CLR James rejected the posturing of identity politics

Ralph Leonard in UnHerd:

“I denounce European colonialism”, wrote CLR James in 1980, “but I respect the learning and profound discoveries of Western civilisation.” A Marxist revolutionary and Pan-Africanist, a historian and novelist, an icon of black liberation and die-hard cricket fan, a classicist and lover of popular culture, Cyril Lionel Roberts James, described by V.S Naipaul as “the master of all topics”, was one of the great (yet grossly underrated) intellectuals of the 20th century.

He was one of the few Leftist intellectuals – as Christopher Hitchens once said about George Orwell – who was simultaneously on the right side of the three major questions of the 20th century: Fascism, Stalinism and Imperialism. But today his praise for ‘Western culture’ would probably be dismissed as a slightly embarrassing residue of a barely concealed ‘Eurocentrism”’

Sophie Zhang in a recent column for Varsity entitled “Not all literature is ‘universal’ – nor does it have to be”, writes that:

“The study of English Literature… has often centred around texts that claim to explore ‘universal’ themes and experiences. Yet what such curricula fail to recognise is that in glorifying the universal, we neglect the particular, because to focus on the ‘Western’ canon would be to ‘to centre whiteness and continually place non-white voices on the margins’”.

Implicit in this view is that only “whiteness” could have access to the universal, and those outside of “whiteness” are intrinsically on the margins, and their views are necessarily “particular”.

Similarly, James’s admiration for Western culture and the Western canon is something many black radicals, who otherwise admire James for his opposition to colonialism, struggle to understand about him. It is rather fashionable, and almost expected, that to be a ‘proper’ black radical today is to be hostile to all that is designated as Western; it is to indiscriminately dismiss the Enlightenment as “white” and “racist”, and disparage the Western canon as not being “relevant” to black people.

More here.