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A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass$
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Neil Roberts

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813175621

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813175621.001.0001

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Frederick Douglass’s Master–Slave Dialectic

Frederick Douglass’s Master–Slave Dialectic

(p.84) 3 Frederick Douglass’s Master–Slave Dialectic
A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass

Margaret Kohn

University Press of Kentucky

This chapter explores the issues of violence, recognition, and freedom in the work of Frederick Douglass. It analyzes the contradiction between Douglass’s defense of pacifism in his speeches and articles before 1847 and his celebration of the redemptive effects of violence in his autobiographies, most notably in his account of his fight with the slave breaker Edward Covey. One thing that distinguishes this essay from other interpretations of Douglass, including Bernard Boxill’s, is that it draws upon another famous account of the struggle between master and slave—G. W. F. Hegel’s dialectic of lordship and bondage in the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)—in order to offer a novel resolution to this interpretive puzzle. By reading these two nineteenth-century accounts together, we see how the texts illuminate, complicate, and challenge one another.

Keywords:   Frederick Douglass, G. W. F. Hegel, slaves, slavery, mastery, master–slave dialectic, freedom

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