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Enlightenment and Romanticism in the French defence of black people in the 1920s: The Ligue Universelle de Dfense de la Race Noire against the colonial republic

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The aim of this article is to reconstruct and to interrogate the debates held by the French Left on the problematic political status of African colonized peoples at the beginning of the 1920s. On one side of the debate, administrators in charge of implementing colonial policy advocated a policy of association which respected African traditional institutions and the rights of the colonial peoples to express their cultural difference. On the other, left-wing intellectuals, particularly those linked to the Section Franaise de l'Internationale Ouvrire (SFIO) and co-directors of the Ligue Universelle de Dfense de la Race Noire (LUDRN), promoted a policy of political assimilation for Africans, a policy informed by a universalist conception of equality. The present article examines such political oppositions through the prism of the philosophical conflict between Emmanuel Kant and Johann Gottfried von Herder regarding the opposition between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. In doing so, it explores how such diametrically opposed discourses could both be viewed as modernist and elucidates both the common system of values but also the fundamental political discord which beset both sides of the debate.
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Keywords: French colonial-policy; Negro Problem; black defence; cultural relativism; equality; universalism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: EHESS.

Publication date: 2011-05-01

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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