Escaping Liberty: Western Hegemony, Black Fugitivity

Barnor Hesse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

This essay places Isaiah Berlin’s famous “Two Concepts of Liberty” in conversation with perspectives defined as black fugitive thought. The latter is used to refer principally to Aimé Césaire, W. E. B. Du Bois and David Walker. It argues that the trope of liberty in Western liberal political theory, exemplified in a lineage that connects Berlin, John Stuart Mill and Benjamin Constant, has maintained its universal meaning and coherence by excluding and silencing any representations of its modernity gestations, affiliations and entanglements with Atlantic slavery and European empires. This particular incarnation of theory is characterized as the Western discursive and hegemonic effects of colonial-racial foreclosure. Foreclosure describes the discursive contexts in which particular terms or references become impossible to formulate because the means by which they could be formulated have been excluded from the discursive context. Through an examination of the action of foreclosure, based largely on unraveling the liberal-colonial convergences of Two Concepts the essay reflects on the political and theoretical problems posed for black political thought by the hegemony of Western formulations of liberty that deny their indebtedness to Western colonialism. Drawing upon juxtapositions between white liberal/republican thinkers and black fugitivity thinkers, it argues a particular lineage of black political thought is compelled to conceive of itself as an escape from the colonial and racial hegemony of Western liberty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-313
Number of pages26
JournalPolitical Theory
Volume42
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

Keywords

  • black fugitivity
  • black political thought
  • foreclosure
  • Isaiah Berlin
  • liberty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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