Reconstructing liberalism: Charles Mills’ unfinished project
Jack Turner, Published July 2015
The political theory of Charles W. Mills seeks simultaneously to expose liberalism’s complicity with white supremacy and to transform liberalism into a source of antiracist political critique. This article analyzes both Mills’ critique of liberalism and his attempt to reconstruct it into a political philosophy capable of adequately addressing racial injustice. I focus on his (a) problematization of moral personhood, (b) theorization of white ignorance, and (c) conceptualization of white supremacy. Together these establish the need to integrate a new empirical axiom into liberal political theory: the axiom of the power of white supremacy in modernity, or the axiom of white power, for short. This axiom is analogous to James Madison’s axiom of “the encroaching spirit of power.” Any liberal theorist who fails to take the encroaching spirit of power seriously meets the scorn of his peers. The same should be true for white power, Mills suggests. I conclude that Mills’ reconstruction of liberalism is incomplete and urge him to develop a fully-fledged liberal theory of racial justice to complete it.
Jack Turner (2015) Reconstructing liberalism: Charles Mills’ unfinished project, Politics, Groups, and Identities, 3:3, 471-487, DOI: 10.1080/21565503.2015.1050418