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  • The Spectre of Race: How Discrimination Haunts Western Democracy by Michael G. Hanchard
  • Howard Winant
The Spectre of Race: How Discrimination Haunts Western Democracy
By Michael G. Hanchard. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. 272 pages. https://press.princeton.edu/titles/11270.html

Among the social science disciplines, political science has one of the more dismal records when it comes to explaining race and racism. Sociology, anthropology, psychology, and indeed history have all done better. Only economics ranks lower on both the empirical and theoretical scales where race is concerned. Why political science has been largely incapable of tackling this momentous subject likely has to do with the field's identification with, and in many ways, its subservience to, governing and governmentality. This is an identity it shares with economics. It is notable that many political science departments designate themselves as departments of "government," and that they devote so much emphasis to political technology, although the designation of their work as social "science" is no doubt equally problematic.

To be sure, none of the social "sciences" is immune from the criticism that they unduly downgrade the importance of race. Even when a field devotes significant attention to the subject, as sociology, history, and anthropology have done, especially since the highpoint of the civil rights and anticolonialist movements in the 1960s, they still tend to treat race and racism as aberrations from what is supposedly a democratic and social scientific norm. How often have we been told that slavery is the "original sin" of US history, or that the US is "a nation of immigrants"? It is still difficult to grasp—for white people at least—that "American Negro Slavery" was naturalized and indeed blessed by the nation's founders, almost half of whom practiced it, and that the racist Alien Acts were the first measures passed by the US Congress. It is still nearly unthinkable the US "frontier," romanticized in countless movies and TV shows, was the setting for an "American Holocaust" (Stannard 1992) whose centuries-long carnage exceeded (and indeed inspired) the Nazis. The idea that race is fundamental to modernity, intimately connected to the rise of capitalism, the ascendancy of Europe, indeed the Enlightenment itself, still lies largely outside academic reckoning.

Even more remote from mainstream political science (and again, from the other social "sciences" as well), is the claim that race precedes modernity, that it operated in the ancient world, that it shaped Europe not only in the imperial leap that we conveniently date to the "discoveries" of Columbus, da Gama, Cabral and others, but also internally in the continent. This idea is particularly associated with Cedric Robinson, a political scientist whose critique of his field, The Terms of Order (2016 [1980]), is still underutilized and underappreciated, and whose Black Marxism (2000 [1983]) indicts Marxist theory on some of these same grounds. The idea of Europe as an internal field of race and racism can also be glimpsed in such radical classicists as Moses Finley and Frank Snowden, in the great medievalist and WWII martyr Marc Bloch, in the prodigious linguist, philologist, and Sinologist Martin Bernal, in the Jewish theologian Daniel Boyarin and the psychohistorian Sander Gilman, and in the work of Oliver C. Cox and indeed W.E.B. Du Bois.

Michael G. Hanchard's The Spectre of Race now takes its place in this race-critical current. Centrally oriented to the subfield of comparative politics, the book moves considerably beyond that emphasis to offer a far more comprehensive critique of the entire discipline of political science, one that encompasses political theory, area studies, international relations (see Vitalis 2015), "development" studies, and other aspects of the discipline. All of this is grounded in an extensive and in-depth assessment of the centrality of race and racism in structuring the field.

Hanchard begins with ancient Greece, where the theory and practice of democracy supposedly had its origins in the Athenian polis c. 600 BCE. Drawing on mainstream political theory, he demonstrates that even at this early moment, a fundamental contradiction existed between the inclusive ethos of democratic debate (think of Thucydides) and the exclusive ethnos of citizenship, which relied on concepts of Athenian autocthony that were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-7605
Print ISSN
0037-7732
Pages
p. e47
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-18
Open Access
No
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