W. E. B. Du Bois and the Critique of the Competitive Society

W. E. B. Du Bois and the Critique of the Competitive Society

A fresh look at Du Bois's theories in light of modern racial inequities

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Competition and competitiveness are roundly celebrated as public values and key indicators of a dynamic and forward-thinking society. But the headlong embrace of competitive market principles, increasingly prevalent in our neoliberal age, often obscures the enduring divisiveness of a society set up to produce winners and losers. In this inspired and thoughtfully argued book, Andrew J. Douglas turns to the later writings of W. E. B. Du Bois to reevaluate the very terms of the competitive society.

Situating Du Bois in relation to the Depression-era roots of contemporary neoliberal thinking, Douglas shows that into the 1930s Du Bois ratcheted up a race-conscious indictment of capitalism and liberal democracy and posed unsettling questions about how the compulsory pull of market relations breeds unequal outcomes and underwrites the perpetuation of racial animosities. Blending historical analysis with ethical and political theory, and casting new light on several aspects of Du Bois's thinking, this book makes a compelling case that Du Bois's sweeping disillusionment with Western liberalism is as timely now as ever.

Andrew Douglas's book is an excellent contribution to a growing body of scholarship engaged with the complexity and evolution of Du Bois's political thought. His treatment of Du Bois's debates with Abram Harris and other black Marxists, his analysis of Du Bois's philosophy of education, and his account of Du Bois's relevance to contemporary discussions of neoliberalism are all first-rate.

—Robert Gooding-Williams, author of In the Shadow of Du Bois: Afro-Modern Political Thought in America

Brilliant. Absorbing. Essential reading. These words capture Andrew Douglas's marvelous book on W.E.B. Du Bois's political thought, a book focused on the Du Bois of the 1930s, a Du Bois committed to shattering the long-held American Assumption that competition should be a human goal. What Douglas reveals is Du Bois's nuanced endorsement of cooperation, not competition, as a guiding principle of black politics. Cooperation, Du Bois argues, enables transformation of the very fabric of the American republic and the modern world writ large. Readers shall learn about genres of black radicals, the centrality of black colleges as a site of Du Boisian critique, and the afterlives of Du Bois's call for cooperation at home and abroad. The lessons of Du Bois's Depression Era vision of the demos, Douglas demonstrates, are necessary now more than ever.

—Neil Roberts, author of Freedom as Marronage

Turning to a neglected strand of Du Bois's thought-his growing opposition to the 'competitive form'-and drawing on overlapping analyses of other thinkers, including Karl Marx, Abram Harris, and Martin Luther King Jr., Douglas presents a provocative appraisal of our contemporary moment. He argues forcefully that today's neoliberal regime is one in which the norm of competitiveness, a long-standing and integral feature of American capitalist society, has intensified to the point that we are expected to 'do battle with one another' in nearly every part of our lives.

—Political Theory Journal

Douglas has set the tone for another decade of research into Du Bois's radical turn, the 1930s, the limits of liberalism, and Black thought's centrality to critiques of racial capitalism.

—James Edward Ford III, author of Thinking Through Crisis: Depression-Era Black Literature, Theory, and Politics

Breaking from many scholars and apologists, Douglas demonstrates that Du Bois methodically and critically dissected the thesis of American exceptionalism, which claimed any competitive American could become rich. He demonstrated that this widely held belief was demonstrably false.

—Aldon Morris, author of The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology

About the Author/Editor

ANDREW J. DOUGLAS is a professor of political science and a faculty affiliate in Africana studies and international comparative labor studies at Morehouse College. He is the author of In the Spirit of Critique: Thinking Politically in the Dialectical Tradition and W. E. B. Du Bois and the Critique of the Competitive Society (Georgia). He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.