Talk: Daniel James (Düsseldorf) & Franz Knappik (Bergen), “Racism, Colonialism and The “Undead” in Hegel: The Case of Slavery” (9 November 2021)

We are glad to give notice of the talk by Daniel James (Düsseldorf) & Franz Knappik (Bergen), Racism, Colonialism and The “Undead” in Hegel: The Case of Slavery, with a commentary by Nicholas Eggert (Johns Hopkins University). The event will be held online on November 9th, 2021, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm.

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Below a description of the talk


Recent Hegel scholarship suggests that there is still much in Hegel’s oeuvre which is ‘living’, in Benedetto Croce’s terms, as opposed to the ‘dead’ parts in his thought—what we know to be mistaken and is no longer of contemporary interest. Many would include in this latter category also Hegel’s supposedly racist or pro-colonialist views. When acknowledging them at all, commentators tend to put them aside as views in which Hegel just followed the prejudice of his time or that are marginal for his philosophy. As such, we can safely ignore them.

In this talk, we advance another way of confronting racist and pro-colonialist elements in Hegel’s philosophy. We submit that they are tightly intertwined its ‘living’ parts. Rather than being ‘dead’, they are, therefore, ‘undead’: They keep haunting us, and the more so, the more we try to suppress them.

Building on Hegel’s view that the “consciousness of freedom” prevalent in a given civilization is a matter of “ability of peoples’ intelligent and ethical character”, we examine the remarkably ambivalent attitude he takes toward the contemporary debate about the abolition of slavery in the New World. While he regards slavery as wrong in itself, since humans are free by their very nature, he nevertheless agrees with the anti-abolitionists concerning humans as “natural being[s]” (PhR §57 Rem.). We argue that this ambivalence is directly rooted in his account of personhood and the “ability of peoples’ intelligent and ethical character” required to afford them personhood.

We then discuss how Hegel’s views on the legitimacy of slavery are supported by his famous account of lordship and bondage in the Phenomenology and his mature conception of freedom. We conclude by outlining how this account informs Hegel’s views on the legitimacy of colonialism and of anti-colonial struggles (such as the Haitian revolution) more broadly.

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