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  • Fr. Paul A. F. Castellano

The Struggle is Real! The "REAL" Source of CT.

We now come to the central element in our discussion. We’ve looked at an overview of CT and taken a quick look at the concepts against which CT is, well, critical. Now, we need to go behind the middleman, as it were, and engage the “real” source of Critical Theory.


While most people who are interacting with what is happening in our culture will be able to link CT with Marxist/Communism, the true source of CT is much more complex and specific than Marxism. Marxist/Communism, while a definitive influence on CT, is only the intermediary between CT’s source and CT.


The actual source of CT, from which Marxism itself derives, is the German philosopher, G.F.W. Hegel. Hegel is still, to this day, one of the most complex and challenging thinkers with which to wrestle. His work, as does his predecessor and brief contemporary, Kant, still influences and forms much of our thought – either positively or negatively – to this day. The late literary critic and philosopher, Jacques Derrida once stated, “We will never be done with Hegel.”


It is from Hegel that Marxism and its distant offspring, CT, derive. So, now we turn to Hegel. Some basic elements must first be stated before discussing his influence on CT.


1. Given the complexity of Hegel’s work, we will only be able to give a very superficial summary of his thought.

2. That summary will also be only of one particular aspect of his work.

3. Though as Christians, we might vehemently disagree with their conclusions, both Kant and Hegel believed they were saving, according to the former, and perfecting, according to the latter, religion. This will become important in our subsequent discussions of CT.

4. What is most important when reading this blog is NOT to memorize or “figure out” all that Hegel is writing (his writing is dense and sometimes intricate); but to come away with a handle on the underlying concepts he is communicating for it is there that we will see the connection to CT. This is what we will be focusing upon here.


Hegel stands as a philosophic giant in the history of philosophy. While in graduate school at California State University, Long Beach, my professor, the late Steven Davis, related to us in our Hegel seminar that while he was an assistant under another great German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, Heidegger spent 1 full academic year – almost 10 months at the University of Berlin, teaching on Hegel’s 45-page preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. One full year on only 45 pages by one of the world’s leading thinkers of the time. That is the depth of Hegel’s thought. So, a summary is all we can afford. All references will be to that monumental work of Hegel, “The Phenomenology of Spirit.”[1]


One more prefatory comment, Spirit for Hegel doesn’t mean the same thing Christians think when they read, “spirit.” Essentially what Hegel means is “humanity's self-consciousness.” Keep that in mind if you see that term.


Hegel’s contribution to CT comes from one particular section of his magnum opus, The Phenomenology of Spirit (henceforth the Phenomenology). That section is entitled what has come to be known as, “The Master-Slave Dialectic[2].” Hegel moves us through this section in basically three phases, which, if you’ve had a basic philosophy class you’ve heard this described as “Hegel’s dialectical movement” (most likely improperly understood). If, after reading this, you’re interested in this “movement,” email me and we can discuss it offline. It would be a distraction here.


The Master-Slave Dialectic is presented in the following 3 phases:

1. The Dialectical Reaction.

2. Life and Death Struggle.

3. The Master-Slave inversion.


These 3 movements of the Master-Slave Dialectic (hence, simply, the dialectic), profoundly influencing, both Marxism and its grandchild, CT, comprise a mere 8 pages in the Phenomenology! Yet as we will see, its influence vastly outweighs is brevity.

In the dialectic, Hegel is developing a conceptual treatment of how human self-consciousness is created. NOTE THAT: it is a conceptual or abstract philosophic treatment of a metaphysical concept. This is the first error that is committed by CT (via Marxism); it concretizes (i.e., physicalizes or, per Marxists, “materializes”) Hegel’s conceptual, abstract philosophy. This concretization is the beginning of the difficulties for our interaction with CT.


1. The Dialectical Reaction.

Let’s for the sake of illustration posit that we have 2 people – Master and Slave. Pay attention, we are not actually speaking of 2 real, physical people! For Hegel they are representatives, concepts of types of self-consciousness.


What Hegel wants us to figure out is, what is it that makes these two self-consciousnesses different from each other? What is a “master self-consciousness” and similarly, what is a “slave self-consciousness?” How do these different consciousnesses interact interdependently (dialectically)? Again, note the language Hegel uses because this conceptual, abstract language will become “concretized” into actual material categories in CT.


In order to understand each of these self-consciousnesses, Hegel asserts that, for any consciousness to understand itself (the ‘who am I?’ question), that consciousness must always interact or be involved with another consciousness and that other consciousness' understanding of ‘who I am.’[3] So, if we have a ‘master’ self-consciousness, it will always see itself in terms of how the ‘slave’ self-consciousness understands it. The ‘slave’ sees a ‘master’ so the ‘master’ understands itself in that manner. Vice-versa for the ‘slave’ self-consciousness; it will always understand itself in terms of and predicated upon the interaction (dialectic) with the ‘master’ self-consciousness. (Hang in there, it will all make sense shortly).


What Hegel is driving at is, self-consciousness (human self-consciousness), is not “essential” (as an intrinsic “essence”) of the human being; it comes from or is derived from without (i.e., some other being).


Illustratively, think of the parent-child relationship. Simply put, the child derives its identity (in Hegelian terms, its [being] self-consciousness) from the parent. A son will identify with his father. This should make a profound impact upon our thinking when we think of either, boys growing up fatherless or a sons understanding of who God is because he will see “God,” relationally, in his earthly dad. Conversely, the Parent will always see itself as the dominant figure in the relationship. Hence, master-slave.


If one takes a brief moment, you can already see the nascent seeds of CT’s requiring everyone to be viewed in either oppressed or oppressor.


2. The Life and Death Struggle.[4]

Again, an editorial note. Hegel IS NOT speaking of a literal “life and death” struggle of two individuals. He is speaking ABSTRACTLY or CONCEPTUALLY!


With that out of the way, we have our two “categories” of self-consciousness – ‘master’ – ‘slave.’ They have, as briefly alluded to previously, just found they are interdependent and have interacted accordingly (dialectically).


However, this dialectic now assumes a more dramatic quality in Hegel’s thought. Each of these consciousnesses wants, needs, “demands” to be recognized. The ‘master’ wants to ensure that, all other self-consciousnesses see “it” as ‘master.’ It is superior. It alone stands in a position of dominance, power. The ‘slave’ however, needs to be acknowledged as more than a ‘slave;’ it needs to be seen as something else, an ‘equal.’ Therefore, there is this “life and death” struggle for each self-consciousness to assert its desires. But, if the only way one self-consciousness knows who it is (the ‘who am I?’ question revisited), and the ‘master’ will never recognize the ‘slave’ as an “equal” self-consciousness, a struggle, a battle, for actual (conceptually or abstractly speaking) existence or survival ensues.


If the ‘master’ concedes that the ‘slave’ is equal, the ‘master’ then ceases to be ‘master’ and dies! On the other hand, if the ‘slave’ relents and exists only as an inferior, less than an equal, its desire for that equality ends and it dies.


Two consciousnesses, standing opposite one another, vying for a place, vying for recognition as more than an “object” to the other. Vying to be a real “subject” whose needs are accepted and acknowledged.


This then, for Hegel, drives each to the place where they must “risk one’s life” for said recognition! By virtue of the fact that, they each strive for recognition and not only recognition, but supreme recognition (recognition over the other), they must “conceptually” (just a reminder) ‘risk their lives’ as it were, for such recognition. If they fail to achieve “recognition” for their self-consciousness, their self-consciousness remains a mere object to the other (i.e., not a human, not a person), they remain a ‘slave’ (per our metaphor), and essentially, they die. For Hegel, this struggle is the core of self-consciousness. The struggle for recognition. If there is no recognition, for Hegel, there is nothing. You are nothing. You become nothing.


In the interdepended-ness the dialectical relation between the two, the moment one is “recognized” the other, being “unrecognized,” becomes nothing.


As with the parent-child, let us look to another metaphor to explain this. “Love.” I’ll bet you never viewed love as a “life and death” struggle where you “risk your life.” Or maybe you have, I don’t know about your relationships. 😉 Anyway, take the relationship between a man and a woman. A great example is the movie, “About Last Night,” circa 1986, with Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and others. In the beginning the bachelor, finds the girl and it’s going great. But, after a time, he doesn’t want to give up his friend(s) (in this case Jim Belushi), his playing ball, his time at the bar, etc. He comes to realize he loves his bachelor lifestyle. However, the woman, in this instance, Demi Moore, wants him to focus on her, give himself to her, “commit” to her. There is a struggle! A “life and death” struggle as to who will retain their control in the relationship, who will be dominant, who will have the power.


If the man gives in to the woman, he “dies.” He loses who he is (“who am I?”). But if the woman gives in, she “dies.” In the former the woman becomes the ‘master’ and the man becomes the ‘slave.’ In the latter, the reverse is the case.


Now consider how this plays out in CT. There is divergent thought, independent ideas, true equality in the marketplace of ideas; then there is CT – you must adopt our ideas on, well, any number of issues – Black Lives Matter; same sex marriage; the LGBQT lifestyle; acceptance of transgender identity; and so on. Each trying to be “recognized.” Each trying to retain its ‘self-consciousness.’ But in order to be recognized, on their own terms, the other ‘self-consciousness’ must “die.”


There is a slight variation here because, contemporaneously, those that advocate true equality of ideas, are not looking to “dominate” by eliminating the oppositions ideas physically. Though, the other scenario is not always the case. CT does, in fact, desire to drive all opposing ideas into non-existence.

3. The Master-Slave Inversion.

So, we have the interdependent interaction (dialectic) of two self-consciousnesses, ‘master’ and ‘slave.’ They engage to determine identity. They struggle for recognition. This struggle becomes a matter of “life and death” to the point where they “risk their lives” to achieve their desired ends. Their interaction is always imbalanced, unequal – the ‘master’ always the ‘master’ in interaction with the ‘slave.’ However, there are times when the ‘slave,’ per Hegel, is valiant in its struggle. It exercises a fierce will to be “seen” (see the nascent elements of Nietzsche’s “Will to Power”) and in fact, does achieve recognition! What then?


We must for a moment pause to consider the “concepts” of ‘master’ and ‘slave.’ When we consider the ‘master’ we think of leisure, wealth, ease, in many instances, inactivity and lack of productiveness. Basically, “enjoying the good life.” But the ‘slave’ works, strives to create, is responsible for the “produce” of the efforts of their production. Essentially, they’re “stuck in the day-to-day dreariness of life” (and of course here you see the seed of the Marxist economic/social dialectic – the bourgeois vs. the proletariat).


But in the struggle, sometimes there is an unexpected victor. Sometimes the ‘slave,’ through all of its hard work, effort, struggle, does indeed achieve recognition; it is a realized “subject” and no longer merely an object. When this happens, the ‘master’ is overcome, the ‘master’ no longer has dominance and superiority, the ‘master’ no longer is in power, the ‘master’ dies, and the ‘slave’ becomes ‘master.’ This inversion, for Hegel is the natural part of the struggle for humanity in reaching its “Absolute” self-consciousness – or as he put it, “Absolute Spirit.”


Hegel used the Jews in their conflict with Egypt as his example of this inversion (you’ll have to suspend your criticism of him at this juncture for not “recognizing” – sorry, I couldn’t resist – Yahweh’s “minor” contribution). Hegel’s illustration aside, consider our current social situation. There was a time when the homosexual community was “unrecognized,” where women were “marginalized;” where the black community was “reviled;’ where all other “different” groups were, for all intents and purposes, merely “objects” of the (“perceived”) dominant groups – wealthy, essentially white, heterosexual – element of society. Does that sound about how the picture is presented? Now where are we? They, for the most part, are in control of the media, Hollywood, academia, journalism, etc. In other words, we’ve experienced an “inversion.” The “slave” is now the “master.”


Let me conclude with this. I hope you were able to follow the argument. I risked superficiality for the sake of intelligibility. But it is important to know and understand that this is from where CT derives. It comes through us via Marxism/Communism, yes, but it derives from here. A conceptual framework that has been distorted and contextually ripped from its actual moorings in order to apply a philosophic understanding of how self-consciousness in humanity evolves (according to Hegel), into this materialistic, physical, structural apparatus to control, overwhelm, dominate, and crush with power, all who oppose it. Remember, Hegel’s system, his rationalistic, idealistic system, is called Dialectical Idealism. An attempt to philosophically and abstractly explain self-consciousness. Marx turned it into Dialectical Materialism, a Frankenstonian aberration of Hegel and CT has put it on steroids.


Some will point out that in the struggle of the ‘master’ – ‘slave’ dialectic Hegel was alluding to the German aristocracy of his day. Possibly. But it still was couched in abstract, conceptual, philosophic terms and categories. Hegel would’ve been aghast at his system becoming something material in the way Marx and CT have tortured it.


But this is where we are. If you have any questions, please, don't hesitate to email us.

[1] Hegel, G.F.W., The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller, OUP, Oxford, England. 1977. Miller actually translates this section as “Lordship and Bondage.” [2] Simply, dialectic means the interaction of two entities, in this case, two people. [3] Phenomenology, op. cit. pg. 111. [4] Ibid. pgs. 112-114.

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