By George Shulman
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Additional info for American Prophecy: Race and Redemption in American Political Culture
Is it still necessary to argue that literary texts do profound theoretical or philosophical work? Is our range of references still constrained by the racial history behind the canon? As Baldwin and Morrison indeed argue, the legacy of modernity is divided because it is founded not only in the Enlightenment, but by slavery, which haunts American politics, cultural practices, and theoretical productions. Moreover, enlightenment remains entangled in faith, and secularism in religion, as the subjection and resistance of African Americans attests.
Denying separate “strands” of discourse, he makes the “liberal-communitarian” debate moot. Moving from consensus to hegemony to show cultural idioms as forms of power, he depicts dissent “contained” because the “form” of criticism renews both liberal axioms and a national frame. ” He thus distinguishes, not Falwell and Douglass, but Debs and Emma Goldman, or King and Malcolm X, to expose the hegemonic gravity deﬁning how critics “must” speak to be legitimate. 43 Bellah, fearing marginality, seeks in prophecy a consensual ground for dissent; Bercovitch, fearing incorporation, afﬁrms a critical marginality by refusing its hegemony.
If we refuse a national fantasy of inclusion, which justiﬁes exclusion and devalues politics, we also should resist the fantasy of escaping the nation, which still is the organizing center of political life. From Thoreau to Morrison, these critics invoke and trouble national political identity by dramatizing what is costly, fantastical, and fateful in it. We conclude this chapter and enter the theory conversation about prophecy and politics, however, by reopening Bercovitch’s rejection of redemptive rhetoric: For he sees it sustaining national fantasy and displacing politics, while many contemporary political theorists also argue that theist and secular forms of redemption devalue political life.