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The City on the Hill From Below

The City on the Hill From Below: The Crisis of Prophetic Black Politics

Stephen H. Marshall
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 235
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  • Book Info
    The City on the Hill From Below
    Book Description:

    Within the discipline of American political science and the field of political theory, African American prophetic political critique as a form of political theorizing has been largely neglected. Stephen Marshall, inThe City on the Hill from Below, interrogates the political thought of David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison to reveal a vital tradition of American political theorizing and engagement with an American political imaginary forged by the City on the Hill.

    Originally articulated to describe colonial settlement, state formation, and national consolidation, the image of the City on the Hill has been transformed into one richly suited to assessing and transforming American political evil.The City on the Hill from Belowshows how African American political thinkers appropriated and revised languages of biblical prophecy and American republicanism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0657-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The City on the Hill from Below
    (pp. 1-25)

    Prophetic political critique of the “City on the Hill” is an old and esteemed political philosophy within black America, yet today this project is in crisis. Born within the fugitive public space of black churches and constructed from the multivalent language of biblical scripture, African American quests for freedom, security, and communal autonomy began as insurgent resistance to slavery, terror, and dishonoring dislocation. What began as resistance, however, flowered into a vital and sustained mode of political reflection and politics, as inspired political intellectuals conceived sophisticated social and political analyses that situated the predicament of African Americans within larger and...

  5. 1 Black Liberty in the City of Enmity: The Political Theory of David Walker
    (pp. 26-56)

    When David Walker wrote his infamousAppeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Winthrop’s “shining city on a hill” had become for aspiring “colored citizens,” a “city of enmity,” a place where American happiness was contingent on racial slavery, social ostracism, and terroristic violence. Indeed, the pursuit of happiness, with property rights as its precondition and slavery as its corollary, had begun, systematically, to make an enemy of the very notion of “black liberty.” David Walker was neither the first African American political intellectual nor...

  6. 2 “Glorious Revolution” in the City of Mastery: Frederick Douglass on the Corruption of the American Republic
    (pp. 57-90)

    Frederick Douglass is widely recognized for his heroic antislavery political activism and for his brilliant rhetorical powers. His struggles for human dignity, social justice, and multiracial democracy serve as a potent moral example. Admirers and critics alike have described him as “the most articulate former slave who ever lived,” the “preeminent black leader of the nineteenth century,” “one of America’s greatest Statesmen,” “a superstar intellectual,” and “the soul of honor.”⁴ In addition to holding these indisputable titles, Frederick Douglass, I argue, was also an insightful theorist of politics.

    O ne way to appreciate the distinctiveness of Douglass’s political thought is...

  7. 3 Aristocratic Strivings in the Gilded City: The Political Theory of The Souls of Black Folk
    (pp. 91-127)

    Veiled behind erudite evocations of Greek myth and Roman monumental history, W.E.B. Du Bois’s aristocratic critique of the City on the Hill is so subtle it is easily missed.⁴ Formulated in the highly wrought prose of “Of the Wings of Atalanta” and placed within the fifth chapter ofThe Souls of Black Folk,Du Bois’s critique seems, at first glance, scarcely more than an exquisitely learned (if not pretentious) sermon against the moral dangers of commercialism for the segregated futures of black and white America. However, a careful reading of this chapter alongside the writings of David Walker and Frederick...

  8. 4 (Making) Love in the Dishonorable City: The Civic Poetry of James Baldwin
    (pp. 128-168)

    James Baldwin concluded his best-known work,The Fire Next Time(hereafter,Fire), with an extraordinary provocation that is arguably the most famous of his entire corpus. After boldly proclaiming that nothing less than the entire fate of the American polity was in the reader’s hands, Baldwin exhorted, “If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and...

  9. Conclusion: Prophetic Political Critique in the Age of the Joshua Generation
    (pp. 169-196)

    The tradition of prophetic political critique has come on hard times. The once organic relation between black communities and prophetic political intellectuals has been strained, if not severed. The illuminative powers of the tradition have been vigorously contested by insightful internal critics, who have laid bare aspects of the tradition’s blindness and excess. Located within a culture dominated by a political imaginary inspired by John Winthrop that continues to appeal to American exceptionalism, the prophetic critical tradition remains perennially liable to cooptation.

    A s the second decade of the twenty-first century begins, prophetic political critique has been both co-opted and...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 197-228)
  11. Index
    (pp. 229-235)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 236-236)