Caribbean Political Philosophy Essay

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Caribbean Political Philosophy

Western Political Philosophy in the opinion of this essay is a concerted attempt to project and impose on a hapless people a foundation for immediate, continued domination and exploitation, we, therefore as a united Caribbean people, cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. This paper identifies and discusses the central themes (thinking) of Gordon Lewis’ Main Currents in Caribbean Thought, Paget Henrys’ Calibans Reason, Rex Nettlefords’ “The Battle for Space” and Charles W.

Mills’ Blackness Visible. This identification and discussion (generally) is achieved by tracing the evolution of Caribbean Political thought through an examination of race/class, explanations of underdevelopment, perspectives on dependency and the anti colonial movement inter alia. The paper goes on to explain (specifically) the manner in which these works assist in understanding the characteristic features, concerns and content of Caribbean political thought.

The final section briefly examines where the Caribbean is at currently by isolating the present set of circumstances engaging the islands. In doing so the paper hopes to make a contribution to the understanding and progress of Caribbean political thought. INTRODUCTION The Caribbean has been described as an area of European colonisation and exploitation through slavery and the plantation system according to Dennis Benn (1987), it has also been described in terms of the product of these conjoined variables, the product of a racial mixture of African, European and Asian referred to as Creole.

Nigel Bolland (2004) describes Creole as locally born persons of non-native origin, which, in the Americas, generally means people of either African or European ancestry. This essay goes further and defines this groups’ contribution to this space, diverse in cultural, ethnic and religious inputs, in terms of the new demands to be made on the state from the product of the aforementioned conjoining. Contribution is achieved by way of a clearly articulated political philosophy moderating the competing interest.

It is this articulation that is the purview of this essay. To this end an effort will be made to identify and critically discuss the central themes of Gordon Lewis’ “Main Currents in Caribbean Thought”, Paget Henrys’ “Caliban’s Reason”, Rex Nettlefords’ “The Battle for Space” and Charles W. Mills’ “Blackness Visible”. To achieve the necessary coverage of the issues the essay will proceed as follows: an analysis of the characteristic features, concerns and content of Caribbean political thought.

Comparisons will be made to typically distinctive aspects of African and European political philosophy (characteristic features), democracy, representation, institutional arrangement and authority (concerns), equality, social justice, welfare (content). It is by this comparison to the assumed standard that a location of Caribbean political thought could be made and understanding of its existence assessed. Finally the understanding sought will be put to use in locating the Caribbean in this global milieu.

It is hoped that a contribution however small will contribute to the ongoing development of Caribbean Political Thought. CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES The assumption that philosophy is held as a European monopoly is grounded in an intellectual tradition whose history consists of the evolution of men’s thoughts about political problems over time according to Sabine and Thorson (1973). Thankfully, there is balance to the discussion accorded by nuanced analysis describing the aforementioned assertion as a false assumption given that these phenomena as known to the Greek were but artefacts of thought George Belle (1996).

The question must, therefore, be asked to what extent the character of Caribbean political philosophy shown a level of independence from western political philosophy and by extention an enlightened path that reflects its African/European/Asian origin and coalescence of its peoples (Creole). This coalescence is described, to a large extent, by C W Mills (1998) as “the coexistence of parallel but incompatible institutional arrangements within a recognised political state” speaks clearly to the many complex issues engaging the multitude of interest acting within this Caribbean.

Significantly and more importantly, is the anti-colonial struggle that is fought at the level of the psyche through cultural and spiritual expressions Paget Henry (1997). This essay will examine both examples and place them into context. Henry argues that religion has undergone systematic alienation within the Caribbean theatre by way of a “lowering of its register or importance to thought.

” His observations show an embrace of Eurocentric Christianity used by the former colonials as a tool of control and subordination culminating in a radical disenfranchising of traditional African religions pertaining to inherited Afro-Caribbean Christianity (voodoo and shango). He explained: “A deployment of binaries (negative assertions) led to European/Christian denials of the existence of an African religious philosophy, significantly and more importantly, is the anti-colonial struggle that is fought at the level of the psyche through cultural and spiritual expressions.

” What is noted by Henry is the idea that stagnation has been allowed to take root in the philosophy allowing gaps for re-colonisation. These gaps are identified by Mills (1998) as he draws on the efforts of David T Wellman (1993) who made clear: “It has been argued that the historic source of white racism lies in a combination of religious intolerance and cultural predispositions to see non-whites as alien. The medieval battles against Islam are then the precursors of the racism that was to accompany European expansionism into the world.

African religions were seen as devil worship, black culture and customs viewed as “mumbo jumbo,” paradigmatically bizarre. ” Henry and Mills collectively recognised the Eurocentric imposition that has come to be known as Christianity and its use as a tool to negatively impact race relations dividing and colonising a people. The expectation would be a Caribbean response in defense and ownership of that cosmology which was African. Instead, according to Belle (1996), an intellectual stasis was the result complementing the concept of negative binaries.

Belle went on to intimate: “Haitian political actors culturally trivialised and ridiculed voodum. The role of voodum, a spiritual expression, in the Haitian experience was central for them in their supernatural and cultural expressions within an anti colonial context. ” Recall Mills (1998) “incompatible institutional arrangement” alluded to earlier; consider that Henry was able to capture the Haitian dynamic beautifully, this also in the context that Haiti holds the distinction of being the first independent black state of the new world.

He expressed it as “A series of extended debates between the major competing racial groups of the: Euro-Caribbean, Amerindians, Indo-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean over projects of colonial domination. The philosophical productions of the Euro-Caribbean were aimed at effecting European political and social hegemony (recall Belle (1996)). While, in contrast, the philosophical undertakings of the Indo-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean were aimed at destroying European hegemony by destroying the legitimacy of their colonial projects.

” It is clear from these attempts to define the character of Caribbean political philosophy emphasis has been placed on its utility as an anti colonial tool for overcoming and overturning projects of European hegemony according to Henry (1995). At the heart of these projects are attempts to minimise the effort to develop an alternative to Christianity, reconnection to an African cosmology that bore witness to the imposition of European dogma and through the condemnation of Islam.

This essay accepts that any attempt to build out a project must at the same time have a level of self assessment attempted by Mills and Henry in this instance. What are of concern to this essay are efforts from within to compromise the character of the project. It is left to be determined if concerns (to be discussed) will suffer the same fate. CONCERNS The classic argument in favour of western political thought is found in social-contract theories, first proposed by seventeenth-century philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

Social-contract theory, in fact, constitutes the basis for concerns in modern political thought according to Andrew Heywood (2004). The argument is referenced to society without government, a so-called ‘state of nature’. Hobbes poignantly describes this state of nature as being ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ reinforcing that without government to restrain selfish impulses, order and stability would be impossible. To what extent has this argument been a part of the contribution concerning Caribbean political philosophers or has there been a redefining of Hobbes’ position?

Paget Henry (2000) identifies a situation of what came natural to the African and the colonial intrusion of a self appointed hegemonic force. In an attempt to locate the discussion within the confines of the state Henry draws on Kwameh Nkrumah (1965) to establish a modern ideology unlike the European articulation of Hobbes state of nature. The African assessment is one of diametric opposition, Nkrumah explains: “The traditional face of Africa includes an attitude toward man which can only be described, in its social manifestation, as being socialist.

This arises from the fact that man is regarded in Africa as primarily a spiritual being, a being endowed originally with certain inward dignity, integrity and value. ” This rationality of the African locates him apart from his European counterpart. Henry showed the widespread existence of one-party states in Africa was not due to one particular outlook he opined it pointed to the persistence of a traditional political culture that included a “grammar” of chiefly or kingly political behaviour.

The argument is not without reason given the application by Plato to the philosopher kings and much later the Divine Right of Kings show a use of African political structure in an attempt to order a European society. The Caribbean, however, has shown no such inclination having been to a large extent “trapped in and shaped by social rivalries, ethnic animosities, weak personal/social identity and political fragmentation caused by the twin epiphenomena of slavery and colonialism” according to Gordon Lewis (1983).

This is not by accident Lewis argued that the inability of Caribbean people to come to grips with this reality, that was not imagined but was real, left them open to continued exploitation. He went on to explain quite accurately that: “Slavery was also a powerful ideological deterrent, for it generated a scale of values in the top, dominant groups of the colonies, in which fear of the black masses stifled aspiration for national independence.

At every turn in the story, these groups opted for selfish treason rather than for popular revolt. ” Lewis contribution established the consequence of the native bourgeoisie’s economic dependence upon the colonial bourgeoisie. It has never been the intent of the former coloniser to give more for less on the contrary the intent was one of taking more for less. Observe how the power struggle ostensibly between colonised and coloniser gets displaced by power relations within the colonised body politic itself.

Remember the argument is one of government structure based on self interest (Hobbes and Locke) against one based on consensus (Paget Henry). Seemingly self-serving political and economic ambitions knows no boundary and does not seek to serve the interests of the newly independent proletariat. Frantz Fanon (1963) suggests the ways in which intellectual leaders often betray the national working-class: “Before independence, the leader generally embodies the aspirations of the people for independence, political liberty, and national dignity.

But as soon as independence is declared, far from embodying in concrete form the needs of the people in what touches bread, land, and the restoration of the country to the sacred hands of the people, the leader will reveal his inner purpose: to become the general president of that company of profiteers impatient for their returns which constitutes the national bourgeoisie. ” Fanons assessment is encapsulated by a more specific argument against the existence of a Caribbean Philosophy, it is the perception of the absence of an intellectual tradition, and the belief the Caribbean is a cultural desert.

The widely held view of the Caribbean as a region of the three S’s: sea, sand and sex. – A notion upon which the tourism industry has been constructed by and to this day exploited by a select few (national bourgeoisie). The writers, to a large extent, have highlighted the threats to democracy, representation, institutional arrangement and authority by way of concerns. A social contract theory promulgated by the former colonial has been answered by an African option structured on consensus. A timely observation of the constraints to growth based on petty rivalries is a reminder of the island state vulnerability to external influence.

This essay suggests that betrayal of the political elite fairly represents the intellectual dilemma the Caribbean is now facing if Fanon (1963) is accepted. This essay argues that if these concerns were addressed maybe the stability of the natural African heritage would have offered up a leader and a type of governance sensitive to the masses and diversification needed.

This essay understands the contribution of Henry and Lewis in attempting to show there was an intellectual tradition drawing attention to democracy, institutional arrangement and authority to address the myriad of concerns. CONTENT Issues that, historically and today, have most concerned political philosophers begin with a set of questions about equality, justice and welfare. These could be thought of as an enquiry into the best form of state according to David Miller (1998). It is a fact that for most of our history human beings have not been governed by states hence the free roaming tribes of Africa, Taino and Kalilingo of the Caribbean and not to be left out the marauding barbarians of Europe.

From the inception this essay has identified a specific group as central to the continued existence of the Caribbean. Rex Nettleford (1993) and Charles Mills (2007) confirm that centrality by, in the first instance, identifying the group as one of three broad elements shaping the society in the second instance, through a specific schema that embodies a racial polity both starting at diverging points but eventually reaching a mutually understood location.

Nettleford has been innovative using the concept of space to draw attention to social injustice; he describes maronnage or “the retreat into safe psychic sanctums calling on inner reserves beyond the reach of external violators. ” This retreat came about with the use of language to communicate, plan and execute rebellion in a tongue foreign to the invaders bringing some equality to a struggle that was always almost dictated by the colonial.

He explained “….. Creole, in the proper sense of native-born, native-bred and not in the sense of an aberration of a dialect to the norm of a standard tongue. The very code switching , so normal to Caribbean people in the liberal use of Creole for appropriate circumstances transformed to the lingua franca as the occasion demands (sometimes in one sentence), is a sign of the capacity to master the flow between inner and outer space on one level.

” The code switching to which he refers is an attempt to push back an institution not sympathetic to the Creole. To organise and communicate meant the mastery of a tongue foreign to the colonial because the institutions to which he had a monopoly were unequal, lacked social justice and had no welfare. This was identified by an economic relationship that marginalised tray merchants placing the Caribbean person on the periphery of existence according to Nettleford (1993).

The exclusion from the vicinity of “formal commercial enterprises” driving the trader underground to the informal economy away from the formal economy clearly establishes a prima facie case for the judicial, executive and legislative institutions to answer with regard to the adopted precepts of western political thought. Mills wasted no time highlighting the fact that race has been essentially reduced to a minimal debate, glossed over, and otherwise left out of the majority of the multiculturalism literature Mills (1998).

His evaluation was logical and nuanced, he argued that: “Tracing the evolution of the concepts of race and ethnicity race began as a biological and therefore immutable aspect of the human condition, while ethnicity was and is seen as a consequence of culture. Racism and ethnocentrism were differentiated by their essential characterisations: Race is a consequence of biology and therefore racism presumes a biological hierarchy; ethnicity is a consequence of culture and therefore ethnocentrism requires a surrender of cultural distinction and assimilation.

” Given the consensus within the scientific community that biological race and thus biological hierarchy do not exist, what pertains in the Caribbean, therefore, in the form of Creole ethnicity and ethnocentrism are seen as relatively more logical and reasoned according to Mills (2007). There is confirmation of this assessment by Lewis (1983). He articulated a position that the Caribbean’s single greatest contribution to political thought is its open exploration of the question concerning race.

This exploration, as Lewis puts it, possibly offers a counter to a Eurocentric fetish with its misplaced presumption of superiority on the subject, a sober Caribbean response. The content of Caribbean thought being characterised as overly concerned with the use of race converges to the concept of Creole recall the alignment sought earlier by Nettleford (1993) and Mills (2007) it is no wonder, therefore, that ethnicity as articulated by Mills (2007) is seen as a more politically palatable category to discuss and philosophically legitimate engaging the polity at all levels.

As a people are we therefore satisfied with the aforementioned argument in its attempt to reconcile what is a contentiously debated topic? This essay suggest that the attempt at convergence is likely due to the challenge of the (particularism) of Caribbean Political thought essentially a question of authenticity which can be defined as of undisputed origin, genuine, reliable and trustworthy. It is a question of who constitutes the Caribbean person, in this case the African or Asian or European or is it the Creole or maybe none of the previously mentioned.

Since it is suggested by some that the attempt at convergence is unlikely must the debate be reduced to one or the other in an attempt to secure an answer? This essay further suggests a complexity that cannot be determined by way of who has the right to speak on behalf of the Caribbean and a claim of superiority. To attempt this would in the opinion of this essay reduce the debate to that which western political thought is – insecure in its biological existence. This is where maturity and understanding is paramount in the construction of a worthwhile paradigm independent of western political dogma.

UNDERSTANDING CARIBBEAN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY The term “political philosophy” often refers to a view, specific political belief or attitude about politics that does not necessarily belong to the technical discipline of philosophy. In short, political philosophy is the activity, as with all philosophy, whereby the conceptual apparatus behind such concepts as aforementioned are analysed, in their history, intent, evolution and the like according to Jean Hampton (1997).

Tim Hector questioned, “Where is our philosophy?” as if to imply that the aforementioned concepts are yet to be found or worst not understood and overlooked. His ask is reasonable given the time our people have occupied this space with the accompanying accoutrements of independence and must be answered against a background of accepted criteria as to what a political philosophy is Hampton (1997). Right or wrong the confluence, convergence, divergence, lack of application that has become synonymous with these islands gives what they have to say a genuine uniqueness.

Since independence, for all the limitations, they have not found the need to go on crusades slaughtering millions in the name of God, use an intellectually convenient ideology to foist on the rest of the world a self serving expansionist ideology under developing Africa and the Caribbean in the name of capitalism, murder its own in two world wars and as this essay concludes present globalisation as the new destabilising force.

It is the position of this essay that the writers have been able to establish a prima facie case toward a political philosophy; there is history, intent and evolution however more needs to be done if only to say Caribbean political philosophy is not what western political philosophy is. As long as the peoples resist the urge to lean toward their own understanding Caribbean Political Philosophy has a chance to become a global solution to its Western Political nemesis.


It is clear that an understanding of Caribbean political philosophy is an understanding of the post colonial project and the need for the Caribbean to extricate itself from the political dogma that is Eurocentric in construction and delivery. In summary this characterisation of Caribbean thought places a high value on overturning projects of European hegemony Nettleford (1995). So important is this aspect of the project that an epistemology, ontology perspective was developed to give structure and ground the thinking given the purported monopoly expressed by the European.

Henry (2000) highlights the key thematic lines along which Caribbean political thought has thus far been expressed. This, however, has not been without controversy the claim that the Caribbean’s single greatest contribution to global thought is its exploration of the question of race Lewis (1983) has triggered the characterisation as overly concerned with the utilisation of race as an analytical category. Mills (2007) answers the characterisation with a nuanced alternative articulating that biological race and thus biological hierarchy do not exist, what pertains in the Caribbean in a form of Creole ethnicity and ethnocentrism.

If exclusively defined by the Western Political standards the Caribbean would be hard pressed to identify a political philosophy, the debate is thus confined to what is important to the people occupying the space. The fundamental difference is with application of what needs to be done given that the Caribbean is young relative to its European counterpart then there is more to be accomplished. This essay understands the confluence, convergence, divergence, dialectic that has become synonymous to these balkanised geographical dispersed islands.

This essay accepts that understanding of a situation comes not with a presumption of right or wrong but openness to arguments, that, if placed on a balance of probabilities could become the reality of the reader. BIBLIOGRAPHY Belle, George. 1996 Against Colonialism: Political Theory and Re-Colonisation in the Caribbean. Paper presented at the Conference on Caribbean Culture: Mona Jamaica UWI. Benn, Dennis. 1987 Ideology and Political Development: the Growth and Development of Political Ideas in the Caribbean 1774-1983.

Jamaica: ISER, Mona. Bolland, Nigel. 2004 The Birth of Caribbean civilization: A century of ideas about culture and identity, nation and society Kingston: Ian Randle Fanon, Frantz. 1963 The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press. Hampton, Jean. 1997. Political Philosophies and Political Ideologies, Montreal: Westview Press. Heywood, Andrew. 2004 Political Ideologies, 3rd Edition: An Introduction, USA: Palgrave McMillan Henry, Paget. 2000. Calibans Reason: Introducing Afro Caribbean Philosophy, London: Routledge, Lewis, Gordon.

1983. Main Currents in Caribbean Thought: The Historical Evolution of Caribbean Society in Its Ideological Aspects, 1492-1900, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Miller, David. 1998. Political philosophy in E. Craig (Ed. ), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, London: Routledge. Mills, Charles. 1998 Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Mills, Charles. 2007 “Multiculturalism as/and/or Anti-Racism?” in Multiculturalism and Political Theory Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Nkrumah, Kwameh. 1965 Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd. Nettleford, Rex. 1993 Inward Stretch, Outward Reach: A voice from the Caribbean Basingstoke: MacMillan. Sabine, George Holland, Thomas Landon Thorson. 1973. A history of political theory. Hinsdale, Ill: Dryden Press. Wellman, David T. 1977 Portraits of White Racism, 2d ed, New York: Cambridge University Press.

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