A modernity and civil society

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The 1AC’s ontological critique of civil society and modern democracy argue that the Slave and the Black cannot be Human. That because humanity, freedom, and autonomy are qualities defined in opposition to the Slave, that we should trash modern humanist strategies of expanding the circle of Humanity. The ontological form of the aff’s critique asks questions about Being—what it is and what it is possible to be. They say it is impossible to be a Black subject or a human without a slave.

We criticize the absoluteness of the ontological critique of the Human, the modern, and the Slave. Their absolute ontological division between Master and slave or human and slave does violence to slaves and dooms our political strategy to one of unsuccessful revolutionary violence.

A) Modernity and civil society

Our historical reading of the relationship between slavery and civil society and humanity honors the legacy of slave revolution. The Haitian revolution contained and expanded ideas trafficked in civil society of universal humanity.

Dash 10—J. Michael Dash, Africana Studies French, Social and Cultural Analysis @ NYU [Book Review: Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and The Radical Enlightenment Slavery & Abolition 31 (1) p. 142-143]
Universal Emancipation argues against the French appropriation of universalism as the exclusive product of the revolution of 1789. From the broad focus of Nesbitt’s narrative, the age of revolution becomes a truly global phenomenon and furthermore, the Haitian revolution surpassed that of the metropole in realising the goal of universal freedom. This is not a new story. Michel Rolph Trouillot, for instance, argued in 1995 ‘The Haitian revolution was the ultimate test to the universalist pretensions of both the French and the American revolutions’.1 Later, for another major scholar Laurent Dubois, the Haitian Revolution ‘represented the pinnacle of Enlightenment universalism’.2 Furthermore, C.L.R. James in the Black Jacobins reminded us that the revolutionary events in France’s colony would take the French Revolution further than was ever intended. The slaves of St Domingue were left out of the universalist claims of 1789 but they used its ideals to press for their freedom. As James put it, the slaves ‘had heard of the revolution and had construed it in their own image . . . they had caught the spirit of the thing. Liberty, equality, Fraternity’.3 Nesbitt asserts that there is nothing surprising about the fact that the slaves caught ‘the spirit of the thing’ since they ‘needed no interpreter’ but the fact that they were ‘on the so-called periphery of the modern world-system in 1791’ meant that the ‘truth of 1789 could be most fully comprehended’ (36). Furthermore, the Haitian revolution ‘serves to disprove the notion that there was any single ‘Enlightenment project’ but ‘a variegated complex of multiple “enlightenments”’ (20). Consequently, the former slaves of St Domingue were not ‘passively parroting ideas imported from France’ but ‘autonomously exercised their faculty of judgement in order to illuminate the universal implications of the natural rights tradition in ways unthinkable for the North American or Parisian political class’ (60). In rejecting a ‘linear filiation’ between Enlightened Europe and savage colony, Nesbitt scrambles centres and peripheries and challenges the silencing of the Haitian Revolution by asserting that ‘it succeeded in displacing the center of modernity . . . not only for a small peripheral island but for the entire world system’ (131). The revolution is rendered ‘thinkable’ through an intricate discussion of the universally operative nature of Spinoza’s concept of natural law and Kantian universalism, which meant human beings were free ‘to define themselves in their differential singularity’ (101). For Nesbitt the abstract concept of freedom or liberte emanating from Europe was reinterpreted by the ex-slaves of St Domingue as libete and formed the basis for the creation of a self-regulating egalitarian bossale state. In this regard, he ventures where historians of the Haitian revolution fear to tread. For historians, the impact of ideas on the revolution is hard to quantify and is therefore underplayed. He speculates that political awareness came through such ‘transnational Atlantic sites’ as waterfronts and marketplaces. The slaves then transformed this Enlightenment-derived liberty into the idea of absolute freedom for post-plantation St Domingue. Since Universal Emancipation depends on no new research into the circumstances of the Haitian revolution, Nesbitt depends heavily on the work of Carolyn Fick and the late Gerard Barthelemy to make his case for the importance popular insurgency in the making of the revolution. In their refusal of large-scale agrarian capitalism, the exslaves produced an egalitarian peasant system that could harmonise social relations without recourse to government, police, or legal code. He follows Bathelemy in citing social strategies, such as the refusal of technological innovation, the subdivision of property from generation to generation, and active caco resistance to the outside world that supported bossale egalitarianism. Haitian peasant society is presented as a maroon enclave beyond the reach of the liberal individualism and boundless consumerism of the West. This seems a puzzling departure from both Eugene Genovese and Michel-Rolph Trouillot who are cited at other times with approval. Genovese argued in From Rebellion to Revolution that the great achievement of the Haitian revolution was the attempt to create a modern black state and not continue the restorationist practices of marronage.4 Similarly, Trouillot has argued that those who insist on the isolation of the moun andeyo or the ‘dualist sociologists’ have ‘missed the depth of penetration of urban civil society’ by the peasantry.5 In both instances, Haitian peasants are seen to be part of a global process and not the world’s indigestible other. The modern heroes of Nesbitt’s spirited narrative of mass-based revolution are the agronomist turned broadcaster Jean Dominique and the priest turned politician Jean Bertrand Aristide. In both instances, heroic popular resistance masks the much more complex reality of the spread of modern technology, of cassettes and transistor radios in rural Haiti, and the doctrine of liberation theology spread by the grassroots church or ti legliz. The idealising of strategic marronnage and stateless egalitarianism in Haiti is aimed ultimately at ‘all who believe that the coming shift from unlimited consumerism to an ethics of global responsibility will require fundamental changes to the sociopolitical system that has brought us to the brink of disaster’ (171). It might have been more useful to think of the New World context and not the new World order. Oddly enough there is no reference, except for a fleeting allusion to Brazilian music at the end, to other instances of the radicalisation of the idea of the rights of man in the hemisphere. What of Guadeloupe, for instance, which had a parallel history at the turn of the century? Do other peasant societies in the Caribbean share Haiti’s bossale culture? Trouillot claims to have learned more about the Haitian peasantry after ‘fifteen months doing fieldwork on the peasantry of Dominica’ than he did ‘during eighteen years in Port-au-Prince.’ 6 What Nick Nesbitt does very persuasively is present the Haitian revolution as the most radical revolution of its time. He is less convincing in enlisting the Haitian moun andeyo in his campaign against global capitalism.

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