Category Archives: book reviews

Review: Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life argues that the invocation of “race” obscures the nature of social inequality, masking problems of an economic and political nature under the guise of race and racism. Fields & Fields argue that despite the inadequacy of the term, race has become a real abstraction, i.e., an ideology. Key to their understanding of the emergence of race is the role that it played in justifying — and rationalizing– the system of American black slavery.

Review: Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life argues that the invocation of “race” obscures the nature of social inequality, masking problems of an economic and political nature under the guise of race and racism. Fields & Fields argue that despite the inadequacy of the term, race has become a real abstraction, i.e., an ideology. Key to their understanding of the emergence of race is the role that it played in justifying — and rationalizing– the system of American black slavery.

Review: Steven Hahn and Kate Masur

As a whole, Hahn presents a genealogy of black political consciousness as wholly apart from nineteenth-century bourgeois radicalism. Distancing himself from what he has labeled as “liberal approaches” to Reconstruction, Hahn’s work aims to provide an independent history of black experience and black politics. Although a scholarly work with innumerable contributions, Hahn’s approach problematically treats American blacks as a monolith. And even though Hahn himself recognizes that, for example, black politicians in the rural South pursued “goals of a nascent black bourgeoisie,” he does not explore the implications of these emergent class divisions, but, rather, asserts that even these politicians had come to “see their destinies as inextricably linked to those of the rural masses.”

Review: Steven Hahn and Kate Masur

As a whole, Hahn presents a genealogy of black political consciousness as wholly apart from nineteenth-century bourgeois radicalism. Distancing himself from what he has labeled as “liberal approaches” to Reconstruction, Hahn’s work aims to provide an independent history of black experience and black politics. Although a scholarly work with innumerable contributions, Hahn’s approach problematically treats American blacks as a monolith. And even though Hahn himself recognizes that, for example, black politicians in the rural South pursued “goals of a nascent black bourgeoisie,” he does not explore the implications of these emergent class divisions, but, rather, asserts that even these politicians had come to “see their destinies as inextricably linked to those of the rural masses.”

Review: Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History

The problem with Buck-Morss’s argument is that in replacing freedom with “humanity” (unfreedom with “inhumanity”), and political judgment with “moral judgment” the link between political consciousness and history is severed. In this way, the politics of “resistance” has a depoliticizing effect. The defense of “humanity” throughout time as the guiding beacon for historiography falls short of addressing the problem that, historically, has been at the center of political revolutions the world over: how can humanity be transformed?

Review: Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History

The problem with Buck-Morss’s argument is that in replacing freedom with “humanity” (unfreedom with “inhumanity”), and political judgment with “moral judgment” the link between political consciousness and history is severed. In this way, the politics of “resistance” has a depoliticizing effect. The defense of “humanity” throughout time as the guiding beacon for historiography falls short of addressing the problem that, historically, has been at the center of political revolutions the world over: how can humanity be transformed?

Review: For Cause and Comrades

Behind the lines of North and South, “honor” was defined along different political commitments: While Union men fought to uphold the honor of the nation and punish the rebel states, Confederate troops were livid about the attempted subjugation of the South by “Northern Yankees,” and fought to recover the honor of their home states. Both definitions hinged on a particular interpretation of the founding myths of the American Republic. Northerners saw themselves as defending “the experiment of self-government” by protecting the existence of the Union, and in this way upholding the guiding principles of 1776. With the same revolutionary history in mind, Southerners fought to challenge the “tyrannical force” of the North, which—in quotidian parlance—would turn the South into the “slave” of the North.

Review: For Cause and Comrades

Behind the lines of North and South, “honor” was defined along different political commitments: While Union men fought to uphold the honor of the nation and punish the rebel states, Confederate troops were livid about the attempted subjugation of the South by “Northern Yankees,” and fought to recover the honor of their home states. Both definitions hinged on a particular interpretation of the founding myths of the American Republic. Northerners saw themselves as defending “the experiment of self-government” by protecting the existence of the Union, and in this way upholding the guiding principles of 1776. With the same revolutionary history in mind, Southerners fought to challenge the “tyrannical force” of the North, which—in quotidian parlance—would turn the South into the “slave” of the North.

Review: B. Rushforth, W. Jordan, E. Morgan, S. Smallwood

Throughout the book, Morgan highlights commonalities between English opinions of the poor, and colonial opinions of slaves. He shows how these similar dehumanizing perspectives helped define the conception of the industrious Englishman. In the end, it was because slaves were not seen as men but as “laboring property” that Republican ideas of liberty could develop with such vehemence in the slave society of Virginia.

Review: B. Rushforth, W. Jordan, E. Morgan, S. Smallwood

Throughout the book, Morgan highlights commonalities between English opinions of the poor, and colonial opinions of slaves. He shows how these similar dehumanizing perspectives helped define the conception of the industrious Englishman. In the end, it was because slaves were not seen as men but as “laboring property” that Republican ideas of liberty could develop with such vehemence in the slave society of Virginia.

Review: Nick Nesbitt

Nesbitt notes that the Bossale community never reached a consensus as to how it might sustain itself in the face of the capitalist world-system. Throughout a century and a half it was able to survive by “passive and (occasionally) active resistance to the liberal world-system, in a strategic withdrawal of maronnage to the Haitian hills” (Nesbitt, 174). How would this “Bossale vision of an anarchist, multifundia-based freedom” have been able to sustain itself? Here is where is where Nesbitt is conceptually stuck (one could say also, politically stuck). How could have these egalitarians means achieve a total eradication of the social order?

Review: Nick Nesbitt

Nesbitt notes that the Bossale community never reached a consensus as to how it might sustain itself in the face of the capitalist world-system. Throughout a century and a half it was able to survive by “passive and (occasionally) active resistance to the liberal world-system, in a strategic withdrawal of maronnage to the Haitian hills” (Nesbitt, 174). How would this “Bossale vision of an anarchist, multifundia-based freedom” have been able to sustain itself? Here is where is where Nesbitt is conceptually stuck (one could say also, politically stuck). How could have these egalitarians means achieve a total eradication of the social order?

Review: Jeremy Popkin

In order to support the claim that the journée of June 20 was a “turning point” in history, Popkin provides ample evidence that neither Sonthonax nor Polverel went to Saint-Domingue with the intention of abolishing slavery in one blow (Popkin, 167). While committed to the gradual eradication of slavery, both were, initially, most preoccupied with reintroducing stability to the colony and went to great lengths to do so. Throughout this process however, the political divisions between the freemen of color, the whites with property (grand blancs) and those without any (petit blancs) came to a head. The situation in St. Domingue had a substantial impact on the decisions made by the commissioners—Popkin’s observation stands, in this respect. But it was their allegiance to ideas of freedom and equality that proved decisive in the face of conflict.

Review: Jeremy Popkin

In order to support the claim that the journée of June 20 was a “turning point” in history, Popkin provides ample evidence that neither Sonthonax nor Polverel went to Saint-Domingue with the intention of abolishing slavery in one blow (Popkin, 167). While committed to the gradual eradication of slavery, both were, initially, most preoccupied with reintroducing stability to the colony and went to great lengths to do so. Throughout this process however, the political divisions between the freemen of color, the whites with property (grand blancs) and those without any (petit blancs) came to a head. The situation in St. Domingue had a substantial impact on the decisions made by the commissioners—Popkin’s observation stands, in this respect. But it was their allegiance to ideas of freedom and equality that proved decisive in the face of conflict.