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2019-2020 CTCT Workshop


The White Leviathan: Nonwhite Bodies in the White Body Politic. A Discussion with Charles Mills

Race, white privilege, white supremacy, racial justice—in recent years all these terms have become central to public discourse. The “post-racial society” delusions of the Obama years have long since been dispelled, with the rise of the alt-right and white nationalism, and the protests of “Black Lives Matter!” But mainstream political theory, descriptive and normative, faces a challenge. How do you theorize the workings of race, how do you develop principles of racial justice, when the official picture of the body politic is a raceless one and liberal accounts of social justice, Rawlsian and non-Rawlsian, generally ignore the history and legacy of white supremacy?

In his forthcoming book, The White Leviathan: Nonwhite Bodies in the White Body Politic, political philosopher Charles Mills argues that we need to rethink our conventional understandings of the American body politic, and, correspondingly, the principles of justice for regulating its workings. Using Thomas Hobbes’s famous image of LEVIATHAN as an artificial construct composed of multiple human bodies, he argues that we should draw on the black radical tradition of thinkers like W.E.B. Du Bois and recognize the “whiteness” of LEVIATHAN. Race is likewise an artificial construct that nonetheless becomes incorporated into the macro-body of the polity and the micro-bodies of its citizens. Ignoring the actual whiteness and coloniality of the Western polity’s time and space will then only entrench them further, as in Rawls’s illusive representation of a supposedly ideal society that whitewashes the actual history of American racial injustice and the need for corrective measures to deal with it. 

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2019 CTCT Workshop Poster: Charles Mills