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The Powers of Dignity

The Powers of Dignity

The Black Political Philosophy of Frederick Douglass

by Nick Bromell

Published by: Duke University Press Books

248 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm

  • ISBN: 9781478011262
  • Published: February 2021

£20.99

In The Powers of Dignity Nick Bromell unpacks Frederick Douglass's 1867 claim that he had “elaborated a political philosophy” from his own “slave experience.” Bromell shows that Douglass devised his philosophy because he found that antebellum Americans' liberal-republican understanding of democracy did not provide a sufficient principled basis on which to fight antiblack racism. To remedy this deficiency, Douglass deployed insights from his distinctively black experience and developed a black philosophy of democracy. He began by contesting the founders' racist assumptions about humanity and advancing instead a more robust theory of “the human” as a collection of human “powers.” He asserted further that the conscious exercise of those powers is what confirms human dignity, and that human rights and democracy come into being as ways to affirm and protect that dignity. Thus, by emphasizing the powers and the dignity of all citizens, deriving democratic rights from these, and promoting a remarkably activist, power-oriented model of citizenship, Douglass's black political philosophy aimed to rectify two major failings of US democracy in his time and ours: its complacence and its racism.