Book Manuscript: Kant, Du Bois, and Cosmopolitanism in a New Color
(Currently under review)
In a 1952 letter, W. E. B. Du Bois writes sardonically that a significant number of people believe he died when his nemesis, Booker T. Washington (1893-1915), died, which he found “exaggerated.” Du Bois outlived Washington for almost 50 years, and his writings and political activism after 1915 contain invaluable intellectual insights about race, imperialism, and the inter-connected transnational struggles against colonialism and racial oppression in the United States (see, among others, Du Bois 1915, 1925, 1945, 1943, 1999, 2007).
Yet a survey of political theory scholarship indicates that, indeed, his later writings are predominantly ignored and that despite the overlap between Du Bois’s writings and the questions that motivate the literature on cosmopolitanism, these scholars do not consider him an obvious interlocutor.
This puzzle raises the two related questions that motivate this book: why is cosmopolitan political theory so un-cosmopolitan in its mode of inquiry? Why, despite the world-encompassing character of its project, has this literature failed to reach outside the canon—most prominently, Immanuel Kant’s work—to theorize the social, political, and economic complexity of the cosmopolitan project today? For the purposes of this book, I define cosmopolitanism as the area of inquiry that conceptualizes questions of injustice and political responsibility at the level of the cosmos based on the axiom of equal concern for all subjects regardless of membership or affiliation.
In this book I argue that the promise of cosmopolitanism requires looking beyond Western canonical figures in order to consider how intellectuals of new colors have theorized this issue. This strategy is central to properly theorizing equal concern in cosmopolitan projects because it engages with the way in which subjects understand their predicament, reconstruct the forms of oppression that they face, and engage in political practices to counter them. In the case of W. E. B. Du Bois’s thought, transnational political action built upon racial identity, i.e., blackness, becomes a central way in which he both contests and revisits the question of universality inherent in cosmopolitan projects. Incorporating a Duboisian orientation into the theorization of cosmopolitanism makes clear that equal concern for subjects regardless of membership and affiliation need not mean concern with unaffiliated abstract individuals. Instead, it implies the serious theoretical consideration of what concern with differently affiliated subjects entails, and the need to make sense of the relationship between these affiliations and the normative and political character of the cosmopolitanism we are theorizing.
Cosmopolitanism in a New Color is by no means a simple joint reading of Immanuel Kant and W. E. B. Du Bois. The Kantian leg of the manuscript engages with both Kant and neo-Kantians to reconstruct modes of hierarchy prominent in the former and their echoes in the latter. I then examine the efforts to theorize the transnational by these theorists and suggest that certain Kantian features restrict the productivity of Kantian concepts like hospitality and complementarity. Thus the Duboisian leg of the manuscript offers a reading of these principles from below, and shows that the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois provide a solid basis for constructing a novel framework of transnational cosmopolitanism. This transnational cosmopolitanism I propose allows us to see Kantian principles in novel and more expansive ways but it also goes beyond Kant. It goes beyond Kant by centering our theorization on elements of cosmopolitanism that have been under theorized, including identity, history, and transnational politics, that I develop through a close reading of Du Bois’s thought and political action in the post-First World War era.