W.E.B. DuBois and American Political Thought: Fabianism and the Color Line

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This groundbreaking study of W.E.B. DuBois simultaneously analyses the political thought of one of the leading black American intellectuals and activists of this century, provides a model for the study of the history of political thought, and by examining recent DuBois scholarship, offers a penetrating interpretation of contemporary black thought. The book departs from existing DuBois scholarship by locating the sources of DuBois's thinking in the cauldron of reform-oriented American intellectual life at the end of the nineteenth century, and follows through the course of his career the ways that his early commitments persisted in his basic views regarding such pivotal issues as the relation of science and progress, social stratification among black Americans and in general, and rational social organization. While DuBois's substantive political programmes changed over time, for example in his support for defensive organizing behind the walls of segregation during the 1930s and his rapprochement with the Communist left in his last two decades, Reed argues that those changes do not reflect fundamental shifts in the structure of his thinking but were pragmatic responses to concrete political circumstances. When situated within their own constitutive contexts, these changing responses reveal their compatibility, if not coherence, with DuBois's basic, essentially Fabian socialist world view as first elaborated in The Philadelphia Negro. W.E.B. DuBois and American Political Thought's interpretation of DuBois is also an argument about the fundamental connections between Afro-American political debate and broader patterns of political discourse. This argument is linked to a path-breaking critique of dominant tendencies in Afro-American intellectual historiography and their ideological foundations, as well as to a sophisticated argument in support of an alternative, historically generativist approach to the study of the history of political thought.