John L. Jackson Jr.: Hegel and Haiti





[John L. Jackson Jr. is Penn Integrates Knowledge professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University] There are many reasonable people (and even some otherwise unreasonable ones) who would maintain that Pat Robertson's take on the recent earthquake in Haiti need not be dignified with a response. I understand that point, and I see where its adherents are coming from. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that Robertson's position represents an isolated analytical island way off somewhere by itself, with no implications for the rest of us. We ignore him at our own peril, especially since there are many people ("religious" or not) who accept his basic premises without question. So, I do feel like a few words are in order about the significance of his supernatural claims about divine justice....

I got the surreal news (via text message) about the Haitian disaster on an Amtrak train from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia Tuesday evening (after attending the AAA symposium on race that I blogged about on Monday). And it just so happens that I was reading, in an almost eerie kind of irony, a small new book by Susan Buck-Morss during that train ride, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History.

The book is an extrapolation on her Critical Inquiry article (from 2000) where she tried to argue that Hegel got his master-slave metaphor from the Haitian revolution, and that such a seemingly clear and self-evident historical fact has been sorely under-appreciated (in fact, missed just about entirely) by the best and brightest philosophers and historians who have worked on Hegel. She chalks these omissions up to a series of factors, including the narrowcast biases of disciplinization and academic specialization. Buck-Morss maintains that the early Hegel was clearly influenced and inspired by the Haitian revolt (championing the psychic need for slaves to forcibly reclaim their full humanity by asserting it in the face of brutal reprisals), even if the later Hegel (of The Philosophy of History) ends up dismissing all of Africa as radically ahistorical, uncivilized, and unprepared for full sovereignty....


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