The Racial Contract

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Overview

The Racial Contract puts classic Western social contract theory, deadpan, to extraordinary radical use. With a sweeping look at the European expansionism and racism of the last five hundred years, Charles W. Mills demonstrates how this peculiar and unacknowledged "contract" has shaped a system of global European domination: how it brings into existence "whites" and "non-whites," full persons and sub-persons, how it influences white moral theory and moral psychology; and how this system is imposed on non-whites through ideological conditioning and violence. The Racial Contract argues that the society we live in is a continuing white supremacist state.

Holding up a mirror to mainstream philosophy, this provocative book explains the evolving outline of the racial contract from the time of the New World conquest and subsequent colonialism to the written slavery contract, to the "separate but equal" system of segregation in the twentieth-century United States. According to Mills, the contract has provided the theoretical architecture justifying an entire history of European atrocity against non-whites, from David Hume's and Immanuel Kant's claims that blacks had inferior cognitive power, to the Holocaust, to the kind of imperialism in Asia that was demonstrated by the Vietnam War.

Mills suggests that the ghettoization of philosophical work on race is no accident. This work challenges the assumption that mainstream theory is itself raceless. Just as feminist theory has revealed orthodox political philosophy's invisible white male bias, Mills's explication of the racial contract exposes its racial underpinnings.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Mills's work on the Racial Contract is a major contribution to modern critical social and political thought, and will become an important, widely discussed work. It exposes, to devastating effect, the unacknowledged racial presuppositions of the entire social contract tradition, which is to say, all of liberal political theory for the past four centuries."—Robert Paul Wolff, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

"Fish don't see water, men don't see patriarchy, and white philosophers don't see white supremacy. We can do little about fish. Carole Pateman and others have made the sexual contract visible for those who care to look. Now Charles Mills has made it equally clear how whites dominate people of color, even (or especially) when they have no such intention. He asks whites not to feel guilty, but rather to do something much more difficult—understand and take responsibility for a structure which they did not create but still benefit from."—Jennifer Hochschild, Princeton University

"Like Melville's Benito Cereno, this short, explosive book unflinchingly explores the centrality of race—both in its utterly open brutality and in its remarkable ability to remain hidden—to the history of the Western nation-state. Sure to provoke a heated debate far beyond the field of political philosophy, this bold and wide-ranging study makes a clear and convincing case for the view that systemic racial oppression was not an anomaly sullying otherwise universalistic assumptions about individual rights, but the context in which theorizing about such rights occurred."—David Roediger, University of Minnesota

"This is a significant and compelling work. In the modest compass of an extended essay, Mills succeeds in altering our view of a central strand of modern political thought, the social contract tradition. Inspired by the historical success of socialist critics in placing class and socioeconomic inequality on the political-theoretical agenda and by the ongoing success of feminist critics in doing the same for gender and patriarchy, Mills turns our attention to the racial domination and exploitation that have been equally pervasive features of the history of liberalism."—Thomas McCarthy, Northwestern University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801484636
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 114,005
  • Product dimensions: 5.57 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction

1. Overview
The Racial Contract is political, moral, and epistemological
The Racial Contract is a historical actuality
The Racial Contract is an exploitation contract

2. Details
The Racial Contract norms (and races) space
The Racial Contract norms (and races) the individual
The Racial Contract underwrites the modern social contract
The Racial Contract has to be enforced through violence and ideological conditioning

3. "Naturalized" Merits
The Racial Contract historically tracks the actual moral/political consciousness of (most) white moral agents
The Racial Contract has always been recognized by nonwhites as the real moral/political agreement to be challenged
The "Racial Contract" as a theory is explanatorily superior to the raceless social contract

Notes
Index

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