Hegilian themes in black americanthought [texte imprimé] : from Frederick Douglass to malcolm x
This thesis discusses the Hegelian themes in the works of six representative figures in Black American political thought: Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, William B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. It seeks to investigate the articulation of these themes with reference to the major works by George W. Frederick Hegel, namely the Phenomenology of Spirit, The Philosophy of Right and The Philosophy of History. The working hypothesis at the basis of the research is that the quest for social recognition and freedom at the heart of a minority thought like that of the Black American thinkers can be fully grasped within a Hegelian theoretical framework. Taking its bearings from new historicism, cultural materialism and post-colonial theory, this research tries to show that the six Black thinkers under study have, each in his own manner, seized on the methodological tools and themes that Hegel supplied in his works to articulate their concerns for social recognition and freedom. This study attempts to illustrate that each and every writer in the selected corpus has given emphasis to particular Hegelian themes depending on the historical and socio-cultural conditions in which he produced his work. For example, writing in the Abolitionist period of the first half of the nineteenth century, Douglass foregrounded the dialectic of the slave and master. The spirit of resistance remains the dominant feature of his autobiography. The case of Washington was different. Coming onto the post-Reconstruction stage of American history known as the Gilded Age, an age that witnessed the compromise over the ideals of racial freedom, Washington played down the spirit of overt resistance and played up that of accommodation. Washington took his cue from Douglass as regards the importance of industrial education and skilled labour for racial liberation and proceeded to elaborate a philosophy of rights similar to that of Hegel in its seeming abandonment of militancy for political rights. The age of the progressives at the beginning of the twentieth century was the age during which DuBois’s political thought as regards the racial issue reached its full development. Just like the white progressives, DuBois was steeped in the German/Hegelian social thought of the period. Like them he sought to remedy the ills in the social fabric of the Ethical State by resorting to liberal education and cultural refinement. One of the arguments is that DuBois supplemented Hegel’s the Philosophy of World History by including the Negro as one of its prime movers towards the Absolute. In the process of setting the Negro on the stage of World History alongside the likes of Shakespeare, DuBois made no elbow room for the Hegelian slave about whom his contemporary fellow Black man Washington had made such a big case. Marcus Garvey took over the idea of racial separation from Booker T. Washington in the 1920s to elaborate the idea of a nostos or a return of the Black race to Africa. In this emphasis on the idea of a nation as a sine qua non condition for racial self-definition and the achievement of freedom, Garvey came close to Hegel’s ethical state as an organic unity. Racial nationalism is related to the nativist thought of the “roaring twenties”. With Garvey’s deportation in 1925, the racial issue temporarily lulled up because of the Great Depression before surging up again with the reversal of the “separate but equal” doctrine by the Supreme Court decision of 1954. The international context marked by the start of the Cold War and the “blowing winds” of decolonisation as well as the assumption of world leadership by the United States allowed the emergence of Martin Luther King Jr who renewed the call for racial justice. Taking his cue from Hegel’s aesthetics and dialectic method, King synthesized many philosophical ideas with which he came across during his educational career into a coherent social philosophy known as non-violent resistance. This militant philosophy, which led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Acts in the mid-1960s, showed its limits when King attempted to implement it in the North after riots in the black ghettoes. With the idea of the black ghettoes as “internal colonies”, Malcolm’s revolutionary call for a cultural nationalist politics laid the ground for the Black Power movement in the mid-1960s. Even King who idealised the right of the individual subscribed to such communitarian politics whose philosophical inspiration goes back to Hegel’s conception of the ethical state.