Untimely Democracy: The Politics of Progress After Slavery

ISBN : 9780190642792

Gregory Laski
280 ページ
156 x 235 mm

From the abolition era to the Civil Rights movement to the age of Obama, the promise of perfectibility and improvement resonates in the story of American democracy. But what exactly does racial "progress" mean, and how do we recognize and achieve it? Untimely Democracy: The Politics of Progress After Slavery uncovers a surprising answer to this question in the writings of American authors and activists, both black and white. Conventional narratives of democracy stretching from Thomas Jefferson's America to our own posit a purposeful break between past and present as the key to the viability of this political form-the only way to ensure its continual development. But for Pauline E. Hopkins, Frederick Douglass, Stephen Crane, W. E. B. Du Bois, Charles W. Chesnutt, Sutton E. Griggs, Callie House, and the other figures examined in this book, the campaign to secure liberty and equality for all citizens proceeds most potently when it refuses the precepts of progressive time. Placing these authors' post-Civil War writings into dialogue with debates about racial optimism and pessimism, tracts on progress, and accounts of ex-slave pension activism, and extending their insights into our contemporary period, Laski recovers late-nineteenth-century literature as a vibrant site for doing political theory. Untimely Democracy ultimately shows how one of the bleakest periods in American racial history provided fertile terrain for a radical reconstruction of our most fundamental assumptions about this political system. Offering resources for moments when the march of progress seems to stutter and even stop, this book invites us to reconsider just what democracy can make possible.


Introduction: Democracy's Progress
Chapter One: On the Possibility of Democracy in the Present-Past: Reading Thomas Jefferson and W. E. B. Du Bois in the Times of Slavery and Freedom
Chapter Two: Narrating the Present-Past in Frederick Douglass's Life and Times
Chapter Three: Making Reparation or, How to Count the Wrongs of Slavery
Chapter Four: Failed Futures: Of Prophecy and Pessimism at the Nadir
Chapter Five: Pauline E. Hopkins's Untimely Democracy (Stasis, Agitation, Agency)
Epilogue: Democracy's Plunges


Gregory Laski is an Assistant Professor of English at the United States Air Force Academy. He is co-founder of the Democratic Dialogue Project, a Mellon grant-funded exchange between Air Force Academy and Colorado College students that seeks to bridge the military-civilian divide.