- Hayti Was the Measure:Anti-Black Racism and the Echoes of Empire in Josiah Royce’s Philosophy of Loyalty
In 1814, Baron de Vastey wrote in The Colonial System Unveiled: “When Europeans came to the new world, their first steps were accompanied by crimes on a grand scale, massacres, the destruction of empires, the obliteration of entire nations from the ranks of the living” (de Vastey 84). Jean Louis Vastey was a Black Haytien man born in 1781, who assumed the role of an administrator in Hayti after Jean-Jacques Dessalines freed the island from European rule. The Haytien Revolution, which was fought from 1791 to 1804, is the origin of Black theories of liberation from the nineteenth century. The possibility of freedom was not found in the rhetoric of American democratic proclamations, as many authors have asserted, but rather in the ability of Black people to fight and claim their natural right to rule themselves instead of being ruled and enslaved by whites. This triumph not only created the first free Black republic the world had known after enslavement; it simultaneously shattered the theories of racial inferiority that asserted that Black men, and consequently the race, were passive savages whose natural position was that of the slave. It is the echo of Hayti’s liberation by a deliberate act of revolution that Black thinkers reflected upon for more than a century; the revolution inspired reflections on Black liberation from slavery and Jim Crow through the late 1800s.
Since the early 2000s, the work of Josiah Royce has been used to buttress the ideology of integration and assimilation within the canon of American philosophy. These interpretations of Josiah Royce presuppose two central arguments: first, that Josiah Royce developed a theory of racial amelioration that opposed the racial violence of his time; and second, even if Royce failed to remedy the antiblack racism and xenophobia of his thinking and actions, [End Page 73] he provides resources for liberal democratic thinkers concerned with issues of racism in America by means of his philosophy of loyalty. Both claims have been shown to be false in Another white Man’s Burden: Josiah Royce’s Quest for a Philosophy of white Racial Empire. To the first argument, I show that Royce was a deliberate racist thinker who aimed to manage Black people in the American South as they were in British colonies. To the second, I argue that Royce deliberately based his theory of assimilation into white culture and communities on his belief that the Anglo-Saxon people were superior not only to other white ethnic groups such as the Teutons, but also to the Black, Indigenous, and Asian races who had populations in the United States. A foundational misunderstanding by Royceans who see Josiah Royce’s idea of loyalty to loyalty as a progressive social-political philosophy revolves around the neglect of key texts and debates Royce himself responded to in his writings. This neglect is perhaps most apparent in Royce’s disagreement with Thomas Nelson Page over lynching, but perhaps even more important for our understanding of Royce’s philosophy of loyalty is his response to Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s Foundations of the Nineteenth Century.
Present interpretations of historic and contemporary Black figures focus almost solely on integrating a given Black thinker into previously established white schools of thought. This technique resuscitates the previously racist work of white philosophers by directing them toward the problem of race and the perils of racism. Such an approach to the study of race has rarely been analyzed since many of the Black figures recognized within American philosophy are done so through establishing that the said Black thinker was under the tutelage of the white philosopher or a student of a white philosopher’s thought. Understanding Black thinkers’ texts in this assimilative way has made the historical periodization irrelevant. Philosophers are free to integrate Black thinkers as they please with little regard for what these Black authors may have said or even their status or position in their day. It is not uncommon to read, for example, W. E. B. Du Bois as a student of pragmatism or the Chicago School of...