Introduction

Hi again and welcome to the third and final part of this piece on Jason Stanley’s recent CHE article on the role of propaganda and ideology in connection to the mass incarceration of Black people at the hands of euro-americans. Stanley’s article is a good example of many of the elements of bourgeois philosophy: first-world chauvinism, idealism, and uncritical engagement with liberalism. In Part I we saw how Stanley’s philosophy exhibits first world chauvinism. And in Part II we saw how Stanley’s philosophy is idealist, manifested as an uncritical engagement with liberal absolutes that’s prejudiced for the social identity of the minority of the world’s people who benefit from imperialism and for the social relations and practices that determine it. Here in Part III I’m going to look at some of what Stanley has to say about propaganda and how that connects with the chauvinism and idealism he exhibits when reasoning about how euro-americans lock up Black people. And I’ll look at what happens to Stanley’s argument when you drop both the bourgeois idealist bias and the first-world chauvinism.

Since I’m going to be referring to Stanley’s argument throughout this piece I’ll reproduce it again here:

Premise 1: Racist ideology and propaganda work in conjunction to undermine liberal ideals (including eroding “empathy”).

Premise 2: Undermining liberal ideals results in things like the injustice of Black mass incarceration at the hands of euro-americans.

Conclusion: Therefore to prevent things like the injustice of Black mass incarceration at the hands of euro-americans, it’s important to “depropagandize” the “debate about crime and punishment”.

What Stanley has to say about propaganda comes out in Chapter 2 of his “How Propaganda Works”. The discussion there is thoroughly chauvinist (in the sense described in Part I), but also idealistic, uncritically engaged with liberalism, and prejudiced (in the sense described in Part II) in its “make-believe” approach to liberal absolutes like “public discourse”, and “democracy”, etc. I say these things are “absolute” because bourgeois philosophers treat them as categories and conceptions that have an existence prior to and independent of the people and relations that materially constitute them. Trading in absolutes is often confusing for those who don’t share bourgeois prejudices so what I’m going to try and do here is keep the discussion meaningful for people who don’t share Stanley’s prejudices by being clear about when he’s surreptitiously employing liberal ideology like the “reasonableness” of liberalism and making believe that things like democracy and public discourse have an independent existence.

There’s two important types of propaganda in Stanley’s philosophy. Let’s discuss each of them in turn.

Supporting Propaganda

The first is supporting propaganda, and it’s when people in the world take an absolute value –things like the liberal absolute of “political equality before the law”, or “race-neutral laws” and use them in “public discourse” (of which the liberal absolute of “political discourse” is a species), in such a way that without employing “rational argument”, it contributes to people’s changing something in the world to be more like the absolute. In terms of complete abstractions the mechanics of supporting propaganda are simple: You have abstract Principle A, People use abstract Principle A non-rationally in “public discourse” to induce people to change the world to be in line with Principle A. The variable “Principle A” can range over any absolute, including things that liberal minded people might find objectionable or things they adulate.

There’s a big opportunity for deception here since Stanley plays make-believe with the liberal absolute, “public discourse”. As a liberal absolute “public discourse” factors into the conception of the absolute of “democracy”. It’s something that’s supposed to take place among “rational agents” seeking Truth who express different opinions and have “reasonable disagreements”. This is radically different from the type of communication that takes place among people and groups of people in liberal “democratic” societies all over the world in actual media and through cultural practices. Consider the euro-american nation state, an actual so-called “democracy” like the ones Stanley has in mind when discussing these issues: It’s a capitalist class society where euro-americans have neo-colonial power over internal semi-colonies and where powerful euro-american multinational economic and financial institutions serve the interests of euro-american settlers in a two-party electoral system that determines the nuts-and-bolts execution of economic imperialism abroad and the distribution of profits from the third-world at home. Let’s call this Bourgeois Democracy. Where can Stanley’s “public discourse” actually take place in a “democracy” like this one? Where are the “rational agents” seeking Truth and making “rational” arguments to be derailed or enhanced by propaganda?

A perfectly rational agent as envisioned by a philosopher on Twitter.
A perfectly rational agent as envisioned by a philosopher on Twitter.

Let’s do Stanley and everyone else a favor and scrap the featureless “rational agents” talk altogether because those things don’t exist and just focus on people and groups of people. Now maybe the closest things one gets to the liberal absolute of “public discourse” are in editorials and letters columns in liberal publications, duels taking place between liberal people who write books featured in the types of reviews published in major newspaper, late-night news and satire shows, other television news programs, and in the case of “political discourse”, campaign ads, debates, speeches, etc. Let’s first note that in all of these forums and practices, “rational argument” doesn’t feature as the primary form of communication ―there’s emotional appeals, humor, sarcasm, invoking of cherished ideals in the style of propaganda and basically almost every form of persuasion with “rational argument” inconsequently in the mix. This is Ok from the point of view of propaganda, because it’s supposed to be non-rational, but it also brings “public discourse” down from the high heavens –the reality of discourse is that it’s a place where a lot of nasty shit is discussed, sometimes explicitly, often in code, by (see next sentence) those groups of people who are invited to the discussion. Next, let’s note that all of these forums and practices exclude groups of people who don’t benefit from liberalism and/or don’t have a liberal viewpoint. That concretely means that they exclude groups of people like prisoners, undocumented immigrants, slaves, and people in detention centers, and the lumpen proletariat. Are these groups part of the public? Maybe they’re just not part of the “public” of “public discourse”, which now just seems like a code word for the way the world’s most privileged people who wield political and economic power or are served by that power, communicate with each other, ignoring everyone else. Let’s be serious about all this and more accurately call that which Stanley calls “public discourse” Bourgeois Liberal Discourse. It’s important to keep these realities and distinctions clear otherwise we might be deceived by Stanley’s loosey-goosey use of liberal absolutes in discussions of how groups of people communicate with each other in contemporary euro-american society.

Stanley gives some examples of how supporting propaganda is supposed to work. One of them is flag waving –the stirring up of sentiments associated with nationalist mythologies in a “public” forum for some national interest. The absolute here is whatever might be embodied in the nationalist mythology, say “a freedom loving people”, “people who aid their neighbors”. The space of “public discourse” might be an editorial in a major liberal newspaper. The desired outcome might be “popular support for a war for freedom from tyranny abroad” – and associated actions count as the changing-something-in-the-world-to-be-more-like-the-absolute part. Rational argument doesn’t figure because the whole thing is based on emotional appeal.

Stanley doesn’t think this type of propaganda is problematic when it comes to why euro-americans lock up Black people in disproportionate numbers. Since there’s nothing in the abstract mechanics of supporting propaganda that indicates that liberal absolutes are the preferred values of the variable “Principle A”, the reason Stanley believes this type of propaganda isn’t relevant to the mass incarceration of Blacks at the hands of euro-americans is that he’s operating under the idealist bias that the absolutes of liberalism are good things, and that publicly cheerleading for them is simply a good, responsible, and reasonable thing to do. This is how you fill in the abstract mechanics of supporting propaganda with liberal absolutes: Hey, “race neutral laws” are a good thing! It means that racial prejudices won’t factor into the system of justice and that everyone gets a fair shake in our society and before the law! Oh no! Jim Crow laws aren’t race neutral and they systemically condemn some human beings (Not Black people though. What are those? I don’t see color. It’s all supposed to be “race-neutral”) to eke out an existence as inferiors. That’s not a fair shake! Let’s campaign hard to get people to change these race-based laws! Here, let’s wave the euro-american Declaration of Independence around and write editorials in the major newspapers and deliver speeches and stir up people’s sentiments about equality and inalienable rights and that way, we can realize the ideal of “race neutral laws”!

Are liberal absolutes basically good things such that publicly cheerleading for them is just a good, responsible, and reasonable thing to do?

Are liberal absolutes basically good things such that publicly cheerleading for them is just a good, responsible, and reasonable thing to do? Well maybe for people who also believe that color-blind racism is better than Jim Crow racism? But such distinctions seem spurious because the nuts and bolts questions from the point of things like self-determination and national democracy for the people oppressed by racist institutions and ideology aren’t about the flavors of political oppression and economic exploitation but about actually not having those things as the foundation of human society. Using supporting propaganda to cheerlead for liberal absolutes goes hand in hand with buying, to the fullest extent, into the liberal absolute of “political reform”, which is a big part of the neo-colonial ideology of imperialism. Its historical function is to suggest that the social relations and practices that condition liberal ideology (including bourgeois philosophy) aren’t the main things affecting the lives of people who don’t benefit from liberalism by contributing to the “it’s better now that in than in the past”, or “It’s about to get better, you’ll see” ideology of those interested in sustainable, long-term economic and national oppression. Claiming that supporting propaganda with a liberal bent isn’t problematic when it comes to the mass incarceration of Black people at the hands of euro-americans is to fully employ the biased, idealist form of bourgeois philosophy to obscure and draw critical attention away from the social relations and practices that are foundational to imperialism and neo-colonialism.

So basically, when it comes to bourgeois democracy and supporting propaganda, Stanley is like Dr. Ray Stanz (played by Dan Aykroyd) in that scene in Ghostbusters where the Ghostbusters have to empty their heads of any thoughts because any idea they have constitutes a choice made about the form of the destruction of the world. Dr. Ray Stanz foolishly imagines something he conceives of as good and incapable of harm, but which in the context of the immanent supernatural destruction of the world by a powerful Sumerian deity is actually very harmful. Where Dr. Ray Stanz chose the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man as the vehicle for the destruction of the world Jason Stanley chose the stuff one reads in a tourist brochure in Washington DC as the vehicle for the destruction of Black lives.

Ghostbuster’s foolish bias for his own social identity determines the form of the destruction of the world.
Ghostbuster’s foolish bias for his own social identity determines the form of the destruction of the world.

Undermining Propaganda and Its Effects

Having given a “criticism free” pat on the back to liberal absolutes in the case of supporting propaganda, Stanley gives a similar, uncritical treatment to the second important type of propaganda that features in his philosophy: Undermining propaganda. Undermining propaganda is when people in the world take an absolute value –things like the liberal absolute of “political equality before the law”, or “race-neutral laws” and use them in “public discourse” (of which the liberal absolute of “political discourse” is a species), in such a way that without employing “rational argument” it undermines people’s efforts to change the world to be coherent with the absolute. In terms of complete abstractions, the mechanics of undermining propaganda are: You have abstract Principle A, People use abstract Principle A non-rationally in “public discourse” to induce people to change the world to be in line with Principle A, such use results in undermining people’s efforts to change the world to be like Principle A. The variable “Principle A” can range over any absolute or even a collection of related absolutes, but what’s important is that the “changing of the world”, the goal, has to run contrary it. The same caveats and warnings apply here as in the case of supporting propaganda. Stanley plays fast and loose with “public discourse”, decontextualizes the whole discussion and conceals the fact that it’s just bourgeois liberal discourse, a space where the world’s most privileged people who wield political and economic power or are served by that power, communicate with each other, ignoring everyone else.

So how is undermining propaganda supposed to work? In his CHE article, Stanley gives the example of euro-americans using color-blind racist (not his term, but it’s the correct term to use here) code words like “thug”, “predator”, and “gang member” as propaganda in “public debate” about “law” and “order” that he claims undermines euro-americans taking action that could otherwise change the world to be coherent with the supposedly benevolent liberal absolutes of “race-neutral”, “law” and “order”. Propaganda terms like “thug”, “predator”, “gang member”, when used in “public discourse” are supposed to hinder the ability of euro-americans to rationally explore the causes of things like Black rebellion and other things euro-americans call “crime”, thus somehow eroding “empathy” (this is Premise 1 of his argument). The idea is that euro-americans are “rational”, eager to engage in “democracy” by exploring the underlying reasons behind what Stanley calls “gross inequities in the treatment” of Black people, who are the ones euro-americans are talking about when using color-blind racist terms. By the “gross inequities in treatment”, Stanley means structural features of neo-colonialism that necessitate Black rebellions and which create a Black lumpen proletariat whose lives unfold in black-market contexts involving violence and theft. Color-blind racist propaganda in the supposed benevolent spirit of “law” and “order” thus blocks “empathy”, which Stanley conceives in terms of “political equality before the law”, and throws a wrench in the “democratic” engagement of euro-americans. It’s this undermining that’s supposed to result in the injustice of Black mass incarceration at the hands of euro-americans (this is Premise 2 of his argument). That’s how undermining propaganda is supposed to work.

Then Stanley presents what he thinks is the central problem regarding one of the effects of undermining propaganda: the task of eliminating the color-blind racist propaganda so that euro-americans can engage in “democracy” with a “sophisticated” attitude towards the question of whether or not they want to incarcerate Black people in large numbers because of Black rebellion and what euro-americans consider “crime” (this is the conclusion of his argument). He thinks it’s a tough task and cites Victor Klemperer’s 1947 book, The Language of the Third Reich, to give a feel for how difficult it is. The passage he cites describes how “young people in all innocence, and despite a sincere effort to fill the gaps and eliminate the errors in their neglected education, cling to Nazi thought processes. They don’t realize they are doing it.” During their re-educations, when certain key-words came up, “everything became blurred, and we were adrift once again in the fog of Nazism.” So what Stanley proposes is that euro-americans begin with strict policies limiting color-blind racist propaganda for politicians, journalists, and scientists. But he recognizes, in the only bit of concrete thinking in his whole piece, that such a proposal is pie-in-the-sky. Which is why the upshot of the whole argument is ho hum: euro-americans in these roles should at least try to understand that propaganda of this type undermines the bourgeois liberal absolute of “democracy”.

Let’s take a moment to analyze all of this carefully before turning to Stanley’s argument. I’m going to focus on “law” and “order”, the “undermining” of “democracy”, and Stanley’s idea about “depropagandizing” euro-america’s debate on how they want to incarcerate Black people.

Law and Order in Bourgeois Democracy

Stanley’s example makes reference to the liberal absolutes of “law” and “order”, which he treats in the idealist, biased sort of way that characterizes his whole article. In this case, far from being austere, detached absolutes, possibly conceived as hallmarks of any society, and especially an advanced, enlightened, “democratic” one in the first quarter of the 21st century, “law” and “order” are actually just roundabout ways of talking about the organized use of violence to impose and maintain euro-american settler rule and suppress other things that run counter to euro-american settler self-concept but that are necessary features of the superstructure of a society founded on imperialism and genocide. In a bourgeois democracy like the one in the euro-american nation-state, law is the law of the bourgeoisie (of which the most powerful in this class are the imperialists) of the euro-american settler nation, and it serves the interests of the settler nation as a whole. This means that “crime” itself can’t be detached from its conception under the standpoint of the bourgeoisie in a make-believe way, as if featureless individuals “wrong” others (how that’s possible for the featureless is a mystery) and disinterested “law” governs from above (how disinterested law applies to the featureless is mysterious too). But the picture one gets by looking at the history of states and state power is neither mysterious nor make-believe:  it’s that law is about imposing the order of the leading class. The euro-american nation state has certainly done that. The leading classes of euro-american settlers are the bourgeoisie and the imperialists. The euro-american nation state under the rule of these classes has given national cohesion to euro-americans on the basis of stolen land, the culture of settlerism or “whiteness”, and law, or “white power”, and imperialism. While the prosperity secured for euro-americans through imperialism has ameliorated class antagonisms internally among euro-americans it cannot fully reconcile them and that’s why there’s often internal disagreement between the imperialist wing of euro-america and the american labor aristocracy. And, of course, the euro-american nation state has done little beyond neo-colonialism to ameliorate national antagonism between euro-america and Black people and other internal semi-colonies. The form of the euro-american nation state is bourgeois democracy, which is described above in the section on Supporting Propaganda.

“Crime” itself can’t be detached from its conception under the standpoint of the bourgeoisie in a make-believe way, as if featureless individuals “wrong” others and disinterested “law” governs from above.

No law but a white law. No order but a white order.
No law but a white law. No order but a white order: The Black Panther Party on the stairs of the State Capitol in Seattle, WA.

Stanley is uncritically sympathetic to “law” and “order” considered as “race-neutral” liberal absolutes and he uses them in a biased way. While the variety of things that count as crimes from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie of the imperialist nations is staggering and Orwellian, the focus of Stanley’s discussion is a subset of these that have to do with the status of the Black descendants of former slaves as an internal semi-colony of euro-american imperialism. The relevant laws and associated crimes have to do with Black resistance to euro-american imperialism (this is what in this context euro-american settlers call “disorder”) and the violence and thievery that comes with black market economies, which is the level at which the lives of the Black lumpen proletariat unfold (this is what in this context euro-american settlers call “crime”). Stanley says that these decontextualized ideals are “fair”, assuming without argument that somehow in a nation-state where racism is an ideology supporting national oppression and neo-colonialism “race-neutrality” and color blindness are species of fairness. Back in context (as set out in the previous paragraph) there’s nothing recognizably race-neutral or fair about “law” and “order”. But insisting on the detachment of absolutes like “order” and “law”, and tagging them “fair” and “race-neutral”, in this context of neo-colonialism and national oppression is an expression of class and national bias for euro-american social identity because these are the relevant concepts used to justify euro-american neo-colonial power over the Black descendants of former slaves. For instance, “order” historically just means “white order”, as in the case (detailed in Adam Winkler’s 2011 book, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America) when the Black Panther Party answered euro-american grassroots and state-sponsored police violence by arming themselves and patrolling Black neighborhoods. Euro-americans across all classes –including those classes that are now staunchly against “gun-control”, quickly moved to use actual neo-colonial law to keep the determination of “order” in the hands of euro-american police. By failing to acknowledge the reality of cases like this one, the uncritical posture of bourgeois philosophy relative to liberal absolutes reveals that that the value expressed by the absolute is not so much order as it is “order”, a part of euro-american ideology supporting white power. The terrorist use of “order” by euro-americans is so savagely pronounced, that even the leader of the integrationist wing of the Black descendants of former slaves and euro-americans’ “model Black person”, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had to address it head on, from within a euro-american jail cell no less: “The Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…” So much for “order”.

The terrorist use of “order” by euro-americans is so savagely pronounced, that even the leader of the integrationist wing of the Black descendants of former slaves and euro-americans’ “model Black person”, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had to address it head on, from within a euro-american jail cell no less.

Grassroots Black leader Fred Hampton, national spokesman for the Black Panther Party, murdered by euro-american police as part of COINTELPRO.
Grassroots Black leader Fred Hampton, national spokesman for the Black Panther Party, murdered by euro-american police as part of COINTELPRO.

What about “law”? Well there’s hardly a basis for speaking about “Black law” because in North-America Black people don’t have political and economic power in the form of a state to enforce regulations with authority over themselves. But there is Black national cohesion and because of it, there are countless examples of regulations established in communities by Black leaders with the authority bestowed on them by the people whose interests they serve that have been smashed with impunity by euro-americans and the euro-american state. Consider for instance euro-america’s COINTELPRO program officially carried out by the euro-american nation state’s Federal Bureau of Investigation from the late 1950’s to the 1970’s. This espionage and terror program was about “protecting national security”, and part of what it did in practice was attack and destroy the organizations and leadership of Black descendants of former slaves who had grassroots authority from Black people to regulate and direct conduct. Without state power, this is as close as one gets to “law” among Black people in the euro-american nation-state. And that’s a bit too close for comfort for euro-americans, who have historically perceived democracy in the hands of Black people as a national security threat. COINTELPRO was responsible for the murder of Black leaders like Black Panther Fred Hampton, as well as for leveraging methods of harassment, psychological warfare, infiltration and sabotage which were both “legal” and “illegal” according to euro-american settler “democratic” standards. Some of the effects of COINTELPRO on the organizations and leadership of Black descendants of former slaves with grassroots authority from Black people to regulate and direct their affairs were enhancing organizational weaknesses and blocking the building of sustainable organizations and institutions, the violent removal of the best and most effective Black leaders, and making strides toward establishing a culture of cynicism and hopelessness that is present today among Black leaders and which was opportunistically employed by euro-american liberals during the neo-colonial presidential campaign of Barak Obama with the demagogical slogan: HOPE. As in the case of “order”, the uncritical posture of bourgeois philosophy relative to the liberal absolute “law”, reveals that the value expressed is not so much law, but “law” as a part of euro-american ideology supporting neo-colonialism.

“Law” and “order” are the fangs of the serpent of euro-american neo-colonialism and with or without the help of racist, or color-blind racist propaganda…do a good job on their own of thwarting the democratic aspirations of Black people.

With these considerations in mind, we see that in the real world, Stanley’s insistence on the detachment of absolutes like “order” and “law”, which he brands as “fair” and “race-neutral is an expression of class and national prejudice for euro-american liberal ideology. “Law” and “order” are the fangs of the serpent of euro-american neo-colonialism and with or without the help of racist, or color-blind racist propaganda, the liberal absolutes “law” and “order” are what Stanley calls “supporting propaganda” for euro-american bourgeois democracy and do a pretty good job on their own of thwarting the national democratic aspirations of the Black descendants of former slaves in the euro-american nation state. Consequently, Stanley’s claim that these ideals are in line with “democracy” ties “democracy” down to liberal prejudice and reveals what we’ve already noted, that “democracy” itself is an expression of bias for liberal bourgeois democracy.

Undermining “Democracy”

According to Stanley, color-blind racist propaganda undermines “democracy” and contributes to the injustice of Black mass incarceration at the hands of euro-americans. Color-blind racist “undermining propaganda” undermines democracy because it blocks “empathy” and results in treating groups of people as something other than which falls under “political equality before the law” ―something essential to “democratic political discourse” the absence of which, Stanley believes, facilitates mass incarceration. But we know that by “empathy” he means something that sounds nice, but is nevertheless quite puzzling because on the one hand, it’s supposed to form the basis for “political equality before the law”, which should be “race-neutral”, but on the other hand, empathy is an exercise in considering others in regard to their particular conditions, which is what you lose with “race-neutrality”. We also know that by “democracy” he means an abstraction that floats above the racist, classist neo-colonial reality of euro-american bourgeois democracy. And we know first-hand through Stanley’s own omission of Black history and Black national identity that by “democratic political discourse” he means the way the world’s most privileged people who wield political and economic power or are served by that power, communicate with each other, ignoring everyone else. And finally, we know that if all you have are bourgeois democracy, bourgeois liberal discourse, and an effectively useless account of “empathy”, there’s nothing left of “political equality before the law” that might be practically recognized by people struggling against the injustices of bourgeois democracy and bourgeois liberal discourse in the world. So, from the point of view of people in the grip of euro-american settler law and order and struggling for a conceptual framework for understanding and changing the character of their being and circumstances in the euro-american nation state, its bourgeois democracy, and everything that goes with it, all of Stanley’s talk about propaganda undermining “democracy” seems woefully awkward and out of place (a consequence of chauvinist “first-world-splaining”). But I guess that’s OK because Stanley’s philosophy isn’t for those people. It reminds one a bit of this routine by Chris Rock:

So then what ever is Stanley talking about?

Well, although it’s true that “law” and “order” in bourgeois democracy aren’t the benevolent abstractions that Stanley fancies, the evil they perpetrate in thwarting the national democratic demands of the Black descendants of former slaves in the euro-american nation state can, and frequently is, exacerbated by both the racist and color-blind racist propaganda of euro-americans. And reading his philosophy superficially, one might think that this is what Stanley is going on about. But based on his idealist, prejudiced account it seems like he doesn’t really care for the historical and current problems undermining the national democratic demands of Black people by euro-americans ―his focus is more on what it would take to maintain some type of coherence between the supposed universality of the abstract concepts of euro-american liberal ideology and the mechanics of euro-american neo-colonialism. That means that for Stanley the problem isn’t: “How can euro-americans help change the world to have more democracy for the Black descendants of former slaves as a group?”  –Which is one of the many questions all euro-american “allies” of the Black descendants of former slaves should be asking themselves. Instead the problem for Stanley is: How can philosophy help euro-americans carry out internal reforms in the system of neo-colonialism that are minimally interpretable as the abstractions of the ideology of Liberal Democracy as limited by the practical implementation of settler bourgeois democracy?

From the point of view of people in the grip of euro-american settler law and order and struggling for a conceptual framework for understanding and changing the character of their being and circumstances in the euro-american nation state, all of Stanley’s talk about propaganda undermining “democracy” seems woefully awkward and out of place.

To this end, Stanley uses the basic tools of doing philosophy in this way I’ve been describing as bourgeois. For example, abstraction is the cognitive activity of selecting common features of particular things and treating them as definitive of a general concept, it’s a basic part of doing philosophy. But practice is what makes this activity bourgeois or non-bourgeois. Human beings have no choice about carrying out the analysis of pure concepts but through practice but we do have a choice about that practice, although the choice and manner of practice is conditioned by material conditions, and our social identity, or ideology. As a philosopher, Stanley seems to be analyzing the abstracted general concept of “liberal democracy” in terms of some of its component parts: “rational deliberation”, “political discourse”, “fairness”, “empathy”, “law” and “order”, “free and fair elections”, and so on and so forth as celebrated in bourgeois liberal discourse and propaganda the world over. As a philosopher Stanley recognizes that if you subtract one of these components you in turn “undermine” the integrity of the general concept ―you cripple “democracy”. But as a bourgeois philosopher he is simultaneously evaluating a practice, ―in this case euro-american color-blind racist propaganda, and structuring the discussion about it in terms of abstracted concepts of euro-american liberalism in a way that favors the minority of the world’s people with political and economic power rather than transparently evaluating that practice relative to a specific aim in a material context. This is the very definition of bourgeois idealism.

And because Stanley’s idealism is expressed as an uncritical engagement with liberalism he seems to confuse the methods of neo-colonial bourgeois democracy for a “problem” of failing to instantiate the abstract concepts of euro-american liberalism in the world, foregoing an opportunity to investigate why “universal” liberal absolutes might consistently and across the board fail to be instantiated in the world while they are upheld by the world’s minority of privileged people as absolute reference for the foundation of bourgeois democracies as well as for the analysis of social reality.

Stanley’s idealist treatment not only baits the prejudices of the world’s most privileged people who enjoy the benefits of neo-colonialism, including his own, but it obscures the subtleties of the connection between bourgeois democracy and propaganda in general.

This is the limit of Stanley’s “analysis” –we get an insufferably frivolous account of the theoretical crippling of a concept, where things happening in the world are either completely ignored or robotically smashed into an unfitting mold of liberal slogans. Where Stanley thinks his concept of “undermining propaganda” reveals, maybe even gracefully and in an ideologically neutral fashion, how “democracy” is crippled, his idealist treatment not only baits the prejudices of the world’s most privileged people who enjoy the benefits of neo-colonialism, including his own, but it obscures the subtleties of the connection between bourgeois democracy and propaganda in general.

For example, because he’s uncritical of liberalism and buys into it’s “reasonableness” he takes the theoretical generality of euro-american liberal ideology at face value –as one would for whom liberalism works and can’t be bothered to do any extra thinking– and fails to understand that because euro-american liberal ideology is neo-colonial, its theoretical generality works to insidiously corrode the particularity of neo-colonial resistance, including things like national democracy for neo-colonial populations. In other words: imposing settler democracy through white power is the political system of euro-american imperialism, and liberal ideology used non-rationally, ―like say in the form of trigger words that stir up sentiments associated with nationalist mythologies among the euro-american middle classes― in a limited context of discourse for the privileged ―like say the CHE― in a way that supports settler democracy is just what Stanley calls “supporting propaganda”, in this case for euro-american imperialism. And it bears noting that it doesn’t matter that Stanley mentions liberal ideals in a “rational argument”. His argument (see below) mentions liberal ideals, but isn’t about them. Yet, they do play an important role in his CHE piece and that’s to concretely delimit the in-crowd in conjunction with his chauvinist revisionist history and play upon their shared bias for the “reasonableness of liberalism” to pad the context of argument.

going on about liberal ideals is a form of supporting propaganda for the euro-american status quo.

Stanley’s going on about liberal ideals is a form of supporting propaganda for the euro-american status quo. And he’s using this propaganda in conjunction with his philosophy to address a very specific problem understood from the point of view of the sector of euro-america that Stanley represents. The problem is that Black mass incarceration by euro-americans shrinks the number of practices that are minimally interpretable through the abstractions of liberal democracy by the politically liberal wing of euro-american settlerism. This is just a fancy way of saying that it becomes tougher to socially administer necessary elements of euro-american neo-colonialism, like nominally satisfying self-determination and popular democracy for the Black descendants of former slaves while maintaining their economic dependence and political subjugation to euro-america. Besides the fact that this not-so-delicate balancing act is fundamental and wholly constitutive of the relationship euro-americans have to Black people since the Civil War, it’s also important for at least three reasons. The first reason, and likely the most important one, is that it makes some euro-americans in the politically “left” wing of euro-american settlerism feel bad in the same way that some sectors of euro-american felt bad about slavery and Jim Crow. The second reason is that it causes problems domestically within the euro-american nation state in the form of criticism and rebellion from the semi-colonies. And finally, it causes problems internationally in the form of criticism by human rights agencies like Amnesty International that recognize the hypocrisy of euro-america. But whatever the reason, failing to instantiate liberal absolutes is not a “problem” at all from the point of view of more democracy for the Black descendants of former slaves who aren’t going to get self-determination and popular democracy from euro-america either way. The problem that Stanley is addressing is more of an expression of a bias for one way of imposing neo-colonial white power over another and this is what’s really at issue when Stanley goes on about “undermining democracy”.

What is being undermined by euro-american color-blind racist propaganda in the case of Black mass incarceration is not the democracy that exists in the euro-american nation state –bourgeois democracy, with its class injustices, and it’s law and order, and its “justice system” set against Black national democracy, but instead it’s the ideal of a concept qua its central role in euro-american neo-colonial ideology.

In this light, his benevolent account of undermining propaganda in the case of the mass incarceration of the Black descendants of former slaves at the hands of euro-americans reveals itself as a debate internal to euro-american settlers regarding the character of neo-colonialism. On the one hand you have those euro-americans who are on board with uncontrollably terrorizing the Black descendants of former slaves with mass incarceration no matter what, and on the other you have those who think that settler law and order thwarting national self-determination for Black people is enough without the radical spike in mass incarceration started in the 1980’s. What is being undermined by euro-american color-blind racist propaganda in the case of Black mass incarceration is not the democracy that exists in the euro-american nation state –bourgeois democracy, with its class injustices, and it’s law and order, and its “justice system” set against Black national democracy, but instead it’s the ideal of a concept qua its central role in euro-american neo-colonial ideology. Bourgeois democracy remains untouched by euro-american color-blind racist propaganda and is even supported by it in the same way that it’s supported by both the rational and propagandistic use of liberal ideals by euro-americans generally.

Depropagandizing the “Debate”

We mentioned above how for Stanley, the central problem is eliminating color-blind racist propaganda so that euro-americans can engage in “democracy” with a “sophisticated” attitude towards the question of how they want to incarcerate Black people due to things like rebelling against euro-american state and grass-roots violence and other structural features of neo-colonialism that euro-americans consider “crime”. Like his treatment of “law” and “order” and “democracy”, his treatment of issues surrounding this “sophisticated”, “democratic”, debate is completely idealistic and characterized by first-world chauvinism and uncritical engagement with liberalism.

His treatment is idealistic for reasons already discussed: By “democracy” he means an abstraction that floats above the racist, classist neo-colonial reality of euro-american bourgeois democracy. By “democratic political discourse” he means some fantastic ennoblement for the insulated way euro-americans communicate with each other, ignoring everyone else in the public space of their bourgeois democracy, which is where their “debate about crime and punishment” unfolds.

Stanley expresses first-world chauvinist bias for both euro-american liberal social identities (ideology) and euro-american liberal social practice. The ideology he biased toward is euro-american self-concept: that as a group, euro-americans are “rational” and eager to explore the underlying reasons behind “gross inequities in the treatment” of Black people. The story is that that “rational” democratic” investigation is immanent and if it weren’t for the dastardly color-blind racist propaganda, euro-americans would have already used the euro-american nation state to address “socioeconomic problems”, reconcile class and national differences and establish an incredible liberal, race-neutral society. It seems outrageous that one has to spend time dismantling this fantasy, which is on par with the type of selective Mickey Mouse “history” that characterizes euro-americans as bravely crossing the ocean on the mayflower, sitting down to dinner with the First Nations, landing on the moon and boldly entering the 21st century with a Black president. But here we are.

The idea that as a group euro-americans are just about to rationally examine the social relations and practices that produce the superstructures of imperialism is something like a wish or a projection that expresses the way euro-american liberals conceive of themselves.

The idea that as a group euro-americans are just about to rationally examine the social relations and practices that produce the superstructures of imperialism is something like a wish or a projection that expresses the way euro-american liberals conceive of themselves. Here, as with so many other pieces of liberal ideology, there’s nothing special about this type of wishing, it’s just what anyone socialized into euro-american imperialist society would pick up as part of narrative put out by euro-american institutions. Stanley isn’t critical about this at all. The moment of considering the import of his conclusion might have been a good time for a critical philosopher sensitive to ideological bias too look at how euro-americans, who have every opportunity imaginable to examine the economic and social foundations of their society, have actually engaged with the social relations and practices that give rise to Black rebellions and the marginalization of large groups of Black people to black-market economies –the things euro-americans consider “crimes”. Such a philosopher might have at least considered some of the moments euro-americans could have “rationally” engaged with the problems faced by Black people, moments like the destruction of the Black national economy during the celebrated New Deal programs that resulted in Black dependence on euro-american handouts, or the pro-imperialist integrationism of the 1940’s, or the collusion between euro-american labor unions and euro-american industry to drive out the neo-colonial population from industry during WW2, or the destruction of institutions serving Black interests by the “law” ―the FBI and other police― in the post-war period, etc. The cases are ubiquitous.

A critical philosopher sensitive to ideological bias might have also noticed some general features in cases such as these, like say, consistent silence from the broad masses of euro-america when it comes to Black disenfranchisement, consistently siding with imperialism at the expense of labor solidarity with Blacks, and chronic lack of interest in criticizing black disenfranchisement beyond the limits determined by imperialist neo-colonialism. But instead of anything even remotely close to that, Stanley just coddles the sensitive liberal egos of the CHE’s readership by pretending that there’s some concrete, non-ideological basis for the fantasy that euro-america is about to be critical about their imperialism.

I sometimes refer to this bit of euro-american mythology as an attribution of “false consciousness”; it’s a type of first-world chauvinism because it’s apologetics for a group of people that historically and currently are purposefully committed to the fullest extent to the economic exploitation, and national oppression of Blacks and other internal semi-colonies as well as people abroad. The fact that there’s an ideological component to one’s moral commitments that can easily accommodate the effects of color-blind racism doesn’t make those commitments false, especially when by any measurable standard but the wildest contorted doublethink of anti-vaxxers, 9-11 truthers, and other conspiracy theorists, both in terms of aspiration and in actual practice, euro-americans come down on the side of chauvinism and imperialism.

Stanley assumes there’s no analogue to “Nazi actions” in the euro-american nation state. But the from the outside looking in, the analogue is euro-american imperialism and neo-colonialism and the analogue to “the typical Nazi way of thinking and its breeding ground: the language of Nazism” are the language that bourgeois philosophers like Stanley and euro-americans generally trade in as a matter of course, the language of liberalism and its absolutes.

It’s revealing that Stanley cites Klemperer on the re-education of Nazi youth because that’s precisely the romantic vision that euro-american liberals in this space have of themselves: Misguided (Nazi) youth with a terrible “past” now timidly, but sincerely making an effort to de-Nazify themselves but it’s so hard! The romantic vision is false; it disingenuously co-opts the struggle of German youth to de-Nazify themselves and ports it over to euro-americans who haven’t even begun to struggle along these lines. The primary difference is that Nazi youth were the children of a defeated empire with military rule and re-education imposed from without so that it makes sense to speak, as Klemperer does, of “the preceding epoch”. There is no such epoch for euro-american imperialism but the present. There’s more to the section from Klemperer’s book where Stanley pulls the cited passage and although he doesn’t cite those sentences specifically, it bears quoting here: “…It’s not only Nazi actions that need to vanish, but also the Nazi cast of mind, the typical Nazi way of thinking and its breeding ground: the language of Nazism.” Stanley skipped this whole “Nazi actions” part because through the narrow focus of his own euro-american liberal social identity, there is no analogue to “Nazi actions” in the euro-american nation state. But the from the outside looking in, the analogue is euro-american imperialism and neo-colonialism and the analogue to “the typical Nazi way of thinking and its breeding ground: the language of Nazism” are the language that bourgeois philosophers like Stanley and euro-americans generally trade in as a matter of course, the language of liberalism and its absolutes.

No doubt there are euro-americans who struggle against their “whiteness” by being self-critical and by committing some kind of national suicide or other in seeking alliances with the people who don’t benefit from liberalism, but as a group, euro-americans are not in the same position to struggle against “whiteness” as ex-Nazi youth were to struggle against Nazism. Such a situation would require a complete, revolutionary social restructuring domestically and a defeat of euro-american imperialism abroad. In typical bourgeois philosophical fashion, Stanley puts the cart before the horse with his romantic view of euro-americans. But it’s not without purpose.

Such “false consciousness” constitute a powerful form of euro-american ideology, similar to “political reform” and the “reasonableness of liberalism” and it’s precisely along these lines that Stanley’s idealism about “depropagandizing” euro-americans’ conceptions of “crime” and “punishment” is also a bias for liberal social practice: the idea that euro-americans are about to start being critical about their imperialism and its effects makes it seem as if as a group, they’re more naïve and misguided and somehow especially susceptible to the persuasive effects of propaganda than deliberately engaged in carrying out imperialism. The truth is that Stanley is right: ideology makes groups of people susceptible to propaganda. But it’s also true that social identity isn’t monolithic. Otherwise there wouldn’t be the basis for alliances across lines of class, gender, and nation which we know from history and experience are not only possible, but necessary in cases of large-scale social change. Besides, euro-americans challenging their social identity is not historically unprecedented, both for better and for worse. The choice between slavery and neo-colonialism as the character of euro-american imperialism was a challenge to euro-american social identity. The euro-american youth’s anti-militarism during the euro-american war of aggression against Vietnam was a challenge to powerful pillar of euro-american social identity. These realities both tell against the theoretical somersaults of “false consciousness” and drive home that as a national group, euro-americans are deliberately on board with imperialism.

Stanley protects euro-american complicity in imperialism by appealing to the chauvinism of euro-americans and making it seem as if the space exists in euro-american bourgeois democracy for immanent justice through liberal reforms.

One of the things euro-americans are supposed to be immanently investigating with their “empathy” is the “gross inequities in treatment” that euro-american subject Black people to. This just means structural features of neo-colonialism that necessitate Black rebellions and which create a Black lumpen proletariat whose lives unfold in black-market contexts involving violence and theft. Now that’d be nice. But it’s with phrases like this that Stanley protects euro-american complicity in imperialism by appealing to the chauvinism of euro-americans and making it seem as if the space exists in euro-american bourgeois democracy for immanent justice through liberal reforms –As if the euro-american nation state had already undergone a radical change at the level of the social relationships and practices that fix the character of a society of the type that destroyed the Third Reich and now it’s just a matter of setting up strict policies limiting color-blind racist propaganda for politicians, journalists, and scientists. The unbounded futility of this under the current system of neo-colonial bourgeois democracy doesn’t escape Stanley, however, and in the end he serves up the desiccate fruit of his bourgeois philosophy: at the very least euro-americans ought to agree that euro-american democratic (without scare quotes because we’re talking about a debate internal to euro-american national democracy) decisions about the relative severity of neo-colonial repression are impossible when conceiving of the Black descendants of former slaves in color-blind racist terms.

Two things. First, this is capitulating to white-power because one of the reasons for the apparent impossibility of having “democratic” institutions that serve the interests of Black people, like say, institutions with authority and power to limit euro-american color blind racist propaganda, is the existence of euro-american neo-colonialism and bourgeois democracy. The purpose of the ideology of liberalism is to support the type of bourgeois democracies that don’t empower the colonized as a matter of course so negativity about those prospects is to be expected, but it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to combat euro-american racism institutionally. It just means that you have to look outside the limits of the limited democracy of white power.

Second: Stanley’s conclusion is just what euro-americans are ready to hear and feel good about. Look, we value “democracy”, right? But not national democracy and self-determination for the Black descendants of former slaves, oh no, no! And there’s really no structure in place with authority and power to limit euro-american color blind racist propaganda (like there would be, say, if Black people had institutions serving their interests) because, ha! Are you kidding?  So, we might as well agree that under bourgeois democracy even our limited-to-euro-americans debate about the relative severity of our neo-colonial repression over the Black descendants of former slaves can’t be democratic. And I suppose the hope is that some of them will feel bad about that. Who knows? And who cares really, if people like Stanley keep slamming the door shut in the face of people who don’t benefit from liberalism and can’t think for a second outside the limits of their own chauvinist national identity.

Stanley’s Argument

Having looked at what Stanley has to say about propaganda and how that connects to the chauvinism and idealism he exhibits when reasoning about how euro-americans lock up Black people, it’s time to look at Stanley’s argument and see what happens if we drop both the bourgeois idealist bias and the first-world chauvinism. The point is not to check to see if the argument “goes through” or can be modeled using some logic. Stanley’s concepts and terms are so bloated with bourgeois idealism and bourgeois prejudice, and float so high above the action, that evaluating it on its own conditions would tie this analysis here down to bourgeois philosophy –it’d be an exercise like the kind you can find any bourgeois philosophy journal or bourgeois philosophy blog dealing with these issues. Part of the point of non-bourgeois philosophy is to be critical of the limits that liberalism sets up for criticism of itself and in that spirit, I’m going to sum up what Stanley’s argument is more accurately about, given everything we’ve discussed so far, which is from the point of view of people who don’t share Stanley’s prejudices.

Premise 1 claims that racist ideology and propaganda work in conjunction to undermine liberal ideals like “race-neutral” “law” and “order”, “political equality before the law”, and “political discourse” which are constitutive of “liberal democracy” (including eroding “empathy”). It’s true, and Stanley isn’t fooling around here. We’ve seen above how what is being undermined by euro-american color-blind racist propaganda in the case of Black mass incarceration isn’t the democracy that exists in the euro-american nation state, bourgeois democracy with all its injustices set against Black self-determination and popular democracy. All of that remains A-OK under racist propaganda and is even supported by it in the same way that it’s supported by both the rational and propagandistic use of liberal ideals by euro-americans generally. We can translate Stanley’s Premise 1 into the language of people who don’t benefit from liberalism and don’t share Stanley’s prejudices: color-blind racist propaganda and ideology work in conjunction to undermine liberal ideals like “race-neutral” “law” and “order”, “political equality before the law”, and “political discourse” which are constitutive of “liberal democracy” (including eroding “empathy”) qua the role they play in euro-american neo-colonialism. From Part 1 through Part 2 and now here in Part 3, we’ve seen that in every respect, for Stanley it’s the “democratic” ideals qua the role they play in euro-american neo-colonialism that he believes are being undermined by color-blind racist propaganda in euro-american discourse about when to incarcerate the Black descendants of former slaves.

Premise 2 says that undermining liberal ideals results in things like the injustice of Black mass incarceration at the hands of euro-americans. This one is harder to pull off because historically, incarceration of non-euro-americans has been a mainstay of euro-american neo-colonialism, both in terms of mass incarceration, like the case of the internment of the Japanese during WWII and the general overrepresentation of non-euro-americans in prison populations from the early history of the euro-american nation state to the present. Maybe liberal ideals have always been “undermined” by euro-americans? Well, it’s a bit more than the ideals that has been undermined. If we’re talking about the way euro-americans have smashed the efforts at self-determination and popular democracy of First Nations, Blacks, Asians, and Latinos, while securing those things for themselves in the form of imperialism and its bourgeois democratic superstructures, then its real flesh-and-blood democracy that euro-americans have undermined. But that’s the very point of euro-american neo-colonialism. Maybe undermining propaganda can explain the long-standing racial disparity in the way that euro-americans use their nation-state machinery to lock up non-euro-americans? That’s a good question. To answer it we’d have to examine in what sense the post-1980’s cases are different from earlier historical cases. But Stanley, having jettisoned from consideration all history of the people that euro-america locks up, doesn’t do any of that.

In any case, euro-americans have an untarnished track record of using every means at their disposal from propaganda to “rational” argument to lock people up who stand against their imperialism.

Japanese Internment during WWII: Undermining Propaganda or a white-power way of life?
Japanese Internment during WWII: Undermining Propaganda or a white-power way of life?

In any case, euro-americans have an untarnished track record of using every means at their disposal from propaganda to “rational” argument to lock people up who stand against their imperialism. But all of this is beside the point because, like much of Stanley’s reasoning in this piece, what Premise 2 is really about is using the glaring injustice of Black mass incarceration by euro-americans in conjunction with an appeal to their ideological conceits not for the purpose of expanding popular democracy or self-determination for Black people, but for making adjustments to euro-american neo-colonial rule over them. So, translating Premise 2 into the language of the people who don’t benefit from liberalism and don’t share Stanley’s prejudices we get: Undermining the use of liberal ideals qua instrument of euro-american neo-colonialism contributes to a counterproductive heavy-handed execution of necessary repression. This translation would be bogus if at the very least if Stanley had given a single non-white-power characterization of “democracy”, “political equality before the law”, “law” and “order”, etc.,  because then we might have thought he was concerned with expanding democracy and the like for Black people. But that’s not the case. By the same token, his white-power characterization of “law” and “order” reveals that he’s not concerned with euro-americans using these things to repress the popular democracy and self-determination of Black people in general, but only with what he and other euro-american liberals perceive as a heavy handed way of doing that.

The Conclusion says that to prevent things like the injustice of Black mass incarceration at the hands of euro-americans, it’s important to “depropagandize” the “debate about crime and punishment”. We noted in the previous paragraph that Stanley hasn’t explored the connection between propaganda and the long standing racial disparity in the way euro-americans use their nation-state machinery to lock up non-euro-americans. He also completely ignores the history of the way euro-americans have smashed the efforts at self-determination and popular democracy of First Nations, Blacks, Asians, and Latinos, while securing those things for themselves in the form of imperialism and its bourgeois democratic superstructures. To get all analytic about it: Without this understanding it’s difficult to evaluate the role of propaganda in eroding “empathy” (this assuming you can squeeze out a coherent account that relates it to “race-neutrality”) and contributing to the dehumanizing of Black people as something different than the basic dehumanizing that comes along with concretely attacking Black people’s struggle for self-determination and popular democracy as is par for the course in euro-american bourgeois democracy. This means that Stanley’s philosophy can’t rule out that racist, or color-blind-racist, or even race-neutral propaganda are just different toppings on the cake of the political and economic methods of euro-american neo-colonial bourgeois democracy where the relative propping up or undermining of an abstract principle is a concern only for those who benefit from it.

Sandra Bland, Black descendant of former slaves, dead in police custody after being brutalized by Waller County, TX Sheriff for knowing her “rights” during a case of “driving while Black”. Artwork before/after defaced with white supremacist, “race-neutral” slogan: “All Lives Matter”
Sandra Bland, Black descendant of former slaves, dead in police custody after being brutalized by Waller County, TX Sheriff for knowing her “rights” during a case of “driving while Black”. Artwork before and after being defaced with the white supremacist, “race-neutral” slogan: “All Lives Matter”

Translating the conclusion into the language of the people who don’t benefit from liberalism and don’t share Stanley’s prejudices we get: To avoid a counterproductive heavy-handed execution of the repression that’s a necessary part of euro-american neo-colonialism, it’s important to use “race-neutral” supporting propaganda for bourgeois democracy in euro-america’s debate about incarcerating the Black descendants of former slaves.

So this is what Stanley’s argument looks like if you get rid of both the bourgeois idealist bias and the first-world chauvinism and stay at the level of the way the euro-american nation state has carried on historically and continues to carry on in the present day. This is what Stanley’s argument looks like from the outside looking in.

Stanley’s bias for the ideology of the minority of the world’s most privileged people who benefit from euro-american imperialism limits his analysis of the mass incarceration of Black people at the hands of euro-americans to the superficial.

Is it a good argument? Better question: Who gives a shit? Bourgeois philosophers and bourgeois people, I suppose, because it’s not an argument anyone would care about who isn’t on board already with the usual injustices of bourgeois democracy founded on imperialism. It’s an argument for people who want to use philosophy to help euro-americans carry out internal reforms in the system of neo-colonialism that are minimally interpretable as the abstractions of the ideology of liberal democracy as limited by the practical implementation of settler bourgeois democracy. Whatever the virtues of his depiction of the bare mechanics of propaganda might be, Stanley’s bias for the ideology of the minority of the world’s most privileged people who benefit from euro-american imperialism limits his analysis of the mass incarceration of Black people at the hands of euro-americans to the superficial. But it does fulfill its purpose of engaging the debate among euro-americans about the character of their neo-colonial rule of the Black descendants of former slaves by providing an analytic and conceptual framework for making adjustments to it (or what amounts to the same: for undermining the self-determination and popular democracy of Black people as a group) by appealing to the abstract universality of liberal ideology. With this focus, it’s not surprising that he displays such chauvinism and idealism about issues one would naively expect philosophers to be “critical about. But that’s what it means to do bourgeois philosophy.

Conclusion

In this series I make the case that Jason Stanley’s recent CHE piece is a really good example of many of the elements of bourgeois philosophy: first-world chauvinism, idealism, and uncritical engagement with liberalism.

In Part I we saw that Stanley exhibits first-world chauvinism, the use of ideologies and practices designed to justify, reinforce, and prolong first world oppression of the rest of the world, including the internal semi-colony of Black people descended from slaves in the euro-american nation-state by excluding non-liberal Black identities and casually skipping over the Black history of the euro-american nation state, pretending that history doesn’t exist or is irrelevant to the problem of Black mass incarceration at the hands of euro-americans. And as we saw here in Part III, his chauvinism culminates as apologetics for a group of people that historically and currently are purposefully committed to the fullest extent to the economic exploitation, and national oppression of Blacks and other internal semi-colonies as well as people abroad.

In Part II we saw that Stanley’s idealism manifests itself as his framing the discussion of euro-american color-blind racist propaganda and it’s relation the Black mass incarceration by euro-americans in terms of abstracted concepts of euro-american liberalism in a way that favors the minority of the world’s people with political and economic power rather than transparently evaluating that that relationship relative to a specific aim in a material context. His idealism takes the form of an uncritical engagement with liberalism ―thoughtlessly going on as if liberalism is beyond all criticism, a tendency that cashes out as prejudiced for euro-american liberal social identities and euro-american liberal social practice.

Stanley’s philosophy offers nothing to people who might actually be concerned with expanding democracy and self-determination for the Black descendants of former slaves.

And here in Part III we’ve seen how Stanley’s chauvinism and idealism play out in every aspect of his discussion of the concepts of supporting and undermining propaganda, effectively rendering his argument unintelligible and practically useless to anyone who isn’t on board with the de-facto injustices of bourgeois democracy founded on imperialism. While bourgeois philosophy in general is in the service of almost everyone living in the first-world, with the possible exception of prisoners, slaves, some lumpen-proletariat, undocumented immigrants, and people in imperialist detention centers, Stanley’s philosophy regarding the mass incarceration of the Black descendants of former slaves has a more particular focus serving euro-american neo-colonialism. It’s philosophy designed to help euro-americans carry out internal reforms in the system of neo-colonialism that are minimally interpretable as the abstractions of the ideology of Liberal Democracy as limited by the practical implementation of settler bourgeois democracy.

Stanley’s philosophy offers nothing to people who might actually be concerned with expanding democracy and self-determination for the Black descendants of former slaves. And this is a general problem of bourgeois philosophy: philosophy of this type is very limited in how it can in help (it can’t) most of the world’s people who don’t benefit from imperialism and its liberal ideology. And it’s concretely hurtful to most of the world’s people because it reinforces first-world chauvinism. It blots out the real dependence of the first world on the depravation of the rest of the world, and in this case it blots out the lopsided relationship between euro-american bourgeois democracy and the neo-colonial realities of the Black descendants of former slaves in the euro-american nation state. It does palpable harm by normalizing the injustice of euro-american neo-colonialism and setting out the vision white power that euro-americans have reserved for themselves in relation to Black people as the privileged stewards of Black political and economic power, of democracy, of history and philosophy.

Because of this, I must take issue with the claim by Justin Weinberg, editor at the popular western academic philosophy blog, Daily Nous, touting Stanley’s CHE piece as a “an example of applied, public philosophy”. I think it’s a terrible example of “public philosophy” because of its chauvinism and idealist bias.

nti-people design and architecture in the world’s “democracies”. What these structures do to “public space”, bourgeois philosophy does to “public discourse”.
Anti-people design and architecture in the world’s “democracies”. What these structures do to “public space”, bourgeois philosophy does to “public discourse”.

To his credit, Justin notes that it’d be “great to see [public philosophy] in publications that aim to reach more than the particularly well-educated” ―that much is true. But as I’ve discussed here, the problem isn’t simply the venue that throws up a wall of exclusion. That problem is incidental to the chauvinist, idealist way of doing philosophy that serves the interests of the minority of the world’s most privileged people and that sets itself against everyone else. It would be no different if philosophical “allies” of the poor and “underrepresented” went into the prisons and immigrant communities themselves and taught philosophy, yet all they had to offer was the idealist, chauvinist thinking and perspective that is dominant in western academic philosophy. That’s a disservice, or what amounts to the same, it’s carrying out the work of euro-american neo-colonialism.

Training in western academic philosophy doesn’t prepare you for analyzing the problems facing most of the world’s people in a way that doesn’t uphold white supremacy.

Here’s two final thoughts. The first thought is to highlight the importance of having available a different perspective on philosophical issues that isn’t limited by the chauvinist, idealist ideology of the minority of the world’s people. It’s important to have independent non-bourgeois philosophy that’s internationalist, grounded in an understanding of the social relations between groups of people, openly on the side of the global majority, and not idealistic. It’s important to create and nurture independent non-bourgeois venues and institutions where philosophical thought isn’t constrained by the prejudices of those who benefit from the inequities of global imperialism so that the world’s people can freely engage in philosophical activity without their self-serving, paternalistic oversight.

The second thought is a take-away for would-be philosopher allies of the world’s people: Stay in your lane. If you want to analyze the conceptual integrity of “democracy” “public discourse” etc., in the abstract do so all you like using the logic of your choice. But your training in western academic philosophy hasn’t prepared you for analyzing the problems facing most of the world’s people in a way that doesn’t uphold white supremacy. Remember, neo-colonialism and liberalism may get you some Black friends and some street cred among your euro-american buddies, but it won’t make you a friend to Black people. To pay more than lip service to being a critical philosopher and to give a fair shake to Black people and the rest of the world’s people who aren’t bourgeois and don’t aspire to being bourgeois you can begin by trying to listen to voices different than your own and struggle hard to do philosophy in a different way that isn’t marked by bourgeois idealism and first-world chauvinism. It will mean being uncomfortable and feeling like a fish out of water. But it’s no worse than how most of the world’s people feel doing things on your terms..

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