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  • The Good Royce and the Bad Royce, Or, Is Saving Royce from Himself Worth It?
  • Dwayne A. Tunstall

I. Introduction

Tommy J. Curry’s Another white Man’s Burden is an excellent study of Josiah Royce’s philosophy, particularly his social philosophy, within its historical milieu. I think that Curry is right with respect to his criticism of Royce’s social philosophy. As I read Another white Man’s Burden, I found myself distinguishing between the “good Royce” and the “bad Royce,” along the lines of the simplistic yet fruitful good-bad dichotomy Richard Rorty used to characterize philosophers such as John Dewey (see Rorty 213–14). By the “good Royce,” I mean the Royce whose thought is neither necessarily anti-black and racist, nor advances the cause of Anglo-Saxon cultural superiority. By the “bad Royce,” I mean the Royce whose thought is antiblack and racist, and advances the cause of Anglo-Saxon cultural superiority. The rest of this paper examines the differences between the good Royce and the bad Royce and explains how Royce’s philosophy is not an apologetics for white racist empire, even though Royce himself is likely an apologist for it.

II. The Good Royce

The good Royce is the one whose social philosophy aims to establish an ethico-religious order that lessens the social disorder that naturally arises when, for example, a large influx of Central and Eastern European immigrants entered into the US Northeast in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or when the African American population in the US South had not been integrated into mainstream American society in the first few years of the twentieth century. Royce’s social philosophy is one that can be plausibly interpreted as his continuous effort to restore a healthy ethico-religious and [End Page 22] social order in the United States during a turbulent period in US history.1 According to this interpretation of Royce’s social philosophy, the concept of wise provincialism, in which provinces serve as bulwarks against “the cultural hegemony of the state, allow[s] for a healthy variety of indigenous provincial cultures that serve to mitigate cultural uniformity and conformity and give scope both for the exercise of human individuality and freedom and for the fuller realization of human potentialities” (Hall 18).

We should keep in mind that Royce’s social philosophy was informed by his social psychology. He conceives of interracial conflicts in terms of resolving social antagonisms or antipathies between racial groups (see sec. 6 of chap. I “Race Questions and Prejudices” in Royce, Race Questions). In the case of his discussion of the “Black Problem” in the chapter “Race Questions and Prejudices” from Race Questions, Royce addresses and attempts to resolve the problem of interracial conflicts in the United States, and specifically in the US South, that occurred in the first decade of the twentieth century. William T. Fontaine’s interpretation of Royce is a good way of thinking about the latter’s approach to resolving interracial conflicts. Fontaine notes that Royce was aware of the intensification of interracial conflicts, and also of the many failures at establishing orderly societies due to the historical events of the early twentieth century. Examples of the latter include the emergence of the United States as an imperial power; the racist responses to Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905; continuous mass immigration of European peoples of various stocks; and the rigorous, brutal implementation of “white home rule” and legalized segregation of Negroes in the South (Fontaine 282).

We should note that Royce rejected the race science of his day (see secs. 5–6 in chap. I “Race Questions and Prejudices” in Royce, Race Questions). For example, he rejected what one can call a “biogeographic conception of race” in which one’s intellectual, cultural, and social characteristics are reducible to one’s phenotypical characteristics and that those phenotypical characteristics determine one’s membership in a racial group (see Smith, chap. 6). In such a conception of race, each racial group originated from a specific geographical location and the group’s phenotypical characteristics will remain the same regardless of whichever climate and environment one is placed in. This is the case because...


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