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In the mid-nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass changed his opinion on the proslavery character of the U.S. Constitution. Most scholarship seeks to locate the core of Douglass’s politics in the critical patriotism of his post-change of opinion oratorical and literary output. However, if we keep the occasion for Douglass’s change of opinion firmly in view, that is, his critical engagement with the question of the pro- or antislavery character of the Constitution, there is a possibility not only of appreciating an experience of crucial significance to the development of his politics, but also of relocating the core of his politics in an ongoing ambivalence about the “moral power” of the United States. This chapter situates Douglass as a political thinker participating in a transatlantic paradigm shift in the rhetoric of sociopolitical change, a shift that gave rise to a new modern dilemma as to which form of change, reform or revolution, best suited one’s problem-solving needs.
Chapter 3 is devoted to Bolivarism, a set of doctrines of applied moral and political philosophy bearing on the Latin America of the early nineteenth century. One doctrine, authoritarian republicanism, has it that the legitimacy of any form of polity is contingent on its capacity to maximize the Enlightenment values of aggregate happiness, safety for all, and political stability of a nation. Another doctrine, the mestizaje model, contends that the collective identity of Latin Americans is not exclusively European, African, or Amerindian but a mixture of these. Bolivarism has continued to fuel ongoing populist phenomena from the nineteenth century onward, as illustrated by the “Bolivarian” revolutions of Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. It is also a moral force behind some present-day movements that strive to obtain not only political and economic reform elsewhere in Latin America, but also recognition of the distinct racial and ethnic identity of the people of the region. The chapter also explains what is wrong with Marx’s critique of Bolívar while offering insight on what Marx should have said instead.
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