Deleuze, Hegel, Difference and Master/Slave Dialectic – Confusion Entangled

On recognition  – a resolved confusion:

Difference not as negation but as an unrecognized and unrecognizable difference, a difference affirmative in itself. – Deleuze

(Williams, 2001:170)

and Hegel stated further that (WIlliams, 2001:171):

‘Sublated contradiction is no abstract identity, for that is itself only one side of the contradiction. When we say that ground us the unity of identity and difference, this unity most not be understood as abstract identity … we can also say  that ground is not only the identity, but equally the difference of identity and difference.’  – Hegel

So it seems that Deleuze and Hegel do agree, at least partly on difference. Difference resolves identity by fusing together. It seems to be I could apply this to the master/slave dialectic in a similar way.

Master /Slave dialectic

The Master/slave dialectic can be related to real slavery or just a theoretical construct. And if it is just a construct what about suffer and pain?

Deleuze, a strong contrahent of Hegel, considered all differences that are not difference in itself are a form of representation, more or less concealing a hierarchy of model-copy thought and a notion of identify. Hegel’s master/slave dialectic was and is often understood as a concept of historical necessity in the development of human’s freedom.

Others (e.g. Smith, 1992) are placing the master/slave dialectic quite in the middle of difference in itself. As stated above, identity of two opposites, two identities, two persons in freedom can according to Hegel only be actualized by mutual recognition and respect. But reality is not a perfect world and the mutual base is umbalanced by one-sides recognition. A question of trust, or better to say, misttrust. The one prioritizes a self-conscious right on self-preservation, the other one prioritizes self.assertion. The first recognizes the second, the second becomes the master, and the paradox is complete.

The master/slave dialectic can be considered either from an anthropological perspective or an psychological perspective. The paradox of it reminds me of Gregory Bateson’s conception of the ‘double bind‘ (described in the 1950s), the paradox situation of contradictions where one cannot resolve a given situation of two options as both leading towards a wrong response. The same as how to overcome the contradiction of master/slave as an illustration of difference?

Again, as Hegel stated it can only be overcome by mutual recognition as equal and free partners. And in this context it places the rather theoretical conception into a social and historical context.

Confusion returns:

Deleuze, who opposed Hegel in mainy aspects, does see difference (see above quote) in the unrecognized state. Would this mean that not a mutual recognition is resolving the paradox but no-recognition at all? A complete cut between the master and the slave?



  • Smith, S. B. (1992) ‘Hegel on Slavery and Domination’, in: The Review of Metaphysics. [Online]. 46(1),  pp. 97-124,  Available from: [accessed 25 Sep 2017].




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