Once it seemed that ‘the presence of divinities’ was obvious, but now the gesture of faith makes ‘no difference’; atheism is just as valid a point of departure.1 Stefanos Geroulanos suggests that twentieth-century France has witnessed the demise of a certain type of ‘bourgeois humanism’. This saw the erasure of a conception of modern man and had its origins among both the French reception of German phenomenology in the 1920s and the negative anthropology of Alexandre Kojève of the 1930s (itself rooted in negative theology and modern determinations of the human).2 For Geroulanos, the period from the First World War through to the 1950s saw ‘a philosophical and intellectual revolution’ which created ‘a new kind of atheism, demolished the value of humanism, and altered the meaning of “the human”’. This conceptual reorganization in philosophical anthropology took place in an era of catastrophe marked by the loss of dignity in the human subject and then compounded by disappointing political engagements during the interwar period. Confronted by the post-war carnage and failure of a Europe once identified with the apex of modernity, cultural optimism gave way to an apocalyptic imagination. In his famous 1930s lectures on Hegel, Kojève distanced himself from Ludwig Feuerbach’s overcoming of religion, striking a sombre tone instead. Kojève attempted a revision of ‘anthropotheism’ (Feuerbach’s divinization of mankind). Kojève was the first person to attempt to combine Hegel, Marx and Heidegger during his lectures at the Ecole pratique des hautes études from 1933 to 1939. These lectures bear two distinct influences – the Christian journal Esprit and the atheist Les Temps modernes. They examined a model of textual interpretation borrowed from Hegel in which the philosopher seeks to know himself or to possess full self-consciousness – true philosophic endeavour is a coherent explanation of all things. Kojève insists that Hegel is the only man ‘the fulfilment of whom Plato and Aristotle could only pray for’ and then asserts that ‘reality is rational […] and justifies rational discourse’.3 It was rooted in a rethinking of the voie vers Dieu and Kojève, like Martin Heidegger and Georges Bataille (whose book

1 Bruno Latour, Rejoicing, or, the Torments of Religious Speech, trans. Julie Rose (Cambridge: Polity, 2013), pp. 5, 9.