2020 Tanner Lecture on Human Values – Theorizing Racial Justice – Charles W. Mills


– [Tad Schmaltz] Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us. I’m Tad Schmaltz. I’m chair of the philosophy department, and I’d like to welcome you to the 41st annual Tanner
Lecture on Human Values at the University of Michigan. President Schlissel will
introduce our speaker, Charles Mills, in just a moment, but first, I’d like to
say just a few words about the Tanner Lecture and the people for whom they’re named. The Tanner Lecture on Human Values, which is administered by
the philosophy department, was permanently endowed
by Grace Adams Tanner and Obert Clark Tanner in 1978. However, a lecture at
Michigan the previous year by the political and legal
philosopher Joel Feinberg inaugurated the series. In addition to Michigan, five other institutions
were originally designated as permanent sponsors of the lectureship, so Clare Hall at the
University of Cambridge, Brasenose College at the
University of Oxford, Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Utah. Yale University and the University
of California at Berkeley were added in 1987, and Princeton University
was added in 1988. So we beat out University of California at Berkeley and Princeton. Over the years, the
lecture has been delivered at other universities worldwide, and the lectures themselves are published in an annual volume. The Tanners had broad
intellectual interests. Grace Tanner’s interests
inclined towards the sciences, especially biology and anthropology. Obert Tanner studied at
the University of Utah in philosophy and law. After receiving his law degree, he studied and taught
philosophy and religious studies at Harvard and Stanford and was professor of philosophy at the University
of Utah for 27 years. He also was a successful
businessman, having founded and that’s rare for a philosopher, having founded, in 1927,
the O.C. Tanner Company, which produces a range of
jewelry that businesses use to reward individual achievement. The Tanners were generous philanthropists. They supported the Utah
Symphony Orchestra, Ballet West, and the Utah Opera Company. They also built more
than 40 public fountains and established philosophy libraries at 11 major colleges and universities, including our own splendid one here at Michigan in Angell Hall. Over the years, many
distinguished intellectual figures have delivered the Tanner
Lectures at Michigan, including Sir Karl Popper, Toni Morrison, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,
and most relevantly for our lectures today, John Rawls. Here at Michigan, it is our
practice to take the Tanner Lecture as the occasion for thorough consideration of its ideas. Each year, we have a program the morning following the lecture in which scholars from various disciplines
offer perspectives on the lecture and join
in a panel discussion. This year, the symposium will
be held tomorrow morning, starting at 10 a.m., in
the Rackham Amphitheater located on the fourth
floor of this building. Our symposiasts this
year are Samuel Freeman of the University of
Pennsylvania, Michele Moody-Adams of Columbia University,
and Nikhil Pal Singh of New York University. Now, to introduce this
year’s Tanner Lecture, I am pleased to present Mark Schlissel, the president of the
University of Michigan. (audience applauding) – [Mark Schlissel] Thank you very much, Professor Schmaltz, for the introduction. Welcome, everybody. Thanks for coming today. A special shout out to our students who are in the audience today. It’s really an honor to be
here for the Tanner Lecture on Human Values and to learn
from our special guest, Dr. Charles W. Mills. Today’s Tanner lecture
and tomorrow’s symposium give our community a
tremendous opportunity to deeply consider
important issues that demand our full intellectual attention. The purpose of the lectures is to advance and reflect upon the scholarly
and scientific learning related to human values. And in Dr. Mills, we
have a pioneering scholar who’s added new dimensions of thought to the examination of human values. In a review of Mills’s
sixth book, Black Rights, White Wrongs, a Critique
of Racial Liberalism, Johns Hopkins professor Christopher Lebron writes that it represents the culmination of more than two decades
of work on the philosophy of race and social justice. Lebron, in the piece
published in The Nation, goes on to say that he
likes to think of Mills as Socrates, roaming the
philosophical streets, asking people why they
think a society like ours, stained by a history of racial horrors, is not more ashamed of itself
and why its leading minds do not make that shame a motivating force in the struggle for a more just society. While his body of work
and influence befits such a lofty comparison, Dr.
Mills came to the Socratic path through a combination of life experience and intellectual curiosity. After earning an undergraduate
degree in physics, Dr. Mills switched to philosophy
for his graduate studies. He has said that he was
looking for a subject that could provide a big picture overview of what’s going on. Combined with his formative experiences with the radicalization
of the Anglo-Caribbean in the 1970s and the
challenge to the postcolonial neocolonial social order,
he would eventually rewrite that big picture. He took on a discipline that
he found to be very white, and he points out that his
work began for the most part before critical philosophy
of race and widespread confrontations of colonialism. He is now a leading voice
in challenging the dominant narratives of liberal political theory. Dr. Mills earned his Ph.D.
from the University of Toronto. Currently a distinguished
professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the
City University of New York, he’s previously taught at
the University of Oklahoma, the University of Illinois in Chicago and Northwestern University. His first book, The Racial
Contract, won a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award
for the study of bigotry and human rights in America. It’s been adopted in hundreds of courses across the United States,
including philosophy, political science, sociology,
anthropology, literature, African American and American
studies, among others. Of course, Dr. Mills’s
work can help us make sense out of the world we see today. He has described the current
times as a complicated situation where we have both
progress and regression, progress in that there
is far more discussion in the public sphere,
resulting from the activism of Black Lives Matter and
protests of confederate statuary, and regression
in the backlash from white Americans worried about
losing their historically differentially privileged status. Dr. Mills’s lecture today is titled Theorizing Racial Justice. Please help me welcome
the 2020 Tanner Lecturer on Human Values, Dr. Charles W. Mills. (audience applauding) – [Charles Mills] Well, thank you so much to the organizers for this invitation. It was mentioned that my
first degree is in physics, and I then switched to philosophy. The real reason was that
in physics, you do actual experiments, and I found
that they never came out the way I wanted, so you
constantly have to fudge them. Well, the great virtue
of philosophy is that you had to do thought
experiments, and you then have complete control of the outcome. (audience laughing) So now, this was clearly
the kind of discipline I have been waiting for. The physics thing was a big mistake. So in all seriousness,
when I got this invitation, I was flattered, I felt
honored, but I was also shocked because I thought of myself, you know, we like to sort
of position ourselves with various delusions. I thought of myself as this
radical oppositional guy, and I said, you know,
radical oppositional guys don’t give the Tanner Lectures. I mean, you know, that’s
something that’s like a blot on your CV (audience laughing) so maybe I’ll have to think this over. And then they mentioned the honorarium, and I said, well, okay,
I guess I’ll have to (audience laughing) I’ll have to give up my
principles just this once. Anyway, no, seriously, it is a real honor. It’s wonderful to be here. Some of you may remember Clint Eastwood at the Academy Awards a few years ago talking to the absent figure
of Barack Obama in a chair. As you just heard, John
Rawls gave a lecture in this place some years
ago, so perhaps on occasion you might find, is there
an empty chair around? There is that one there. You might find me turning around to address him from time to time. (audience laughing) Okay, guys, so there is
a detailed handout here, which you’re really going to need, in part because there are, you
know, diagrams, and so maybe that’s part of my physics heritage. You know, they always
told us, draw a diagram. So it’ll help you to make
sense of the whole thing. I’m going to talk for about
70 minutes, so the talk itself is longer than that, but
I’ll skip about a bit. But as I say, with the
handout, you ought to be able to follow along. Okay, so my lecture this
evening seeks to address the issue of racial
justice, and in the process, to look also at the question
has been so little addressed in Western, and more specifically, American political philosophy,
for it is not as if the demand for racial
justice is a new one. The protests of recent years,
above all Black Lives Matter, have brought the topic solidly back onto the national
agenda, effectively shattering the widespread post-racial
society illusions that Barack Obama’s 2008
election had encouraged. But of course, the demand is much older. I want to go back to the
earlier civil rights movements of the 1950s and ’60s, both
mainstream and radical, or before that, to the debates around postbellum Reconstruction and the later disappointment and anger over
the betrayal of Reconstruction or before that, during
the epoch of slavery, to the long history of
antebellum Abolitionism. And this list just focuses on blacks. I’ve not even said anything
about Japanese internment, Chinese exclusion,
anti-Latinx discrimination or returning to the founding
colonial encounters, Native American
expropriation and genocide. So the outcry against
the inequitable treatment of people of color by
whites, if not always under the explicit
banner of racial justice, has in a sense always
constituted the discordant counterpoint, the
dissonantly off-key chorus, to what could be thought
of as a self-congratulatory soundtrack, the approved theme
music and national anthems, official and unofficial, of the republic, a republic that was, after
all, effectively founded as, in a famous quote, a white man’s country. And yet despite, or
should that be because of this history and the
larger history of modern Western imperialism and conquest
in which it is embedded, white American political
philosophers in particular and white Western political
philosophers more generally have almost completely
ignored the subject. But philosophers, at
least in their own minds, are supposedly the professional
experts, the go-to guys on questions of justice,
stretching back 2,500 years to ancient Athens and the book often sorry, and the book often
seen as the foundational text of the tradition, Plato’s Republic. Moreover, the Western
philosopher widely credited with reviving Anglo-American
political philosophy, which had been judged
very moribund at the time, was himself an American
citizen, John Rawls. His famous 1971 book A Theory of Justice is standardly regarded
not merely as reorienting the normative focus of his sub-discipline from the issue of our political
obligation to the state to the issue of the justice
of society’s basic structure, but as making grand theory
in the field possible again, as against boring logic chopping
and linguistic analysis. Surely, then, the ideal
conceptual and theoretical environment had now been
created to talk about issues of racial justice,
especially in the wake of 1960s protests and global
postwar decolonization. It is emphasized, the topic
is marginalized not just in Rawls, but in the
vast secondary literature his work would generate
over the next half-century, both Rawlsian and non-Rawlsian,
including theorists on the right of the liberal spectrum and in non-liberal
communitarian tradition as well. So though I’ll be focusing
on liberalism in general and Rawls in particular, that, oh, it’s no longer an empty chair. Maybe somebody will have
to bring an empty chair up on stage for me. It needs to be appreciated
that the pattern of neglect in the field is much broader. So the lecture is going
to be in three sections. In part one, illiberal
liberalism, I will begin by locating this
seemingly puzzling failure within a much longer
history of liberal political philosophy’s betrayal of
its ostensible ideals. In part two, doing injustice
to justice, how Rawls went wrong, I will then
turn specifically to Rawls and the ways in which
his particular version of the liberal social justice project was flawed from the start. Finally, in part three,
liberal racial justice, I will indicate, if only
sketchily, one possible strategy for deriving liberal
principles of racial justice via a modified version of a famous Rawlsian thought experiment. Okay, guys, so section
one, illiberal liberalism. So our starting point is
a political philosophy of liberalism, but I
need to quickly clarify that I’m using the word as a term of art, the way political philosophers
and political theorists do. So liberalism does not
refer just to the left wing of the Democratic Party,
which we saw in action just last night, rather, its
reference is the political ideology that developed over
the 17th to 19th centuries in Western Europe in
opposition to the doctrines of monarchical absolutism,
natural socialist states, ascriptive social hierarchy,
and inherited status. Associated with John Locke,
Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Immanuel
Kant, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and
others, liberalism becomes the philosophy of the new social order, indeed, of modernity itself. The rule of law, limited
government, democratic consent, individual equality,
equal rights, all become the slogans of the revolt
against the ancien regime. Hence, the American Revolution’s
famous opening statement of the Declaration, penned by Jefferson, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and the liberty, equality, fraternity of the French Revolution. Being a liberal commits you
to these broad principles. So from this perspective, we
have liberals on the right who insist on market solutions and liberals on the left
who argue for a state that intervenes on behalf
of the disadvantaged, but by these minimal criteria, both groups count as liberals, hence
conservatives’ characterization of themselves sometimes
as classical liberals. So we’re the real liberals,
you guys have usurped the title, you’re really socialists. So liberalism can then be
seen as the most important political ideology of the
last few hundred years, the ideology that,
especially after 1989, 1991, collapse of the East bloc,
had seemingly emerged triumphant over all its challengers. As I don’t have to tell you, the celebratory moment was pretty brief. We’re now in a period when
liberalism is under assault by right-wing populism and
authoritarian ethno-nationalism, and there are no guarantees who
will be the eventual victor. But certainly, we have
to hope that liberalism will survive and eventually
prevail, given the attractiveness of its
ideals and the corresponding ugliness of those of its opponents. So in the official story, then, liberalism has historically faced
foes both on the right and on the left, and has
historically maintained a principled opposition
to reactionary pre-modern ideologies, ideologies
that deny people individual status and equal rights and entitlement to government by consent. It’s a great story, an inspiring story. The problem is it happens to be untrue, or at least the extent to which it is true is severely qualified. Far from being in principled
combat from the start against anti-egalitarian
beliefs and systems of ascriptive hierarchy,
liberalism has been complicit with many of them until
comparatively recently, and some critics would
say it is, in effect, if no longer overtly,
still thus complicit today. Liberalism as ideal turns out to be illiberalism in actuality. Consider, for example, gender. From the first wave of feminism onward, for example, the British
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the French Olympe de
Gouges’ Rights of Women, the U.S.’s own Abigail
Adams, from the first wave, feminist theorists have pointed out that the promise of liberalism was not extended to women, a challenge
that would, of course, be greatly deepened and expanded in the second wave and later waves. Denied equal rights,
unable to own property or run for political office or even vote, their legal identities
subsumed into their husbands under the doctrine of
coverture, women are clearly not ranked among the free
and equal individuals liberated by this new political philosophy of government by consent. Rather, their status seems
to a kind of gender estate analogous to those subordinated
in the feudal hierarchy. But women of all races constitute half the population to begin with. This is not a minor
exclusion, but a huge one. Then think of race. Though this history is now
marginalized in the official liberal story, we need to
remember that most of the Western European states now
uncontroversially considered part of the liberal West
at one time or another had empires, British, French,
Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, in which non-Europeans,
indigenous peoples, and in some cases African slaves, were systemically subordinated. Together, these Western
countries ruled undemocratically over the vast majority of humanity. Indeed, this global racial
inequality was so firmly entrenched as a norm,
so taken for granted, if I am giving this historical episode at numerous talks I have
given, I sometimes ask the audience, how many of
you have heard of this, and usually it’s very few hands that grow. 1919, so a bit more than a century ago, when the post-World War
One Versailles Conference in Paris to set up the League of Nations, just had this horrible war, the Great War, want to make sure this
never happens again. We all know how successful
they were at that. Most of the world is colonized. Most of the world is under
the rule of European powers. One of the few independent
nations of color is Japan. The Japanese delegation says, hey, we need a racial equality clause in the Covenant of the League of Nations
so as to make sure that we have a world
that’s racially equitable. Nothing controversial about equality. After all, as I just
said earlier, equality is supposedly one of the
watchwords of liberal modernity. And we’re now deep into liberal modernity. I mean, for God’s sake,
it’s the 20th century. And this proposal by the
Japanese was unequivocally rejected by the six Anglo-Saxon nations, as they were then called. And who, you might ask, were they? Britain, the United
States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. So let me ask you guys,
how many of you have ever heard of his historical episode. A handful. This in a prestigious, very well-known University of Michigan
and has not been part of your education, and
you need to ask yourself why that is, what that says
about the educational system that, you know, you were inculcated with and what that says about
the sort of broader history of imperialism and colonialism that has now been covered up. Anyway, so then that’s
gender, that’s race. Think now of class. Though modernity is surely
supposed, at the very least, to equalize status
hierarchies among white males, even here the process is very uneven. The birth of liberalism may
date to the 17th century, but property restrictions on the franchise in many European countries remain in place to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And the US, it’s really
only with 19th century Jacksonian democracy that
you get universal suffrage even among white men. So the point is then
that once we put together all the exclusions of actual
historical liberalism, we should be able to see
that a conceptualization that represents them as
anomalies and deviations is fundamentally wrong. The dominant varieties
of historical liberalism excluded the majority of
the world’s population from equal normative consideration. But if exclusion is modal,
if propertied white males are the major beneficiaries
of modernity’s liberalization, then how can the conventional narrative of a clear transition from
the world of hierarchical estates to a world of equal
individuals be sustained? Doesn’t our periodization,
doesn’t our conceptual map and our temporal map need to be changed? And happily for you, you
don’t have to do this yourself because on this very useful handout, if you can see it in this dark room, a little bit lighter in here, I have provided for you a neat diagram which you can put on your, I don’t know, your bathroom wall,
your refrigerator door, the place where you do
your heavy thinking. So the top indicates
the conventional story. So the conventional periodization is illiberalism versus liberalism. So illiberalism is
premodern, inegalitarian political ideologies, such as you’d find in ancient Greece and
Rome, such as you’d find in the Middle Ages. Those are the bad old
days, when you had people who were in these sort of
hierarchical social orders, citizens and slaves in
ancient Greece and Rome, lords and serfs in the Middle Ages, but thank God that’s all over. We’re now in the modern period. We’ve put all that behind. We’re now in the world of individuals. So that’s a just so story. That’s a fairy story
that you tell your kids, or at last, perhaps, that
you tell your students. Maybe you guys, some of you guys right here in this room
have heard this story. So the bottom diagram, the
revisionist periodization, gives the more accurate story. So in that story, we
should sort of see it as illiberalism part one, and
then illiberalism part two, and illiberalism part
two is for some reason known as liberalism. So in illiberalism part
one, we have the hierarchies I mentioned and also gender hierarchies, which at least until recently,
were not part of the story. As feminists have pointed
out, you can see woman as constituting a kind of
subordinate gender estate. So citizens and slaves in
ancient Greece and Rome and men and women, medieval
period, lords and serfs, and again men and women, and
then in the modern period, lo and behold, we continue
to have these hierarchies, men and women still, it’s a sort of, you know, enduring constant. There’s also the property and non-property insofar as the restriction
on the franchise and stuff like that, and
we have the new category of whites over people of color. So by the conventional
dating, you don’t have race in the pre-modern period,
it’s only in modernity that race comes into existence. So the point is that with
this reconceptualization, we would re-theorize
liberalism to emphasize its continuity with the past rather than its putative sharp break from it. And we would then start
to look at liberalism very differently, with, shall we say, a far more suspicious and critical eye. So rather than automatically presuming that liberalism is going to be adequate to dealing with a particular
social problem facing us, we would begin by asking
ourselves the question, if liberalism has been illiberalism along so many crucial axes
of social subordination, how has this pernicious
shaping by group domination affected its crucial concepts, norms, frameworks and assumptions? What silences, what
opacities, what inadequacies might we expect to find in liberalism given this history? Indeed, isn’t it likely to be the case that where class, gender,
and race are involved, the inclusion of groups
previously formally excluded is going to be merely nominal
unless the deep structuring of liberalism as a theory
by its previous history is acknowledged and expressly addressed? So one can readily appreciate,
then, why given this history, some radical political political thinkers have given up on liberalism together, and has also given up on
people like Charles Mills, who still insist that
liberalism can break free. So now there’s a bunch of
folks who cross the street when they see me coming. What can I say, guys. I hope you won’t join their company because I’m going to sort of defend here a radical liberalism. And not to plug my recent book, but that’s what these occasions
are in part for, right? So my recent book, Black
Rights, White Wrongs, one of the themes of the book
is black radical liberalism. So if this sounds oxymoronic,
you know, a bad book, available at all better bookstore, oh, they don’t exist, available at Amazon, and
you sort of, you know, get my attempt to sort of combine radical theory with liberalism. Okay, so anyway, how can
you retrieve liberalism given this sordid history
and given these critiques? My claim is that rather than, you know, sort of brushing all this stuff, you know, under the carpet, to liberalize
illiberal liberalism, we need to do several things, number one, rewrite the
history of liberalism so its exclusions are highlighted
rather than marginalized, number two, make clear
rather than obfuscate the role of the canonical
liberal theorists in justifying these exclusions, number three, place at center
stage rather than offstage the concrete shaping by group privilege of the crucial components of liberalism, and then number four,
self-consciously reconceive all of these to achieve
genuine liberal justice. So my claim is that if
you make these moves, you can get a liberalism
that’s quite different from the ones that we’re accustomed to, the liberalism that, as
I say, has been complicit with these systems of ascriptive hierarchy that were supposed to be eliminated by the transition to the modern period. Okay, so on that basis, then, I suggest that we sort of look at the
components of liberalism and come up with what I see as a list, so this is on page two of the handout, of crucial components,
A, a characteristic set of value commitments, that’s,
you know, moral equality, freedom and self-realization,
B, a certain social ontology, if you’re a member of the
American Philosophical Association and you don’t use the
word ontology in a talk, there’s somebody at the APA
sitting at the back row, and your membership card will be yanked. (audience laughing) So you always have to make
sure that ontology’s in there. Okay, so whoever it is, I
have put ontology in there. (audience laughing) So B, a certain social ontology, C, a conceptual cartography
of the socio-political, D, an account of the history
that has led up to the present, and C, a schedule of rights,
protections, and freedoms. So value commitment, that
should be straightforward. Social ontology, what do I mean? How do we think of people in
liberal political philosophy? And liberalism is
traditionally thought of as has an ontology of atomic individuals. And I will claim that this
conventional representation is actually false, because
there are liberal theorists, and Derrick Darby, my friend, I was going to say my
colleague, but that’s not my colleague in the sense of,
you know, black philosophers, my colleague has pointed
out that there’s a tradition of T.H. Green and the British Hegelians, and they had a liberalism that was social, or if you look at in the
United States, John Dewey’s liberalism is very much a social one, and what I would argue, and
people like Elizabeth Anderson have argued for this,
there’s no inconsistency in saying that in a society
based on domination, we need a social ontology that registers the fact of domination. So we can’t assume that
everybody is effectively equal if some people are
positioned above others, so you need a social
ontology that registers the fact of group domination,
whether men over women, whites over people of color or what. C, conceptual cartography, what do I mean? Well, think of, you know, the
second-wave feminist critique that the way the polity is drawn, the way the public-private
boundary is drawn, is that, you know, the distinctive
problems of women are basically not allowed to
enter into the public sphere. So the family, patriarchal relations, sex, all of that is part of the private sphere. That’s not a matter of justice. So what, you know, second-wave feminists sort of set themselves to do is to argue for the redrawing of that map. So the conceptual cartography, how we draw the polity, that matters. D, the history, what I mean there is that to consider issues of,
you know, how this society came into being, issues
perhaps of corrective justice. We need to know what
the actual history is. And part of the problem
with actual liberal theory is that it obfuscates, it covers up, it whitewashes the history, the history which as I sort of
mentioned briefly earlier, has been a history of
racial subordination. So all of those put together,
if you rewrite them, you rewrite the ontology,
you remap the cartography, you have a different
account of the history, it then means that to sort
of bring about equality, freedom and self-realization
for individuals, you could end up with principles
which seem quite different from liberal principles,
but they’re still liberal, but this is a liberalism
that has now taken the history of the society
and the actual structure of the society into account in a way that mainstream liberalism has not. So on the axis of class, going
back to the 19th century, you have a social democratic
version of liberal theory, which says that liberal
principles are okay, but we need to sort of face the fact that the working class
is going to be materially subordinated unless you
sort of take account of the differential
power that capital has. I don’t have to tell you
we’re now in an epoch, one percent versus the 99 percent, the rise of plutocracy,
as it has been called the third Gilded Age, it
was Mark Twain’s Gilded Age in the 19th century, or the 1920s, also known as the Jazz
Age, we’re now in the third Gilded Age, and people like
Thomas Piketty have argued this may be the longest
lasting one of all. So the inequalities of
wealth in the United States and other countries are sort of as large as they’ve ever been. So there’s a social democratic
critique, well-established. The gender critique, the
feminist critique, again, you need to sort of recognize the extent to which, you know, men
are dominant over women, and this, you know, patriarchal domination manifests itself in all kinds of spheres. And of course, we’ve had several decades of feminist theory laying out a very plausible case to this effect. But the point I would make
is that unfortunately, the racial critique has
not been as well-developed as these other critiques,
so that what I am arguing for that we need to do is
develop a racial critique of liberal theory that
is going to be comparable in its significance and,
you know, for the importance of rewriting mainstream
political philosophy and mainstream political
theory as, you know, social democratic liberal theory and feminist liberal theory have been. Okay, let me now talk briefly
about what I’m going to call a liberalism that’s
racial, and the term here is unfortunately a bit confusing in that if, in the 1950s, somebody
said you were racial liberal, it meant you were somebody who thought you should support black
civil rights, you should oppose segregation, in other
words, you’re a good guy. You know, we want people
to be racial liberals. Had I know that the term
was so solidly entrenched in this previous use, I
might not have employed it. Anyway, I’m trying to
demarcate a separate usage. And racial liberalism, as I use the term, is basically a liberalism that has been shaped by racial domination. So think of racial liberalism as analogous to what feminists would
see as a patriarchal form of liberal theory, where
liberalism has been shaped by its evolution in
societies of male domination, so it then means that crucial
terms, crucial frameworks, crucial values have all
been permeated by the fact of male domination and the need to justify the subordination of
half of the human race. And I’m arguing for a racial
liberalism that’s comparable to a patriarchal
liberalism and that evolves in the period of European
expansionism when key liberal theorists are completely
on board with this program, so that Europeans basically
expand into the world, and you cannot then apply
liberal theories equally to people of color as you can to Europeans because then obviously, it
would mean that the processes in which you are involved,
your conquest of peoples, expropriation, racial slavery,
these are all inconsistent with a liberalism that, you
know, is color inclusive, so it has to be a liberalism
that’s racially restrictive. So we get a liberalism that’s racialized. So it’s a racial liberalism in that sense, in that crucial terms
of the liberal theory are rewritten by race
so that the privileging of Europeans at the
expense of people of color does not seem like an inconsistent does not seem like an inconsistency
because people of color are not seen as moral equals. So you then get the
world that I described, you know, in the Versailles
Conference, where the Japanese proposal is shot down because, you know, the Anglo-Saxon nations
are basically saying, look, the colonial world rests
on racial inequality, this principle would upend this world, so clearly, we cannot have that as part of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Okay, so the crucial question
then is given that liberalism has been racialized, why
is it there has not been more discussion within political theory and political philosophy of this fact? Why has this not been a sort
of self-conscious project to sort of explore and
investigate the racialization of liberalism and then to sort
of make the theoretical moves necessary to deracialize it? And my argument here, and some
people have objected to this, but tell me what you think. My argument here is that one major factor is the demographic
whiteness of the profession. So this will come as no news to the philosophers in the room. To the non-philosophers, let
me break the news to you. As I don’t have to tell
you, people of color are underrepresented in
the academy in general. In philosophy, it’s so
extreme that basically, if you go to a meeting of
the American Philosophical Association, you have
to put on dark glasses, otherwise you might get snow blindness (audience laughing) from the sort of expanse of white faces. The percentage of black
people in philosophy, I am not making this up. It sounds like I am, but I am not. The percentage of black philosophers in philosophy is one percent. It was one percent 20 years ago. It’s still one percent today. Latinos, maybe another one percent. Asian-Americans, another one percent. Native Americans, basically
fingers of two hands. It’s about three percent people of color, very white profession. And the demographic
whiteness, I would argue, basically helps to sustain
a conceptual whiteness. And this term might
seem more controversial, because the demographic whiteness is just a matter of numbers. You know, hard to disagree with that. The conceptual whiteness, you have to make more of a case for, because
many white philosophers get their backs up and
they say, look, philosophy can’t be white because
philosophy is dealing with the human condition,
people of color are human, you’re sort of not denying
that, therefore, you know, you guys are automatically included in the sort of, you know,
general and abstract representations that we’re
giving you as philosophers. And the problem with the
argument, which feminist philosophers have sort of
also made the case, you know, for the maleness of philosophy,
is that the distinctive experiences of people
of color are not really accommodated within
these seemingly general and all-inclusive abstractions. So as I just mentioned, the
experience of people of color in modernity is an
experience of colonization, imperialist subordination, expropriation, racial slavery, apartheid, Jim Crow. To what extent are these
experiences really part of the standard political story we hear in political philosophy? And I would argue they’re
almost completely marginal. So the question then is
what can be done about this? Well, before I move to
that, which of course is the climax of the whole thing, let me make some comments
about John Rawls. Okay, so I might might have brought they are still not, okay so pretend he’s sitting there. So Clint Eastwood at the Academy Awards, I am talking to John Rawls. Professor Rawls, who I
should emphasize I never met, and I should also emphasize
that everybody I’ve known who has met him speaks very highly of him, and tomorrow you’ll hear
from two of his students, so it should be emphasized that I’m it’s not talking about I’ve
had bad experience with Rawls, I’m just talking about
Rawls as a representative of a particular group in
a particular time period positioned in such a way that certain problems are not addressed. So it seems to focus on
Rawls, but I’m really talking about an entire cohort of white mainstream political theorists. Okay, so Rawls’s 1971
book A Theory of Justice is generally seen by many
people as the most important book in political philosophy
of the 20th century. Well, it’s certainly
the most American book in political philosophy
of the 20th century, but some people go further,
the most important book of global political philosophy
of the 20th century. And this book accomplishes several things. It revives social contract theory. Social contract theory had
its heyday in the century and a half from 1650 to
1800, so Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques
Rousseau, Immanuel Kant. And then it goes into historical decline. It’s displaced by more
historically oriented theories like Hegel and later Marx,
and by utilitarian theory. And you know, by the mid-’50s
or so, social contract theory is seen as dead, and also Anglo-American political philosophy is seen as moribund. You know, if you go back to
the period, you find articles written, you know, sort of
worrying about the survival of Anglo-American political philosophy. And the subject matter
was seen as so boring that it’s not merely that the
people reading the articles tended to fall asleep,
even the people writing the articles tended to fall asleep. (audience laughing) You know, you are there so,
what was I writing again, oh, right, right. So political philosophy (audience laughing) had been reduced to boring
stuff like linguistic analysis, how should we think of
obligation and so forth. And Rawls’s work revitalizes the field. And suddenly people are doing
all kinds of exciting stuff. They are talking about,
you know, the big picture, the grand theory and so forth. And one of the crucial
things that Rawls does, he revives social contract theory, and he says the appropriate theme of social contract theory
should be social justice. And here is what Rawls does. He revives social contract theory in the form of a thought experiment. As I mentioned to you guys,
I switched from physics because my real life
experiments in the lab, they never came out,
but thought experiments, that was a whole different story. So here is a Rawlsian thought experiment. You’re going to be choosing
principles of justice for a society, and you’re choosing them not on principled moral
grounds but on selfish grounds, prudential grounds, what’s in it for me? And you might think,
that’s a really bad basis for choosing principles of justice, but you haven’t heard the whole story because Rawls specifies
you’re choosing behind a veil of ignorance, so
you don’t know crucial facts about yourself, you don’t know crucial facts about the
society, so it means that the combination of
self-interest and the stipulated ignorance is going to result in the equivalent of a moral choice. And Rawls also allows for a sort of move out from behind the veil and
check what these principles, whether or not they
comport with all sort of deepest, you know, moral principles, so a sort of check of that kind. So you’re not going to
choose a sexist society because for all you know, you
may turn out to be female. You’re not going to
choose a racist society because for all you know,
you may turn out to be white, not of course, that there can’t be other kinds of racist societies. You’re not going to choose
a plutocratic society because you don’t know
whether you’re going to be in the privileged socio-economic class. So Rawls says these are a good way for generating principles of justice, and the principles he came
up with, I have written down for you, so I hope you have
your handouts with you, in the form of a neat formula
that I originally devised to sort of help my students to remember what the principles were, and they’re BL arrow FEO arrow DP. And what that stands for are
principles of distributive justice for an ideal society,
because the crucial point about Rawls is that he
said our focus should be devising principles of
justice for an ideal, that’s a perfect society,
a well-ordered society. So there are two principles of justice. The first principle, BL,
those are the basic rights and liberties people
should have, for example, to vote, to run for office,
you have freedom of speech, liberty of conscience, right
to hold personal property, all that good stuff. Second principle has two
components, FEO, fair equality of opportunity, that’s
a combination of formal equality of opportunity, so you know, people are not discriminated
against when applying for jobs and so forth,
but in addition, resources sort of equalized for class disadvantage. So the idea would be if
you’re a working class kid as against an upper class
kid, you should not be disadvantaged by that class background. We want you to have an equal shot at it for people who are, you
know, sort of equally able. And then finally, difference
principle, that’s for people who are disadvantaged by other things, for example, you have a thin
bundle of natural talents. Rawls was a guy who
believed there’s a sort of definite sort of distribution
curve of talents. Okay, so Rawls’s book
would generate a huge body of secondary literature,
but here’s the problem. He had very little to say
about corrective justice. These are principles
of distributive justice for an ideal society, a perfect society. And racial justice, my
theme for this evening, is largely a matter of corrective justice in societies that are unjust. So in my work in previous
years, I have spent a fair amount of time
criticizing Rawls and Rawlsians and saying, look, you
guys claim to be concerned about justice, and yet you’re not talking about racial justice, we need
to sort of ask the question about how we can make the
transition from Rawls’s principles of ideal justice
for a well-ordered society to societies that are not well-ordered, we need to talk about corrective justice. And then about two years ago,
I had a theoretical epiphany. So there are religious epiphanies. There are all kinds of epiphanies. There are Protestant epiphanies. This was a theoretical epiphany. And I came to believe
that actually, I had been misinterpreting Rawls all
along, and what that implied is that a significant amount
of my previous criticisms of Rawls had been unjustified. But you’ll be glad to hear,
lest you think it’s going to turn to a sort of Rawls
lovefest, that it meant that a whole new wave of
criticisms could now be unleashed. (audience laughing) So I’m going to give you the background to sort of explain this,
and I have a claim that I’ve put in bold, I don’t know if
you can see it in this room, but here is my dramatic
claim, put in bold. Rawls’s theory of justice does not apply to the United States. Let me say that again
because it’s so bizarre. Rawls’s theory of justice does not apply to the United States. So obviously, you’re
going to ask, why on Earth would Rawls, a citizen of United States, have devised a theory
of justice that was not applicable to his own country? But I’m not saying he
intended it not to apply. Rather, what I claim is that as a matter of fact it doesn’t apply. So in analytic philosophy, it’s standardly accused of having physics envy. So you see, I mean, I
switched from physics into philosophy not realizing I was not getting away from physics. Anyway, so part of the
physics envy manifests itself in the use of, you know, diagrams
and subscripts and letters and so forth, so again, to
sort of keep my APA membership, I’ve done my small bit towards this end, so once more, if you consult your handout, you would see my original interpretation and now my revised interpretation. So my original interpretation,
and I’m suggesting that the first three premises of this are widely shared in the profession. It is important to phi. We should be trying to phi. Rawls is trying to phi. Rawls is doing a bad job
of phiing, bad Rawls, bad. So Rawls should be criticized
for doing a bad job of phiing, and in fact, that’s what I have been doing for several years. How wrong I was. My recent revised
interpretation, Rawls is not trying to phi in the first place, so Rawls cannot be criticized for phiing badly. But it’s important to phi. We should be trying to phi. So Rawls should be criticized for not even trying to phi in the first place. So the obvious question,
the burning question that I know you all have
on your lips is, well, gee, what is phiing? And not to keep you in
suspense, the answer is phiing is developing a theory of justice for modern Western societies of all kinds, both racist and non-racist. And why is Rawls not trying to phi? Because in his own mind,
he doesn’t have to. The class of racist modern
Western societies is empty. No modern Western society is racist, therefore the United States is not racist. Now, that’s a pretty
strange set of claims. So let me now try to make
them plausible for you. So I’m going to use the
symbol TJR and not R. Rawls’s theory of justice applies both to racist and non-racist
Western societies. TJ not R, Rawls’s theory
of justice only applies to non-racist Western societies. USA not R, the the US
is not a racist society. USA R, the US is a racist society. So let’s go through these. And first of all, where is
the evidence for this crucial claim I made, which is
obviously quite crazy? My suggestion is that
it’s in his final book, Justice as Fairness. So this is the last book Rawls wrote, not quite finished because of his illness, edited by philosopher Erin Kelly. And in this book, you
can find the following two sentences, admittedly
separated by some pages, but nonetheless, I think
the link should be clear. Page 14, so this is John Rawls. Justice as fairness, so
that’s Rawls’s theory, justice as fairness is
a political conception of justice for the special
case of the basic structure of a modern democratic society. And then a few pages later,
page 21, he expands on this. From the start, then, with
your democratic society as a political society that
excludes a confessional or an aristocratic state, not to mention a caste, slave, or racist one. So this was my epiphany. It’s not that I was reading
this book for the first time. The book has been out
since, like, you know, 2001. But for some reason, the passages had never struck me before. So my inference is that
Rawls is saying, look, my theory has a very limited scope. It doesn’t apply to these other theories, you know, and you wouldn’t think of them, you know, confessional,
that’s a theocratic state, aristocratic state, caste society, racist society included on that list. So the question then is
am I getting things wrong, because you see, if I am
not getting things wrong, then the natural follow-up question is how come nobody has noticed this before? As I say, this is not a new book. Justice as Fairness came out in 2001. A lot of people read Rawls’s work, so a lot of people have
read these passages. So could it be that I’ve just misinterpreted these passages? So in this section, I tried to consider some objections to my
theory, and I am doubtless Professor Freeman will
have even more tomorrow that I have not thought of, unfortunately, and say why I don’t think
those objections work. Okay, objection number one. You, Charles Mills, are just
confusing and misreading the familiar distinction Rawls
makes between ideal theory, that’s the theory of a
perfectly just society, and non-ideal theory. So he’s not saying anything
new than, you know, what he’s always said. Here is my response to that. If that were true, it would then mean that Rawls’s theory of justice applies to all the other societies in that list. All you have to do is to
switch to the non-ideal extrapolation of Rawls’s theory. So that list includes, just to remind you, a confessional state,
that’s a theocratic state, an aristocratic state, a caste
society, a slave society. But the problem with this
is that everybody knows in the profession who reads
Rawls in political philosophy that Rawls’s work is marked by a shift in the early Rawls to the later Rawls from what seems like an
all-encompassing theory, a comprehensive liberal
theory, to a political liberal theory, and he makes
clear what he said was there in the early work is badly phrased. His reference point is modern
Western liberal democracies. So it’s not the case
that Rawls’s theory is all-applicable, that can
be sort of, you know, you can apply it to
all kinds of societies. It’s limited to modern
Western liberal societies. So my response a reductio
of the claim that you know, you can just
switch to non-ideal theory and apply it to racist societies,
because if that were true, that would go for the others also, and that goes against what we
know and is well-established in the secondary literature, that’s not how Rawls meant his work to be read. So consider a second objection. The second objection now is,
okay, maybe you’re right, but it’s an isolated element
of his, of what he says, In other words, Rawls was
sick, it’s an isolated conceptual gaffe, and you
know, had he had the time to sort of do a proper
revision of his work, it’s something he would have cleared up. So it might be true,
he might have said it, but it’s not really
something that’s related to the rest of his work. And I suggest that far
from this being true, it follows directly from the
characterization he gives from the very opening pages
of A Theory of Justice. And part of the problem
is that these pages have not been as read as
thoroughly as they should have been despite the fact that at
the start of the book, I mean, you can sort of
start to skip and skim later in the book, but surely
not in the opening pages, so everybody who reads Rawls
will have read those pages. And what does he say in those pages? What he says explicitly
is that society is, and here I quote, a
cooperative venture for mutual advantage governed by
rules designed to advance the good of those taking part in it. He’s not given us a
definition of an ideal, well-ordered society. That doesn’t come until
the next paragraph. He’s telling us what a society is. So Rawls is basically
defining society in such a way that only societies of
equity and cooperation and reciprocal benefit count as societies. And that’s kind of crazy,
and it’s also inconsistent with what we just heard
where he does concede the existence of theocratic
societies, slave societies, aristocratic societies, and so forth. So I think the most charitable
reading of, you know, this characterization of
societies in A Theory of Justice is that Rawls is telling
us, these are the societies to which my theory of justice applies. So there’s a range of
possible societies, you know, all kinds of different
societies, obvious throughout human history, these are the societies to which my theory applies. And what I think gives
plausibility to my interpretation is that, remember,
Rawls not merely revives Anglo-American political philosophy, but he revives social contract theory. And the key idea of social contract theory is that we should think of
society as having been formed by people in a pre-social
and pre-political condition coming together to say,
let’s create a society, let’s create a political
order, and let’s make sure that, you know, we don’t
lose, we don’t sort of overall lose out the advantages we have by being in a pre-social and pre-political
so-called state of nature. In the state of nature, you
have all kinds of freedoms, but there’s a danger, especially
in theorists like Hobbes, you’re going to be ripped off. So we want the state to
protect us, so we sort of give up some freedoms and sort
of have others safeguarded, where the crucial point is
that it’s a consensual process, and what you’re going to
establish is a society and a political system
that benefits everybody. So once you think of it
that way, you see that he’s telling us from the start,
my theory has a very limited application, my theory
only applies to societies that can be modeled by the
social contract metaphor. And unfortunately, given the
unhappy history of humanity, that is a very, very small subset of the societies that have
existed in human history. In fact, you could go so far as to say that given the history of
all kinds of oppression, gender oppression, ethnic
oppression, religious oppression, colonial oppression, racial
oppression, maybe it only applies to hunter-gatherer
societies, that once you get class society emerging, once
you get patriarchy emerging, once you get, you know, the
early stages of colonialism, all these societies are
going to be oppressive, Rawls’s theory does not apply to them because none of these
societies can be modeled by the social contract of
being brought into existence in a consensual way with rules that are going to benefit everybody. So my suggestion is
that, far from this being any isolated conceptual
gaffe, it’s in fact tied directly to the specification
he’s given three decades earlier of the kinds of societies to which his principles apply. And then finally, the
third objection, look, here’s why you have to be wrong. Your implication would then be that Rawls could say nothing about
race because, you know, you would have a situation
where you have a racist society, he’s excluded it, but we know that Rawls does talk about race,
not at any great length, but there are scattered
passages here and there. He cites Martin Luther King, Jr., and in Justice as
Fairness, his final book, he expresses his hope
that liberal principles will be able to tackle issues of gender and racial injustice. So what you’re saying,
Mills, could not be true because if Rawls did not
expect his theory could extend to racist societies, he would
not have said explicitly that I am confident that the
principles of the liberal tradition will be able
to handle these issues. I have not done so myself,
nonetheless, I’m sure they can. And here is where I argue,
this is part of my epiphany, here is where I argue we need
to make a crucial distinction between societies with racism and societies that are racist. And my argument is going
to be that Rawls thought of the US as a society with racism but not a society that is racist. And to this end, I’m going
to call your attention to this incomprehensible diagram that is occupying a full
page in your handout. And my hope is that if you bear with me, I will make it comprehensible. So this large I at the
left, I stands for ideal, because remember, Rawls’s
principles of justice are for ideal societies, what he calls well-ordered societies, that’s
what his principles are for. So on the left you have ideal. And then as you move right, as
you move away from the left, I didn’t design it that
way, folks, not to reveal my political sympathies, it’s
just the way left and right work out, as you move to
the right, you move away from ideality, and the
further you get over here, the further you are from an ideal society. So if you are here, you’re almost perfect, an almost perfect society,
whereas if you’re over here, you’re in a deeply
oppressive social system. So here’s the point, and an obvious point when you think about it that
has not been sufficiently paid attention to by
political philosophers. The category of the non-ideal encompasses a huge range of societies
because the ideal, in the literal sense, means perfect, so
the slightest deviation from perfection immediately
precipitates you into the realm of the non-ideal. So societies that are just
to the right of this big I, that are almost perfect,
and societies way over here are in the same category of the non-ideal. Now, clearly, that is
a very crude category. That’s a very undifferentiated category. It’s not going to work for us. We need to make an internal distinction within the realm of the ideal. So this dotted line
that I’ve indicated here is supposed to indicate
the transition between societies that are basically
pretty good overall, they’re not perfect, but
they’re still pretty good, and then once you cross this dotted line, you get into the area of
societies that are not merely non-ideal, but they’re oppressive. Okay, so this box, society is non-ideal but non-oppressive, whereas
everything over here from then on is non-ideal and oppressive. And my suggestion is that
the social contract metaphor of a society as a
cooperative venture of mutual advantage with reciprocally
beneficial rules, that only applies to societies in what I am calling the I
zone, within the dotted area. So they’re not perfect,
but they’re close enough that we can say, yeah, they’re roughly roughly societies that can
be modeled by a contract. And once you pass the dotted line, once you’re in this part of the diagram, the contract metaphor no longer applies. So the crucial question then
is, for the issue of race, where does the United States fit? Okay, so that brings us to
the sort of crucial question of how should we think of the
United States historically? Is it merely a society with racism, or is it a society that is itself racist? Okay, so what I suggest
is that, though Rawls never went into this,
and because mainstream political philosophers
don’t talk about race, you know, it has not been
investigated by them, either, what is the difference,
what is the principal demarcation, from a
Rawlsian point of view, between a society with racism
and a society that is racist? And so the principal
demarcation is, does race affect, in a deep and significant
way, the basic structure? It’s a crucial concept for Rawls. He says justice applies
to the basic structure, and that’s what we should focus on. And the basic structure includes the main political and social
institutions, so that’s the Constitution, it’s an
independent judicial system, the legally recognized forms of property and the structure of
the economy, the family. That’s all in the basic structure. So the crucial question
for us is, does race affect any of these in a way
that’s deep and significant, because if it does, you then have a racialized basic structure. So let’s consider the possibilities. So I have them sort of listed
on the handout for you. Could it be that the
United States was racist before Rawls’s birth,
but then ceased to be one by the time of his birth? Could it be that it was
racist during his lifetime for part of it, but
then ceased to be such? Could it be that it was racist during his lifetime, but after, not? So I go through all of them, and I ask you to think of the following,
and bear in mind some of you, I’m sure, will
have read the 1619 Project, you know, that people on The
New York Times undertook, and the crucial point
of how, fundamentally, slavery has shaped the United States and continues to do so 400 years later. And you may also have
read of the controversy, there are some historians pushing back, but what’s important to
emphasize is that the push-back is on secondary issues, for
example, the claim that they make that the revolution
against the British was in part to protect slavery. So there’s push-back on those claims, but the crucial claim, on
which there’s pretty well agreement across the
board, is that slavery has deeply shaped the United States. Okay, so consider first of all the period before Rawls’s birth. The US was a slave society. Rawls talks about legally
recognized forms of property. This included property in human beings. And there’s a famous historian of slavery, died a few years ago, Ira Berlin, celebrated as one of American
slavery’s leading historians, and he drew a famous
distinction between, quote, societies with slaves where
slavery was institutionally siloed, it’s sort of cabined,
and then slave societies, where the peculiar institution,
so-called in the US, pervades, directly or indirectly,
the whole social order. So in effect, the entire
society is peculiar. And for him, the United States was a prime example of the latter. So a quote here from Berlin. Slavery stood at the center
of economic production, and the master-slave relationship provided the model for all social
relations, husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, teacher and student, end quote. So the structure of the economy was a structure of a slave economy. So clearly, there is no ambiguity there. During the period of slavery,
there is no doubt at all that the basic structure
insofar as the economy, the crucial part of it, the
basic structure is racialized. Well, what about the Constitution? Again, scholars of the
Constitution have pointed out that, you know, you find slavery affecting how the Constitution is
written, and there are all these clauses where
slavery is not mentioned, but they’re basically referring indirectly to the institution of slavery. And then even after the war,
13th, 14th, 15th Amendments, the Civil War amendments,
there’s a question of how the Constitution is interpreted. So Rawls is giving us, in
effect, a kind of naive picture, there’s a Constitution, there’s
one set of interpretations, so we don’t need to worry about
the Constitution and so on. But how are the principles of
the Constitution interpreted? So for example, think of
the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It’s an Equal Protection
Clause, so clearly that’s going to rule out
the institution of Jim Crow, because the system of separate but equal is clearly unfair to black Americans. Well, it didn’t, that’s the whole point. In the Plessy versus
Ferguson decision of 1896, the Supreme Court ruled
that you could, in fact, have separate but equal,
and that’s not overturned, of course, as we know,
until the decision of Brown. So whatever the Constitution
says, it’s always subject to interpretation,
which is why there’s a debate between people who think we
should go for original intent and people who think we
should side with the idea of a living Constitution
that evolves over time. So merely to point to
an attractive principle in the Constitution is not sufficient. The question is how these
principles are interpreted. Okay, so the period before Rawls’s birth, US was clearly a racist society, during the period of slavery. What about the period of Jim Crow? Well, again, think about it. It’s the period of the
betrayal of Reconstruction, separate but equal, which is
really separate and unequal, thousands of unpunished
lynchings, the repeated defeat in Congress of attempted
anti-lynching legislation, and in general, widespread discrimination, reducing blacks to the
status of second-class members of the social system. A slave economy has been
replaced by a Jim Crow economy, and there’s a famous essay
by the legal theorist Cheryl Harris suggests that whiteness effectively functions as property. So even if you don’t have formal slavery, you have property in
whiteness, and that means again that property relations
have been affected by race. And here’s a really, a
really stunning fact, a really ugly fact, but
something that, again, people need to know. It’s the 1930s. You’re a young Nazi lawyer. You know, the Third Reich
is being put in place. You’re looking forward to a
glorious thousand-year history, and you want to disenfranchise
the Jewish population. You’re looking for a juridical
model for the Nuremberg Laws, the 1935 anti-Semitic
Nuremberg Laws, which reduced Jews to second-class status. And if people will forgive
a bit of national stereotype and you are German, you
want to do things thoroughly and properly, so you look
all arounds the world for a role model, and which
society do you hit upon? Alas, it’s United States. Book came out in 2017, Hitler’s model, Hitler’s legal model, something like that, Jim Crow legislation in the United States was a model the Nazis used for the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. And people may be interested
in who the runner-up was in the sort of
competition for the supreme racial state on the planet. The runner-up was the British Empire. So again, probably not part
of the history you were taught in high school or even in university. This is a racial history,
the centrality of race to making of the modern world
that people like myself, people in critical race
theory says we need to talk about it more because it’s
so crucial to understanding the world that we currently have. Okay, so clearly, you
know, the period before Rawls’s birth, that was not a period where you could say
that the basic structure is not affected by race. So maybe it’s in Rawls’s lifetime. Maybe it’s what was called
the second Reconstruction. First Reconstruction
didn’t work out so well. We had the betrayal of Reconstruction. We had the withdrawal of federal troops. We had, you know, the
rollback of voting rights. But the second Reconstruction,
civil rights legislation in the 1950s and ’60s, maybe
that’s the turning point, that from then on, you could
say the US was not racist. But again, looking back
from the perspective of 40, 50 years later,
those of us who work on race know the unhappy statistics,
continuing residential segregation, continuing
educational segregation, ongoing nationwide practice
of de facto discrimination, new techniques of disenfranchisement,
voter suppression, the wealth gap, the
prison-industrial complex, the pattern of police killings of unarmed black men and women, it’s
not really plausible to claim that the US has ceased
to be a racist society. And finally, because
discussions of the family, because the family is probably
like the basic structure for Rawls, discussions of
the family in the Rawlsian literature, because of the
demography of the profession, have been overwhelmingly
shaped by the interests of white feminist theory. But if we look at the
family from the perspective of black women, Latina
women, native women, then the family is also
racialized as an institution. During slavery, obviously, slave families were not recognized, and
even free black families were not seen as equal to the white ones. Dorothy Roberts, well-known
black feminist theorist, points out a long history of black women and women of color being deprived of equal reproductive rights. If you think of anti-miscegenation law, if you think of the fact
that in a liberal democracy, the Constitution allowed
states to forbid people from being involved in
interracial relations, interracial marriages, and that it took until 1967, the Supreme
Court Loving versus Virginia decision, and that at one time or another, not at the same time,
but at different times, at one time or another,
no less than 41 states had anti-miscegenation
legislation on the books, so that as one theorist has pointed out, you would see anti-miscegenation law as a kind of factory for
the production of race. So it means that by all these criteria, the economy, the polity, the
legal system, the family, the basic structure has been
racialized from the start. So if you use the criterion
of the basic structure being affected by race in
a deep and significant way, then the US is a racist
society, and in then follows that Rawls’s principles do not
apply to the United States. So what are the implications of this? They are really very startling. To begin with the obvious
point, it means that if you are attempting to
use Rawls’s work to do to basically theorize corrective
racial justice, you can’t because it means that corrective
racial justice, for Rawls, would only be for societies
within the I zone, within that sort of small
space close to ideal societies. Societies that are outside the I zone, you need a different set
of principles for them. So that’s one obvious set of implications. But there’s an even more
startling set of implications. Even if you’re not working on race, whatever you’re working
on, if you’re applying if you’re trying to apply
Rawls to the United States, whatever area you’re
working on, the implication of this, as I say, this epiphany I’ve had, is that you cannot do that either because Rawls’s principles
in general do not apply to the United States, whether
you’re working on race or not. So next year, 2021, 50th
anniversary of Rawls’s book, it would mean, if I am
right, that half a century of Rawls scholarship,
insofar as that scholarship has sought to apply it
to the United States, half a century of Rawlsian
scholarship has basically been founded on a mistaken assumption. Okay, that’s an, oh, and six minutes. Okay, so I have a whole
section, how Rawls went wrong. And what I try to do there
is try to reconstruct, you know, the particular
social group of which Rawls was a member, and you
know, the sort of distinctive shortcomings, opacities,
blind spots of this group. But because of time, I’m
going to skip over this. But I’d recommend to
everybody who’s interested in these issues, this, you
know, very informative book by Katrina Forrester,
young woman at Harvard. It’s basically a history of ideas book rather than a philosophy
book, but it gives this wonderful reconstruction
of the particular milieu of, you know, the postwar scene,
three crucial institutions, I think Harvard, Princeton,
and Oxford, and that’s where egalitarian racial liberalism
was founded, you know, in the work of those people. And you know, the problem
is that it’s a very limited group of people, it’s not
sort of looking outside their circles, and it’s
not raising questions that other people would have raised. And I just want to sort of point to one of them in particular. The standard narrative, as I
say, is that Anglo-American political philosophy was
moribund in the ’50s and ’60s until it was revived by
Rawls, and in addition, Rawls made the innovative
move of changing the subject, the normative subject
of political philosophy, away from our obligation to
the state to social justice. I’m going to suggest to
you that that is another just so story which is
false, and the reason is there’s a long African-American
political tradition which long predates Rawls,
which goes back, you know, to the early Revolutionary
period, which is certainly has representatives
in the 19th century, whose focus, from the very
start, is racial justice. And there’s a big book coming out, Melvin – [Audience Member] Rogers. – [Charles Mills] Thanks, yes. Say it, say it – [Audience Member] Rogers. – [Charles Mills] Melvin Rogers, at Brown, political theorist at Brown. And Chip, that’s his nickname, sorry, one of those senior moments, anyway, it’s coming out (laughs) at green light at
University of Chicago Press. So it’s going to be this
huge book, basically looking, each chapter, a particular
African-American political theorist, and my hope is, and certainly the editor’s
hope is that this will become a sort of, you know,
standard text showing, look, there is this sort of long, important African-American tradition,
and it needs to be engaged with by mainstream
Euro-American political theory. And that’s going to include
Euro-American political philosophy and Euro-American
discussions of justice, because as I say, what
comes out completely clearly if you read this book
is that social justice has been a theme for the
start for these folks, racial justice has been
a theme, and these people are Anglo-American, I mean,
they’re English-speaking, they’re citizens of the United States, you know, what could be sort of more appropriately Anglo-American than that? So one of the things that
we need to do in terms of, you know, sort of making
philosophy more representative is to recognize that
there’s a long history of discussions of justice,
and this very sort of narrow genealogy that mainstream
white political philosophy have given us is really
utterly misleading. Okay, last section,
liberal racial justice. How much time do I have? Could an organizer point and
tell me how much time I have? No organizer is willing to do so. There is a danger I will
go on and on and on. – [Audience Member] Do it! – [Charles Hall] How much? (Tad Schmaltz speaking off mic) Okay, I’ll go for another 10 minutes. Okay, so if I’m right that
the Rawlsian literature cannot handle race, not
merely contingently, that they have chosen not to do so, but if this epiphany is
correct, that it turns out the apparatus is just not designed for it and was never meant by
Rawls to be designed for it because it only applies to societies with non-racialized basic
structures, within the I zone, so what can one do? My suggestion is that what
we do is turn to a different modeling of society and
a different contract. And here, surprise, surprise,
I’m going to put in a plug for my own earlier work. And there’s a well-known
political theorist, Carole Pateman, who wrote a book in 1988, The Sexual Contract, and I
was inspired by Carole’s book to write my first Racial
Contract, and we also did a book together,
Contract and Domination and in the latter book,
Contract and Domination, we had separate chapters
because we disagreed on various things, I argued
that you could transform the contract model, following
her work and following the even earlier work
of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Discourse on the Origin
of Inequality, you could use a contract to model domination. So in Rousseau’s Discourse
on the Origin of Inequality, he basically says
contract theory is a scam. Contract theory is a scam
insofar as, as he sort of tells the sort of history of society, people in the state of
nature, then society, there’s an early stage,
which is very egalitarian, and then private property
develops, divisions between rich and poor
sharpen, the wealthy become worried about the threat
to their property, so it’s if you’re into conspiracy
theories, as many people in the left are, it’s a great example in political philosophy
of conspiracy theory. The wealthy get together
and say, hey, let’s come up with a set of norms and principles that are going to supposedly
protect everybody’s rights, and everybody will sort of sign up for it, but in reality, plutocracy
will be basically embedded behind the scenes. So you can see that I’m
suggesting as an early statement of the class contract. So Rousseau, the class contract,
Pateman, Sexual Contract, then Mills, Racial Contract. You can see I’m trying
to sort of link myself to the great white tradition and thereby make myself respectable. (audience laughing) So anyway, so my argument is that we think a kind of extrapolation of
these three, a sort of abstract representation, it’s the idea
of a domination contract. The domination contract is not inclusive. It’s basically for a
group of the privileged to sort of recognize themselves as equal and basically see other people as unequal and then structure society and the polity and the economy around that. So I suggest that to do
racial justice in a social contract framework, we need to shift from the consensual contract
to the domination contract. And the domination
contract is not, of course, to be endorsed by us, rather,
we need to ask ourselves how do we dismantle it? So in the case of gender,
it’s a sexual contract. In the case of race,
it’s a racial contract. So here is my revision of the
Rawlsian thought experiment. You are once again behind
Rawls’s veil of ignorance, but the experiment is set
up in a different way. Rawls’s principles are principles for an ideal and just society. You’re going to be looking for principles for an unjust society. So we’re going to say,
when the veil lifts, you’re going to find yourself in a white supremacist society, and the question you
need to ask yourself is what race will I turn out to be? So once again, as with
the Rawlsian original, you’re using self-interest as a motivator, combining it with ignorance,
and out of that combination, we’re hoping to get a principled judgment which can stand up by moral criteria. So the idea would be, as a white person, you ask yourself, okay, I’m
doing this thought experiment. Suppose the veil lifts, and let’s say I’m a black woman in a
ghetto in south side Chicago, or let’s say I’m a Latina somewhere in the southwestern United States, or I’m a Native American
on the reservation. What principles of justice,
what particular structure of public policy would I
want to see put in place so as to make sure, assure
as seriously as I can, that I’m not going to
be radically handicapped in this social system? And the idea would be that by carrying out this thought experiment, you then force everybody who’s doing it in good faith to sort of have the
subject of racial justice center stage rather than
offstage altogether, which for the most part it is in the mainstream social justice world. And what I’ve argued elsewhere
is that you would come up with three principles of
corrective racial justice. One, end second-class civic status, and historically, people
of color have been seen as, you know, second
class or even sort of lower. Two, end racial exploitation, and three, end racial disrespect. And I suggest that these
principles are not merely what we would choose on prudential grounds behind the veil, but that they comport with our moral intuitions
outside the veil, you know, that these are principles
that are morally defensible principles, but that these
principles that might seem on the face of it to be sort of innocuous, Mom and apple pie, who
could disagree, so what, would really have very
radical implications, because, for example,
ending second-class status would mean, for example,
things like revoking the Shelby decision, it would mean,
like, dismantling the ghetto, it would mean radical revision
of the prison-industrial complex, ending racial exploitation. We’d have to sort of look at the question of what have been the sort of,
what have been the processes in terms of mortgage discrimination, in terms of the racial
implementation of the GI Bill after World War Two, in
terms of discrimination, all those, so a sort of huge
set of economic processes, the kinds of things
that Coates spoke about in his famous Atlantic article. You can then make a case for
reparations on those grounds. And finally, racial disrespect. What I’m talking about here,
situation where historically, people of color have not
been seen as moral equals, sort of racial contempt
has suffused the society, leading to expressive harms. And of course, if we
look at the literature, black American, Latin, native literature, this has been a sort of constant theme. We’re not seen as equal human beings. So what you then need to do
is what would you have to do in terms of, you know,
public expressions of respect to sort of, you know,
take account of that past. So there are things we’ve seen already in terms of, you know, Civil
War statuary and monuments, using Native Americans as mascots, rewritings of textbooks
to sort of, you know, talk about the contributions
of people of color, but it would mean a sort
of global reconstitution of the United States, and
you know, it would seem like a very radical
one, and maybe even seem like a non-liberal one, but
final point I want to drive home is it’s non-liberal by the
standards of a liberalism that has been racialized. And what I’ve tried to
make a case for is that for a liberalism that
takes a history of racial subordination seriously, it
is not non-liberal at all. So for anybody in this room
who thinks of themselves as a good liberal, whether
a good liberal on the left or on the right, my claim is,
outrageous as it may seem, you should be completely
on board with this program. Thank you. (audience applauding) You mean I said nothing controversial? – [Tad Schmaltz] I’ll just, so we do have some time for questions. Thank you. I think we have people with a microphone. Is that working? Yes, there it is. Okay, yes. (audience member speaking off mic) There’s the microphone there. – [Audience Member] My
name’s Ian Fishback. When I was a child, we
had Niemoller’s poem in the dining room, as a
child, Niemoller’s poem, first they came for the
communists, then they came for the, and I think maybe that’s
what you’re shooting for in your idea of a veil of ignorance. – [Charles Mills] Well,
it’s really Rawls’s (Mills speaking off mic) – [Audience Member] When
Rawls, I was somewhat mystified by the fact that you didn’t treat Rawls’s discussion of conscientious objection and civil disobedience,
because I think that speaks to a lot of the issues
you’re talking about, but that’s a separate issue. My concern has more, is
more specific to Ann Arbor. So Ann Arbor is reverse
racist and reverse sexist. And this is common now in many societies. And what happens is it drives
white men to the right. I’m in a situation now
politically where I can literally choose between a president
who is actually racist and sexist, that I
hate, and a society here that has violated my rights in ways that are absolutely unconscionable. I am leaving the United States. I will not be back. (audience members applauding) Goodbye. – [Audience Member] Goodbye. – [Charles Mills] Okay. – [Audience Member] You
don’t know what I’ve done for this country. You disgust me. – [Charles Mills] What I’d want to say is (audience member speaking off mic) – [Tad Schmaltz] Oh, please. – [Charles Mills] What I’d
want to say is that I’m – [Audience Member] How can
you not stick up for me? (audience member speaking off mic) – [Organizer] Because
he’s answering the, he’s – [Charles Mills] What I’d
want to say to you, sir, is that I’m sorry you
had that reaction, and – [Audience Member] Sorry is not enough. Stand up for me. – [Charles Mills] Well, what I want to stand up for is a just (audience member speaking off mic) a just society, and in a just society, but you see, the fact (audience member speaking off mic) but the fact that you’re leaving suggests a lack of good faith. So you asked a question. I’m trying to answer it. – [Audience Member] You
know that this is bad faith. She knows that this is bad faith. There are other people in this audience that know that you are
acting worse than Nazis. It’s disgusting. – [Audience Member] What? Get out. – [Audience Member] You
can laugh if you want, but it’s true. There are people here who know it. – [Audience Member] What? – [Audience Member] Get out. – [Audience Members] Get out. (audience murmuring) – [Charles Mills] Okay,
well, I suspect that maybe the question was not in good faith, so let’s have one that is. – [Tad Schmaltz] Yes,
other questions, please. – [Audience Member] Yes,
I have other questions. (audience laughing) Hello. Dr. Mills, my name is Asya Harrison. – [Charles Mills] Oh, yes, sorry. – [Audience Member] I’m
a doctoral student here in education and psychology. And one of the, you
made such amazing points throughout your entire talk. Thank you so much for being here today. And I wonder, as an educator, you speak about how there’s
little representation, right, so you are in these philosopher spaces, and you are hearing
where all of these ideas and these conceptualizations
are being formed, and you’re looking around,
and you’re seeing, like, a predominantly white room. So as an educator, like,
in front of undergrads, like, with a mission of
wanting to put people of color, like, in these spaces so
that voices are heard, how would you recommend that we get people into this area, especially when we think about the ways that a lot
of college courses are, you know, like, filtering
and used as, like, gate-keeping, you know what I mean? – [Charles Mills] Okay,
I thought there had been (audience members applauding) a self-conscious effort,
especially given that it’s February and Black History Month, to sort of reach out to the
African-American community on campus since this is an issue
of obvious concern to them. To the specific dynamics of Michigan, I obviously can’t speak to that. In terms of the sort of general things I would recommend, what I’ve
been doing for some time, I argue that philosophers
should try to incorporate such material into their
courses in general. I mean, it’s okay to have
a critical theory of race course or a critical
philosophy of race course or a DuBois course, which
in fact I’ve taught at CUNY, but the danger is that those courses are then seen as not real philosophy. So real philosophy is
the sort of, you know, usual crowd, you know Hume,
Locke, Hobbes, Liebniz and so forth, and then
if you have these weird special interests, you
could do a course like that. So it then means you get
to avoid such material if you don’t have any particular interest in it in the first place, whereas a more appropriate strategy,
in my opinion, would be both to have such courses,
but to incorporate material of race into mainstream courses. So philosophy of history courses can look at competing views of history,
the views, for example, you find in people like DuBois. Philosophy of science courses could write the history of scientific
racism and what that says, what the social influence
on your scientific research, metaphysics courses, there’s
a lot of material now on the metaphysics of race,
work by Professor Anderson’s friend and my friend Sally
Haslanger, so there’s all epistemology courses,
huge amount of stuff now on social epistemology,
a significant part of it which involves issues of race. So I think that part of what we need to do in all disciplines, but
speaking for philosophy, see how race can be
incorporated into the curriculum so that even what we think
of as mainstream courses have race in it, because it’s
not as if you are distorting the material by doing so,
because race does in fact permeate the social order. As I say, historically,
and you could disagree about whether it’s still
currently, but historically, the US has been a white supremacist state. I mean, this is, you know, there is massive documentation on this. So this has influenced
all kinds of things. It influences psychology, it
influences sense of identity. So philosophy should be able to sort of take on these issues, and then in political theory similarly. I know people, as I
mentioned, there are texts I mentioned whose authors,
whose editors, embarrassingly, I couldn’t recall, they’re
both political theorists. They’re trying to
transform political theory. International relations,
there’s a new strain, critical IR theorists,
and again, their thought of looking at the extent
to which, you know, basically from the age
of imperialism onwards, race has been tied up with
international relations, because of course, the
presumption has been, as Europeans, we get to
conquer you other nations. International law was largely sort of written in racialized ways. So there’s all kinds of stuff. I mean, race is not siloed. Race is not cabined. Race permeated the social
order so that the disciplines that study the socio-political
order, you know, there ought to be material
in race in all of them. – [Audience Member] Thank you. – [Tad Schmaltz] Other questions? Yes. – [Audience Member] Thank you. Stephen Modell, School of Public Health. I’m interested in the solutions you are proposing towards the end, in particular, granting greater respect to an individual or a group. That would seem to have certain principles behind it, but it’s rather elusive. In the context of dialogue, it might mean making sure that you entitle a person with adequate respect, like Doctor, or beginning to put yourself in their frame of mind, in their shoes. But I think that maybe
you mean something more. Could you explain? – [Charles Mills] Okay,
if you mean the veil of if you mean the veil of
ignorance thought experiment, yes, that’s the idea,
that you imagine yourself behind this veil, and as
I say, you’re considering the possibility that when the veil lifts, because the veil is
supposed to conceal from you your identity, so that
when the veil lifts, let us say you find you’re a citizen of a white supremacist
state, and you’re not white, you’re a person of color,
so that there’s a whole history of people of color
and how they are disadvantaged by this physically, psychologically, how it’s affected them all kinds of ways, and you ask yourself, if
I were a person of color, what would I want to
see the government doing in terms of public policy
to change this situation so that I could basically feel myself to be an equal in this society rather than somebody who’s inferior. So it’s asking the people
who have been privileged historically in the US and
in many other countries also to imagine themselves as people of color, and on that basis, to choose
principles of justice. So it wouldn’t require an effort Susan Moller Okin, you
know, a book from three three, is it three or is it more, many decades ago, Justice,
Gender, and the Family imagined something similar for gender, and she did point out that one problem was the difficulty men would have in putting themselves in women’s shoes. And you could see, in terms of in a if you think of the hearings
on Kavanaugh, for example, you could see that this problem
is still alive and well. So what would a man, in
good faith trying to do the experiment have to do? Well, you know, you read feminist texts, you read feminist fiction,
you sort of, you know, open your ears to the kind of witnessing that women have done so that
you sort of get an appreciation what is it like to be a woman
in a patriarchal society. So I am suggesting a comparable
move in terms of race, except unlike Okin, I’m sort
of making it explicitly. I’m saying the veil is going to lift, and you’re in a racist
white supremacist society, not an ideal society. Corrective justice is
going to be your priority. What measures of corrective
justice would you want to make sure that are put in place so that you’re not disadvantaged
in your new identity as a person of color. – [Audience Member] Thank you very much. – [Tad Schamltz] Yes, please. – [Audience Member] Hi, my name’s Eugenia. I’m a doctoral student in the department of political science, and I mostly study political socialization,
and in particular, empathy. And I was wondering, with
this veil of ignorance thought experiment you’re talking about, how we could perhaps, if it’s the case that white supremacy and
white supremacist states permeate into psychology, right,
if you’re 18, 20 years old and you’re in a philosophy
class, and this is where you’re starting the veil of ignorance experiment, or thought experiment,
you’re constrained, right. You might have really
a hard time imagining and thinking of this
example of stepping into another person’s shoes. So in my work, I try to, like,
think about developmental steps and education in particular. So I was wondering how we could perhaps adapt these ideas to elementary school or middle school curriculums,
right, where you’re learning about things from an objective perspective that assumes white supremacy, right, so like, how do, what
are your thoughts about transferring these ideas to youth-oriented or child-oriented programs? – [Charles Mills] Well,
part of what I would argue is that the third
principle, which is ending racial disrespect, is going to require, and this is a problem, of
course, because it sounds so radical when you say it. It’s going to require a national effort at the educational level,
starting much earlier than university, which I take
it is the point you’re making, insofar as racialized cognition begins at a very early stage. So the kind of stuff that’s
studied under the categories of implicit bias and
so forth and, you know, the controlling images that,
say, Patricia Hill Collins wrote about in terms of black women, all those things, you
know, massively documented in social science literature
and social psychology literature, those kinds
of things need to be taken on board by mainstream
political philosophers because what it means
is that you’re getting you’re basically getting a
situation where your cognition is being shaped to disrespect
people in certain categories from the time you’re a kid,
from the time you’re a child, so that you would then
need to ask yourself, what kind of re-education
or, re-education has ominous (chuckles) implications given the
sort of history, obviously, of socialist governments. What kind of program of
education would be called for so that you grow up with
a sort of basic respect for your fellow citizens,
so respect is a default mode rather than a situation
where, for people of color, it’s often disrespect
that’s a default mode? So that’s going to
require a massive program involving people with expertise
in all kinds of areas. And as I say, the problem
is that it will seem to many people, this is a
violation of liberal principles, a violation of, you know,
freedom of speech and so forth. But if it’s the case that
you think that we should all be committed to respecting,
you know, other people as, you know, equal citizens in public forums, then the problem is that
the idea of separating, so you have your racist views,
you would keep them private, and in public, you know,
you respect people, it’s going to be very hard
to make that distinction because it means you’re
socialized as a person and a significant amount of
this stuff is unconscious, so it’s not the case that
you have a sort of easy way of sort of pulling a lever, okay, I’m now in the public sphere, so
I’m now going to sort of act in a non-racist way. So we can see what kind
of response of hostility there would be to such programs. But in a society where
historically, implicit bias and racialized and gender
perceptions, you know, the objectification of
women, I mean, you could easily run this out in
terms of the objectification of women, failing to see
women as equal persons, so they’re focused on race here. In the paper itself, I
mention briefly that I’m abstracting race out for
an analytic exercise, but in reality, it’s a
multi-dimensional system of domination, and as I’m sure you know, for decades, if not in philosophy, there’s literature on intersectionality, the question of how
these sort of connections play themselves out for
different identities, so all of those complications
would have to be taken into account. But yes, I think, you know,
that seemingly very simple principle, correcting,
ending racial disrespect, ending disrespect for
women, that would really require all kinds of interventions, starting at a very early stage. – [Tad Schmaltz] Thank you. We have a question right here. Is there someone in the
area with a microphone? – [Audience Member] Should I ask mine, or? – [Tad Schamltz] Oh,
okay, go ahead, and then we’ll get to you. – [Audience Member] My
name is Trevor Bechtel. I’m staff at a research
initiative here at the university that focuses on poverty in a
social science perspective. Last night, in a course
on ethics and poverty, I talked about Rawls and how it’s reframed by Sen and Nussbaum to think
about capability deprivation in terms of poverty, and so
if the kind of root of that is kind of trashed by
your really eloquent talk, which I think you’ve done a good job of, I’m wondering what ways
we need to kind of rethink some of that other work. So are there ways in which
this kind of stuff on race can also apply to poverty,
either in the kind of sense in which race and
poverty are deeply connected or in the ways in which
they can be teased apart? – [Charles Mills] Okay,
well, to give him credit, and I focus on the critique,
but one needs to be fair, there are many people who
would say that if you have a social democratic view on things, the best 20th century statement
of the social democratic vision is John Rawls’s
A Theory of Justice. So I’ve been critical of
Rawls for the problem of race, but you know, the social
democratic statement that he gives, arguably,
you know, the sort of most impressive philosophical rationale for social democratic
vision is in that book. There are people who consider themselves (speaking indistinctly) left of Rawls, Brian Barry,
a well-known British guy, died some years ago, he
was critical of Rawls, though simply there are a lot
of things Rawls was saying, from the left, you know,
you could make critiques from the left and say
that behind the veil, you would argue for more
radical changes than Rawls does. There’s a book that
came out many years ago in the sort of dying phase
of what was then called analytical Marxism, a
guy called Rodney Peffer, a book way back in 1990. So he uses a Rawlsian
apparatus and says that behind the veil, if you
know how capitalism works, you would basically argue for principles more radical than Rawls’s own principles. But what I’d want to say
is that there’s already, within philosophy and political theory, more in philosophy, maybe, a
well-developed body of work on egalitarianism, social
democracy, and so forth, and Rawls’s book, though
I’ve been critical of it, is a very important
contribution to that field. So I wanted to focus on race because race is not co-incident with
class, racial oppression has dimensions of its own,
but I would not want to leave the impression that Rawls does not have a very useful set of things
to say that, if implemented, if implemented, I mean,
obviously, the complication is you know, what I’m claiming
is that in sort of in a trumping has become an unfortunate term. Trumping is widely used
as a verb in philosophy, like this trumps that. Can we use trump anymore? Anyway, the trumping
of class issues by race in terms of people’s
psychology and so forth would basically be a problem. But the social democratic vision in Rawls is a very attractive
one, and I would not want to give the impression that it’s not. It couldn’t be implemented
as is because the point is the causal roots leading
to racial disadvantage are, in crucial respects,
different from the class roots. It’s not just a sort of class and black working class and white. I mean, so, and things I
mentioned earlier, like, you know, the racist implementation of the GI Bill, mortgage discrimination,
original discrimination against, you know, people
of color who wanted to enter trade unions
largely controlled by whites, there’s a whole set of causes
which make race different. But insofar as there’s
a class vision in Rawls of how to basically
reduce class difference and you know, make a
situation where class is more sort of fluid in the
sense that you’re born in a particular social
stratum, but you have the possibility of moving
up, it is a radical vision that’s actually far to the left of what is in the United States now. – [Tad Schamltz] Okay, just, so I have we have 10 minutes at most
and three questions left. So here, here, and here. Please. – [Audience Member] Thank you
for the very stimulating talk. I’m wondering, if I’m not
completely misunderstanding you, that essentially, what
you find so, I guess, attractive about Rawls, other than being you cannot hear? (audience member speaking off mic) Sure. (audience member speaking off mic) Okay, I’ll try. So I’m wondering if what you
find attractive about Rawls, other than being located in philosophy, is the sort of the rigor
of the Rawlsian method and the veil of ignorance,
and so if that’s the case, then if you would embrace,
I guess, a description of your sort of project,
at least as portrayed in the latter part of your talk today, as a form of sort of like
imminent critique, right, where essentially, you are
accepting certain principles that he’s advancing, and
then you’re trying to see really where that gets
you if you’re upholding a standard of rigor that
exceeds even Rawls’s. And so if you would sort of
agree with that characterization of part of what you’ve
done in today’s talk, if you have anything additional
to say as far as what that gets you in terms of
an intellectual project or a vision that would
transcend the Rawlsian project, because interestingly,
you couch your endpoint as sort of racial liberalism,
right, and so in some sense you want to use the method
not to transcend Rawls, but in some sense, to,
and I’m searching here for the nature of the, of what
it is you would like to do to the Rawlsian, I guess,
theoretical tradition. Hope that makes sense. – [Charles Mills] Okay, what
I’m calling racial liberal is not what I’m advocating,
I’m diagnosing as a problem. So I’m saying liberalism
has been racialized, so let’s call it racialized
liberalism, racial liberalism, and then my project is
how do we deracialize it. It’s Rawlsian insofar
as I’m using the device of the veil of ignorance and
focus on the basic structure. But insofar as I’m saying that
we used a domination contract rather than a consensual
contract, you could say it’s not really imminent in that sense because the domination
contract is locating itself on theoretical terrain that’s
very different, obviously. So I would say there are
elements from Rawls, absolutely, but there are also elements
that are quite opposed to the way Rawls frames things. As I say, his starting point
is, in the opening pages of A Theory of Justice, we’re
going to consider society as a cooperative venture
of mutual advantage with reciprocally beneficial
rules, and only a tiny subset, well, okay, if you think
of the length of time hunter-gatherer societies
lasted, maybe it’s, you know, tens of thousands of years,
so maybe in terms of time, it’s a fairly large amount,
but certainly once you sort of exit that stage, you don’t find societies that conform to that structure. So I am then saying we need
to make a fundamental break and recognize that insofar
as social contract theory is tied to this way of modeling society, it’s fundamentally flawed. So in that respect, my critique is clearly not imminent, but external. – [Tad Schmaltz] Yes. – [Audience Member] Okay, this is on. Thanks for your talk,
and sorry, over here. – [Charles Mills] There you are, yes, sir. – [Audience Member] Sorry
that you had to deal with the heckling. – [Charles Mills] No problem. – [Audience Member] Yeah,
so my question is, like, let’s take for granted
that, like, the right-wing alternatives to liberalism
are pretty ugly and, you know, we gotta do whatever we can to stop them. Why defend liberalism
from, you know, whatever left-wing alternatives
it currently has, like, I don’t know, socialism,
anarchism, what have you? – [Charles Mills] Yes, sure. It’s a question that I’ve
been asked many times (coughs) sorry, in such presentations. And what I would say is that
insofar as you’re trying to win people over to a political project, then it seems to me you’re
likely to be more successful if you start where
their heads already are. So as I say, liberalism,
this is uncontroversial, liberalism has been the
dominant political ideology in United States history. There’s been a lot of work
on this, though of course there’s a question of
whether you have strains that are antithetical to it. So there’s well-known
political theorists out there, at Penn, Rogers Smith,
recent president of the APSA. He says there are multiple
traditions in the US, so there’s a liberal tradition,
but it’s in competition with others, and then my claim
has been what is sometimes identified as the thesis
of, as a kind of symbiosis, that liberalism has been
symbiotic with racism and sexism and so forth. Nonetheless, in this
expanded sense that includes left and right, I think most Americans regard themselves as liberals. So if you can say to people,
if you’re a good liberal, you should be on board with
a racial justice program, or for that matter, a
gender justice program or a class justice
program, that seems to me to be an immense ideological advantage, whereas if you say to
people, have I got a great ideology for you, it’s
a non-liberal ideology, but hear me out, then you’re
facing a kind of barrier just to start with. So certainly, you can do a
critique from further left. You can try to revive a Marxist vision. But part of the problem is going to be that you’re going to
have to say to people, okay, the 20th century history
of states calling themselves Marxist was disastrous,
nonetheless, we’re going to try again, and here I have this model for how a Marxist economy could work. And part of the problem with
that is that the theorization of post-capitalist economies,
a modern industrial economy that’s
post-capitalist, we don’t have any plausible models for it yet. So what I want to say
is we could consider it an open question, but at the present, in the absence of such a
model, at the very least, it’s going to be difficult
to convince people of stuff. As I’m sure everybody in the room knows, Sanders, I am warning New
Hampshire, and the question that is immediately raised
for a lot of commentators, okay, so he’s got this far, maybe he could even go all the way, but anybody who is
running under the rubric of democratic socialism
in the United States is going to face a firestorm
which is going to be aimed in part, from a mixed
metaphor here, in linking him with socialism of other kinds,
non-democratic socialism. So if Bernie Sanders is
going to sort of face that kind of critique,
what kind of response do you think you’re going to get from a position that starts
off from the left of Sanders in the first place? So I am saying this is a
program that even people on the political right
should get on board with insofar as racial
justice, racial injustice is supposed to violate
basic norms that even right-wing liberals should
be able to agree with, I mean, you know, life,
liberty, and property, these are seen as sort of classic rights that the political right
would endorse, as against things like, you know, right
to health care and so forth. Well, you know, the experience
of indigenous expropriation, experience of chattel
slavery, the experience of post-emancipation
discrimination, in theory, people on the political right should see these operators also. In reality, unfortunately, they don’t. Robert Nozick, well-known
libertarian theorist, still the philosophical classic
Anarchy, State, and Utopia, he has a brief discussion
of corrective justice for the history of slavery,
but later libertarians have not followed up on this. But at least in principle, everybody on the liberal spectrum
should be able to see that racial injustice is wrong and that we should all get together and support a project of racial justice. – [Tad Schmaltz] So this
is our last question here. – [Audience Member] Thank you. Thank you very much for
your time, Professor. My question is, is what is the role of racial justice in furthering (speaking indistinctly) debate on principles of redistribution? What role do you see for racial justice in furthering that
specific academic debate? – [Charles Mills] The
aim would be to bring into the social justice
literature, which, as I say, has been thriving for
the past half-century since Rawls’s work, an issue
which to me is very important and I think objectively should
be seen as very important that is hardly discussed at all. And here is an example which
might be useful for you. In the past 15 years, there
have been a lot of companions to Rawls, introductions to
Rawls, guidebooks to Rawls. There’s a big one, I think
it might be the handbook, that came out about five years ago. And this handbook of nearly 600 pages has a grand total of
about one and a half pages on race, and if we look in the
index for affirmative action, which is arguably the
most important measure of corrective justice in the United States in the postwar period, you will get, if you look in the index,
you will get a reference to a single sentence. So there’s a single sentence in this book on affirmative action. So that, to me, is a manifestation of the utter marginalization of race. And it’s not merely on
the left-liberal side of the spectrum, it’s on the right-wing side among libertarians, people who are not in the liberal philosophical community, people who think of themselves
as communitarian theorists. It’s basically across the board. And as I’ve said in the
paper and I will say again, though, you know, some people disagree, the whiteness of the
profession is, for me, a major contributory factor. It does not surprise us
that it’s only when women begin to enter the profession
in significant numbers in the 1970s, it’s not, it’s only then you begin to get a sort
of systematic treatment of gender and gender injustice. Likewise, it should not surprise us that in a 97 percent white
profession, there has been little interest and
concern about, you know, sort of exploring the
question of racial justice. So I’m trying to sort
of change the discourse. I’m trying to sort of ask
white political philosophers, if you’re serious about social justice and if Rawls himself says, as he did, that matters of non-ideal theory are the really important
ones, where is the literature on corrective racial justice? – [Tad Schmaltz] So before
we thank our speaker, I’d like to remind you that there will be a symposium tomorrow. YOu’re all welcome and
encouraged to attend that. It starts at 10 a.m. on the
fourth flour of the amphitheater and hope to see many of you there. Let’s thank our speaker for
a very stimulating talk. – [Charles Mills] Thank you. – [Organizer] Thank you. (audience applauding) – [Charles Mills] Thank
you for coming and staying.

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