The Russian-born philosopher Alexandre Kojève (1902–1968) is arguably best known for the lectures on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit that he gave in Paris from 1933 to 1939 to an audience comprising luminaries of postwar French intellectual life such as the novelist Raymond Queneau, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the sociologist Raymond Aron or the philosopher Georges Bataille. By contrast, most commentators have treated his postwar trajectory as a high-ranking civil servant in charge of France’s international trade policy almost as an afterthought.
This paper investigates what happens when a philosopher swaps the lecture hall for the corridors of power. It focusses on a talk Kojève gave at the invitation of the controversial German jurist Carl Schmitt in Düsseldorf in January 1957. Entitled “Colonialism from a European Perspective”, Kojève’s presentation adroitly operates on several levels: a deliberately provocative disquisition by a philosophical jester as well as a critical homage to the writings of his host Carl Schmitt, upon closer inspection it also constitutes a camouflaged political intervention in a protracted debate about the nature and course of European integration. As a source, Kojève’s lecture with its various implicit and explicit layers of address provides methodological insight into how to conduct research at the intersection of the history of ideas, politics and international institutions.