Jane Anna Gordon, Creolizing Political Theory: Reading Rousseau through Fanon

Reviewed by Teodros Kiros


(New York: Fordham University Press, 2014) Isbn 978-0-8232-5482-B

Reading CPT is a challenge for the mind and a stimulant for the human heart as the author tactfully leads us to think of our possibilities and question our comfort- since all of us are convinced that the world can only be understood through the prisms of conventional multiculturalism and the fads of diversity.

CPT interrogates the advocates of multicularalism, the voices of diversity and the academic lingua of comparativism.

Jane Gordon argues that whlle she remains respectful of mulicularalism, diversity and comparativism, she is deeply skeptical of what we can learn through these instruments of knowledge by sensing and excavating their epistemic limits.

Modernity has long assumed that the world came into being largely because of western civilization’s self- found presence in the world stage. Science and Technology gave birth to technic and along with it, a tool building modern man who aggressively developed nature, thereby making it possible for western humanity to be the hope and world leader. On this dominant west centered view, the west is the origin of civilization and the south is the depository of backwardness, the absence of ethics and home to values, which disempower, disenable and stagnate. In the south time does not move and the civilizing World spirit does not pass through the south, as Hegel famously argued in his Phenomenology of Sprit.

Only Rousseau, the displaced loner, the dreamy traveller, saw the south, as source of values which humanize and religions which give humans a center and bind them to duties, argues, Jane Gordon.

It is Rousseau who studied the north objectively and concluded that its arts and sciences in fact corrupt the western soul by spreading decadent values and Rousseau sought to delegitimize these value systems and despaired to locate alternate values out the of the south. To the shock of his compatriots, Rousseau looked toward the sun light of the south, home of moralities which give us a new human being: reflective, compassionate and pure. For Rousseau the north is backward, devoid of values and contaminated by a technocratic civilization, which impoverishes the western’s man’s soul.

As Jane Gordon put it,

“He tied the alternatives that he prized not only to this periphery but to its greater reaches in the brown and black world” (p, 18).

For Rousseau, in contrast to all the other leading northern voices of the Enlightenment, the south is home to “ distinctive cultures” and not backwaters and the dark sides of primitivity. On the contrary, it is precisely in the south when the north humbly shares the world with its southern residents that intermixing and hence the creolization of values can take place, thereby contributing to the construction of morally rich radical values and correspondingly the cultivations of literally new human beings, or “ new leaf”, as Fanon, Rousseau’s kindred spirit, will put it much later. (P, 36).

New humans must be cultivated since the existing brands of the north are morally empty, although technically rich. Rousseau did not value the technical wealth of the of the north as much as he did the moral imaginations of the cultures of the browns and blacks, of the southern lands. Whereas Hobbes celebrated the mechanical human of the north, Rousseau disdains him, where Hobbes values the instrumental reason of the Enlightenment project, Rousseau fell in love with the moral passions of the south; when all the Enlightenment thinkers of the North hailed and supported the imperialist project of Western civilization, Rousseau, the lone star, relentlessly critiqued the project.

As Jane Gordon put it, “ To be backward (in the way of the barbarian), for Rousseau, however, was an achievement: it was to have circumvented being molded by the repressive reality sacred to and enshrouding the times” (p, 38).

In other words, being backward was a very sophisticated way of preserving one’s humanity by insulating the soul from inevitable corruptions perpetuated by the arts and sciences, which Rousseau argued were corrupting the morals and reducing human purity. For Rousseau, contrary to the claims of the Enlightenment, the arts and sciences did not civilize humans but rather impoverished them as potential moral subjects, subjects who think, subjects who retain their humanity by protecting their souls from irreversible colonization of money. Very early on Rousseau anticipated the unholy marriage of the arts and sciences and capitalist modernization.

Rousseau’s Discourse On The Origin of Inequality is a powerful indictment of capitalist modernization, an argument that was not lost to Karl Marx’s merciless indictment of capitalism.

As Jane Gordon writes, ‘ Rousseau in other words, more explicitly than countless others, used a state of nature and the figure of the natural man to shore up legitimate grounds for criticism aimed at his own European contemporaries.” (P, 59)

As Jane Gordon notes again, “ although Fanon never explicitly engaged Rousseau, he only names Rousseau ones.’ (P, 63), he shared a passion with him in seeing the epistemic limits of instrumental reason as the domination of nature and other human beings, most notably the humans of the south, the sources of values which empower, values which humanize.

Fanon, unlike Rousseau, did not think that the epistemic limits as lived in the southern soil could be reordered by radical reason alone, but by a combination of radical reason and political action in the form of both spontaneity and organized revolution.

The natives of the South cannot patiently wait for noble souls such as Rousseau to change the mindsets of the arrogant north. The north can be changed only by a violent political struggle.

Decolonization for Fanon is always violent since the colonialism that it must overthrow threw itself violently on the “ distinctive cultures” of the South, the cultures that Rousseau likened to his image of the state of nature, a state of equality, sociality and peace. This state of nature was violently colonized, hence the decolonial project of the South is fated to be violent. Delegitmating it is a function of actionality.

By thus arguing, Fanon goes deeper than Rousseau and is existentially forced to give a new portrait of the southern natives as actional. This is a new southern gaze that Fanon articulated on the behalf of the damned. The natives of the south must be actional. Their very condition demands action. Only in action and through action can they recover their dignities. They must give freedom to themselves. Philosophers, such as Rousseau who empathize with their condition, cannot give freedom to them. Rousseau can only enlighten his compatriots, whereas Fanon is fated to throw himself with his brothers and sisters, some of whom are being forced to deny their roots by assimilating whiteness in order to be accepted as fully human. The black of the south must alienate himself from himself in order to be accepted as a human being.

Fanon as a philosopher of desalination insists that the damned of the earth, the blacks and browns of capitalist modernity, must act. The damned must change their conditions and bring their cultures to the sun light of visibility as new sources of creolization. The assimilation of whiteness denies the existence of blackness, by making it invisible, and when visible, as inferior, the absence of value, any value.

Only actionality can change this condition.

For Fanon, the Negro does not have to assimilate whiteness, as he is forced to by the colonizer in order to be human. Rousseau’s man is a savage, but deeply infused with humanity, which the colonizing northerner desperately needs to recover from his self-imposed alienation from his very self.

Fanon’s black is not a savage, nor is he convinced of this portrait and the inferiority that it presupposes. Fanon’s black person is certainly “ Overpowered but not tamed,” “ treated as an inferior but not convinced of his inferiority” ( WE, 53) (p, 91)

Only decolonization can change this barbarous condition and the black person is fully aware of his condition and dreams of freedom day and night. He dreams to displace the colonizer and knows that this condition is not permanent. Actionality will bring a new reality and a new reality principle. All that is established will be disestablished. The old colonial reality will be displaced by an alternative decolonized new reality principle. All that which is violently constructed will be deconstructed by reason and actionality, discourse and disciplined social movements.

Rousseau and Fanon converge on their radically original visions of a new reality principle symbolized by Rousseau’s General will as a description of a Universal Common Good which draws out from the inner sources of human imagination and passion as a search for what all human beings should want- food, shelter, clothing, health and a yearning for beauty. Fanon joins Rousseau in search of the Universal Common Good, which can be realized only, and only when humans become fully nationally and internationally conscious vehicles of change on the behalf of the human species in the formless form of turning a “ New Leaf”, as Fanon put it poetically.

The birth of the new human can take place only as a result of mutual respect and interpenenations of the cultures of the North and South, when they encounter each other on new geographies and new locations as equals and partners. The geography of reason must shift from the north to a new space where the north and south meet as equals and as partners in search of new meanings and purposes. This is the sight of creolization for which Jane Gordon makes a case.

The new space of cultural interactions are not merely cities of tolerance as in multiculturalism, or merely articulations of distinct but radically different cultures as in Diversity, or simply as places which can be compared and contrasted, as in comparative political theory.

For Jane Gordon, creolization as a serious expression of human possibilities is found on a radically original ground, which she compellingly describes, “ In other words, against Rousseau, for Fanon the colonized person is not a key subject of study because somehow untouched. It is precisely the opposite. It is in the relation of the colonizer and the colonized and the worlds that erupt between them that we begin to understand what becomes of the human being in the modern world and what, under such circumstances can be done to and with freedom” (p, 79)

The encounters that she asks for have been tragically denied to all those slaves, laborers, immigrants, who by the accidents of history shared common spaces in which they lived, loved and died and where they forged new cultures, new ways of seeing and hearing, in short new cultures and new worlds. This is where creoliazation is permanently realized and may I add my voice and join Jane Gordon with an alternative vision of multiculturalism, which can work in tandem with the Creolization that she so brilliantly articulates in the moving pages of CPT.

The multiculturalism that I envision and which complements Creolization is not anchored on Universality as in Hegel’s, but rather in Multiuniverasality.

In The Promise of Multiculturalism, (Routledge, 1997), I and George Katsiaficas wrote,

“ Multiversality as opposed to Universality captures the inherent diversity of the human species and the simultaneous presence of many of many disparate elements in any single event. Claims to universality all too often presuppose a one –dimensional view of history, as if history unfolded from one corner of the world, namely Europe. The fact of the matter is that the history of the species did not begin in Europe. The bones of our oldest proto-human ancestors were recently located in modern Ethiopia, where they lived millions of years ago. It is from that region that the world spirit originated, a fact that was foreign to Hegel’s racist imagination. …Multiuniversality, we hope, adequately captures the tone of our times. (The Promise of Multiculturalism: Education and Autonomy in the 21st Century, George Kastiaficas and Teodros Kiros, editors. New York: Routledge, 1997, p, 6)