Director Steve McQueen, in his 2013 film “12 Years a Slave” provides four examples of the philosophical arguments of both Immanuel Kant and G.W.F Hegel. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit argues two forms of consciousness. His categorization on the codependent relationship between lord and bondsman is complementary to Kant’s political thought on the categorical imperative. Kant argues in The Grounding of Metaphysics of Morals, that in the categorical imperative, law of morality, human beings are not subjective ends but rather objective ends within themself.
In Hegel’s account of the self-consciousness here are two forms of consciousness. The first is an independent consciousness, which exists solely for itself and the second consciousness that is dependent on the independent consciousness of another. The first is the lord, and the second is the bondsman. The lord is mediated through another conscious that is an independent object of his desires. The slave is an independent being-for-self able to serve as an end in himself not simply a means. The lord holds the bondsman in bondage making him dependent yet; the lord’s power is merely a façade power struggle. The bondsman takes away his independence but is not all together done with it. He begins working on it. By setting aside desire’s the bondsman gains an independent consciousness. The lord in his relationship has succeeded in achieving his temporary means to acquiring his desires, but since the independence was interposed the bondsman still maintains some aspect of independence that he then continues to develop.
The lord is now unknowingly dependent on the bondsman’s existence and false recognition. Furthermore the new outcome of the relationship is “one-sided and unequal” (Hegel, 116). What the master does to the slave the bondsman does to the master. The bondsman takes the independence of the lord creating a dependent lord in servitude. Within the context of the film, the character Armsby, a white slave, explains to Solomon while treating his lashes that:
“As reliable as employment overseeing is it is no easy chore on the spirit. I say no man of conscious can take the lash to another human being day in and day out without shredding at his own self. Takes him to a place where he either makes excuses within his mind to be unaffected or he finds some other way to trample his guilty sensations. I trampled with frequency.”
Armsby used to be a slave overseer at a plantation. In this dialogue Armsby argues for Hegel’s political theory of the lord and bondsman. He explains that the job of overseer or master is no easy feat on the spirit. Because in demeaning and ordering another, the lord and overseer is inadvertently lashing and demeaning himself. The only seeming solution is for the overseer or lord to convince themselves of the validity of their actions or pacify it in addictions. The white slave pacified his actions with whiskey, seeking to drown away reality.
The bondsman is released of...