- Another white Man’s Burden: Josiah Royce’s Quest for a Philosophy of white Racial Empire by Tommy J. Curry
At first glance, Tommy Curry’s project in Another white Man’s Burden may seem like a strange undertaking. While American philosophers have been writing more frequently on Royce over the past decade, he remains a fairly peripheral figure. Those of us in Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy (SAAP) circles may be able to recognize terms like “Beloved Community” or “Loyalty to Loyalty” readily, but we would be hard-pressed to gain an audience for conversations about them at the American Philosophical Association’s (APA) regional meetings. Royce rarely ends up on undergraduate syllabuses, and few people read Royce in the greater philosophical community. Royce is not Aristotle, Kant, or even Dewey. He is a growing figure that is often still viewed as a strange idealist best known for working alongside more famous figures from his time with Harvard. This means that we may expect it to be the case that, if one wants to write a book on Royce that can garner wide readership outside of SAAP circles, then that book would have to act as an introduction to Royce’s work as much as an analysis of it. And it is difficult to convince someone that a figure that they have barely heard of is worth thinking about if one is providing anything but a glowing endorsement. Thus, Curry’s Another white Man’s Burden is an unexpected starting point to change the larger philosophical community because far from acting as an encouraging introduction to Royce’s oeuvre, Curry offers an unflinching critique of contemporary attempts to engage with Royce’s work.
However, everything that goes into making Another white Man’s Burden an unlikely inspiration for widespread discussion of Royce also makes it a crucial new work of scholarship for American Philosophy broadly construed. As Curry puts it, “[t]his book is not a testament to the problems in the thought of Josiah Royce; it is a study of the historical gulf—the methodological failures—of American philosophy’s engagement with race itself. Another white Man’s Burden is a challenge to American philosophers that questions how we read, what we believe we understand, and urges us to refine our thinking so that we can better do philosophy” (xxi). What this means is that Another white Man’s Burden is not simply about Royce; rather, it is an indictment of [End Page 98] any philosophical approach that seeks to protect figures from critique. This makes Another White Man’s Burden not only a potential turning point in Royce scholarship, but also a much-needed challenge for philosophy as a whole.
Curry situates his argument regarding Royce in response to a collection of scholarship that seeks to position Royce as an inspirational figure for contemporary anti-racist philosophy. Curry engages with work from Shannon Sullivan, Jacquelyn Kegley, Mathew Foust, and Scott Pratt, among others, to show that there is a dominant discussion in Royce scholarship that attempts to depict Royce’s work, as well as Royce as a thinker, as ahead of his time (1855–1916) when it comes to issues of race.
Another white Man’s Burden aims to deliver four key arguments to highlight the harm of using Royce’s work for anti-racist projects. First, if we look at Royce’s own work more broadly, we see that he himself understood the ideas that scholars most often pick up on as anti-racist, notably provincialism and loyalty to loyalty, as racialized, and tied them directly to imperialism and white supremacy. Second, Royce’s racism cannot be isolated to a single idea, such as provincialism; rather, racism is at the heart of the very logic that Royce uses to establish loyalty to loyalty itself, which Curry sees as Royce’s guiding ethics. Third, Curry claims that many read Royce’s work through a twenty-first-century lens, and that in doing so, they neglect...