Racial liberalism

Charles W. Mills

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


Liberalism is globally triumphant, the dominant political ideology of the modern age. In recent decades, it increasingly has been based on the social contract tradition of John Locke and Immanuel Kant, which has been spectacularly revived by John Rawls's 1971 A Theory of Justice. Debates about the justice or injustice of the existing social order overwhelmingly use a liberal framework, typically centering on the comparative defensibility of social democratic or welfarist conceptions of liberalism versus free market, neoliberal conceptions. But there is a debate orthogonal to these familiar left-right disputes that tends to remain unacknowledged. Liberalism, I suggest, has historically been predominantly a racial liberalism, based on what has in effect been a "racial contract" among whites that denies equal personhood to people of color. White political philosophers have generally ignored this history, but only by recognizing it can we dismantle the structures of white racial privilege established by racial liberalism. (CWM).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1380-1397+1811
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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