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June 13, 2018
9780813175621
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A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) was a prolific writer and public speaker whose impact on American literature and history has been long studied by historians and literary critics. Yet as political theorists have focused on the legacies of such notables as W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, Douglass's profound influence on Afro-modern and American political thought has often been undervalued.

In an effort to fill this gap in the scholarship on Douglass, editor Neil Roberts and an exciting group of established and rising scholars examine the author's autobiographies, essays, speeches, and novella. Together, they illuminate his genius for analyzing and articulating core American ideals such as independence, liberation, individualism, and freedom, particularly in the context of slavery. The contributors explore Douglass's understanding of the self-made American and the way in which he expanded the notion of individual potential by arguing that citizens had a responsibility to improve not only their own situations but also those of their communities.

A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass
also considers the idea of agency, investigating Douglass's passionate insistence that every person in a democracy, even a slave, possesses an innate ability to act. Various essays illuminate Douglass's complex racial politics, deconstructing what seems at first to be his surprising aversion to racial pride, and others explore and critique concepts of masculinity, gender, and judgment in his oeuvre. The volume concludes with a discussion of Douglass's contributions to pre– and post–Civil War jurisprudence.

About the Authors

Neil Roberts is associate professor of Africana studies, political theory, and the philosophy of religion at Williams College. His book Freedom as Marronage is the recipient of awards from the American Political Science Association Foundations of Political Theory section and Choice magazine, and the Association for College and Research Libraries selected the work as a Top 25 book for 2015. He is president of the Caribbean Philosophical Association.

Review

"Frederick Douglass's identity as a major voice in black American thought has long been recognized, but his significance has usually been ghettoized. Neil Roberts's important anthology is a valuable contribution to the growing body of work seeking to establish Douglass as one of the most important political theorists in US history—an interlocutor with whom we should all be urgently engaging, given the legacy of slavery and racial injustice in the United States."—Charles W. Mills, Distinguished Professor, CUNY Graduate Center, and author of Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism

"Through the careful, probing, and insightful work of an incredibly distinguished group of contributors, A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass sets a new bar for scholarly writing on Douglass' political thought. This groundbreaking and rich text is essential reading."—Tommie Shelby, Harvard University

"The beauty and brilliance of Frederick Douglass's political thought is brought to life in Neil Roberts' outstanding volume. Offering readers a rare opportunity to engage Douglass's work in all its variety and complexity, A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass reveals him as a hemispheric thinker whose analyses of freedom, power, slavery, and white supremacy are enmeshed in current questions of affect, aesthetics, resistance, and the very nature of political membership. This book's extraordinary social and political theorists remind us that democracy's promise requires confronting the practices of unfreedom that haunt us still."—Cristina Beltrán, New York University

"Roberts has given us a splendid opportunity to rethink Douglass's political thought, which is relevant today given the discourse of white nationalism in the United States and western Europe."—Choice

"In A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass, editor Neil Roberts and fourteen contributors, including historians, literary scholars, political philosophers, and many others, offer both a useful recap of the major statements on Douglass and an inviting provocation for further work. A fine collection."—Political Theory

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