Hegel is perhaps the quintessential theorist of Eurocentrism, a fact that has only made his continued prestige as a philosopher and humanist all the more troubling. Today, we will accompany him on his world-historical journey, beginning with the primordial and unchanging East. More specifically, we will engage with two of Hegel’s most powerful claims: that China had no history, and India had no philosophy. In doing so, we should be able to develop a better grasp of what it really means to speak of “freedom” at all.
The capitalist playbook is of infinite length; wherever it finds itself, capitalism does whatever is necessary to make it big. Thus it has changed form to adapt to local conditions, donning many masks and learning to speak in countless vernaculars. If it needs to, capitalism is happy to incorporate beliefs in the divine, the supernatural, or the immaterial. It has no built-in requirement to refashion every place it conquers into a copy of London or Amsterdam, or transform every wage laborer into a secular citizen.
When W.E.B. Du Bois speaks of a ‘general strike,’ he means that our mass refusal to work within a violent, corrosive social system can also demonstrate the possibility of a better world. In Black Reconstruction, Du Bois treats Black workers’ mass exodus from southern plantations during the civil war as an exemplary, triumphant general strike. He argues that the Black workers’ movement “was not merely the desire to stop work. It was a strike on a wide basis against the conditions of work.”1 Du Bois goes on to elaborate that the general strike not only ended slavery but also posited an entirely different economic and social order.
When people say “knowledge is power,” what they really mean is knowledge is empowering. Generally, the idea is that knowledge is the foundation of individual achievement -- that it makes a person more capable, effectual, and successful. In this piece, I’d like to take the opportunity to interrogate the history of the phrase “knowledge is power,” in order to illustrate how it may be fraught in surprising ways.