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L’Inde des Lumières

 | 
Marie Fourcade
, 
Ines G. Županov

Colonialisme et Lumières // Colonialism and Enlightenment

India and Haiti as Colonial Spaces of the Enlightenment

L’Inde et Haiti comme espaces coloniaux des Lumières

Sunil Agnani

Résumé

Cet article explore l’une des contradictions les plus saillantes qui frappe quiconque examine les Lumières européennes du point de vue des colonies : comment les penseurs européens de cette période font-ils cohabiter leurs réflexions sur la liberté et la souveraineté avec les plus vastes projets qui ont, implicitement ou explicitement, favorisé à la fois l’expansion territoriale, un soutien au commerce colonial croissant et en fin de compte un désir d’empire territorial ? Tout en gardant cette question à l’esprit, il ne faut cependant pas négliger un fil radical de la pensée des Lumières qui a considéré les « droits de l’homme » comme élément moteur de possibles bouleversements dans les colonies. Les exemples de l’Inde et de Saint-Domingue/Haïti permettent de réfléchir sur la courte période de temps durant laquelle il semble qu’il y ait eu une ouverture d’esprit propice à la poursuite des buts émancipatoires de la pensée des Lumières partout où ils pouvaient être menés. Conformément aux intentions du colloque et de ce volume, l’objectif de cet article est de placer l’Inde au carrefour des espaces coloniaux des Lumières en l’opposant à Saint-Domingue/Haïti – réintroduisant ainsi la signification des « deux Indes » – en particulier dans la pensée du parlementaire et politique Edmund Burke, dont les accusations contre la direction de la East India Company étaient bien connues dans les années 1790. Cependant, afin de comprendre quelles transformations politiques Burke jugeait possibles ou non, ses réflexions sont brièvement mises en perspective en les opposant au discours contemporain tenu par le général haïtien qui combattit aux côtés de Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Baptiste Belley.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Emphasis mine. James 1989: 198. See the discussion of this moment in Scott 2004: 219.

The blacks were taking their part in the destruction of European feudalism begun by the French Revolution, and liberty and equality, the slogans of the revolution, meant far more to them than to any Frenchman. That was why in the hour of danger Toussaint, uninstructed as he was, could find the language and accent of Diderot, Rousseau, and Raynal, of Mirabeau, Robespierre, and Danton.
CLR James,
The Black Jacobins, 1938.1

1What might the West Indian intellectual CLRJames have meant by this passage from his history of the Haitian Revolution, which makes the case—following a Hegelian model of consciousness where it is the bondsman or slave whose ability to grasp the concept of freedom exceeds that of his master—that the slogans of the revolution meant far more to the insurgent Blacks of St Domingue than to any Frenchman? If for Kant it was a motto (or slogan) of the Enlightenment to “dare to know” (sapere aude), what can be made of such daring which manifested itself in an anticolonialism whose significance was misread for centuries, and culminated in a revolution excluded from the category of revolution? (Trouillot 1995). It was certainly a different form of daring, and it was the proximate sense of danger (as James puts it) which enabled Toussaint Louverture to “find the language” of many of the Enlightenment figures mentioned in the passage (significantly including, for this discussion, Diderot, Raynal, Danton and Robespierre). The language Toussaint found, I would like to suggest, was able to cross a conceptual limit which both Denis Diderot and Edmund Burke encountered in their critiques of empire. Elsewhere I have tried to explore, hoping to diminish a looming Manichaeism which would pose Toussaint’s understanding against his European counterparts, the persistent internal critiques of empire that one finds within the spectrum of European thought on the subject. In a partial sense, this has been a recuperative gesture, removing in the case of Diderot’s writings for Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes the dismissive pall which many influential interpretations of the work (such as, in Victorian Britain, John Morley’s view) had put upon it, ignoring the request to correlate his work with exclusive referents from within Europe. Or, in the case of Burke, restoring his thought—even when motivated by the affect of fear rather than calling for the new—to the broader and more global ensemble of locations with which he occupied himself.

  • 2 The closing pages of James’ work make this clear: “The blacks of Africa are more advanced, nearer r (...)
  • 3 For an interesting consideration of the limits of pure oppositionality within anticolonial thought, (...)
  • 4 “I can recall a discussion where several comrades and I were railing against Europe and its evils. (...)

2It is certain that what CLR James found in Toussaint was in fact an early figure for the decolonization-to-come which he sought,2 and which he was to see in his lifetime beginning with Ghana in 1957 (his links with the young Nkrumah in the context of Panafricanism in New York and London are often noted in this context). Toussaint was also, we should add, a figure who unabashedly drew inspiration from aspects of the “Radical Enlightenment” in Jonathan Israel’s sense (Israel 2001) in his synthesis of political strategies and concepts from West Africa and Europe (a running debate and theme in the scholarship on the West Indies—one which finds a parallel in the South Asian context over the degree to which colonialism represented a fundamental rupture in the social fabric of Indian society, or merely another layer). This produced an outlook with a profound entanglement and imbrication with the revolutionary languages of Europe, and it was thereby an emblem for James of an anticolonialism which was not purely and reductively oppositional at its outset3—hence the fascinating claims made at various points by Haitian insurgents upon elements of French Revolutionary culture, such as singing the Marseillaise while charging headlong towards an invading French force (altering and expanding its meaning through their iteration) (James 1989: 317-318). What is significant here is the appropriation of revolutionary culture, and its symbols. This understanding of Toussaint may also explain why James himself, similarly wishing to avoid a purely oppositional position to Europe, often frustrated his interlocutors in the United States during the 1960s with reference to himself as a “Black European”—in other words, not disavowing a filiation (with Europe, with the West) which rendered more complex and irreducible his stance as an anticolonial critic.4

  • 5 See Bronner 2004. Bronner is, however, more interested in defending critical theory from a perceive (...)
  • 6 “The Voyage in and the Emergence of Opposition”, in Said 1994.
  • 7 “One must have tradition in oneself to hate it properly.” Adorno 1978: 52.

3James was clearly attuned to the schisms within Europe, and one can read The Black Jacobins as a counter-history of the Enlightenment—in fact its publication in 1938 already implies the plural of the noun that others (most recently JGA Pocock) have called for in the last decade (Pocock 1999, 1: 138), and it furthermore undertakes the project of “reclaiming” the Enlightenment (in this pluralized form) which—rather periodically—is also argued for.5 It, too, was an iteration of the concept of Enlightenment which transformed and broadened its significance by focusing upon (not evading, hiding or apologizing for) its contradictions. Needless to say, it was this method and perspective deployed by James which Edward Said would understand as “contrapuntal,”6 narrating a dominant element cross-cut and interrupted by an insurgent one. Drawing on elements of this model, what I would like to propose (and which my larger book attempts to carry out, Agnani fthcg.) is an effort at an estrangement which is premised on the productive possibilities of discursive schisms and evanescent moments of insurgency; an estrangement from the familiar images of Diderot or Burke which follows as far as it is possible to do so their criticisms of empire. In the case of Diderot, we can put it more sharply: his occasional hatred of empire. Moreover, with due apologies to Theodor Adorno from whose work—Minima Moralia: Notes on Damaged Life—I draw the expression, we can learn what it means to “hate” empire properly, namely to engage in a form of critique which explores its inconsistencies.7

  • 8 For the field of South Asian studies Bernard Cohn’s pioneering essays, written as influential artic (...)

4I begin with two propositions: examining the ideologies of empire is vital if we are to have an understanding of the implications of the knowledge/ power linkage described by Edward Said (and drawn partly from the method and spirit, we might say, of Foucault).8 Secondly, following arguments against empire requires a comparative consideration: for example, India alongside St Domingue or Haiti, les Indes orientales et les Indes occidentales (or more simply les deux Indes). Moreover, one needs to consider that arguments against empire often fulfill certain political fantasies in the period (and it is important to learn how to read or interpret these contradictory fantasies). Recent critical work has brought out sharply the rich possibilities for a critique of European hegemony which existed within the languages of political thought in the eighteenth century (Muthu 2003). We also have contributions which trace the turn toward empire and the logic of liberal imperialism (Pitts 2005). A radical like Diderot, I would argue in contrast to these emphases, comes upon the impasse of a colonialism by consent, a “consensual colonialism” partly as a product of his initial hatred of forms of dominance and conquest.

  • 9 On Nietzsche’s use of the term “philologist,” see Porter 2000.
  • 10 Sonia Dayan-Hezbrun, “Edward Said’s Orientalism in France: Misreading or Misunderstanding?” (2011). (...)
  • 11 Although he does not put it this way, Mehta’s work is exemplary in showing the manner in which empi (...)
  • 12 Chakrabarty 2000, 2002; Chatterjee 1986, 2004. French translations of some of their work have recen (...)
  • 13 “I will long remember the day I first read Orientalism… [It] was a book which talked of things I fe (...)
  • 14 Guha 1963. On the questions of intellectual generations, I have in mind David Scott, “Thinking Thro (...)

5However, these works from political theorists need to be considered alongside an almost parallel set of questions from those in area studies, or cultural history; alongside philologists (in the rich sense, as Nietzsche meant it when he referred to himself as such), and those who studied oriental languages— orientalists in the old (honorable?) sense of the word.9 It was striking to me, in preparing for the colloquium before this volume, to read Sylvia Murr’s “Les conditions d’émergence du discours sur l’Inde au Siècle des Lumières » published in 1983 (Murr 1983). To historicize that moment, perhaps in a manner that she would not agree with, the article appeared after the publication of Said’s Orientalism in 1978, whose French translation appeared in the same year (Said 1978 a; 1978 b). I juxtapose these two works precisely because, for some, they will appear as discontinuous, or even antagonistic. A cursory examination of Murr’s notes indicates that she does not cite it—indeed, perhaps had not read it (and at least one scholar, Sonia Dayan-Hezbrun, has recently given an account of how and why Said’s work was ignored by many in France).10 But it might be more useful—from our vantage point nearly thirty years later—to avoid the polemic and counterpolemic around Said’s work and instead place at the center the kinds of scholarship and knowledge production which it did enable. In addition to the scholarship from political theorists mentioned earlier, I also have in mind earlier works such as Uday Mehta’s Liberalism and Empire,11 and some of the work of Subaltern Studies and its associates, Partha Chatterjee and Dipesh Chakrabarty.12 (I do not mean to imply that these authors were carrying out Said’s project, but rather that their aims were consonant with the kind of project Said proposed, the types of questions he framed—as several of the homages to Said from these scholars have made explicit.)13 In this list, I am no doubt collapsing many generations of scholars and scholarly projects—beginning with Ranajit Guha’s early work, Rule of Property for Bengal (published, as readers of Purushartha will know, in Paris by Mouton press in 1963 partly because of its examination of the influence of French Physiocratic thought in the colonies), to some of his younger colleagues or students.14 What the work of all these scholars has in common is a consideration of how an object of knowledge is constituted (hence my invocation of Adorno (2005) who similarly reflected on this problematic). How an object called the orient was produced through several discourses: that of the novelist, the Jesuit, the administrator, the savant (to name a few examined by Said, and by specialists such as Sylvia Murr). We can therefore see an affinity in their work with the project which Sylvia Murr has in mind with the title of her article ( “Les conditions d’émergence du discours sur l’Inde au Siècle des Lumières”). However, what an older generation of anticolonial scholars and intellectuals sought to examine was the British colonial state’s complicity in the formation of certain types of knowledge, whereas for a more recent generation formed in the postcolonial era in South Asia, the concerns were more explicitly about the failures of the emancipatory aims of the sovereign states, the complicity of some indigenous elites, and the marginalization of various groups (tribal, caste, etc.) by the discourse of dominant nationalism. By contrast, the work of someone like Sylvia Murr was « internal » to Europe, we might say; this was the place of her intervention.

India and St Domingue/Haiti: Two Colonial Spaces of the Enlightenment

  • 15 Agnani 2008 a; 2008 b. Burke’s citation is from “Speeches on the Impeachment of Warren Hastings,” B(...)

6But let me return to the thread of my argument and illustrate by example what must appear abstract at the moment. Consider the British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, with whose Reflections on the Revolution in France many will be familiar. Since readers of this journal include “indologues,” many will very likely know of Burke’s attempt to impeach Warren Hastings, head of the East India Company, in Parliament in a judicial process lasting over seven years, though it colors the work he wrote even earlier from 1783 until his very death in 1797. I have argued in earlier articles how Burke’s writings on France are shaped in very demonstrable and striking ways by his prior analysis of the East India Company’s “takeover” (as he viewed it) of large portions of India ( « a state in the disguise of a merchant, » as he once memorably put it).15 But, more to the point here, he also regularly mentioned events in the French West Indies—especially St Domingue (Haiti after its revolution).

  • 16 These words are drawn from the description for this colloquium.
  • 17 “I have spent the last 14 years of my existence,” he wrote to Lord Loughborough in the twilight of (...)

7Just how, then, does his response to unrest in St Domingue compare with his response to Indian affairs? Answering this question seems essential to me if our aim is “situer l’Asie du Sud dans le mouvement intellectuel des Lumières»16 because—as Pierre Bourdieu effectively argues for other fields (such as art)—these always operate in relational manner, a field of combat, etc. (Bourdieu 1993; 1996). The short answer to this question—we might call it another version of the “Edmund Burke Problem” (namely the apparent inconsistency in responding to and conceiving of the two domains)—is that Burke responds dramatically differently to St Domingue than he does to the “oppressed” of India (that was his description, not mine);17 his sympathies are entirely different; the groups with which he identifies politically and psychologically are antithetical; and, finally, his vision of the past and future of each society correlates with this.

  • 18 “[T] he people of the [American] colonies are descendants of Englishmen. England, Sir, is a nation (...)
  • 19 For one discussion of this, see Dickey 1986. For an overview of the Burke “problem,” see Winch 1985
  • 20 “Speeches on the Impeachment of Warren Hastings,” Burke 1999: 397-398.
  • 21 Ibid.: 394.
  • 22 Ibid.: 393.
  • 23 “Speech on Mr Fox’s East India Bill,” Burke 1999: 369.
  • 24 “But now the Great Map of Mankind is unrolld at once; and there is no state or Gradation of barbari (...)

8Let me elaborate my compressed remarks: recall that ever since Mary Wollstonecraft’s prompt response to Burke’s Reflections (Wollstonecraft 1997), his contemporaries (especially, though not exclusively, in the British Radical scene) felt that his sympathetic and eventually favorable view of the American colonists’ desire to secede (indeed, at one point Burke argues that because the settlers share the blood of Englishmen, their desire for freedom is an admirable sign of the English love of liberty18) was in stark contrast with his later dismissive and critical views of the French Revolution. With regard to the French and American revolutions, this is the transatlantic version of the “Edmund Burke Problem.” Originally, of course, the use of the expression “problem” was made by scholars of Adam Smith to indicate the apparent puzzle that the same mind which produced the allegedly economistic Wealth of Nations (1776) should also have penned the more ethically attuned work, A Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), replete with “impartial spectators” and profound reflections on various passions including anger.19 Most scholars no longer view this as a “problem” to be solved. In any case, with regard to Burke, if his responses to France/America constitute the transatlantic Burke problem, I am pointing to a trans-indic, transoceanic Burke problem, between the Indes orientales et occidentales, between India and St Domingue/Haiti. The question, more importantly, is why does Burke respond the way he does? (Or, in Quentin Skinner’s terms, how does Burke formulate his problem-space.) How do we characterize the different responses, and what resolution is there of this tension (if any)? The answer lies partly in the discourse of Orientalism (as opposed to the discourse of savagery or the primitive, attributed explicitly or implicitly by many to Africa in the period), and what orientalism authorized. Recall that for Said part of the structure of orientalism was the generation of an archive, and of an ensemble of texts which referred to each other. These all undergirded the idea of an oriental antiquity—indeed an antiquity to rival or even antedate the Graeco-Roman one. We are returned to the scholarly excitement (and enthusiasm) of Raymond Schwab’s Oriental Renaissance, the rediscovery of Sanskrit, and its incorporation within and revivification of the cultural history of the West through the idea of an “integral humanism” (Schwab 1950; 1984). To stay with Burke, orientalism (or, as Trautmann (1997) might say, phil-orientalism as opposed to the phobic faction within that group) authorized a view of Indian society which deserved respect, even “reverence” (to use Burke’s language). Recall here Burke’s praise for the sophistication of Indian legal practices, deriving from centuries of “Mahomedan law” and Islamic jurisprudence;20 recall his provocative remark to his British listeners in parliament as he mocks Hastings for “geographical morality”21 (e.g. Hastings “has told your lordships… that actions in Asia do not bear the same moral qualities which the same actions would bear in Europe.”22) Recall too his remark that “these were a people for ages civilized and cultivated… whilst we were yet in the woods”23 (surely that remark must have made the Indian nationalists flush with pride). This is a discursive effect (if I may be permitted to speak in that dated language) of orientalism. However, it is only intelligible on a field of differential discourses. In this sense, by contrast, the antiquity of the nomadic peoples of the New World did not qualify, or (even more radically) was simply not visible. So, even in Burke’s India writings, in the passage where he praises the antiquity of Indian civilization, he opens his remarks by asserting that this “multitude of men does not consist of an abject and barbarous populace; much less of gangs of savages, like the Guaranies and Chiquitos, who wander on the waste borders of the River of Amazons or the Plate (ibid.).” Or, closer to Paris, let us recall the savage mind which Burke detected at work in France when he described the Jacobins as being akin to “a procession of American savages, entering into Onondaga” (Onondaga, in contemporary New York state, was associated at the time with the Iroquois Confederacy of the Six Nations) (Burke 1981-, 8: 117). In other words the dismissive remarks on native and tribal groups of the New World (both Latin and North America) are authorized by and in a differential relation with Orientalism. This was how the “Great Map of Mankind” with all its “gradations” of “civility” and “barbarism” was generated and produced as an object of Enlightenment knowledge (I am referring to a phrase Burke used in a letter to the important Scottish thinker and historian William Robertson, discussed differently by the historians P.J. Marshall and G Williams).24

  • 25 I have in mind the collection of articles published nearly two decades ago in the US and India whic (...)

9Am I asserting that Burke was overtaken by a kind of racial animus, or that we can patronize and dismiss him from our perspective in the present for failing to live up to a contemporary understanding of this question? Not really, or rather, that would be an uninteresting question (because it is less of a question than a moral judgment, one that I might even agree with, but which is an unsatisfactory mode of scholarly enquiry). That is not the mode of post-orientalist historical enquiry I would suggest as an alternative.25 In Burke’s defense, consider his extraordinary words written to Joshua Reynolds’s niece, Miss Mary Palmer, from January of 1786. She wrote to him to ask, in all earnestness, why was he so “obsessed” (as many viewed Burke’s judicial process then, and continued to do so in the scholarly community until the 1980s) with impeaching Hastings? His reply is instructive and revealing:

  • 26 Letter to Mary Palmer, dated 19 January 1786, Edmund Burke 1958-1978, 5: 255.

... in India affairs, I have not acted at all with any party from the beginning to the End… I began this India Business in the administration of Lord North to which in all its periods [I was] in direct opposition… I have no party in this Business, my dear Miss Palmer, but among a set of people, who have none of your Lilies and Roses in their faces; but who are the image of the great Pattern as well as you and I. I know what I am doing; whether the white people like it or not.26

10It is quite unique, and we can say that Burke was right in feeling himself to be a relatively solitary voice in Parliament—if not in the public discourse in general—in speaking in this manner. This letter, in fact, demonstrates how Burke disallowed race as a category to form the basis for or against a civilization or culture, hence his reference to the “great Pattern” as a unifying component which might undergird the category of humanity. The chiding contrast he suggests between the pigmentational description of his female addressee ( “lilies and roses”) and those he speaks on behalf of undoubtedly also relies upon a gender difference. Nonetheless, the implied break with a group ( “not act [ing] at all with any party”) comes with the startling self-reflection on the normally unspoken and presumed category of “whiteness”; and so we sense the boldness when he announces his lack of filiation with this group: “I know what I am doing; whether the white people like it or not.”

Reflections on the Revolution in St Domingue/Haiti: The Treatise Edmund Burke Almost Wrote

  • 27 O’Brien (1993). The sentence referring to the West Indies is omitted from his citation of this pass (...)

11With this more noble and almost heroic image of Burke on Indian matters in place, let me now juxtapose his lesser known “reflections on the revolution in St Domingue”—not the title of a text he wrote, but which we can piece together from some of his speeches to parliament and key correspondence. Consider the following remark, from May of 1791, which comes in the midst of a discussion on the Quebec Bill, and which many modern commentators on Burke (Conor Cruise O’Brien, for example)27 chose simply to cut from modern editions of his work:

  • 28 Burke, May 6, 1791. Cobbett 1806, xxix: 366-367.

Were we to give them [the settlers of French descent in Quebec] the French Constitution—a constitution founded on principles dramatically opposed to ours, that could not assimilate with it on a single point: as different from it as wisdom from folly, as vice from virtue, as the most opposite extremes in nature—a constitution founded on what was called the rights of man? But let this constitution be examined by its practical effects in the French West India colonies. These, notwithstanding three disastrous wars, were most happy and flourishing till they heard of the rights of man.28

12The events of the Haitian Revolution in the context of this paper are crucial both for their apparent fulfillment of prophecy—of a famous episode calling for a “black Spartacus” in the New World to avenge the crime of slavery, which appears in Abbé Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes—and for the fear they inspired in a writer otherwise sympathetic to movements for justice in Europe’s colonies, namely Burke. Burke’s horrified letters after a massacre of Europeans at Cap François in French Saint-Domingue and his remarks in speeches such as this in parliament are a contrast with his passionate denunciations of fellow Briton Warren Hastings for the abuses he oversaw at the East India Company in Bengal. These remarks gave me pause: Burke was indeed a strident defender of India in the period, but what would have happened if there had been violence there as in Haiti? Would he have been so certain of his desire to impeach Hastings in a seven-year trial in Parliament? My thoughts on Haiti and India as two colonial spaces of the Enlightenment were prompted by these comparative historical speculations.

The Absent Indian Jacobin: Haitian Insurgents and the Uses of Jacobinism

  • 29 In fact, the image of a tiger mauling a British soldier is the sort of insurgent native which Burke (...)
  • 30 Tipu Sultan nonetheless had good reason to mistrust France given his previous experience of betraya (...)

13I have written elsewhere how, for Burke, the acquisition of “sudden fortune” forms one component of what he calls “Indianism,” and causes it to bear comparison (surprisingly) with Jacobinism; here I examine one of the peculiarities of Burke’s use of these terms. Because of his association of Jacobinism with thoughtless innovation, when Burke refers to “Jacobins” in India, he is referring to Warren Hastings, and to East India Company officials—not to indigenous insurgent groups (in India). This ought to surprise us, and yet it does not strike most readers of Burke as odd. What makes this unusual association discursively possible for Burke is the absence in his political purview of a native form of violent rebellion in the areas ruled over by the Company. This is in spite of the active resistance presented by figures such as Tipu Sultan (his famed tiger was the emblem for the colloquium)29 who in fact made efforts to league with the revolutionary French regime, going so far as to send envoys to France.30 Burke’s descriptions of India evoke sympathy in part by his descriptions of a fallen native nobility, great families laid low by the Company. There are, to be sure, also many references to the peasant made more miserable by company reforms (these are crucial to his inversion of the imagery of oriental despotism), but his speeches during the Hastings trial focus more strongly upon the concrete images of native gentry. The touch of irony which is present in Burke’s occasional use of the term Jacobins to describe company officials in India only comes into visible relief against the larger tableau of colonial events globally. By taking the case of Saint-Domingue/Haiti, as a counterexample, it is possible to glimpse what Burke’s views might have been had he detected a more organized and violent opposition in India in this period.

St Domingue/Haiti as a “Transatlantic Morocco”: Burke’s Cartographic Imagination

14The dissemination of the forces of Jacobinism through the West Indies are a component of Burke’s fear, as is his fear that they will also return to Britain— perhaps entering parliament itself (through particular lobbies and interests), much as Indianism threatened to do as well. There is a strategic importance placed upon St Domingue which makes unrest there all the more treacherous. Looking for a means to translate the importance—geographically and perhaps, cartographically—Burke comes upon an arresting image:

It is sufficiently alarming, that she [France] is to have possession of this great Island [Hispaniola]… But I go a great deal further, and on much consideration of the condition and circumstances of the West Indies, and of the genius of this new Republick… I say, that if a single Rock in the West Indies is in the hands of this transatlantic Morocco, we have not an hour’s safety net there (Burke 1981-, 9: 99).

  • 31 Auckland’s pamphlet was entitled Some Remarks on the Apparent Circumstances of War in the Fourth We (...)

15The “transatlantic Morocco” appears to refer to the fact that France would have control of a place like the “rock” of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco which controls access to the Mediterranean sea. (Elsewhere in his writings he refers to St Domingue under the Jacobins a “cannibal republick.”) But more than this he means to evoke the menacing character of Morocco in the period—the Barbary coast, pirates, etc. The turn to this image is perhaps enabled by earlier remarks where Burke, in responding to the text of a pamphlet by the Duke of Auckland (one of the ostensible aims of the “Fourth Letter on a regicide peace”),31 remarks that “if Piratical France shall be established… in the West Indies” then Britain would be unable to pursue peace on any terms other than those dictated by France (emphasis mine, Burke 1981-, 9: 98). Piracy, a transatlantic Morocco, cannibalism: all these combine to make a case for urgency, for intervention, rather than restraining the force of arms. If “conciliation” was an option in the conflict with the American colonies (in the case of settler colonialism), if impeachment was a means to bring the East India Company under control (in the case of a de facto mercantile empire), then nonetheless a revolution to remake government to “serve the interests of the governed” (to rephrase the aims of the insurgent former slaves of St Domingue in Burke’s language) is not.

A Man of Color in the Assembly: Edmund Burke and Jean-Baptiste Belley as Doppelgängers

  • 32 This is a citation from Auckland’s text; the emphasis is Burke’s own. Burke (1981-, 9: 99). For the (...)

16My next example from Burke’s writings on the West Indies provides the greatest contrast in sentiments from the letter to Miss Mary Palmer cited earlier concerning India affairs. In arguing against an alliance with France and Spain, Burke rejects a suggestion made by the Duke of Auckland in his text that these two nations alongside England—the three powers in the region of the West Indies—should adopt “analogy in the interiour systems of Government in the several Islands, which we may respectively retain after the closing of the War.”32 The dangers in doing so are obvious to Burke, and he enumerates the implications:

[…] if this Convention for analogous domestick Government is made, it immediately gives a right for the residence of a Consul (in all likelihood some Negroe or Man of Colour) in every one of your Islands; a Regicide Ambassador in London will be at all your meetings of West India Merchants and Planters, and in effect, in all our Colonial Councils (Burke 1981-, 9: 99).

  • 33 The painting is the collection of the Musée national du château et de Trianon, Versailles. See the (...)
  • 34 See the thoughtful chapter on Burke in Pitts 2005. She presents there an interesting reading of Bur (...)
  • 35 See Belley’s speech from 1795, “The True Colors of the planters, or the System of the Hotel Massiac (...)

17It would perhaps be unfair to call this scaremongering, since Jean-Baptiste Belley, a black general born in Senegal who had fought alongside Toussaint Louverture in Haiti had in fact been sent as representative of the region to the National Assembly in Paris a year before this statement, in 1794 (his likeness is memorably captured for us in a painting done while he was still in Paris by Anne-Louis Girodet in 1797).33 There was nothing to monger with such evidence in plain sight. It may have been with him in mind that the remark was made. In any case, his intention in this passage is to describe the likely infiltration of all the political institutions around colonial governance by such a figure, accompanied by a “Regicide Ambassador.” He represents, we might underline, a triple threat, so to speak: a Jacobin; a regicide; and a black man in politics. In taking stock of this episode of Burke’s view on the West Indies, it appears to me that one must supplement more sympathetic readings of Burke’s fear on behalf of, as Jennifer Pitts argues, the vulnerable elements in a body politic with a troubled reflection upon what does not earn his sympathy.34 This episode would appear to confirm that Burke may indeed worry about the vulnerable elements in a society, but he does not a priori care for those who are unrepresented. For what we have in a figure such as General Belley is exactly a black Jacobin, the (black) citoyen who represents Saint-Domingue in the National Convention, which is indirectly held out by Burke as a threat to England indicating what might happen should an alliance with them be made.35 I am interested in this episode as a specimen of some of the unfulfilled radical aims of French universalism of the period—that brief window where it was thought that the rights of man would indeed apply universally to all the colonies; the Haitian revolution is in fact this moment (the first moment) that considers the possibility of a citizenship beyond race.

“West-Indianism,” or the Planter Faction

18After all, Burke was not the only one who had to speak on behalf of an oppressed people. Like his Doppelgänger Burke, Belley too railed against a planter lobby ( “West Indianism,” Burke might have called it), albeit in the French National Convention in place of Westminster Parliament. It is worth contrapuntally putting their nearly contemporary words side by side. Belley’s speech, like some of Burke‘s speeches, is structured to place into doubt the attribution of barbarism to the oppressed or enslaved. Belley’s own presence at the convention, his very speech act, is meant to demonstrate a humanity which the planter “faction” needed to deny. He addresses the rhetorical construction, the figure, produced by Marie-Benoît-Louis Gouly (planter and representative of the Indian Ocean colony of Île de France— modern day Mauritius):

Which one of you was not filled with indignation and pity in reading the bizarre portrait that Gouli has made of the blacks? Is it, indeed, a man that this planter sought to paint?...
Do you believe, citizen colleagues, that nature is unjust, that it has made some men to be the slaves of others, as the planters assert? Doesn’t this unworthy claim show the principles of these horrible destroyers of the human species? I myself was born in Africa. Brought in childhood to the land of tyranny, through hard work and sweat I conquered a liberty that I have enjoyed honorably for thirty years, loving my country [i.e. France] all the while (Belley 2006: 144-147).

19The brief testimony of a life that moves from Belley’s birthplace in Africa to a slave-owning society, the gradual and self-made manner in which he obtains his freedom, are presented as evidence against the old (vaguely) Aristotelian idea of natural slavery and as proof of his republican patriotism. Unable to fully lift the image of the African out of the state of nature in his audience’s eyes, Belley makes a Rousseauvian asset of this association. In an age when many philosophes—the Diderot of the Supplément au voyage de Bougainville, or Rousseau in his “Discourse on Inequality”—sought to peel away the layers of artifice and convention that had encrusted themselves on civilized man, Belley deploys this proximity to nature as part of the claim to humanity of enslaved Africans:

The torturers of the Blacks lie shamelessly when they dare assert that these oppressed men are brutes; if they do not have the vices of Europe, they have the virtues of nature; it is in their name, in the name of all my brothers… that I urge you to maintain your benevolent laws. These laws are, I know, the terror of slaves’ tyrants.

  • 36 “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the firs (...)
  • 37 From Robespierre’s speech, “On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy,” given on Feb (...)

20Again, like Burke, Belley is aware that he speaks on behalf of an absent mass of people; unlike Burke he establishes a clear kinship with them (his brothers—the parallel here would be Burke’s concern with Ireland and the Protestant Ascendancy). It is perhaps this intimacy and filiation with the party on behalf of which he speaks that make it less necessary to establish the cosmopolitan sympathy invoked by Burke in moving beyond his “little platoon.”36 Belley rhetorically plays upon an opposition between benevolence ( “benevolent laws”) and terror (itself a loaded and burdened word in the National Convention by 1795), and shifts the object of terror: not the terror of slavery which held St Domingue’s labor regime in place but the French revolutionary emphasis on terror as “inflexible justice” (in Robespierre’s famous words) administered or delivered, in this case, to the slave-owner.37

  • 38 “In a West India war, the Regicides have for their troops, a race of fierce barbarians, to whom the (...)

21French Revolutionary discourse employed an important rhetoric of anticolonialism (soon retracted, and only partially put in place even when pronounced). But to stay with Burke, and to emphasize the contradiction in which he is placed, let me elaborate. In India, Burke is sharply critical of the equivalent of the “planters,” namely the East India Company officials who are viewed as akin to revolutionary Jacobins, heedlessly transforming the social fabric of a society. But in the West Indian context, he is in league with this class of planters and fears what he calls the “race of fierce barbarians” (namely, the West-African born soldiers and insurgents of St Domingue) who are allied with the French.38 I should note that recent historians of Haiti, such as Laurent Dubois, have noted that over 50 % of those fighting alongside Toussaint in the Haitian revolution were born in West Africa—some even veterans of wars; it is therefore not inappropriate to think of the Haitian Revolution as also an African revolution.

22Burke foreclosed these other options available at the time, represented by Toussaint, or Belley—not surprising, I imagine, to those who already think of Burke as a simple reactionary and a conservative (I do not take this view, but prefer to explore and interpret these tense inconsistencies). I will not be able to examine Danton’s remarks on this speech by Belley in detail, but suffice it to say that he proclaims Belley’s presence as a great moment in the expansion of the sphere of liberty. Having seen the “fraternal embrace” of Belley (part of a three person group from St Domingue: one black, one mulatto, one white), he asserts that until today Liberty in France has been decreed in a “selfish” manner:

[...] jusqu’ici nous n’avions décrété la liberté qu’en égoïstes et pour nous seuls. Mais aujourd’hui [...] nous proclamons la liberté universelle.

23However, this fascinating decree is immediately delimited, constrained. Danton’s words express the contradictory nature of much European anticolonial sentiment in the period in its mixture of a desire for a more genuine extension of the notion of liberty with a patronizing and fearful sense of the consequences for the formerly enslaved:

  • 39 “But after having accorded the favor of liberty, it is necessary for us to be, so to speak, its ‘mo (...)

Mais après avoir accordé le bienfait de la liberté, il faut que nous en soyons pour ainsi dire les modérateurs. Renvoyons au comité de salut public et des colonies, pour combiner les moyens de rendre ce décret utile à l’humanité, sans aucun danger pour elle.39

  • 40 I discuss this in Agnani 2007.

24There is an echo here in the use of the phrase « modérateurs » with the language which Diderot used to describe soft colonization.40 On the one hand the granting of liberty to the formerly enslaved is figured as imminent, declared to the universe, and then it must quickly be tempered with a degree of control, rendered useful, and removed from danger. Perhaps this serves fittingly to illustrate European anticolonialism at its conceptual limit, a limit which Toussaint could cross, as CLRJames notes, “without reservation” (James 1989: 198).

25In a recent talk on the significance of Max Weber and modernization theory, the anthropologist and social theorist Arjun Appadurai has argued that what is “exported” from Europe in the 18th century intellectually is less a unified system than a fractured set of debates and unresolved contradictions which are played out in the colonies (Appadurai 2011). But what if this system—the various discourses associated with the Enlightenment in this case—was fractured to begin with even in its point of origin (what I would refer to as an internal plurality)? Anticolonial thought within Europe (or enmeshed with the revolutionary languages of Europe, as in Haiti) can thereby provide resources for thinking, or thinking at the limit, and allow us to avoid the “blackmail” of the Enlightenment (chantage, as Foucault called it) and to further avoid what I would call, by extending Foucault’s remark, the “blackmail” of colonialism: i.e. either acknowledge that it enabled some degree of progress, or else revert to an embrace of illiteracy, and barbarism, etc. Instead, a consideration of colonial spaces of the Enlightenment—like Haiti and India—ought to enable us to reflect on the shortcomings of universalist discourses and to heed the creative appropriations of these discourses by figures such as Toussaint and Belley (some of which find resonance in the later era of twentieth-century decolonization, as CLR James seems to suggest). Moreover, one consequence of this might be that the full “meaning” and significance of the fragmentary discourses of the Enlightenment is only manifest in the colonies, is only rendered legible by means of the colonies—the Indies east and west.

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Notes

1 Emphasis mine. James 1989: 198. See the discussion of this moment in Scott 2004: 219.

2 The closing pages of James’ work make this clear: “The blacks of Africa are more advanced, nearer ready than were the slaves of San Domingo.” James 1989: 375-377.

3 For an interesting consideration of the limits of pure oppositionality within anticolonial thought, see L. Gandhi 2006: ch. 2.

4 “I can recall a discussion where several comrades and I were railing against Europe and its evils. CLR intervened with ‘But my dear Bracey, I am a Black European, that is my training and my outlook.’ CLR said this without apology… .” From a conversation with John Bracey in Chicago. Reproduced in Buhle (1986). Also online: Bracey (Summer 1981), http://www.sojournertruth.net/nello.html.

5 See Bronner 2004. Bronner is, however, more interested in defending critical theory from a perceived nemesis in culturalism, deconstruction, and the like. See 162-163 et passim. The origin of such a defense of the Enlightenment in contemporary critical thought may be found in the dialogue which Habermas conducted with several French thinkers, including Foucault. See Habermas 1987: ch. IX, X.

6 “The Voyage in and the Emergence of Opposition”, in Said 1994.

7 “One must have tradition in oneself to hate it properly.” Adorno 1978: 52.

8 For the field of South Asian studies Bernard Cohn’s pioneering essays, written as influential articles at the same time as Foucault’s remarks on population and the census, are equally important. These were collected and published in a single volume only later, see Cohn 1996.

9 On Nietzsche’s use of the term “philologist,” see Porter 2000.

10 Sonia Dayan-Hezbrun, “Edward Said’s Orientalism in France: Misreading or Misunderstanding?” (2011). Forthcoming in a volume to be edited by Lewis Gordon.

11 Although he does not put it this way, Mehta’s work is exemplary in showing the manner in which empire forms and deforms certain concepts deployed by liberalism. (Mehta 1999).

12 Chakrabarty 2000, 2002; Chatterjee 1986, 2004. French translations of some of their work have recently appeared: Chakrabarty 2009; Chatterjee 2009.

13 “I will long remember the day I first read Orientalism… [It] was a book which talked of things I felt I had known all along but had never found the language to formulate with clarity… The chain of thought that began with my reading of Orientalism led some five years later to a book on the construction of the political discourse of Indian nationalism.” Chatterjee 1992: 94-195.

14 Guha 1963. On the questions of intellectual generations, I have in mind David Scott, “Thinking Through Intellectual Generations: Tradition, Memory, Criticism.” Unpublished lecture delivered at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 27 April 2011.

15 Agnani 2008 a; 2008 b. Burke’s citation is from “Speeches on the Impeachment of Warren Hastings,” Burke 1999: 392.

16 These words are drawn from the description for this colloquium.

17 “I have spent the last 14 years of my existence,” he wrote to Lord Loughborough in the twilight of his life on 17 March 1796, “in a labour hardly credible, in hopes of obtaining justice for an oppressed people.” Burke 1958-1978, 8: 425.

18 “[T] he people of the [American] colonies are descendants of Englishmen. England, Sir, is a nation which still… respects, and formerly adored, her freedom. The colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character was most predominant…” from “Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies” (1775), Burke 1999: 261.

19 For one discussion of this, see Dickey 1986. For an overview of the Burke “problem,” see Winch 1985.

20 “Speeches on the Impeachment of Warren Hastings,” Burke 1999: 397-398.

21 Ibid.: 394.

22 Ibid.: 393.

23 “Speech on Mr Fox’s East India Bill,” Burke 1999: 369.

24 “But now the Great Map of Mankind is unrolld at once; and there is no state or Gradation of barbarism, and no mode of refinement which we have not at the same instant under our View. The very different Civility of Europe and China; The barbarism of Persia and Abyssinia. The erratick manners of Tartary, and of arabia. The Savage State of North America, and of New Zealand.” Edmund Burke to William Robertson, 9 June 1777. Burke (1958-1978, 3: 350-351). It is from this that Marshall and Williams draw their title, Marshall & Williams 1982.

25 I have in mind the collection of articles published nearly two decades ago in the US and India which asked the question of how to write post-orientalist histories. Breckenridge & van der Veer 1993.

26 Letter to Mary Palmer, dated 19 January 1786, Edmund Burke 1958-1978, 5: 255.

27 O’Brien (1993). The sentence referring to the West Indies is omitted from his citation of this passage.

28 Burke, May 6, 1791. Cobbett 1806, xxix: 366-367.

29 In fact, the image of a tiger mauling a British soldier is the sort of insurgent native which Burke does not make central to his image of India. For an interesting consideration of the mechanized nature of this art object (fittingly and ironically now in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum) see O’Quinn (2005).

30 Tipu Sultan nonetheless had good reason to mistrust France given his previous experience of betrayal. See “Tipu and the French. 1784-1788”, in Khan (1951: 122-131).

31 Auckland’s pamphlet was entitled Some Remarks on the Apparent Circumstances of War in the Fourth Week of October 1795. See the editor’s prefatory note, Edmund Burke (1981-, 9: 44).

32 This is a citation from Auckland’s text; the emphasis is Burke’s own. Burke (1981-, 9: 99). For the original, see Auckland 1795: 60.

33 The painting is the collection of the Musée national du château et de Trianon, Versailles. See the interpretation of this work in Grigsby 2002. For a description of Belley’s journey from St Domingue to Paris via Philadelphia (where he was forced to hide from angry white émigrés from St Domingue), see Dubois 2004: 168-170.

34 See the thoughtful chapter on Burke in Pitts 2005. She presents there an interesting reading of Burke’s comments on a Jewish community on the island of St Eustache. The idea of Burke’s defense of the vulnerable element in a body politic is one that David Bromwich has also forcefully made.

35 See Belley’s speech from 1795, “The True Colors of the planters, or the System of the Hotel Massiac, Exposed by Gouli,” in Dubois & Garrigus 2006. Speaking of the complex relation between white planters, gens de couleur (who could own property), and blacks (who could not), Belley asserts: “I attest that what the English and the Spanish possess of the French portion of Saint-Domingue was delivered to them by planters of all colors, owners of slaves... I also attest that, if the English failed to take over all of Saint-Domingue, it is because the blacks who have become free and French have made a rampart with the bodies against this invasion and are bravely defending the rights of the republic. It is certain that if these brave patriots had arms and ammunition, the undeserving blood of the English and the planter traitor would water this land that has been dirtied by their presence for too long” (147). This illustrates Belley’s attempt to speak of French republican ideals beyond the category of race; it was to be short-lived with France’s attempt, under the Consulate of Napoléon Bonaparte, to re-impose slavery in 1802, a consequence of the constitutional changes of 1799 which allowed for special laws to be applied to the colonies.

36 “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections.” From “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” Burke (1981-, 8: 97). This description is taken by some recent scholars in Irish studies as a way to understand Burke’s relation to Ireland; certainly it is emblematic of Burke’s notion of loyalties beginning with a less abstract, immediate face-to-face space, a knowable community (perhaps) in Raymond Williams’ sense.

37 From Robespierre’s speech, “On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy,” given on February 5, 1794. The full passage clearly invokes the language of Montesquieu with its reference to motivating springs: “Si le ressort du gouvernement populaire dans la paix est la vertu, le ressort du gouvernement populaire en révolution est à la fois la vertu et la terreur: la vertu, sans laquelle la terreur est funeste; la terreur, sans laquelle la vertu est impuissante. La terreur n’est autre chose que la justice prompte, sévère, inflexible; elle est donc une émanation de la vertu; elle est moins un principe particulier, qu’une conséquence du principe général de la démocratie, appliqué aux plus pressants besoins de la patrie. » From “Sur les principes de morale politique,” Robespierre (éd. 1910, 10: 357).

38 “In a West India war, the Regicides have for their troops, a race of fierce barbarians, to whom the poisoned air, in which our youth inhale death, is salubrity and life. To them the climate is the surest and most faithful of allies.” Burke (1981-, 9: 273).

39 “But after having accorded the favor of liberty, it is necessary for us to be, so to speak, its ‘moderators.’ Let us return to the Committee of Public Safety and Colonies in order to arrange the means of rendering this decree useful to humanity, without any danger to it.” Danton 1867: 247.

40 I discuss this in Agnani 2007.

Auteur

He is Assistant Professor of English and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and teaches courses on the European Enlightenment, eighteenth century British and French thought, and on the literature of empire and decolonization.
Publications
– 2007 “Doux commerce, douce colonisation : Diderot and the two Indies of the French Enlightenment” in L. Wolff & M. Cipoloni, eds., The Anthropology of the Enlightenment, Stanford, Stanford University Press, pp. 65-84.
– 2008 “Entre la France et l’Inde en 1790. Edmund Burke et les révolutions en Europe et en Asie”, in I. Gadoin & M.-É. Palmier-Chatelain, eds., Rêver d’Orient, connaître l’Orient. Visions de l’Orient dans l’art et la littérature britanniques, Lyon, ENS Éditions, pp. 285-304.
– 2013 Hating Empire Properly : The Two Indies and the Limits of European Anticolonialism, New York, Fordham University Press.

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