No recording of this course is available for purchase.


Originally Taught: Unknown

Our course sets off with an overview of modern and contemporary philosophers who critically engaged with colonialism as it transpired. As it happens, a number of key Western thinkers, in their conquests of knowledge, justice and influence, investigated a cluster of reasons that can be deployed as motives to subjugate whole peoples and cultures. Some philosophers would seek a spellbinding way out of contradictions, others would in the end defend colonial praxis under certain conditions, a few would outright condemn it. To be fair to this conundrum, the first cycle of classes begins at the outset of modern colonialism and capitalism, coinciding with the reign of European Renaissance:

1.1 From Aristotle to Sepúlveda and de Vitoria: a Colonial Renaissance

Colonialism in antiquity merits a full-length study, but it’s crucial to locate its clear-cut defence in Aristotle’s Politics (4BC). Further, following Christopher Columbus making landfall in the Bahamas in 1492, a Spanish humanist-misogynist Juan de Sepúlveda baptised and armed Aristotle’s “natural” argument, thereby conjuring up a modern philosophical apology of the empires’ ongoing quests for new lands and bodies in the Americas (A Second Democrates, 1547). From then onwards, colossal riches extracted from slave labour and land exploitation have powered rivalrous European economies, industries, and cultures. We’ll also pay homage to the founder of the School of Salamanca, and one of the early proponents of a consequentialist just war theory, Francisco de Vitoria, who wrote and taught about avoidable colonial cruelties. We’ll read his ‘On the evangelisation of unbelievers’, and conclude by focusing on the parallels and distinctions between colonialism and imperialism.

1.2 Montaigne on Cannibals and Breeches

Fortunately for us, one can always find a daring sceptical philosopher who can share their wisdom lasting over epochs and cultures. In the late Renaissance, one such sceptic is Michel de Montaigne, alone in his library-tower, musing about hollow social manners and the grassroots of barbarism (Essays, 1570-1592).

2.1 Commerce, and Cosmopolitanism: Locke and Kant

First, this week we’ll learn about the British colonisation of the Carribeans throughout the 17th century along a defence of colonial expansion professed by Sir John Locke in Two Treatises of Government (1689). We’ll then juxtapose Locke’s account with late Imannuel Kant, in his Toward a Perpetual Peace (1795), a scandalous text, where the German author suddenly appeared as a proponent of anti-colonialism, which is hard to reconcile with an advocate for racial and civilizational hierarchies evident in other works, e.g. Anthropology (1798).

2.2 Diderot on Common and Communal Senses

In the second half of this class, we’ll have an intimate look at Denis Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage published posthumously in 1796. The text was written just before the establishment of the American Declaration of Independence, which initially denied political rights to women, black people indiscriminately and white males with no property (the poor). Throughout this text, Diderot builds up a reputation as the most radical modern opponent of European colonisation and forced enlightenments. A creative ethnohistoric work, Diderot’s Voyage juxtaposes colonial tropes with those of native Tahitians. Serendipitously, fuelled by the French Revolution, the enslaved Tahitians rose up against a number of colonial regimes and armies, against the stigma of inferiority, and gained independence in a series of brutal events (1791-1804). The latter to date informs abolitionist and anti/decolonial movements, not least because the Tahitians responded with a constitution of their own making (Gurminder Bhambra, 2016).

3.1 Hegel on a Messianic Mission

This lecture first considers some passages from G.W.F. Hegel’s Lectures on The Philosophy of World History (1822-1830). Like Locke and Kant, Hegel gravitates toward a monotheistic worldview, entailing that an imposition of a higher on a lower – poly/pan/nontheistic – culture is warranted because it is “the sole condition on which these peoples can gain freedom in the longer term”, as Alison Stone puts it in a recent paper published in Hegel Bulletin (2020). Retrospectively, who can say with any certainty that a transition from poly/pan/nontheism to monotheism – choose your example – is necessary and progressive?

3.2 From Feudal to Bourgeoisie with Marx & Engels

On one hand, in The Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx & Engels diagnosed colonialism as a symptom of the capitalist regime’s expansion, which they urged to rebel against. On the other hand, in the pitches for the New York Daily Tribune (1853) concerning the colonisation of India by the British, while acknowledging the grave sufferings involved, Marx treats the Indian culture as essentially feudal – inferior – and in need of economic modernisation. This way, British colonialism crops up as an agent of change and progress.

4.1 Capitalism, Slavery, and Black Marxism

Published in 1983, Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism is considered to be one of the milestones in the Black revolutionary thought. Robinson introduces the term racial capitalism and argues that Marx & Engels did not properly understand the material force of racial ideology on bourgeois and proletarian ways of life. Another of Robinson's criticisms is that they misrepresented the European working class as the workers of the whole world. This way, to take one example, a class struggle between slaves and their owners and beneficiaries turns into a marginal intellectual matter.

4.2. A Lone Lion: Tolstoy and the Napoleon-Nietzsche Disroder

Unlike an anarchistic wild Nietzsche of the middle period culminating in the first publication of Zarathustra (1883), the discourse of “blond beasts of prey” and the master/slave types in Genealogy of Morality (1887) does indeed suggest a radical, arguably, racial turn to a higher/overman, soon hijacked by the Fascists. Glenn (2001) argues it’s an imperial artistic sentiment of sorts, one that can be matched by Nietzsche’s fascination with Napoleon, on one hand, and contrasted with a humble late life of Leo Tolstoy, a country anarchist, mingling with simple folk and the greatest minds of his time, hostile to nation-states and hypocrisy, a little like Nietzsche in fact. Anthropologically, isn’t it curious that, disenchanted with modern superstructures, many recent influential philosophers, including Heidegger, show great fondness for wild nature as a source of sacred insights?

5. Arendt and Heidegger: Reconciliation and Silence

In this session, we look at two central figures in 20th century Western philosophy. Both supremely talented, Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt offer starkly diverging views on mass-scale massacres during the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Of particular interest here are the fragments of Heidegger’s correspondence with Hannah Arendt, his student, the Holocaust survivor and author of Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Keeping in mind  some snippets from Heidegger’s Black Notebooks (2014-2021) and an extensive book Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities (Adam Knowles, 2020), we’ll try to understand why the rule of totalitarian violence did not destroy their caring companionship, lasting until Arendt’s death in 1975.

6. Camus and Fanon: Reconciliation and Resurgence

The last class in this round reviews the background of a violent conflict that took place in Algeria and resulted in a war (1954-1962), coinciding with the concluding periods in the relatively short lives of Frantz Fanon and Albert Camus. Coldly received, Camus’ Algerian Chronicles (1958) occupied a moderate peace-seeking position, while Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) became an epoch-making text in anticolonialism. As the ongoing invasion of Ukraina shows, bare violence is the foundation of a colonial regime: does it entail that, inevitably, violence plays a vital role in its downfall/creation of emancipatory conditions? Can a war – on account of its cruel nature – be ever just?

Ultimately, however, our course intends to provide a space where one can engage with contemporary anti/decolonial scholars and practitioners who challenge the paradigms of sustained structural violence. Today, like never before, a sense of racial, economic and cultural superiority and complacency meets the critical, revolutionary zeal and creativity of the oppressed peoples, working toward the repatriation of indigenous lands and ways of life. In what follows, each session takes up a major type/example of colonial violence, showing how it works in the everyday, and then discusses a hands-on critical response to it:

7.1 Private Thoughts: White Education in the USA, 1950’s

7.2 Highlander Folk School: Monteaggle, Tennessee

Education is one of the perennial matters in philosophy. This week contrasts the US-based exclusivist education with the Highlander Folk School, oriented toward civil rights and participatory research, the school that provided guidance for the likes of Martin Luther King and that was subsequently and lawfully shut down by the state of Tennessee in 1961.

8.1 Imperial Policing and the Mau Mau Rebellion

One of the more acute global social justice issues today is the process whereby racial assumptions creep into the work of police officers. It may come as a surprise, but the spark of British racial police violence, for instance, can be traced back to lawless practices first deployed in colonies, like Kenya of the 1950’s.

8.2 Inverting Policing, Inventing Gangs

In this class, we’ll see how a trans-national transfer of British colonial police epistemologies was made possible. Throughout the massive migration waves in 1960-80’s, the local police forces subdued numerous urban riots – migrants in rage, advocating for equal rights and opportunities. These collisions laid the foundation of many radical movements, some of which are canvassed in Adam Elliot-Cooper’s Black Resistance to British Policing (2021). The problem is that instead of trying to prevent violent crimes and listen to the debased voices and communities, British (and American, and, increasingly, Australian) police units tend to resort to the logic of “gangs”, typically based on old racial and class assumptions (Patrick Williams, 2014), cemented in the Buckingham Palace.

9.1 The Art of Squatting as a Crime, now and then

In this session, we’ll consider philosophies of action that respond to a critical nexus between private property and poverty. In the first hour, we’ll learn from The Brixton Black Women’s Group, a socialist, feminist organisation operating in the 1970-80’s in London, emerging in the context of the anti-colonial struggle for free spaces one can call a home (Milo Bettocchi 2021).

9.2 Nothing to Lose: BLACK FIRST LAND FIRST

Criticising Achille Mbembe for turning Fanon into an academic-humanist (2019), sceptical about the prospects of decolonising academy in a colony (2018), the philosopher, activist, and politician Andile Mngxitama sums up of the ethos of his South African revolutionary movement as follows, “Focus on land return by any means necessary. We must organise ourselves and take back the land ourselves. When they took our land they didn’t talk about the constitution and laws. They took the land and made laws post the process to legalise the theft. Land or death!”

10. In Penal Democracy Carceral Powers Work

For those looking to learn about another real struggle, this week will focus on the prison system in the United States, a first world country, having the highest number and rate of incarcerated people in the world. While the majority of people living in the US are white, the vast majority of the incarcerated and policed is black and hispanic. What sensibilities enable this penal democratic state to flourish (Joy James 2007)? As a response, prison has become a site of original, radical discourse driven by the incarcerated intellectuals, such as Angela Davis and George Jackson. As a matter of fact, incarceration benefits not only the racial justice system, but also all kinds of businesses that take more interest in profits, naturally, than in rehabilitation. As a result, the term “prison-industrial complex” has been introduced, and scholars and activists like Dylan Rodriguez argue for its abolition (2000, 2008, 2018).

11. From Penal Colony to Liberal Colonialism: terra nullius as imperialist poetry, with Justin Clemens and Tom Ford - This class will be run as a Hybrid In-Person/Zoom session - Details TBA

In 1819, Barron Field, the supreme legal authority in the British colony of New South Wales, asserted the operation that we now know as terra nullius. Perhaps surprisingly, this doctrine was not directly targeting indigenous Australians – rather, it was directed at the unconstrained rule of sovereign power, of governor and king. It was, in fact, a self-conscious assault on British monarchy and warfare. In doing so, however, the doctrine doubled down on invasion precisely by pretending to deny it. This session affirms Andile Mngxitama’s diagnosis of the relation between land and law, in a different colonial context, and with different legal mechanisms

12. The State is a Thief and a Rapist, jineologi

Our concluding session will be dedicated to the titanic, emancipatory efforts of Kurdish people, the descendants of ancient Iranians, now inhabiting an autonomous region, Rojava or Kurdistan. We’ll trace back the origins of the separatist uprisings to the early 1980’s and the figure of Abdullah Öcalan, detained and imprisoned in 1999. Öcalan was one of the founding members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, fighting for the liberation of the Kurdish people and culture. It’s been a long, winding, full-blooded conflict. Öcalan and his supporters fight for a new libertarian socialism, based on non-hierarchical forms of social organisation; kurds have fought to establish a stateless socialism that first and foremost honours the rights of women and the land, on a territory wedged between Syria and Turkey! We’ll learn about the Kurdish Women’s Movement, an active form of militant ecofeminism, drawing from Öcalan’s jineologi, a science of woman and life, owing to which Kurdish people not only have recently resisted the second largest NATO army, but have also established the jineologi academy (Dilar Dirik, 2022).

Classes will be interactive, slides will communicate the crux of considered literature, and also illustrate relevant facts and events, e.g. via paintings, video, ad campaigns, and photography; all texts will be provided.