, (1929), 1958. The work of Whorf and Sapir is largely responsible for the on-going debate in socio-linguistics over the relationship between language, culture and world view. Originally known as the ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis’ these ideas are now generally split into two aspects, referred to as ‘linguistic determinism’ and ‘linguistic relativity’. Linguistic determination is the argument that language directly effects that the way people think about and see the world. Linguistic relativity states that the differences in language reflect the different views of different people and cultures. For a recent discussion of these ideas and the various debates surrounding them see: Romanine, Suzanne, Language In Society, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994. [-> main text]

11 Hegel (1996), 62. [-> main text]

12 Ibid., 62. [-> main text]

13 Ibid., 184. [-> main text]

14 For a discussion of American interpretations (and widespread misrepresentations) of Hegel in the nineteenth century, see: Zamir, S., Dark Voices: W.E.B. Du Bois and American Thought, 1888-1903, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995, 119ff. Zamir notes that many American Hegelians of this time falsely attributed the notion of the ‘cowardly contract’ to Hegel, providing them and others with "philosophical alibis for the proslavery arguments." Hegel’s dialectic could then become a justification for the institution through a misrepresentation of the slave as compliant to slavery and acquiescent to their position. Even after emancipation, Zamir notes that: "Hegelianism became widespread in American philosophy and social thought in the 1870s, in large part a symptom of the resurgence of nationalist sentiment during and after the Civil War." He also argues that American philosophers of the day, such as William James and Josiah Royce, misconstrued the master-slave dialectic, basing their arguments primarily on the concepts of victory and defeat rather than the subsequent reciprocity of the relationship itself. Royce appears to have been particularly guilty of such misconceptions. In The Spirit of Modern Philosophy of 1892, he presented a portrait of Hegel’s master as the embodiment of the Absolute: "...the Lord...who wins eternal victory." (quoted in) Zamir (1995), 128. [-> main text]

15 (quoted in) Gilroy, P., The Black Atlantic - Modernity and Double Consciousness, London, Verso, 1993, 51. [-> main text]

16 Binder, G., ‘Mastery, Slavery, and Emancipation’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6, 1477. [-> main text]

17 Hegel, G.W.F., The Phenomenology of Mind (trans. J.B. Baillie), London, Allen & Unwin, 1949, 229. [-> main text]

18 Ibid., 233. [-> main text]

19 Ibid., 234. [-> main text]

20 Ibid., 236-237. Also see: Bush, J., ‘Hegelian Slaves and the Antebellum South’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6, pg. 1531 ff. Bush provides an historical survey of this idea:

It should be noted that this interpretation of the inherent contradiction within the relationship did not originate with Hegel and the notion of the master’s dependency existed long before Hegel came to the idea. It had been a theme in ancient satire and in social commentary from the Church fathers through the Talmud and appears in Rousseau’s Social Contract. For the 18th century evolution of the idea see: G.Kelly, Hegel’s Retreat from Eleusis: Studies in Political Thought. 30-31(1978) Similarly in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24: he is free in Christ or freed by his honest and faithful work, undertaken without hope for manumission. Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 20a, "He who buys a Hebrew bondsman, it is as if he buys a master for himself." (Bush, 1989:1531)

The extent to which this dependence in the master-slave relationship became a reality in the American South is well described by Christopher Small:

Remembering, too, that it was not just brute physical labour that was required of the slaves but also skills and even organisational abilities, from blacksmithing to the nurture of the master’s children, it becomes even clearer that, however much the masters might have desired it, there were not two separate societies permanently divided from one another, but only one, of which one segment became increasingly dependent on the other, not just for work on the cash crops but for practically all the skilled manual work that it needed. This dependence was symbolised by the passing of the creole from the mouths of the slaves into those of the masters and their families, a fact upon which shocked visitors from Europe and from the North often commented. (Small, C., Music of the Common Tongue, New York, Riverrun Press, 1987, 37)

Joseph Roach further identifies some of the cultural ramifications of dependency. Citing the work of Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, he argues that: "In the creative scope of liminal categories, periphery and centre may seem to change places." Roach notes that Stallybrass and White accurately describe this reversal not only in terms of dependency but of contested and appropriated location:

The result is a mobile, conflictual fusion of power, fear and desire in the construction of subjectivity; a psychological dependence upon presicely those Others which are being rigorously opposed and excluded at the social level. It is for this reason that what is socially peripheral is so frequently symbolically central. (quoted in Roach, J., Cities of the Dead, New York, Columbia University Press, 1996, 39.)

Roach thus identifies a recurring pattern within the cultural process of defining boundaries. "A contradictory push and pull develops as communities construct themselves by both expanding their boundaries and working back in from them. They pull back by excluding or subordinating the peoples those larger boundaries embrace." According to Roach, it is this mythic "perimeter of difference" that is continuously being negotiated and reinvented within the relationship. Ibid., 39. [-> main text]

21 Hegel (1949), 237. [-> main text]

22 Kojève, A., Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (trans. Nichols J.H.Jr), Bloom, A. (ed.), New York, Cornell University Press, 1969, 22. [-> main text]

23 Hegel (1949), 242. [-> main text]

24 Stace,W.T., Philosophy of Hegel, London, Macmillan and Co., 1924, 359. [-> main text]

25 Kojeve (1969), 25. [-> main text]

26 The work of Orlando Patterson also supports this interpretation. He believes that Marx and Kojeve are wrong in their interpretation of the Hegelian slave as being of necessity, a worker. In a very literal interpretation of the dialectic, he states that, "There is nothing in the nature of slavery which requires the slave to be a worker. Worker qua worker has no intrinsic relation to slave qua slave." Patterson, O., Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1982, 99. [-> main text]

27 Hegel (1949), 238. [-> main text]

28 Kojeve (1969), 30. [-> main text]

29 Marcuse, H., Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, Boston, Beacon Press, 1960, 116-17. [-> main text]

30 Hegel (1949), 239. [-> main text]

31 Ibid., 248-249, 255. [-> main text]

32 Ibid., 264. [-> main text]

33 Ibid., 245. [-> main text]

34 Kojeve (1969), 53. [-> main text]

35 Hegel (1949), 246. [-> main text]

36 Ibid., 244. [-> main text]

37 Ibid., 247-248. [-> main text]

38 Ibid., 250. (Hegel’s italics) [-> main text]

39 Ibid., 250-251. [-> main text]

40 Ibid., 257. [-> main text]

41 Ibid., 259-260. [-> main text]

42 Ibid., 262-263. [-> main text]

43 Ibid., 263. [-> main text]

44 Ibid., 266. [-> main text]

45 Ibid., 267. [-> main text]

46 Smith, S.B., ‘Hegel and the Problem of Slavery’ in Cardozo Law Review, March 1992, Vol.13, No.5, 1806. [-> main text]

47 For a discussion of Nietzsche’s (and others’) criticisms of Hegel’s resolution, see: Smith, S.B.(1992), 1812. [-> main text]

48 (quoted in) Zamir (1995), 131. [-> main text]

49 A debate over intepretations of Hegel’s allegory and its correspondence with antebellum American history appears in a series of articles published in the Cardozo Law Review between 1989 and 1992. See: Bernasconi, R., ‘Persons and Masks: the Phenomenology of Spirit and its Laws’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6; Binder, G., ‘Mastery, Slavery, and Emancipation’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6; Binder, G., ‘On Hegel, on Slavery, But not on my Head!’ in Cardozo Law Review Vol.11, February 1990, No.3; Bush, J., ‘Hegelian Slaves and the Antebellum South’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6; Hyland, R., ‘Hegel: A User’s Manual’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6; Simon, M.A., ‘Introduction (Hegel and Legal Theory, Pt 1)’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6; Smith, S.B., ‘Hegel and the Problem of Slavery’ in Cardozo Law Review, March 1992, Vol.13, No.5; Taylor, C., ‘Hegel’s Ambiguous Legacy for Modern Liberalism’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6; Thomas, K., ‘A House Divided Against Itself: A Comment on "Mastery, Slavery, and Emancipation"’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6 ; West, C., ‘Hegel, Hermeneutics, Politics: a Reply to Charles Taylor’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6. [-> main text]

50 Gilroy (1993), 57. [-> main text]

51 James, C.L.R., A History of Pan-African Revolt, Introduction by Robin D.G. Kelley, Chicago, Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1995, 15. For a good review of Rawick’s work see: Lichtenstein, Alex, ‘ In Retrospect - George Rawick’s From Sundown to Sunup and the Dialectic of Marxian Slave Studies’ in Reviews in American History 24.4 (1996) 712-725. [-> main text]

52 According to Shamoon Zamir, Du Bois studied Hegel with George Santayana during 1889-90 in a course on modern French and German philosophy at Harvard: "All available evidence suggests that the text studied in Santayana’s course was the Phenomenology." (Zamir, 1995, 113) [-> main text]

53 Zamir (1995), 119 & 6n [-> main text]

54 Du Bois, W.E.B., The Souls of Black Folk, Boston, Bedford Books, 1997, 34. [-> main text]

55 Ibid., 255. Taken from ‘The Souls of Black Folk’, in Independent, November 17, 1904. [-> main text]

56 Hegel (1996), 176. [-> main text]

57 Du Bois (1997), 38. [-> main text]

58 Gooding-Williams, R., ‘Philosophy Of History And Social Critique In The Souls of Black Folk’ in Social Science Information, 26, No. 1, 1987, 99-114. Gooding-Williams’s study is one of the few works to focus specifically on the theoretical similarities between the work of Hegel and Du Bois. Williams examines the manifestations of Hegelian concepts in Souls: geist, telos and aufhebung and most particularly the notion of the ‘veil’ which he refers to as Du Bois’s "master trope". For further discussion see: Williamson, J., The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation, New York, Oxford University Press, 1984, 401-411; Williamson, J., ‘W.E.B. Du Bois as a Hegelian’ in What was Freedom’s Price, Sansing, D.G. (ed.), Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1984; Adell,S., Double Consciousness/Double Bind, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1994; Zamir (1995). David Blight’s and Robert Gooding-Williams’s introduction (and footnotes) to the 1997 edition of The Souls of Black Folks (Boston, Bedford Books, 1997, 1-30) contains an excellent survey of available literature on Du Bois and Souls. [-> main text]

59 Zamir (1995), 117. [-> main text]

60 Symbolising this, Du Bois chose to preface all but the final chapter of Souls with a juxtaposition of these two historical ‘voices’ – the African American voice represented by a short notation from a ‘sorrow song’ and the European or American historical voice by an excerpt from the western poetic tradition. [-> main text]

61 Reed, A. L. Jr, W.E.B. Du Bois and American Political Thought, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, 229, fn201. [-> main text]

62 Zamir (1995), 113. [-> main text]

63 Du Bois (1997), 192-193. [-> main text]

64 A half a century earlier, Frederick Douglass had similarly described slave songs as: "representing the sorrows of the heart." ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave’, in Andrews, W.L.(ed.), The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader, New York, Oxford University Press, 1996, 38. [-> main text]

65 Thomas, K., ‘A House Divided Against Itself: A Comment on "Mastery, Slavery, and Emancipation"’ in Cardozo Law Review, March-April 1989, Vol.10, No.5-6. [-> main text]

66 Hegel (1949), 251. [-> main text]

67 Thomas (1989), 1514. [-> main text]

68 Zamir (1995), 114. [-> main text]

69 Du Bois also argued that double-consciousness provided African Americans with a unique perception of the relationship itself. This ‘second sight’ arose within African American consciousness precisely because it existed in this dual state. Being effectively suspended within this dichotomy, it was able to perceive the relationship more objectively than the master. (Du Bois, 1997: 38) [-> main text]

70 Rampersad, A., ‘Biography and Afro-American Culture’, Afro-American Literary Study in the 1990s, edited by Houston A. Baker, Jr. and Patricia Redmond, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1989, 199. Rampersad argues that Du Bois’s theory of double consciousness represents the exclusive paradigm for all of modern black literature. For a good discussion of double consciousness and its influence on contemporary African American arts and humanities, see Radano, Ronald M., ‘Soul Texts and the Blackness of Folk’, in Modernism/Modernity 2.1(1995) 71-95. A recent collection documenting contemporary reflections on the idea also appears in Lure and Loathing: Essays on Race, Identity, and the Ambivalence of Assimilation, Gerald Early, (ed.), New York, Viking, 1993. [-> main text]

71 Reed (1997), 144. [-> main text]

72 Earl Lewis has also referred to this school of thought in American historiography as the "near total autonomists". He includes those such as Sterling Stuckey, George Rawick, Eugene D. Genovese, John W. Blassingame, Leslie Howard Owens, Herbert G. Gutman, and Lawrence W. Levine. See Earl Lewis, ‘To Turn as on a Pivot: Writing African Americans into a History of Overlapping Diasporas’, in American Historical Review, 100:3, 1995, 772. See: Levine, L., Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom, (New York,1977): Genovese, E.D., Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, (New York 1976): Stuckey, S., Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America, (New York and London 1987). [-> main text]

73 Genovese, E.D., Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, New York, 1976, 280. It should also be noted that the phrase ‘nation within a nation’ was actually used by Du Bois in his 1935 essay; ‘A Negro Nation within a Nation’ and appeared in Current History 42 (June 1935). Also reprinted in: Sundquist, E.J.(ed), The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois Reader, New York, Oxford University Press, 1996, 431. [-> main text]

74 Genovese (1976), 324. [-> main text]

75 Ibid., 324. [-> main text]

76 (quoted in) Lichtenstein, Alex, ‘In Retrospect - George Rawick's From Sundown to Sunup and the Dialectic of Marxian Slave Studies’ in Reviews in American History 24.4, 1996, 715. [-> main text]

77 Ibid., 716. Also see: Rawick, George ‘The American Negro Movement’ in International Socialism 16, Spring 1964, pp. 16, 24. [-> main text]

78 Ibid., 717. [-> main text]

79 According to Lichtenstein, the term ‘self-activity’, though originally derived from Hegel, was initially applied to political theory by C.L.R. James. [-> main text]

80 Rawick, G., From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community, Westport, Greenwood Press, 1972, 100. [-> main text]

81 Lichtenstein further illustrates the connections between Rawick, James and Du Bois: " Rawick suggested in a footnote, Sundown began as a chapter in a longer work designed to illustrate W. E. B. DuBois’s and C. L. R. James’s contention that "black people took the lead in the Civil War and thereafter in transforming America" As such, the book can only be understood as organically connected to the sectarian political tradition out of which it was produced and to which it laid claim." (Lichtenstein, 120). [-> main text]

82 Ibid., 718. (my italics) [-> main text]

83 (quoted in) Lichtenstein, Ibid., 719. [-> main text]

84 Ibid., 719. [-> main text]

85 Gilroy (1993), 58. Gilroy argues that in the history of modern black thinkers, the figure of Frederick Douglass represents the first modern embodiment of this condition. He also presents an analysis of Douglass’s life and work in this light. (58-71) In regard to the notion of doubleness itself, Gilroy argues that, like the idea of double consciousness, the forms and activities of slave ‘aesthetic’ practices are simultaneously a part of the modern world but grounded outside modernity. As he writes:

This artistic practice is therefore inescapably both inside and outside the dubious protection modernity offers. It can be examined in relation to modern forms, themes and ideas but carries its own distinct critique of modernity, a critique forged out of the particular experiences involved in being a racial slave in a legitimate and avowedly rational system of unfree labour. To put it another way, this artistic and political formation has come to relish its measure of autonomy from the modern. (58)

Fifty years after Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, also explicitly recognized the condition. At the beginning of the chapter of Black Skin, White Masks (translated under the heading ‘The Fact of Blackness’), Fanon writes: "In the Weltanschauung of a colonized people there is an impurity, a flaw that outlaws any ontological explanation . . . the Negro has been given two frames of reference within which he has to place himself." In reference to this problematic, and in a reading of the experience of oneself as ‘body,’ Fanon thus asserts: "Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity. It is a third person consciousness" (trans. Chris Lam Markham [New York: Pantheon, 1967], 109-10). [-> main text]

86 Gilroy (1993), 53-54. [-> main text]

87 Smith, S.B., (1992) 1801. For Hegel’s discussion of slavery as "a moment of transition towards a higher development" see Hegel (1996), 184ff. Hegel also makes a distinction between slavery in Africa ("amongst Negroes") and slavery in an "organised state" such as America or Europe: "when it [slavery] occurs within an organised state, it is itself a stage in the process away from purely fragmented sensuous existence, a phase in man’s education, and an aspect of the process whereby he gradually attains a higher ethical existence and a corresponding degree of culture." (Ibid., 184) Hegel’s explanation for the existence of slavery in Africa, on the other hand, includes the convenient claim that: "the state of nature is itself a state of absolute and consistent injustice." (Ibid., 183-184) [-> main text]

88 Hegel (1996), 170. [-> main text]

SOURCE: Harrison, Greg. The Dialectics and Aesthetics of Freedom: Hegel, Slavery, and African American Music. PhD dissertation. Dept. of Art History, University of Sydney, March 1999, iv + 463 pp. This is chapter 1, pp. 7-54. Introduction by Ralph Dumain added for this web site only.

© 1999, 2002, 2014 Gregory Michael Harrison. All rights reserved. Published by The Autodidact Project with permission of the author.

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