Charles Mills: The Racial Contract
Charles Mills spent his early academic life teaching physics in Jamaica and the next four decades teaching political philosophy of race in the United States. Seemingly dramatically different, the two careers shared a single, fundamental concern: What supposedly universal claims about the order of the world are actually ideologically informed assumptions? For Mills, race is one such ideological assumption—and not, as many have it, a peripheral or secondary category. Rather, he argued, white supremacy is the central, persistent organizing principle of Western political philosophy and practice. With the publication of The Racial Contract, Mills audaciously took aim at the classic Enlightenment thinkers of liberalism—Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant—and postulated that the abstract notions of Enlightenment liberalism were explicitly about white racial domination and that the racialized elements of such thinkers were incorrectly ignored as aberration. Long treated as a fringe or special-interest within Anglo-American philosophy, Charles Mills’ scholarship over hundreds of publications has made race impossible to dismiss or bracket away. What happens when whiteness is posed as the epistemological basis for the social contract?
This course is a survey of Charles Mills’ work and impact on contemporary political philosophy. We will be reading the entirety of The Racial Contract. We will also examine his analyses of ideology and explore his epistemology of white ignorance. Although Mills diagnoses not only classic liberals but also relatively contemporary liberal social contract theorists like John Rawls as “racial liberals” with theories at best wholly inadequate to addressing racial justice in actually existing racist societies, we will try to understand Mill’s surprising turn to recuperate liberalism as the necessary guarantor of rights. Given that whiteness is the epistemological frame for liberalism, and white supremacy its constant historical reality, what could liberalism look like otherwise? And why, in Mills’ view, is it worth saving?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
March 08 — March 29, 2022