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Republicanism – Seeing Beyond the Veil: Race-ing Key Concepts in Political Theory

Republicanism – Seeing Beyond the Veil: Race-ing Key Concepts in Political Theory


MELVIN ROGERS: OK, so my
name is Melvin Rogers, associate professor
of political science. I’d like to welcome you to
the next panel, Republicanism and Black and White. Let me briefly introduce
our two presenters today. So we have Barnor
Hesse, who’s presenting Western Republicanism,
White Sovereignty. Barnor Hesse is
associate professor of African-American
studies at Northwestern. His research interests
include post-structuralism and political theory, black
political thought, modernity and coloniality,
blackness and affect race and governmentality,
conceptual methodologies, and postcolonial studies. He is co-author of
Beneath the Surface– Racial Harassment, and editor
of Un/settled Multiculturalism– Diasporas, Entanglements,
“transruptions” and author of Racocracy,
Black Politics in the Western Political,
which is forthcoming from Duke University Press. And then we have
Stephen Marshall. The title of his paper,
The Liberty of the Moderns and Post-Moderns– The Republicanism of
Publius and Toni Morrison. Marshall is associate
professor of political theory in the departments of African
and African Diaspora Studies and American Studies at the
University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The City
on the Hill from Below– The Crisis of Prophetic
Black Politics. His current research focuses
on the political and cultural legacies of slave owning. Each speaker will go
for about 20 minutes. We’ll open it up for questions. And we’ll begin with Barnor. STEPHEN MARSHALL: [INAUDIBLE]? MELVIN ROGERS: You can speak. BARNOR HESSE: [INAUDIBLE] speak. MELVIN ROGERS: Sure, sure. BARNOR HESSE: OK, good. So, firstly, I’d like to
take Melvin and Juliet for inviting me here. It’s quite an honor
to be among you. Also, I’d like to thank Michelle
Rose for all of her work in administering my travel. So in this paper,
what I attempt to do is to engage the neo-republican
revival in political theory by looking at the account
of republicanism that’s articulated in The
Federalist Papers and contrasting
that with the vision of Republican political
life that’s put forward by Toni Morrison in her novel,
Home, a great novel from 2012. So in Home, Toni
Morrison contested neo-republican political revival
by taking up and reworking a conception of freedom
that James Baldwin first described as a
constitutive spiritual form of black sociality. In The Fire Next
Time, Baldwin argued that between his countrymen,
systematic, gratuitous and disavowed destruction of black
life and black criminality, madness and suicide,
African-Americans sometimes achieved with each other a
freedom that was close to love. This freedom, Baldwin
explains, is a zest, joy, capacity for facing
and surviving disaster, which yields black practices
of self-presence and ironic tenacity but fall
short of the kind of unconditional intimate
and critical involvement with the other that
he believed was necessary to the political
work of inverting America’s racial nightmare. By contrast, Morrison
depicts the story of a fugitive black
community constituted and led by a community of women,
who have developed a set of peculiar civic virtues
and political practices, which contest and prevail
against the American republic’s politics of accumulation
and plunder. In this regard, not
only does Morrison offer up a conception
of political freedom that sharply contrasts
with Baldwin’s, she also offers an account,
which contests and goes beyond the conception
of modern republicanism that’s articulated by Publius
and The Federalist Papers and recently elaborated
as nondomination by neo-republicans. Recent debates about
American republicanism have concerned whether a liberal
or a Republican conception of freedom defined
the meaning of liberty as it was understood by
the American founders. Whether this conception involves
an ambivalence or hostility to citizen participation,
and whether nondomination is a sufficiently
capacious understanding of the kinds of injustice,
which a compelling theory of government must account for. I’m interested in this
later line of inquiry, however, for reasons I
hope to make clear below. I have grave doubts about
any Republican project with Simpson, which aims
simply to recuperate it by supplementing
rather than jettisoning its conception of freedom. This is so, because my thinking
about modern republicanism begins with David Walker’s
claim that the American republic constitutes a state of
enmity in relation to blacks. A state of enmity, which
driven by greed and fear, sustains and obscures its
practices of racial violence by displacing culpability
for it on blacks. To counter this
violence, Walker sought to constitute a public
of black men, who would be knitted together
by the wisdom of knowing the structural antagonism
between whites and blacks, who would be informed by an ideal
of service, which specified that individual happiness would
flow from black man’s labor on behalf of the good of all,
and who would be inspired by a conception of courage that
promised glory to those who would die on behalf
of black freedom. Deeply problematic for a variety
of reasons but especially for its misogyny,
Walker’s conception of black civic freedom
is important for at least two reasons– it points towards the necessity
for serious engagement with the Republican vision that
informs the US constitution. And it also provides the
proper point of departure for engaging with Toni Morrison. So Walker directly
engages with the arguments of Jefferson and Clay. But it’s the implicit racial
violence of American liberty that is the true
locus of his concerns. Recently, however, this
conception of liberty has enjoyed something
of a Renaissance among scholars of
what is now referred to as the Republican school. Philip Pettit argues that
classical republicanism’s theory of freedom
and government is superior to that of liberalism. And that American republicanism,
as expressed in Federalist Papers, is an
outstanding formulation of the Republican tradition. This tradition is unanimous,
according to Pettit, and casting freedom
is the opposite of slavery and in seeing the
exposure to the arbitrary will of another as the great evil. These ideas that are an
explosive effect in Britain’s American colonies, Pettit
explains, as colonist came to see the rule of
the British parliament in their lives as an
unchecked and arbitrary power and is the very exemplar
of an absolute ruler. So Pettit argues that The
Federalist Papers forward a conception of freedom
as nondomination where freedom is understood
as the absence of mastery. So, presumably, Pettit
and making his claim about The Federalist Papers
as an outstanding formulation of this classical
Republican tradition must rely on his reading
of Federalist 54– that peculiar text where Madison
doesn’t quite endorse slavery, maybe even registers the
kind of ambivalence about it but, nonetheless,
claims to be reconciled to the strained
arguments of the advocate for Southern interests. But, nonetheless, a certain
insufficiency and, perhaps, even a willful naivete
informs Pettit’s understanding of slavery. Not only does he
conceptualize slavery exclusively in terms of the
legal forms and ideologies of slavery that help legitimate
it, as [INAUDIBLE] notes. He also hypostatizes
the relationship of private ownership. Contemporary scholars
of slavery and hear him thinking about
Stephanie Smallwood, Walter Johnson, Saidiya Hartman– have noted that while
private ownership is an important dimension of
modern slavery, commodification, accumulation, capture
and confinement are also crucial dimensions– so crucial, in fact, that a
failure to appreciate them distorts both what
is distinctive about modern racial slavery. And therefore, as I
argued, just states the relationship between
modern racial slavery and the modern Republican
ideal of nondomination. To conceive slavery in
the manner in which Pettit describes is to
repress all inquiry into whether the political
technologies that facilitate nondomination in the
modern republic turn upon, necessitate, and conceal
the dehumanization of racially marked persons. So I look at Federalist
10 and Federalist 13. The two texts in which
Publius addresses specifically the problem of domination. In Federalist 10, of course,
the problem of domination is the problem of
majoritarian tyranny. And his answer was
quite famous answer is the idea of the
extended republic. Trouble with this
answer what Publius refers to as the Republican
remedy to the problems most incident to popular government
is that, in my view, it shrines in imperial politics
of settler colonials plunder as a general good and
permanent aggregate interest of a republic. Well, Publius proposes to
extend the sphere in order to take in a greater number
of citizens and extent of territory within its compass. He is not simply contrasting
republicanism with democracy, nor commenting on the
unusually large size of the original
union of 13 states. He is actually laying the ground
for a more expansive claim about the new science of
modern American republicanism, the science that is actually
introduced in Federalist 9 but is expanded
in Federalist 13. Here, he says, if Europe
has the merit of discovering the great mechanical power
in government by which the will of the
largest political body may be concentrate, and it’s
forced directly to any object. America can claim
the merit of making the discovery, the basis upon,
makes an extensive republics. Two objects that
are clearly going to come into purview
of the mechanical power of the American republic
are territorial expansion and European immigration. As Publius goes on to explain,
while the immediate object of the federal constitution is
to secure the union of the 13 primitive states, we cannot
doubt it to be equally practicable to add to them
such other states as may arise in their own bosoms or in
their own neighborhoods. So having dealt with the
danger of majoritarian tyranny, and, therefore, settled the
domestic threat of mastery between citizens, Publius
turns his attention to the threat of mastery that
imperils American civic freedom from the outside. He explains the world may
be politically, as well as geographically, divided
into four parts, each having a distinct set of interests. Unhappily for the other
three, Europe by her arms and by her negotiations,
by force and fraud, has in different degrees
extended her dominion over them all– goes on to say, the superiority
Europe has long maintained has tempted her to plume herself
as the mistress of the world and to consider
the rest of mankind is created for her benefit. In light of this, Publius
insisted global responsibility has fallen on the
US, a responsibility to vindicate the honor
of the human race and to teach that assuming
brother moderation. Well, Publius explains the
United Federal Republic could impose prohibitory
regulations on importers to oblige them to bid against
each other for the privileges of American markets. The capacity to exclude Great
Britain from American ports would enable the
Republics negotiate for commercial privileges of
the most valuable and extensive kind of the dominions
of that candle. It goes on to say that one
of the most important aspects of participating in this trade
that can ultimately penetrate British markets is being able
to acquire sovereign control over American ships
that he’s worried that, in fact, British
imperial power is interfere with America being
carriers of its own goods. Under these
conditions, Americans would be unable to
set prices, would see the profits of
American trade snatched from them to enrich their
enemies and persecutors. And worst of all, Publius
explains the unequal spirit of American enterprise
which signalizes the genius of American
merchants and navigators would be stifled and lost. And poverty and disgrace
would overspread a country, which with wisdom, by to
make herself the admiration, that envy of the world. When Publius talks about being
carriers of American goods and penetrating
European markets, he is talking about the
trade in arms in Rome to be exchanged for
African bodies– commodified bodies
converted into slaves to be exchanged for sugar
and molasses, which will then be transformed into
rum and guns to power the ongoing circulation and
accumulation of capital. So when Publius talks about
the spirit of enterprise, which signals the genius of
the American people and elsewhere describes
as an unbridled spirit unwilling to pay much respect
to regulations of trade, he’s talking about
American spirit being exercised in the
participation of slave trade. What is also crucial
notice here is the way that this project of American
participation and the slave trade– that is to say
American mastery– of how it understands
its nature. Not only does this
project understand itself as modern republicanism, it
conceals its participation in the practice of the
accumulation of bodies by narrating its actions
through euphemisms about trade and commerce. So Toni Morrison is
interested in contesting the way the American
republic engages in a politics of settler
colonialism plunder and the way it engages with the
accumulation of black bodies. The setting for this novel home
is this sleepy southern town in Lotus, Georgia hidden
somewhere in Georgia’s black belt. The city
resembles the fugitive space that surrounds the city of
[INAUDIBLE] Saidiya Hartman describes in Lose Your Mother. Regarding the outward
appearance in the city, Hartman writes, The vast
stretches of empty space and far flung settlements
testified to the long history of war and raiding. The desolate landscape in great
plain of uninhabited territory told the story of Brown
and pillage and also, the story of people
running to safety. The people of Lotus have their
own story of route and pillage. Morrison writes, You
could be inside living in your own house for years. And still, men with or without
badges but always with guns could force you, your family,
your neighbors to pack up and move with or without shoes. 20 years ago, the residents
of the town of Lotus had been exiled from a town
in Texas called Bandera. They had been ordered to leave
their little neighborhood on the edge of town. They were told that they had
24 hours to leave or else die. The two center
characters in this novel are Frank and C, who regard
Lotus as a place that doesn’t have any future. They think that black
life exists elsewhere. So they decide to leave Lotus. Frank decides to
go into the army, and C goes to Atlanta to
have a life in the city. C, of course,
becomes accumulated as an object for profit and
scientific experimentation at the hands of a
neo-Confederate doctor. And Frank, the other
central character, becomes an agent
of American plunder as a soldier in the Korean War. Both of these characters
come back home to Lotus in order to heal C
from the injuries that she receives
while in the city, C is healed by a community
of women, who I argue exhibit the virtues that have been
historically associated with classical republicanism. Just really quickly, I will tell
you that each of these women were generous and frugal. Since there were neither
excesses in their garden or trash in their homes, they
were able to share and use everything. Each was public-spirited,
taking responsibility not only for their
lives, but for whatever and whoever else needed them. These women are
prudent to a fault. They were irritated but
not surprised by the lack of common sense and
tolerant only of laziness and open to rest only because it
allowed them to gather strength with the coming day. These women are representative
women in these virtues. And they’re also exemplary. They exemplify the
virtues of engaging with the problem of American
masters set in motion by the American republic. And they are exemplary
of the spirit of Lotus as a fugitive
political community. So to close, I
would like to answer the question of whether
Republican politics is possible and
desirable in our time. My answer is a qualified
yes in this all encompassing global political economy
that is, in part, the result of the success of an
order, which understood itself as Republican on the one
hand, and on the other, continues to organize itself
around colonialist plunder and the accumulation
of black bodies. A fugitive republic of the
kind that Morrison offers may not simply be
republicanism’s best hope, but, perhaps, the best hope for
much in the subalternate world. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] STEPHEN MARSHALL:
So I’d like to offer some thoughts on the
relationship between race and republicanism– Republican theory. MELVIN ROGERS: Could you
move the microphone a little [INAUDIBLE]? STEPHEN MARSHALL:
Is this better? AUDIENCE: Yes. STEPHEN MARSHALL: So these
are some scattered thoughts that I’m trying to
give the appearance of systematic thinking
through as I perform this. And I’m not precious about it. So what I’d like to do
is to try and identify some signposts in
Republican theory where we might begin to
interrogate the location of race critically. Now, I think it’s
useful to say something about how I’m thinking– the concept of race as
I work through this. I definitely want
to establish it as a modern category, which
means I completely repudiate all these attempts to find race
and antiquity, and so on and so forth. Perhaps, I can be used for
point of conversation later on. But more, principally,
what I’m thinking about is the way in which the world
is divided ontologically between a constituted
Europe, which in turn, constitutes a non you. But to put this another way, a
constituted whiteness, which, in turn, constitutes
a non-whiteness. And the relationship
between the two is a relationship of
rule and regulation. And what’s interesting about
that way’s conceptualizing race is that you begin to see that
the racial categories that emerge include whiteness
within the tabulation. But whiteness is
within the tabulation and also constituting the
tabulation and regulating it. So that gives it a
very distinctive kind of governmental relation. So having said that, I want to
start off with a little thought experiment. I was thinking about
the relationship between those who proclaim
make America great again and those who proclaim
Black Lives Matter. Now, it’s interesting when you
put those two things together, they are not usually
put together, even though one implies
the other, as in spoken constitutive outside
of the other. But I want to look at
their commonalities. In many respects, both
of them invoke a kind of Republican citizen,
a kind of recourse to a legislative
authority that can talk about the kind of
society in which one expects a certain kind of social life. But if you ask the
question, for whom is the ideal of making
America great again directed? And you ask the
question, to whom does Black lives not matter? Seems to me, the answer to the
question in both circumstances is the same thing– white citizens. Citizenship is important. Both are appeals to citizenship. Both are citizenship appeals. But it seems to me that,
ultimately, both are appealing to white citizens. Now, to the extent that
that is an argument that can be sustained, what status
do we give to white citizenship? And I want to say that that is
the originary constitutive idea of the Republican citizen. So that’s where I’m
going to try to get to. And let’s see if I can develop
some ideas along the way to develop this. So a little background
on Republican theory. As we know, the idea
of the Republican ideal is retrieved from
readings of modernity, the Renaissance,
14th, 16th century. Republican ideals drawn from
Greece and Rome emphasizing questions of civic virtue and a
very particular and distinctive conception of liberty. The thing to note
about that, of course, is at that time period
is called terminus with the quote, unquote,
“Europe’s exploration of the world,” particularly, the
colonization of the Americas. Why these two things are
important to put together is because many of the
emerging early modern republics will be founded in the Americas. So the question will be, what is
the relationship between empire and Republican ideas? Now, within the work
of Republican theory, generally, you take David
Armitage as an example. There’s been a
long-standing discussion about the relationship
between liberty and empire and Republican view. And the idea was that
with notions of expansion, the Republican ideal
threatened to fold in on itself and undermine its
ideals of liberty. So there was always
this idea of tension. But that notion of
empire is not necessarily worked through how we would
think about the colonization of the Americas. And I find it useful here to
draw upon the work of Jake GA Pocock, who has some interesting
things to say about empire. But before I do that, let’s just
identify at least the two camps of Republican theory. On one hand, you have
the Aristotelian camp, which emphasizes these
questions of civic virtue. And on the other hand, you
have the neo-Roman camp that emphasizes
questions of liberty as a distinct alternative to
the hegemony of liberalism as a concept of liberty. Liberalism’s concept of
liberty generally symbolized by this notion of
negative liberty, freedom from constraint. The Republican
theorists will say that’s a very weak
notion of liberty. And what really
matters is freedom from domination or freedom
from dependence, nondomination and nondependency. But Pocock points out to us
that when we’re thinking about– and Pocock is one of
the foremost historians of Republican political thought. When we’re thinking
about empire, it means two things
which are very important. Firstly, it describes the way
in which a political system expands to hold in provincial
subjection, peoples not belonging to it,
or to peoples whose state has become an empire. But he also goes on
to say something, which is more interesting
from my point of view that by the early
modern period, Europeans had acquired enough rule
in lands beyond Europe to encourage and,
perhaps, justify us in giving the word,
empire, primarily to the meaning of the rule of
Europeans over non-Europeans. Now, that’s another way for
me of reclaiming and restating what we mean by race. And if we move in that
particular direction, it commits us to what I call a
colonial constitution of race thesis, not one that requires us
to investigate blood, lineages, and so on, that
will always be built on that kind of
colonial conception. So having said that,
what I want to do now is to give two sets of examples
as to how we might investigate this relationship between
race and republicanism against the background of
race that I’ve already given. First set of examples– one might describe as
historical examples. And then I’ll move onto more
closely theoretical ones. So Laura Doyle in her
book, Freedoms of Empire, examines, as a
literary theorist, the rise of the modern novel. And one of the things she’s
particularly interested in is what she describes
as Atlantic liberty. She’s looking at the
English Revolution. And she’s looking at
the migration of ideas from England, Republican
ideas, and the transplantation in the Americas. And one of the things she
draws our attention to is how many of these thinkers– many of these revolutionary
thinkers– the diggers, the levelers– these
kinds of people– and they began to
think about liberty. They emphasized questions
of the rightfulness and the inherent English
birth-like status of liberty. Liberty was a birthright. Now, this notion of a
birthright, she argues, is translated to the US,
as translated to the US as part of the kinds
of revolutionary ideals that develop. And it’s worth noting that
when the US establishes itself as a republic, its first
attempt at legislation in terms of
citizenship law, 1790, enshrines citizenship
with whiteness. So there we have a
kind of indicator, if you like, an
empirical indicator, if you’re sufficiently a
political scientist– to give us some hope that this
might be a worthwhile point of exploration. So we have this idea that
political membership can be cast in terms of those who
have an entitlement to liberty as a form of, perhaps, white
possessive individualism to quote, yeah, MacPherson– C.B. MacPherson. So the argument that
I’m trying to make here is that, perhaps, in the
invocation of we, the people, there is this inherent legacy
of we, the white people. Let me turn to my second
historical example– comes from the work
of Marixa Lasso, who wrote a book about the
emergence of Colombia during the Latin American
wars of independence. And her focus is on how
within this particular birth of a nation the on treaty
to the formerly enslaved, the blacks slaves are joined
in the wars of independence was one that gave them the
hope of citizenship premised on the abolition of slavery. And you see this involvement
of many black former slaves in the armies of Latin
of wars of independence– very much the same
circumstances. And one of the
arguments she makes is that in Colombia,
that was one of the first places
in the Americas where there was established this
principle of racial equality as underpinning the
possibility of citizenship. But it came with a downside. In the downside was
this that in that context, any kind
of racial grievance that was associated with
black populations associated with their espousal was
seen as unpatriotic, was seen as divisiveness. Now, Republican
theory that always had this issue that
the civic virtue depended on a stable
political community in which there was no discord. Concord was important. So divisiveness that came
from grievances mobilized by black populations– they have that tendency– was often identified
with provoking what they called race war. And race war was this idea
that could divide and polarize the nation– sounds like
yesterday, doesn’t it? Sort of contemporary. It seems almost un-American. So you have this idealized
notion of racial harmony that underpins the coming
together the colleaguing of the republic and
its citizenship. Another way of thinking
about the invocation– we, the people– because
most importantly here in this context of citizenship,
the major question was, who controlled the way in which
we understand racial equality? And it was not the
black citizens. As now, as an American,
it was the white citizens. So their two historical examples
about how we might begin to think through this question
of race and Republican theory. Well, now, I want to turn
to some theoretical examples focusing principally on the work
of Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit. I’m focusing on the
way in which they want to rethink the
concept of liberty against the liberalism concept
of liberty, which might be useful if we occupy liberalism. We might want to
check that out– wasn’t something I heard earlier
on in the previous panel, but let’s not digress. Quentin Skinner, who I’ve been
following for a long time, has made the
argument that there’s a Republican tradition
of liberty which is robust than liberalisms. But it’s been eclipsed by
the hegemony of liberalism. And he argues that in the early
modern period it was a rival. It was a rogue, a neo– it was a Roman concept liberty
that was a rival to liberalism. And what he’s arguing here is
that subjects in a free state benefit from two principles. The first was that
the meaning of liberty for an individual
citizen was embedded in an account of what it
means for a civil association to be free. And secondly, in this
conception of liberty, there is a sustained
repudiation of slavery. And it meant that
the loss of liberty could be identified for
the individual citizen as liking to the
condition of servitude. Now, I don’t have a lot
of time to try and develop what is wrong with
this conception. But I can just say one
thing, and it’s this– and you find this in
liberalism, as well. They trade almost exclusively
on a metaphorical idea of what slavery is and a very
individualist idea of slavery. And a very [? precetist ?]
idea of what citizenship is. So what you find is that the way
you’re thinking about liberty presupposes an actual citizen
in place whose only relationship to slavery is the potential
loss of citizenship threatened by this abstract lack of liberty
by that which is exerting power over it externally. Well, how do you smuggle
into that, the actual slaves, who don’t have citizenship? It means they’re in a
relationship of dependency to the people who
do have citizenship. And this is where I’m returning
to this question of race, again. Because I only have four minutes
left, I want to jump ahead. I’m going to have to leave
Philip Pettit out of this, except to say that when he
conceptualizes slavery, what he also does is to use the
metaphor of the Americans describing during the revolution
their own condition of slavery in relation to the British
empire, another metaphor. So there’s no engagement
with chattel slavery. There’s no engagement with the
population that’s enslaved. It’s simply abstract
individuals who are always already citizens. They’re never slaves. So this leads me to
trying to account for what might be a theoretical
framework for thinking through some of these issues. And this is where I come to the
notion of white sovereignty. The sovereignty has had a
bad rap in recent years. And nobody knows where you
can identify sovereignty. Can we really talk about
the ultimate authority being located here,
there, or anywhere else. It’s an interesting
article by Andreas Kalyvas. It was a recuperate the
notion of sovereignty as a way of talking about
a constituent power. And the idea of
constituent power is that it gives us some
recourse to that moment before the Constitution when all
this violence, like settlement colonial genocide, slavery,
the generations that this takes to produce these
things, all of that is constituting
the point at which traditional political
theory picks up when the Constitution has been made. Or some people call that
contract theory, OK? Well, the stuff before
that, the constituent power. He argues that this is where we
get this notion of sovereignty from. And if you think about some
of the ways in which it’s used by people on the left,
and I thinking about people like Antonio Negri,
the argument will be that a constituent power
is the power of democracy to remake itself beyond
the Constitution. Well, I would argue
is that what we find in the Americas in
relation to the republics that emerge there is a colonial
racial constituent power that creates the basis for white
sovereignty, which basically means that what forms
of citizenship exist are legislating forms of
citizenship that can legislate for other kinds of citizenship
in a relationship of dependency to it. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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