Good Example Of Essay On Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Education, Slave, Slavery, Racism, Social Issues, Colonization, Culture, Power

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2021/01/06

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At first sight, Hegel’s ideas on the master-slave dialectic seem somewhat simple. There is a master who holds power and there is the slave who is denied power and their relationship is built around their recognition of this feature in each other. However, further questions arise as one looks into this simple construction more sharply. Firstly, how did this dynamic come into existence? Secondly, how and why is it perpetuated? And thirdly, does it remain so indefinitely? Hegel (and several commentators on Hegel) answered all these questions quite eloquently and their answers will be used as a base for understanding racism in the twenty first century – particularly the unique species of racism which evolved as a result of colonialism.
The first question is answered quite easily – the dynamic comes into existence the moment any two individuals or groups come into contact. This contact results in a struggle by each group to ‘force’ the other to recognize certain characteristics within themselves which they deem important or worthy of note. It is at this point that the answer to the second question emerges. According to Hegel, the most important quality of all is freedom (a questionable proposition and one which Hegel himself does not clearly endorse according to any of the recommended texts, but which will be taken as true because the master-slave dialectic is constructed out of it by implication). The simple fact of the matter is that the master forces the slave to recognize the quality of freedom and control in himself and does not allow the slave to recognize the same in himself. This results in the master reasserting his dominant position and the slave his subordinate one.
This state is one which must constantly be restated and reinforced. But Hegel notes that as time goes by something interesting begins to happen. For this state to be perpetuated, it is essential for the master’s freedom and the slave’s servitude be recognized. But as time goes by, the master begins to realize his slave’s agency because the slave has developed skills and abilities which places him in a more powerful position to contend for freedom, while the slave realizes that the master is dependent on their skills and therefore is no longer a free agent. It is this nexus of skill building and recognition which construct and problematize colonial racism.
The final question pertains to the fate of this set up. As the master and slave come to recognize their new positions in relation to one another, the dialectic is changed and the organization of power is altered. This point highlights the fact that the master-slave dialectic is founded on the construction of power. This power is constructed through a constant, possibly never-ending struggle which creates the changes in society and culture that happen every day. This is a curious fact since, as several scholars have noted, the master-slave dialectic emerges when two individuals or groups attempt to enforce their culture onto the other. This implies that there is a culture which precedes the dialectic, but which also grows and changes and ultimately succeeds the (initial) master-slave structure.
All of these facets of the master-slave dialectic come into play in the colonial set up. The Colonial Era was the direct successor to the Age of Exploration – an age which attempted to paint Europe as a the great beacon of civilization across the globe. Although this might have been the most immediate cause of colonial racism, racism itself was a feature found in almost every culture at different points in their evolution since antiquity.
Every culture is ethnocentric insomuch that when confronted with an alien culture, its first response is usually to ensure that it preserves itself. In the twenty first century, racism is still very much present. However, it is implicit rather than explicit. Much of this bias is created as a result of ‘selective blindness’ – for example, African Americans are seen as being less capable in academics than their white counterparts, though, as more recent research has shown, this is more likely due to their socio-economic background which emphasizes physical strength and tenacity rather than academic achievement. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule – people like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Walter McAfee have broken the stereotype, but they are still considered the exceptions to the rule.
Twenty first century racism is a highly evolved version of the racism faced by various groups throughout history. Harold J. Logan in his article – ‘Old-School Bigotry? We need to fight 21st century racism’, notes that in areas such as healthcare and social development, African Americans are still much worse off than other major ethnic groups. This creates a very dangerous power dynamic – the black identity is constructed around sub-standard social services which forces them to believe that this is all that they can have. One can see a quasi-Marxian dialectic emerging out of the identity politics being perpetuated here. The black identity is created out of a sub conscious belief in their own inferiority and this can only change if this false belief in destroyed. To understand how to do this, a look at the historical background of this particular form of racism is needed.
Edward Said, in his book Orientalism notes that there was a vast generation of knowledge about the Orient which was produced by the Occident and for the Occident. This production of knowledge also included the propagation of racist ideologies which were used to justify European policies regarding the treatment of the other. It is important to note that by the time full-fledged racist ideologies were in place, the master-slave dialectic had already been at work for quite a long time. To better understand the place racism holds in this particular racial discourse another theorist is required – Frantz Fanon.
In the book Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon talked about the creation of racial identities as a means of dehumanizing the colonized subject. In other words, the master-slave dialectic had been established long enough for change to occur and the system be turned over. The value of the colonized became more and more apparent as not only sources for raw materials but also as markets for finished goods and the helplessness of the colonizer as a mere factory owner having neither the raw materials not the capital required to sustain so opulent a culture which it had created for itself to contest the powerful cultures and values of the other. In other words, racism was created as part of the second wave of the master-slave dialectic with the specific aim of pushing the power balance back in favor of the former master.
The dialectic does not end there. Fanon noted two important implication when the colonizer attempts to supplant the colonized people’s language with their own. Firstly, the language of the colonizer carries with it their culture and for the colonized to learn it would mean that they (the colonizer) had finally managed to completely supplant the culture of the other. But on the other side, providing the colonized with the language of the colonizer has another effect. This effect is best described through Caliban’s curse against Prospero in Shakespeare’s Tempest where he said, ‘ You taught me language, and my profit on it is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you’ (Fanon 153-185). As seen in the freedom struggles of nations such as India and South Africa, it was the same culture British which propagated racism which provided the colonized with the tools to escape it.
However, these are still only tools – it is still up to the oppressed class to escape their subjugation. The Hegelian dialectic helps one understand how the subjugation occurs and thereby helps the oppressed find a way out of their oppression. Great progress has been made in creating racial equality in the USA since the Civil Rights Movement, but more needs to be done – rooting out the last sub-conscious strongholds of racism is the task of the twenty first century.

Work Cited

Fanon, Frantz. Black skin, white masks. New York: Grove press, 2008. Print.
Logan, Harold J. “Old-School Bigotry? We need to fight 21st century racism”. The Root. 3 May, 2014. Web. 31 March, 2015.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print.

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