La crisi consiste appunto nel fatto che il vecchio muore e il nuovo non può nascere: in questo interregno si verificano i fenomeni morbosi più svariati.
[The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born: in this interregnum, the most varied morbid phenomena occur]
(Antonio Gramsci q 3, §34)
Why revisit Du Bois’s critique of the Teutonic Strongman now? Because, paramount among the pressing issues of our moment is the continuing appeal of the authoritarian strong man. To quote former president Barack Obama from the speech he gave on July 17, 2018 at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture: “I am not being alarmist, I’m simply stating the facts. Look around. Strongman politics are on the ascendant.” Take note, however, the president’s remark turns on an implicit distinction of antipathy between authoritarianism and democracy. This distinction belongs to the predominate narrative about the causation of generic fascism; a narrative that can be traced back to the 1938 Colloque Walter Lippmann, organized by Louis Rougier, which took up the argument Lippmann made in his 1937 work, An Enquiry into the Principles of the Good Society, that, contrary to the then consensus view, socialism and fascism were both forms of collectivism seeking a more moral and prosperous society through displacing classical liberalism’s search for individual profit with the altruistic satisfaction of the collective needs of the masses. Fascism’s appeal was in promising to replace the feeble bureaucratic individual of classical liberalism, tamed by the constraints of reason enacted in law, with the heroic man who, by constantly being para bellum (prepared for war), will redeem society from the decadent effects of the seemingly necessarily unequal economic system. Peter Drucker made a similar assessment in his 1939 work, The End of Economic Man: A Study of the New Totalitarianism, which analyzed fascism as the attempt to resolve the existential crisis of modern society by replacing the morally bankrupt liberal age of homo economicuswith a new age based on homo heroicus. Lippmann’s and Drucker’s assessments were made in the closing years of the Great Depression, when fascism was definitely ascendant, and the entire world was on the brink of war. From their perspective, the collapse of Manchester liberalism meant the displacement of the international system by a global order of tyranny. Rescuing that system from that tyranny required redemptive reformation of liberalism. From president Obama’s perspective, liberalism, in some form or another had triumphed over fascism. I say in some form or another because each of its post-War iterations is predicated on the conviction that the inherent rights of the individual is foundational to the social order. I have in mind, of course, the 1944 Keynesian Bretton Woods Agreement and system, as well as the Mont Pèlerin Society, which was created in 1947 by Friedrich Hayek, who having attended the Lippmann Colloquium, and participated in the formation of its failed Comité international d’étude pour le renouveau du libéralisme, was determined to create a more viable intellectual platform for continuing the reformative revival of classical liberalism. The Bretton Woods documents establishing the economic regimes of the IMF and World Bank expressly state the need to shore up liberalism in the wake of fascism’s defeat against any such danger in the future. The Mont Pèlerin Society “Statement of Aims,” on the other hand, addresses the persistent danger of collectivism in general to individual freedom without naming a specific foe. This is in keeping with its founding charter to be a forum for debate, discussion, and study of the ongoing present danger to liberalism. Its expressed claims of not being a policy institute notwithstanding, the ideas debated and studied by the Mont Pèlerin Society have been implemented by many of its participants who hold government office and work at high levels in both national and global financial institutions. Be that as it may, in the narrative Obama’s remarks reflect, the activities of both these bulwarks of liberalism’s post-War reformation, in tandem with numerous policy initiatives, such as the Washington Consensus, and the Clintonian doctrine of Democratic Enlargement, are thought to have ushered in a long period of peace and prosperity that reached its apex in the 1990s, and is now in crisis following the 2008 global recession. Hence, Obama’s saying strong man politics are ascendant. In other words, the rise of authoritarian strong men indicates a crisis of liberalism. But for Obama — and here he is peculiarly aligned with the Mont Pèlerin Society — the crisis is not merely economic. Rather, it is the failure of liberalism to instantiate its principle of individual rights and freedom universally. Nevertheless, his administration’s policies in redress were fundamentally economic: strong state intervention guaranteeing the perpetual viability of the free market. That was the point of the 2008 rescue of the global financial order. No matter the difference in the mechanism of rescue, whether European austerity or American monetary expansion, the common premise is that the best bulwark against collectivist authoritarianism — and it is of little moment whether we call this ethnonationalism, neofascism, fascism, or white supremacy — is strong systemic individualism underwritten by a free market regulated to ensure relatively equitable distribution of wealth. Or, at least to assure a differentiated distribution in which the bottom of the scale can easily live with dignity and sufficient material comfort.
I don’t think this assessment is quite right, however, with respect to the, as I say, continuing appeal of the authoritarian strong man. That attraction is not in response to a crisis of liberalism, or economic failure. Rather the authoritarian strong man is a fundamental element of liberalism itself, put in place with Hobbes’s anthropology, according to which the natural man is an “arrant wolf,” each at war with the other of its kind. While I do not mean to reduce strong individualism to strong man, or even to maintain that they are synonymous, I do maintain that they are interrelated. Indeed, in terms of the history of ideas, they are inextricably related, with the strong man providing the conceptual basis for the strong individual. This has to do with fundamental elements in the predominant conception of civilization, going back farther than Hobbes all the way to Aristotle. So, interrogating the continuing appeal of the authoritarian strong man entails a radical re-conceptualization of civilization, not just its history, but how we construe its developmental dynamics.
It is with this task in mind that I turn to Du Bois’s highly acclaimed and of-cited 1890 Harvard Commencement speech, “Jefferson Davis as a Representative of Civilization,” in which he troubles the traditional idea of civilization being advanced through virtuous coercive power. Heeding Gramsci’s admonition about pathological (morboso) phenomena occurring in the interregnum of the dying old and not yet born new world, I turn to Du Bois’s critique in order to shine a blinding light on the persistent pathological nature of the strong man appeal. Du Bois was the first black to speak at Harvard’s commencement day exercise. We now know, thanks to Bruce Kimball’s research, that the seven-member faculty committee charged with selecting the student graduation speakers initially chose two blacks, Du Bois and Clement G. Morgan, to be among the six speakers selected from the forty-four honor students who competed for the distinction. But, due to concerns that racist sensibilities would be ruffled by there being two black speakers at the 1890 commencement ceremonies, Morgan was removed from the list. Writing in his personal journal about the selection committee’s deliberations, committee member, law professor, James B. Thayer, who found the entire affair “pitiable,” sums up the gist of Morgan’s removal: “He loses his fairly won place there because he is black or, to put it in its mildest form, because somebody else is black.” A factor in the selection committee’s choosing Du Bois over Morgan as its token Negro was their approval of the way he handled his timely subject, Jefferson Davis, who had just died that December. In keeping with their attitude of “accommodation and compromise” on the Negro question, they misconstrued Du Bois’s handling of Davis as respectful and somewhat deferential.
Du Bois was apparently unaware throughout his long career that his singular distinction as first black Harvard commencement speaker was because of this accommodation to racism. He certainly had no knowledge of it when he presented himself on June 25 1890 to the Harvard graduating class, the President of the University, Charles Eliot, and his distinguished guests — among whom were Massachusetts Governor, John Q. A. Brackett, First Lady, Francis Cleveland, and the Episcopal Bishop of New York, the Right Reverend, Henry C. Potter. He opens his speech with a series of emphatically provocative pronouncements: “Jefferson Davis was a typical Teutonic Hero; the history of civilization during the last millennium has been the development of the idea of the Strong Man of which he was the embodiment. The Anglo-Saxon loves a soldier — Jefferson Davis was an Anglo-Saxon, Jefferson Davis was a soldier. There was not a phase in that familiarly strange life that would not have graced a mediaeval romance: from the fiery and impetuous young lieutenant who stole as his bride the daughter of a ruler-elect of the land, to the cool and ambitious politician in the Senate hall. So boldly and surely did that cadaverous figure with the thin nervous lips and flashing eye, write the first line of the new page of American history, that the historian of the future must ever see back of the War of Succession, the strong arm of one imperious man, who defied disease, trampled on precedent, would not be defeated, and never surrendered. A soldier and a lover, a statesman and a ruler; passionate, ambitious and indomitable; bold reckless guardian of a peoples’ All.” Having thus cast the title-subject of his address in sharp relief, Du Bois then, in an abrupt appositive marked in the speech-transcript by a hard dash, shifts focus to the title’s prepositional clause, and with truly subtle deftness contextualizes what he has just said in a way that seriously troubles it, “— judged by the whole standards of Teutonic civilization, there is something noble in the figure of Jefferson Davis; and judged by every canon of human justice, there is something fundamentally incomplete about that standard.” If the tenor of the public praise heaped upon Du Bois’s address is anything to go by, his audience seems to have joined the selection committee in miscomprehending the critical thrust of his remarks. Reviewing the Harvard commencement ceremonies in its July 3rd issue, The Nation Magazine lauded Du Bois for handling the “difficult and hazardous subject [of Jefferson Davis] with absolute good taste, great moderation, and almost contemptuous fairness.” The October issue of the preeminent periodical, Kate Field’s Washington, followed suit reporting that Du Bois was judged by all to have been the star of the commencement ceremonies, and underscoring “how remarkable it was to hear a colored man deal with Jefferson Davis so generously [using] such phrases as a ‘great man,’ a ‘keen thinker,’ a ‘strong leader.’” It’s as though these first-hand reporters on Du Bois’s commencement speech stopped listening altogether right at the appositive. Because, at that point, it was very clear absolutely nothing about his remarks could be even slightly construed as eulogizing the recently deceased President of the Confederate States of America. In fact, having just cast doubts on the very standards by which Davis is celebrated, Du Bois explicitly states he wished “to consider not the character of the man, but the type of civilization which his life represented.” More precisely, the focus of his reflections was on that civilization’s foundational “idea of the strong man — individualism coupled with the rule of might,” the standard by which it is conceivable to judge Jefferson Davis as noble. It is this idea, Du Bois declaimed, “that has made the logic of even modern history, the cool logic of the Club. It made a naturally brave and generous man, Jefferson Davis — now advancing civilization by murdering Indians, now hero of a national disgrace called by courtesy, the Mexican War; and finally, as the crowning absurdity, the peculiar champion of a people fighting to be free in order that another people should not be free.” Du Bois is no more invested here in vilifying Jefferson Davis as a singular individual than he was in eulogizing him. Rather, his aim is to explicate how the idea of the strong man, “has found an even more secure foothold in the policy and philosophy of the State. The Strong Nation and his mighty Right Arm has become the Strong Nation with its armies.” The stakes of this explication are global because, “however a figure like Jefferson Davis may appear, as a man, race, or nation, his life can only logically mean this: the advance of a part of the world at the expense of the whole; the overweening sense of the I, and the consequent forgetting of the Thou.” This is the conception of civilization Jefferson Davis represents, which is predicated on the principle that the rise of one race on the ruins of another is the definitive arc of civilization. It may very well be that “the world has needed and will need its Jefferson Davises,” Du Bois admits, “but such a type is incomplete and can never serve its best purpose until checked by its complementary ideas.” What is required is a more capacious concept of human history and civilization, a different narrative. And so, Du Bois poses the question, “Whence shall these [ideas] come?” Question posed, it is directly answered: “Not as the muscular warrior came the Negro, but as the cringing slave. The Teutonic met civilization and crushed it—the Negro met civilization and was crushed by it.” This is not to suggest that the Negro possessed no martial valor. Du Bois is well aware that they did. In Chapter 3 of The Souls of Black Folk, he mentions “all the leadership or attempted leadership,” which, as he says, “was driven by the one motive of revolt and revenge, — typified in the terrible,” referring in illustration to Cato, who led the Stono Rebellion of 1739 in South Carolina. If we cast our net farther-a-field across the Americas, we find the examples of Marcos Xiorro in Puerto Rico, Ventura Sánchez in Cuba, and Domingo Bioho in Columbia, as well as Ahuna, Manoel Calafate, and Dandará of the 1835 Malê Revolt in Bahia Brazil, and François Mackandal in Haiti. Du Bois is not overlooking such individuals. His point is, for all the motivation of terrible revolt and revenge even in such cases, violence is not enacted in pursuit of individual vainglory. We do not find the likes of such figures as Egil, or Ragnar Lodbrok of the Icelandic saga. Rather, what is celebrated about these black heroes, by and large, is their sacrifice in pursuit of collective freedom, which is precisely what Du Bois characterizes as “the submission of the strength of the Strong to the advance of all.” His designation for this is “the doctrine of the Submissive Man,” which is contradistinct to the Teutonic Strong Man’s egotistical self-aggrandizement and assertion of the I. “The Teuton stands today as the champion of the idea of Personal Assertion, the Negro as the peculiar embodiment of the idea of Personal Submission,” he declaimed, continuing, “either alone, tends to an abnormal development—towards Despotism on the one hand which the world has just cause to fear, and yet covertly admires, or towards slavery on the other, which the world despises and which, yet is not wholly despicable.” Bear in mind that all of this is figurally speaking. Jefferson Davis is an exemplum of a figure, “the Teutonic Hero,” which is synonymous with “the Strong Man,” itself a figure identified with the foundational idea for a type of civilization: the ascendency of mighty individualism as the supreme mode of freedom. The issue at hand in Du Bois’s Harvard oration is not just what is wrong with Teutonic civilization judging Davis noble, but what is wrong with the very concept of “Teutonic civilization;” or more pointedly, with the historiography of civilization predicated on the apotheosis of the Strong Man as its providential agency. In counterpoint, the Negro Submissive Man is a figure of being-in-common-with-one-another as the basis for viable, sustainable worldly collectivity. We have, then, two figural dyads: Strong Man/Submissive Man, Teutonic/Negro; and there is a struggle over the conception of civilization being waged with these figures.
My wish this afternoon is to consider with you the terms of that conceptual struggle. There is at play in these two dyads a complicated relationship between figure and concept, between the dynamic movement of language as poetry, and the fixedness of concept as determinate definitiveness with its demands of demonstrability, or apophantic truth. The complexity of this relationship requires we attend just as carefully to the expressions of figure as to the logical relations of concept. We must carefully interrogate what Du Bois is connoting when he maintains that the appeal of the strong man “always arises when a people seemingly become convinced that the object of the world is not civilization, but Teutonic civilization.” We must just as diligently interrogate what he is talking about when he says, “In every Southern country . . . destined to play a future part in the world — in Southern North America, South America, Australia, and Africa — a new nation has a more or less firm foothold. This circumstance has, however, attracted but incidental notice, hitherto.” Or, when he then declaims, “In the history of this people, we seek in vain the elements of Teutonic deification of Self, and Roman brute force, but we do find an idea of submission apart from cowardice, laziness or stupidity, such as the world never saw before.” Pursuing this line of inquiry raises two questions. What is this concept of civilization Du Bois refers to as “Teutonic,” the fundamental principle of which is “the overweening sense of the I, and the subsequent forgetting of the Thou”? And what is this doctrine of the Submissive Man that is at once the check and complement of the Teutonic Strong Man?
There are those in Du Bois scholarship who, being inclined to discern a pronounced Hegelian tendency in his early work, describe the doctrine of the Submissive Man as “a kind of Christian-Hegelian recognition of duty and collective debt as the basis of the state —not subservience.” Accordingly, the Strong Man/Submissive Man dyad is taken to be an iteration of the well-known Herrschaft und Knechtschaft dialectic — which I render as, “lordship and bondage,” following James Black Baille’s and A.V. Miller’s translations, rather than the more recent common-place Alexandre Kojève-influenced “master and slave”— and the Teutonic/Negro dyad gets construed as Du Bois’s transferring that Hegelian scenario of the struggle for recognition onto the landscape of American race relations.We know, of course, having learned German at Fisk, Du Bois read Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes at Harvard with George Santayana. Nevertheless, interpreting his commencement address this way is an exercise in dubious speculation unwarranted by both its text and Hegel’s. We do not have anywhere near enough time to explain all the reasons why this is so. Suffice it to say that the address’s figural dyads are not dialectic. Negro is not the antithesis of Teutonic, nor Submissive Man that of Strong Man. Neither dyad is a movement towards synthesis; rather, they are non-synthetic contestations of distinctly different ways of being brought into correlation. What’s more, the Hegelian dialectic with its postulate of a singular origin of mind, and hypostatizing the events of European history as the global History of mind — a historiography emblematized by the figure of Napoleon astride Marengo riding out of the city Jena on October 13, 1806— is precisely what Du Bois is challenging when he says his doctrine of Submissive Man is predicated on, “recognizing the fact that ‘To no one type of mind is it given to discern the totality of Truth.’” 
Du Bois does have events of European history in mind, however, in his remarking that, “The Teutonic met civilization and crushed it,” which is in reference to the myriad Teutonic peoples who overran the western part of the Roman Empire in the fifth-century A.D. And when he then says, “The Teuton stands today as the champion of the idea of Personal Assertion . . . the hero the world has ever worshipped, who gained unthought of triumphs made unthought mistakes,” he is referring to what Edward Gibbon described in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as “the revolution of ten centuries.” That is to say, the thousand year span from Odoacer’s deposing the last Western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, in 479 up to Martin Luther’s Reformation, in the course of which the Christian Church absorbed the energy of ferocious Teutonic brutality and converted it into the driving force of a renewed, faith-based imperial expansion. Gibbon is characteristically ironic when he claims that the manly spirit of freedom with which the conquering Teutonic infused Christianity “became the happy parent of taste and science.” As he is further on in his History when, extending the Christian Teutonic revolution to fourteen centuries — effectively adding, the period from the so-called Age of Discovery up to the Enlightenment and close of the eighteenth-century — he says, “by the industry and zeal of the Europeans . . .” Christian civic virtue was “. . . widely diffused to the most distant shores of Asia and Africa; and by the means of their colonies has been firmly established from Canada to Chili [sic], in a world unknown to the ancients.” After all, Gibbon’s own description of the story he tells is “the triumph of barbarism and religion;” and he regarded it as a story of progressive retrogression from the archaic conception of heroic martial excellence that the Romans termed, virtus, which had been a key element in the millennial-long development of classical civilization. This story of retrogression, whereby the myriad conquering Teutonic peoples merge with the Church of Rome to constitute the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, followed by the Westphalian system of sovereign nations, and eventually the international system, is the history of Europe as perpetual ever expanding conquest, certainly warrants Du Bois’s label, “Teutonic civilization.” That designation reverberates with Gibbonesque irony, as does his characterizing it as “a field for stalwart manhood and heroic character infused with moral obtuseness and refined brutality.” In what I take to be another allusion to Gibbon’s History that rebuts its principal thesis,
Du Bois says, “Through the glamour of history, the rise of a nation has ever been typified by the Strong Man crushing out an effete civilization. That brutality buried aught else beside Rome when it descended golden haired and drunk from the blue north has scarcely entered human imagination.” His description of the nation rising brutal, golden haired, and drunk from the north to crush an effete civilization also brings to mind another Gibbon reader, Friedrich Nietzsche, who speaks of the Teutonic peoples that crushed Rome as, der blonden germanischen Bestie (blond Germanic beast). He also refers to them as, alten Germanen (ancient Germans, or Teutons), in distinction from what he terms uns Deutschen(us Germans), by which he means the degenerate fruit of the very centuries-long Christian tempering of the Teutons Gibbon recounts.
There is no need here to speculate whether Du Bois had Nietzsche in mind when, invited by the dean of Harvard College to write a “commencement part,” he composed “Jefferson Davis as a Representative of Civilization.” It is enough to take note of the resonance in figure, and attend to the conceptual reverberations regarding the question of civilization. It is also worth bearing in mind that William James, one of Du Bois’s Harvard professors who he acknowledges had considerable influence on his thinking, grappled in his own writing with Nietzsche’s views about ethics and action.” James’ grappling came into play in the year-long lecture course on ethics he gave during the 1888-89 academic year, which was simply titled, “Philosophy IV.” Du Bois was enrolled in this course, and kept a meticulous course notebook on each lecture by order that is available in the Amherst archive, and in which Nietzsche’s concepts and issues regarding the “Science of Morals” were matters of some moment between the professor and young scholar. Those same issues were more fully taken up by Du Bois in the handwritten fifty-five-page final essay he wrote for the course, titled, “The Renaissance of Ethics.” All this is pertinent because that course notebook and essay provide the critical engagement with ethical theory informing the doctrine of Submissive Man. We learn from them that by the end of James’s ethics course, Du Bois had determined there is no free will, no human will except in action. This lays the basis for the line of thinking about the nature of freedom and the history of human civilization intimated in the 1890 commencement address. The notebook’s last words, “Man must act,” summing up his argument against confusing cause and effect, are fully consonant with Nietzsche’s condemnation of free will as a theologian’s artifice. Further resonances between their thinking can be found throughout the notebook. Both are critical of moral philosophy for its persistent adherence to theistic teleology, resulting in its untenable propositions regarding human agency; again, most pointedly, that of free-will, predicated on the concept of causality. And both think a chief culprit for the mess is Kant’s categorical metaphysics — which Du Bois in “The Renaissance of Ethics” calls one of the “false theories” of ethics.Further on in that essay, as though responding directly to Nietzsche’s admonishment to abandon the metaphysical account of the soul altogether in favor of a scientific analysis of the socio, as well as ontogenesis of the mind — the practitioner of which he christens “new psychologist” — Du Bois calls for an ethics based on a science of mind, saying: “[T]he “new” psychology and the modern effort at physical research are tentatives in that direction, but one is more a science of brain, the other very analogous to a study of the human body which should begin with the investigation of the most glaring monstrosities: of great use no doubt but never destined to reveal its true value until the type of which it is a caricature is more thoroughly known.” This remark about type with respect to a science of ethics is resonate with Nietzsche’s assertion that any proper science of ethics must be based on a comprehensive survey and classification of the immense varieties of actual common forms of so-called ethical practice, culminating in a “theory of types of morality.” I ask your indulgence and continued patience as I briefly recount some of the more germane points in Nietzsche’s typology in order to show you just how, resonance notwithstanding, Du Bois’s doctrine of Submissive Man also challenges Nietzsche’s typology.
More emphatically, or perhaps better to say, less ironically than Gibbon, Nietzsche construes the distinction between the Teutonic people who conquered Rome and those who came afterwards as one of existential moral character. This is in keeping with his premise that particular types of morality “may always be considered first of all as the symptoms of certain bodily constitutions.” That premise turns on a naturalistic taxonomy, according to which there are types of persons engendered by natural and civilizational forces. Among these is the predatory strong man type Nietzsche famously describes as the “lustful, roving blond beast” — which is his metonym for the lion as the figure par excellence of the predatory animal that when applied to this type can be understood to mean something like “lion-hearted.” He postulates this to be the primal type of man “at the bottom of all the noble races,” telling us in Genealogy of Morals that these include “the Roman, Arabian, Germanic, and Japanese nobility, Homeric heroes, and Scandinavian Viking.” Also included among the noble races are “the Athenians in their ραθυμία (rathymía) — indifference and contempt for safety, life, and body with a terrible gaiety and profundity of delight in all destruction, in all blisses of victory and cruelty.” Nietzsche reaches farther back than Gibbon’s Roman virtus to adduce as the principle example of a noble morality the Homeric ἀρετή (areté)— the excellence of strong men of instinct and vital desire exhibited in martial conflict. For such noble men, to be good is to have communal feeling among the virtuous, which is to be beautiful, happy, and loved by the gods. The bad, malus, belong to the group of those subjugated who, being impotent, cannot constitute a community in action and so cannot have communal feeling. These strong men of courage were those Plato and Aristotle called ἀνδρὸς ἀγαθοῦ (andros agathoū), “men of excellence.” Along their philosophical lines, Homeric ἀρετή (areté) is transvalued into a universally distributed capacity for “excellence-in-action,” thereby subjugating the men of excellence’s ferocity to reason in service to the righteous polity, the kallipolis. Calling this “Socratic moralism,” Nietzsche dismisses it as “a self-deception on the part of philosophers,” and regards the Platonic equation, ἀρετή (areté)— circumscribed by reason equals εὑδαιμονία (eudaimonia) — which Plato defines as “the good composed of all goods — to be symptomatic of a pathological condition that he labels Apollinian, which is only exacerbated by Aristotle’s epistemic absolutism. In alignment with Gibbon, Nietzsche maintains that once this pathology is taken up by Romanized Christianity, in part through the Neoplatonist efforts of Origen and Augustine, the ethics of heroic excellence succumbed completely to what he calls the slave-morality spawned in the ressentiment of the subjugated masses. This slave-morality replaces the archaic precept — good = aristocrat = beautiful = happy = loved by the gods — with the contrary precept, — the wretched are alone the good; the poor, the weak, the lowly, are alone the good; the suffering, the needy, the sick, the loathsome, are the only righteous ones. Powerlessness, thus, acquires moral force in the Christian virtue of pity, which Nietzsche calls “the practice of nihilism,” multiplying and conserving misery as piety on the premise that all humans are the children of God, the banner motto of which is “the beloved community.” Rather than human fulfillment being realized in the actuality of political qua civic life, it is displaced by hopeful faith in the kingdom of God; that is to say, in the future world, so that the εὑδαιμονία(eudaimonia), the good of all goods is actual only after death. In this vein, the ancient Roman virtue, fides (the reciprocal trust between two parties), is transvalued as the Pauline virtue, faith (belief in the truth of the promised kingdom to come beyond this world that can only be known after death, and access to which is contingent upon obedience to the Church). And, thus, the Roman vir bonus, “good man,” of virtus, “heroic excellence in action,” is transformed into the vir bonus of Christian piety. With the Teutonic conquest of Rome, however, Christianity was confronted with a different type of beast, the “inwardly wild and self-brutalizing, strong but flawed men, whose dissatisfaction with their self was not due to an excessive sensitivity and susceptibility to pain, but to an overpowering desire to inflict pain, finding an outlet for inner tensions in hostile acts and ideas.” The Church utilized its own barbaric force of the passion and Eucharist to seduce these Teutonic beasts and achieve mastery over them. Once the Teutons assimilated the principle Christian tenet of man’s ignominy, they were weakened and made sick psychologically. Nietzsche’s point here is that the beloved community is predicated on the strong man’s enfeeblement, and that is the Christian recipe for taming, for ‘Civilization,’ which he, like Gibbon, views as “the retrogression [Rückgang] of mankind” rather than improvement. The ferocity and violence of these civilized and civilizing Teutons is just as wanton and impartial as it was before when it was waged in the expectation of inspiring poetic celebration; only now, it is an act of piety — redemption is found in killing under the Latinate motto, pro Christo et Ecclesia, “for Christ and Church.” The noble heroic strong man is, thus, displaced by the pious religious strong man, for whom truly heroic virtue is inaccessible. Contra Renan’s claims, Nietzsche quips “if anything is unevangelical it is the concept of the hero.” Nietzsche’s typology of morals, thus, gives us two related but distinct connotations of “Teutonic” — the alten Germanen who, possessing a ferocious freedom akin to the classical Homeric ἀρετή (areté)— and Roman virtus, crushed Rome, and the Christian-tamed, civilizing Deutschen who are a mongrel retrogression from the noble blonde beast. This is the moral type Nietzsche calls the décadence type.
Turning our attention back to Du Bois’s Harvard address, it becomes clear that he uses “Teutonic” to indicate the alten Germanen, but also as a synonym for Nietzsche’s metonymic “lustfully roving blond beast.” And he uses “Teutonic civilization,” in reference to the Gibbonian story of Western European civilization. As for his doctrine of Submissive Man, despite being formulated in the very processes of European Capitalist slavery, it is not a version of what Nietzsche characterizes, per Christian piety, as a slave-morality based on ressentiment. In fact, Du Bois’s doctrine of Submissive Man is expressly opposed to the disposition of pious sacrifice. By that same token, in contrast to the Teutonic — who, having invaded and conquered the Roman imperium by force, were assimilated by Christian civilization in spirit — the Negro of Du Bois’s description, although subjugated in modern Western Capitalist Christian civilization to an intensely systematic, sustained economy of force, is never fully assimilated nor entirely stripped of prior so-called “African” ways of being. Not because the Negro is inherently malus, congenitally incapable of assimilating civilization; but rather because of the severely limited syntax of Western thought’s conception of the human. To get a better handle on this, let’s return for a minute and tarry a bit with Nietzsche’s Renan quip, which is taken from his Der Antichrist, about the incompatibility of the hero and the evangelical. There is a remarkable resonance between that remark and a hypothetical line of thought Du Bois proposes in the course notebook he kept for Philosophy IV. A good deal of that notebook is concerned with determining — in dispute with James Martineau’s theory of ethics and religion — the causality of human action in the world in order to discover the scientific, non-theological grounds of ethics. At one point in the notebook, when discussing Royce’s concept of Universal Thought — that which “combines the thoughts of all of us into an absolute unity of thought” — Du Bois ponders something along the lines: “Suppose the words of a sentence are minds, then you have the universal mind, etc.” We can infer from this that the universal thought is syntactic. Du Bois then writes: “. . . By this, cause & effect is a thought-relation: as in vir bonus: alter bonus to bona, vir is changed — this causal nexus is a logical or rational nexus.” The heuristic altering of bonus into bona changes the terms of relation. In accordance with Latin grammar, making the adjective feminine in this phrase dictates that the noun vir (man) becomes mulier (woman). It does more, however; much more, given the provenance of the phrase, vir bonus, whereby the meaning of its noun is paramount. In classical Latin, vir means interchangeably “hero,” “man,” “grown-man,” and “husband.” As stated a few moments ago, the vir bonus has virtus, an abstract noun derived from vir, connoting valor, courage, excellence, and character in a way akin to the Homeric ἀρετή; all qualities associated with overall manliness in public conduct specific to free adult Roman men. Again, this is the very concept of heroic virtue Nietzsche, like Gibbon, argues Christianity displaces. Virtus is wholly masculine. Changing the noun from vir to mulier, based on altering bonus to bona, gives us mulier bona, good woman. By feminizing the good, Du Bois’s conjectured alteration challenges the presumptive provenance of goodness in the masculine heroic, opening up the ethical question in a radical way that entails far more than a realignment.
The etymological itinerary of vir, virtus Du Bois’s that suppositional alteration sets us on is particularly germane to his concept of Submissive Man. That relevance becomes all the more apparent when we take into account the thesis of his essay, “The Renaissance of Ethics,” which is “that modern systematic ethical study has practically made but little advance upon the Scholastic method,” meaning theistic teleology; and the continued grounding of ethics in such teleology hinders the development of an ethics predicated on an empirical “science of mind.” This thesis turns on Du Bois’s critique of the persistent investment in the summum bonum, from Scholasticism up until James and Royce. The historical scope of that critique extends back beyond Scholasticism or even Christianity, however, when we recall that the provenance of this phrase, “summum bonum,” is Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorm (On the Ends of Goods and Evils) as the Latin translation for the Greek term, ευδαιμονία, which, as noted earlier, Plato defines as “the good composed of all goods” — or, as we now say, “the highest good.” So, Du Bois’s conjectured alteration of bonus as bona touches on the foundations of the millennia-long tradition of moral philosophy inaugurated with Plato’s idealization of the Homeric ἀρετή, about which Nietzsche was dismissive. But whereas Nietzsche’s concern is the way that idealization degenerates the primal noble strong man virtue, Du Bois’s concern is with how, rather than stripping ἀρετή (areté) of its martial connotation altogether, moral philosophy simply revalues the mighty Right Arm as an instrumentality of righteous polity. To put this in more pointedly Roman terms — as Cicero does when he renders εὑδαιμονία (eudaimonia) into Latin as summum bonum, and then ἀνδρὸς ἀγαθοῦ (andros agathoū) as vir bonus — civilization is founded and maintained on the authority (auctoritas) of strong men emanating from their virtue (virtus). Regarded in this way, civilization is the auto-legitimating exercise of power by boni viri, brave, strong, honorable men of action.
Du Bois’s conjectured alteration of bonus as bona challenges all of this. And if we take it into account regarding his calling near the end of his course notebook for a science of ethics based on the science of mind that promises a better conceptual understanding of human type, we can see he is also challenging Nietzsche’s typology. There are “types” of human being that cannot be comprehended by the binarism of dialectic relation; and Negro, in the Du Boisian sense, connotes such. Negro is an articulation of and articulates a capacity of endurance, of moving fluidly in engagement with inevitable force, and utilizing it in realization of living potentiality. “Dogged patience bending to the inevitable,” is how Du Bois characterizes this dynamic; and then, referring to it as “the cool purposeful ‘Ich Dien’ of the African,” insists it is not to be regarded with “sentimental interest [or] sentimental duty,” but as a constitutive expression of the human, manifest in relation to civilization on par with the Teutonic Strong Man. Just as “Teutonic” is the synecdoche for both the blonde beast and the story of the blonde beast as the catalyst of civilization, “Negro” functions as a synecdoche for a different, polyfocal understanding of the set of historical linkages constituting modern Western civilization in an appositional dynamic. In this respect, the ethics of submission Du Bois proposes does indeed regress from Nietzschean mankind (der Menschheit), disgracing the noble hero at the foundations of virtue-ethics. Although using the term “Man,” Du Bois seeks to dispense with the hero worship of virility; or rather, he thinks the Negro’s systematic exclusion from it presents an occasion for a radically different conception of the human. When one speaks of humanity [Humanität],” Nietzsche once wrote, “the idea is that it may be what separates and distinguishes man [Menschen] from nature. But such a separation is not given in reality where, “natural” properties and the actual “human” [menschlich] are inseparable.” Relating this to Du Bois doctrine of Submissive Man, we can say that the Negro manifests a robust humanity that, rather than being in opposition to nature, is an animal energeia, a being at-work-ness of the human solely and wholly with the flesh. Thinking in accord with that doctrine, Du Bois’s description of “the Negro as the peculiar embodiment of the idea of Personal Submission” is at odds with what Nietzsche takes to be the “natural man,” whose “terrible and inhumane capacities are the fertile grounds from which alone all humanity grows.” The discord here is over whether cruelty is the necessary primal force in forming human community. Nietzsche argues that cruelty belongs to the most ancient festive joys of mankind, where it is an element in the “horrible mixture of sensuality” he calls Dionysian, which is like a suddenly swelling flood, subsumes everything subjective, every individual wave into its intoxicating momentum. Du Bois’s proposition, in contradiction, is that cruelty is not necessarily the excellence (ἀρετή) of our nature, nor the determinate of our destiny. The impulses of imagination and cogitation are equally animal, equally generative as the predatory; and these, pace Aristotle, are not most excellently fulfilled only in the aristocratic republic. Other orders of sociality or community achieve sustainable ways of being-human-in-the world beyond the comprehension of philosophy and virtue ethics. In other words, the Negro is neither Dionysian nor Apollinian, is simply not Greek, Roman, or Teutonic.
Du Bois’s critique of the strong man theory of civilization as inadequate, bad historiography entails a corollary critique of the modern concept of sovereignty. When “Jefferson Davis as a Representative of Civilization” is considered in tandem with “the Renaissance of Ethics” and Du Bois’s course notebook, what comes into play is a critique of the dominant tendency in political theory to confound the exercise of force emanating from the individual will with authority, equating authority with sheer coercive power, and collapsing that composite into the figure of the sovereign person. Du Bois’s Strong Man/Submissive Man dyad pushes back against confusing political institutions with human society. Contra Hobbes’s claim to have radically broken with classical political philosophy, Du Bois regards the sovereign of modern discourses of power as an iteration in the long tradition of virtue ethics, with its underlying Aristotelian conception of the human. His contending that the Negro “has illustrated an idea which is at once the check and compliment of the Teutonic Strong Man,” is a gesture towards a reconceptualization of the relationship between society and its political institutions, predicated on the question of governance being regarded in terms of communal authority rather than sovereign power. Du Bois does not, however, with that gesture, abandon the concept of human fulfillment. Rather, in critiquing the tradition of virtue ethics, and by implication its derivative political theory, he rejects the proposition that authority is necessarily founded on brute force, and maintained by the coercive enforcement of political and juridical institutions. Arguably, his submissive man doctrine implies that, to paraphrase Michel Foucault, “sovereignty is never shaped from above by a decision of the strong man, the conqueror; rather, it is always shaped by the confluence of multiplicious spheres of authority.” In this paraphrasing of Foucault to suit Du Bois, the dynamic confluence of multiplicious spheres of authority displaces Foucault’s phrase, “par en dessous [from below],” and elides altogether his prepositional, “de ceux qui ont peur, [from those who are afraid].” The former is displaced and the latter elided because Du Bois’s doctrine is pointedly non-hierarchical, emphasizing appositionality. My point is not merely to remark that Du Bois’s gesture towards a critique of sovereignty anticipates Foucault’s by eighty-six years, or, for that matter, Hannah Arendt’s by some forty-one. It is to highlight how, merely with that gesture, he does something neither of them deign to do: situate the Negro created by capitalist slavery as a central factor in the modern discourses of power. More precisely, he identifies the activity of those called Negro, in response to and aside from that designation, as providing the basis for reimagining the order of human sociality, governance, and being. Rather than the outcome of strong individuals subjugating all in the name of unilinear universal progress towards a télos, a purposeful ending resolution, civilization is recognized as the perpetual challenging of egotistical strength — in all its variety, and not just those of ἀρετή (areté)— and virtus, piety and faith, or providence and destiny. Elaborating this change in conception of civilization, Du Bois says, “not only the assertion of the I, but also the submission to the Thou is the highest Individualism.” At the crux of his doctrine of submissive man is the proposition that community is not constituted by way of subjection, even according to an intersubjective social contract whereby individuals precede community, constituting it principally to secure their supposedly natural individual rights to possession of self and things, which is then called “freedom.” In challenging our ardour for the authoritarian strong man, Du Bois calls us to always bear in mind that this individualism is a function of civic republicanism, a historicistic ideology whereby individuals are coarticulated beside one another simultaneously in community. In other words, he challenges us to reimagine the individual by reimagining community as an open-ended dynamic process of association, a poetic sociality, rather than a contract for defensive security.
R.A. Judy is a Professor of Critical and Cultural Studies in the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh. He authored the ground-breaking book, (Dis)forming the American Canon: The Vernacular of African Arabic American Slave Narrative (1992). His latest book, Sentient Flesh (Thinking in Disorder/Poiēsis in Black) is forthcoming from Duke University Press in 2020.
* This was originally given as the 2020 Mary Stevens Reckford Memorial Lecture in European Studies at the University of North Carolina Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Chapel Hill on March 31 2020
. Bruce A. Kimbell, “‘This Pitiable Rejection of A Great Opportunity’ : W. E. B. Du Bois and Clement G. Morgan, and the Harvard University Graduation of 1890,” The Journal of African-American History vol. 94, no. 1 (Winter 2009) 5-20. Henceforth cited as Kimbell.
. Kimbell, 14.
. W. E. B. Du Bois, “Jefferson Davis as a Representative of Civilization,” W.E.B. Du Bois: Writings (New York: Library of America, 1986) 811. Henceforth cited as “Jefferson Davis.”
. Du Bois “Jefferson Davis,” 812.
. Du Bois “Jefferson Davis,” 812.
. Du Bois “Jefferson Davis,” 812.
. Du Bois “Jefferson Davis,” 812.
. W. E. B. Du Bois, “Of Booker T. Washington and Others,” The Souls of Black Folk (396). The Stono Rebellion, also known as Cato’s Rebellion, began on Sunday, September 9. 1739 at a bridge over the Stono River, southwest of Charles Town (now Charleston) South Carolina. It began with twenty enslaved Africans, most of whom were Kikongo speakers from the Kingdom of Kongo, located in the Angola region, led by a man identified in the official colony record as the “Angolan ‘captain,’ Jemmy, but who was known among his compatriots and descendant as Cato. When measured by the proportion of whites killed to that of blacks—thirty blacks and twenty-five whites—it was the bloodiest slave revolt in the English colonies.
. Du Bois, “Jefferson Davis,” 813.
. Shamoon Zamir provides an extensive analysis of the Hegelianism in Du Bois’s writings from 1888-1903, within which he reads Du Bois’s 1888 Fisk University Commencement speech, as well as the 1890 Harvard Commencement speech. See Shamoon Zamir, Dark Voices, 64. Joel Williamson was an earlier proponent of Du Bois’s Hegelianism. See Joel Williamson, “WE.B. DuBois as a Hegelian,” in What Was Freedom’s Price? ed. David G. Sansing (Jackson: University Presses of Mississippi, 1978), 41. Russell Berman, in the essay, “Du Bois and Wagner: Race, Nation and Culture between the United States and Germany,” declares the Harvard Commencement address to be “Hegelian through and through” (Berman, 123-124). Robert Gooding-Williams also situates Du Bois within a Hegelian line of thought. See Robert Gooding-Williams, “Philosophy of History and Social Critique in The Souls of Black Folk,” Sur les Sciences Sociales, 26 (March 1987), 99–114; also see his essay, “Evading Narrative Myth, Evading Prophetic Pragmatism: Cornel West’s ‘The American Evasion of Philosophy’,” The Massachusetts Review, 32(4), 517–542. Perhaps one of the more extensive readings of Du Bois as Hegelian is Stephanie Shaw’s book, W. E. B. Du Bois and The Souls of Black Folk (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013).
. Regarding the translation of the Herrschaft und Knechtschaft dialectic, Kojève was the first in the French reception of Hegel to render it as “Maître et Esclave [Master and Slave];” and in so doing, he went against the grain of both French and Anglophone reception of Hegel’s work. See Alexandre Kojève, Introduction à la Lecture de Hegel: Leçons sur la Phénoménologie de l’Esprit professées de 1933 à 1939 à l’École des Hautes Études, réunies et publiées par Raymond Queneau (Paris: Gallimard, 1947). The first French translation of Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes, Augusto Véra’s seriously flawed Philosophie de l’esprit de Hegel, rendered Herrschaft und Knechtschaft as “domination et servitude,” “domination and servitude.” That is also how Kojève’s comparably influential contemporary, Jean Hyppolite, gives it in his 1941 translation of the Phänomenologie.” See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophie de l’esprit de Hegel, trad. Augusto Véra, Tome II (Paris : Germer Baillière, Libraire Éditeur, 1869), 76; and La phénoménologie de l’esprit, trad. Jean Hyppolite, Tome I (Paris: Aubier, Éditions Montaigne, 1941), 155. By comparison, the first English-language translation of the Phänomenologie des Geistes by James Black Baille, The Phenomenology of Mind, which antedates Kojève’s interpretation by twenty-three years, renders Herrschaft und Knechtschaft as “Lordship and Bondage.” A. V. Miller follows suit in his 1977 translation, Phenomenology of Mind. See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, Vol 1, trans. James Black Baille (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1910), 175 ; and Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 111. Although, Terry Pinkard, in his recent translation of the Phänomenologie, renders this as “Mastery and Servitude.” and Michael Inwood, revising Miller’s translation, gives it as “mastery and bondage.” See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans, Terry Pinkard (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018) 109; and Phenomenology of Mind, trans Michael Inwood (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), 160
. On October 13, 1806, the day Napoleon’s forces occupied Jena, having just completed the Preface, in which he states that the system of science he is presenting is “analogous to ultrarevolutionary discourse and action [ultarevolutionäre Reden und Handeln],” Hegel writes to Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer: “I saw the Emperor — this world-soul — riding out of the city on reconnaissance. It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrated here at a single point, astride a horse, reaches out over the world and masters it.” Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Letters, trans. Clark Butler and Christine Seiler (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), 114. Regarding the identification of Hegel’s system with one singular mind as the universal mind of human history, Hegel argues, of course, that the history of mind can only be told retrospectively, at its end, its télos, the epoch of which is the extended progress of bourgeoisie formation. Napoleon, the embodiment of history exemplifies, in a manner very much like Jefferson Davis, the Strong Man thesis of history. As Marx remarked: “The Germans have thought in politics what others nations have done. Germany has been their theoretical conscience.” Karl Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction,” Early Writings, intro. Lucio Colletti, rans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), 250.
. Du Bois, “Jefferson Davis,” 813.
. Gibbon, History of the Decline, 1:72.
. Gibbon, History of the Decline, 2:261.
. Friedrich Nietzsche, Zur Genealogie der Moral. Eine Streitschrift, im Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 6, Bd. 2:290, §11.
. Friedrich Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung, im Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 6, Bd. 3:89, §7.
. Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse, im Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 6, Bd. 2:61: §187.
. “The Renaissance of Ethics,” 41.
. Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, Vorrede zur zweiten Ausgabe, in Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 5, Bd. 2:16, §2.
. Nietzsche, ZGM, 289, §11.
. Nietzsche, DA, Abt. 6 Bd. 3:187, §22.
. Nietzsche, DA, Abt. 6 Bd. 3:187, §22.
. Nietzsche, DA, Abt. 6 Bd. 3:197, §29.
. Du Bois, “The Renaissance of Ethics,” 1.
. Du Bois is being ironic. The German phrase “Ich Dein” (I serve) was adopted by the Black Prince, Edward Prince of Wales, as his motto, along with the crest of ostrich feathers after the battle of Crécy in 1346, from John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, who was killed in the battle. Cf. Elizabeth Knowles, “Ich Dien,” The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Oxford University Press, 2006).
. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Homer’s Wettkampf,” Fünf Vorreden zu fünf ungeschriebenen Büchern, in Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 3, Bd. 2:277.
. Du Bois, “Jefferson Davis,” 813; Nietzsche, “Homer’s Wettkampf,” 249.
. Friedrich Nietzsche, Die Geburt der Tragödie, in Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 3, Bd. 1:28. § 2.
. The line, which is from Foucault’s 1976 Collège de France course, “Il faut defender la société,” the February 4 session, is made in the context of analyzing Hobbes’s basing sovereignty on fear-driven will. It reads in full: “La souveraineté se constitue donc à partir d’une forme radical de volonté, forme qui importe peu. Cette volonté est liée à la peur et la souveraineté ne se forme jamais par en haut, c’est-à-dire par une décision du plus fort, du vainqueur, ou des parents. La souveraineté se forme toujours par en dessous, par la volonté de ceux qui ont peur [Sovereignty is, therefore, constituted from a radical form of will, a form that matters little. This will is linked to fear, and sovereignty is never formed from above, that is to say, via a decision of the strongest, the conqueror, or the parents. Sovereignty is always formed from below, by the will of those who are afraid].” See Michel Foucault, “Il faut défendre la société,” Cours au Collège de France (1975-1976), éd. Mauro Bertani et Alessandro Fontana (Paris : Hautes Études Gallimard/Seuil, 1997), 83.
. See Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1951); The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958); and Between Past and Future (New York: Viking Press, 1961).