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The City on the Hill From Below

The Crisis of Prophetic Black Politics

Authored by Stephen Marshall

Publication Year: 2011

Within the discipline of American political science and the field of political theory, African American prophetic political critique as a form of political theorizing has been largely neglected. Stephen Marshall, in The City on the Hill from Below, interrogates the political thought of David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison to reveal a vital tradition of American political theorizing and engagement with an American political imaginary forged by the City on the Hill.

Originally articulated to describe colonial settlement, state formation, and national consolidation, the image of the City on the Hill has been transformed into one richly suited to assessing and transforming American political evil. The City on the Hill from Below shows how African American political thinkers appropriated and revised languages of biblical prophecy and American republicanism.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book could not have been written were it not for the extraordinary support I have received over the years. Three persons in particular have played herculean roles. I am permanently indebted to Mary Hawkesworth, my teacher and friend, whose encouragement inspired the genesis of the book and whose ...

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Introduction: The City on the Hill from Below

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pp. 1-25

Prophetic political critique of the “City on the Hill” is an old and esteemed political philosophy within black America, yet today this project is in crisis. Born within the fugitive public space of black churches and constructed from the multivalent language of biblical scripture, African American quests for freedom, ...

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1. Black Liberty in the City of Enmity: The Political Theory of David Walker

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pp. 26-56

When David Walker wrote his infamous Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Winthrop’s “shining city on a hill” had become for aspiring “colored citizens,” a “city of enmity,” a place where American happiness was contingent ...

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2. “Glorious Revolution” in the City of Mastery: Frederick Douglass on the Corruption of the American Republic

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pp. 57-90

Frederick Douglass is widely recognized for his heroic antislavery political activism and for his brilliant rhetorical powers. His struggles for human dignity, social justice, and multiracial democracy serve as a potent moral example. Admirers and critics alike have described him as “the most articulate former slave who ever lived,” ...

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3. Aristocratic Strivings in the Gilded City: The Political Theory of The Souls of Black Folk

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pp. 91-127

Veiled behind erudite evocations of Greek myth and Roman monumental history, W.E.B. Du Bois’s aristocratic critique of the City on the Hill is so subtle it is easily missed.4 Formulated in the highly wrought prose of “Of the Wings of Atalanta” and placed within the fifth chapter of The Souls of Black Folk, ...

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4. (Making) Love in the Dishonorable City: The Civic Poetry of James Baldwin

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pp. 128-168

James Baldwin concluded his best-known work, The Fire Next Time (hereafter, Fire), with an extraordinary provocation that is arguably the most famous of his entire corpus. After boldly proclaiming that nothing less than the entire fate of the American polity was in the reader’s hands, Baldwin exhorted, “If we—and now I ...

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Conclusion: Prophetic Political Critique in the Age of the Joshua Generation

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pp. 169-196

The tradition of prophetic political critique has come on hard times. The once organic relation between black communities and prophetic political intellectuals has been strained, if not severed. The illuminative powers of the tradition have been vigorously contested by insightful internal critics, who have laid bare aspects ...


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pp. 197-228


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pp. 229-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781439906576
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439906552

Publication Year: 2011