Eddy M. Souffrant est membre de l’Association caribéenne de Philosophie ; il vit et enseigne aux Etats-Unis à l’Université de Charlotte.
Cette intervention a été présentée lors du dernier congrès annuel de la CPA à Porto Rico fin 2013
The germs for this paper were conceived in three steps. The first was the culmination of a fourteen-year consideration of the shape and constituents of what I thought then to be Caribbean philosophy. I am not sure that this first puzzle is resolved even in my own mind but it had me thinking the region and the various influences that it portended as well as the sustained fascination it continues to initiate. The second is an invitation I received some three years ago by the United Nations’ Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to take part in a conference in Haiti. The theme of the Conference was : the contribution of the country of Haiti and its citizens to the universalizability (borrowing Kant’s phrasing in his moral philosophy) of the ideal of Human Rights. The third trigger for this paper is the challenge that the figure of Frederick Douglass, an icon in the United States of America’s struggle to generalize civil rights, poses. Douglass although a national figure, and with reason, in the United States remained loyal to his birth nation but his allegiance also drove him to maintain in practice a parochial conception of rights.
I found quite accidentally some documents that support my suspicion and that help argue that Douglass in the end was an American expansionist whose disposition paralleled that of the U.S.A.’s imperialist tendencies in the nineteenth century. The convergence of these ideas reinforced my position that Caribbean philosophy is the medium through which counter-hegemonic discourses are best articulated. For although Douglass is but one example, one will find throughout the history of the Caribbean efforts to tame the territory at times with shameful success or to anchor there an additional port of an expansionist policy. This paper offers thus a window at the problem of crossing borders from the perspective of the international relations of two newly independent countries and attempts to show by way of this synoptic analysis of the actions of one U.S. American diplomat and national civil rights activist that one of the primary concerns of a future without borders will need to be the countering of hegemonic tendencies and given this position, the instance of Haiti serves as a proper source for counter-hegemonic discourses for the Caribbean and by example, for the globe.
In the version of the thought that culminated in the paper I initially prepared for the UNESCO organized conference in Port-au Prince, Haiti in August of 2009, I argued for the cosmopolitanism of Frederick Douglass but for a cosmopolitanism tampered by a pervasive nationalism consistent with a government agent. But it did not take the form that I am arguing for here until recently revisiting the work of Charles Mills.  In the UNESCO paper I have wanted to argue for a vigilance regarding the actions of activists who combat injustice on the national scene but are blind to the proper application of such activisms, if they were thought applied at all, to the international arena. I am proposing in the narrative that will follow a more expansive reading of both Douglass and national articulation of Freedom.
I- Douglass and Social Justice
My claim then was that Frederick Douglass was inconsistent in his national actions which purported to promote justice locally/nationally, in the form of what we have come to know as civil rights, but was a supporter of imperialism. This is a claim that although particularly poignant in Douglass’s case, is not entirely unprecedented for he was preceded by the eminent philosopher John Stuart Mill among others who argued for a limited or parochial (i.e., national) justice at the same time and perhaps unwittingly supported colonialism or an imperialist posture based on some fundamental misconceptions about human nature and the global environment. So Mill could do it, why not Douglass.
But this thesis appeared practically and philosophically weak or at best interesting, but unsubstantiated since Douglass by all accounts appears to have been a friend of Haiti. He maintained a cordial relationship with one of that country’s ministers, Antenor Firmin. He was, after all, the Haitian representative for the Haiti pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair yet incontestably, he argued for the annexation of the Haiti or in the very least, the Mole of St. Nicholas. Despite that relationship and connection, I was convinced that Douglass was a colonial and imperial agent.
I wrestled with this thought because it seemed incongruous, but I could not let go of it nor could I find the words, the philosophical arguments to make the case. For at worst, I would be able to propose that Douglass was a `child/man’ of his time. It was `a la mode’ to be an imperialist. It was the public exhibition of the coming of age in the international arena. To be a mature new nation in the age of nationalism and republicanism meant buying into the ideologies of modernity. It meant lodging oneself in the binary world of civilized or uncivilized. The civilized had rights to the uncivilized territories and peoples. It was also to succumb to a logic of power through which is displayed the tendency of the powerful to expand beyond their supposed established borders simply because they could.
So I acquiesced in the thought Douglass too, however majestic his figure, succumbed to the imperialist tendency until he regained his senses. Coming to his senses was mirrored in his service to Haiti at the World’s Fair in Chicago. In effect he was redeeming himself, my thinking went, by being assigned the role of a cultural ambassador of the country he had tried a few years earlier to annex as a representative of the U. S. A.. Although I remained unconvinced by this interpretation, I sustained what seemed to me then a plausible alternative. It understood Douglass’s encounter with Haiti in International Affairs as a remnant of a colonial era in which colonialism was prevalent.
I maintained however unsettingly until I reread Charles Mills’s Blackness Visible. Charles Mills’s chapter 8 is a fitting conclusion of a Caribbean philosopher’s exploration in supremacist hegemony. Mills exemplified in my view the burden of Caribbean philosophy and its practitioners. Moreover, Mills lent support in the most unexpected way to my struggle with the interpretation of Douglass’s work. That chapter in Mills’s book concerned itself with Douglass’s `Fourth of July speech’. For Mills, Douglass used his `Fourth of July speech’ to denounce the American practice of slavery. Mills contends however that the anti-slavery argument to promote the inclusion of folks of African descent into the newly independent American polity, could not yield a non-racial polity nor could it prevent the promotion of white supremacy. Douglass’s argument in effect constituted an argument for inclusion in a white hegemony, in a white supremacy.
Mills argues that despite the Framers’ natural predilection, a human hierarchy in which Blacks could still be granted rights proportional to their subaltern position in that hierarchy could prevail. And according to Mills, it did prevail. The result then is that the Framers of the American Constitution could promote rights and without inconsistency, maintain Blacks’ inferiority. With this then, Douglass’s appeal to natural law and the original intent of the Framers to argue the injustice against Blacks fails. It fails on the principle of opacity. Douglass presumed he could intuit the Framers’ intentions to be neutral vis-à-vis racial hierarchy when in point of fact they were partial to an ethnic European superiority. The best intention granted them by Douglass is an intention to sustain Blacks’ inferiority and a white supremacist ideology. So at best, the appeal to natural law and original intent does accomplish the goal of allowing Blacks to be included in the American polity but does also maintain at worst, the racial superiority of ethnic Europeans in the U.S.A..
Success in Douglass’s argument would yield a racial polity with its value-laden steps of superiority and inferiority. But it is conceivable that in the 19th century, and certainly with the persistence of Dubois and others in the 20th century, the view of a multi-racial society consisting of equal but separate co-existent cultural groups was deemed plausible and acceptable in itself and, perhaps, would be deemed an even better solution in contrast to the pervasive separate but unequal status quo of racial injustice and divide. The country of Haiti as the second country in the continental American sliver to gain its independence and the first to have instituted a universal conception of the rights of Humans, maintained that conception of equality. Douglass himself, there is no doubt, would have rejected the second option. I am offering an interpretation of Frederick Douglass that would have him reject the second option of racial injustice and divide nationally, but not universally. Masked behind the veil of the modern conception of civilization and international status quo and trends, coupled with Charles Mills’s keen reading of Douglass, a fuller picture of the latter erupts. It is the picture of Douglass as American international agent and not of a cosmopolitan Douglass. His example also serves as a cautionary tale for the consideration of a future without borders that does not abide by strong cosmopolitan values of a meaning universal human rights and their nurturance in cultural settings.
II- Diplomacy and Cosmopolitanism
My thoughts here although they spring from a philosophical perspective are of the import of Douglass not only to social and political philosophy but also to the field of Philosophy and International Affairs. Frederick Douglass in his role as a representative of the U. S. A. foreign affairs embodies in his practice in Haiti, an alternative sense of the cosmopolitan responsibilities of the practitioners of American Foreign Service. Douglass’s service to the U.S. as a Foreign Service agent highlights both allegiance and faith in the trends of his time.
The image of the diplomat as the epitome of the cosmopolitan individual masks the reality of the diplomat as a political appointee. Under normal circumstances for a political appointee, allegiance does not appear problematic. The allegiances of the public servant are deemed to be to the government or to the state for which she works. In an international environment, problems of allegiance only arise when these expectations are not met. The global arena in contrast to the international one engages nation-states and also many other types of institutions and agents. But all of these institutions are reliant in the final analysis on persons for their own effectiveness. A consideration of the topic of cosmopolitanism will thus need to contend with the problem of allegiance and ultimately with the determination of how to shape or control persons’ allegiances. It is in this context that I consider allegiance a potential problem for cosmopolitanism. Where, as I have argued, states are only one among many potential and actual agents of the global arena and the individual person is the only entity with the freedom to will to service multiple organizations, the diplomat as political appointee should refrain from being diverted to goals other than the national ones. But is it indeed so simple a determination ? In an environment in which conditions of global poverty or diseases, global warming, the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, industrial and pharmaceutical abuses, conditions that affect the sensibilities of persons and transcend the means of any one state to adequately respond to them, would it not be more appropriate to require of the appointed state representative especially as diplomat that he be mindful of the global influences and to have his mandate be more global than inter-national affairs ? The case becomes increasingly problematic when conceptions of social identity internal within the state compel its representative to adhere to or partake in membership in multiple groups.
The world in which Frederick Douglass the diplomat finds himself is one that challenges him to solve the modern problem of allegiance when confronted with the obligations of a national representative to maintain allegiance to a state at the same time that he is to confront the modern problems of neo-imperialism and membership in a racial category. It is in this context of 19th C. United States of America that I approach Frederick Douglass. Douglass the diplomat is tempted by multiple allegiances. Racial America forced him into a “Black” corner. His struggles against slavery and his activities against abuses based on gender and race pit him as a promoter and advocate for freedom and as a proponent of social and political justice. The salience of his country on the international scene in the 19th c. and of Douglass’s own role as his country’s official representative in Santo Domingo and Haiti, present Douglass with a series of options that are not entirely consistent with each other. Douglass’s choice was to interpret modern liberalism as a cosmopolitan or universal ideal.
III- The Datum of Modernity
For my purposes here, I am operating with one account of the development of modernity that would have us believe that modernity is part of a vocabulary of “North Atlantic [Western] Universals” that “disguises and misconstrues the many Others that it creates. ... Modernity as a structure requires an Other, an alter, a native, indeed an alter-native. Modernity as a historical process created this alter ego, which was as modern as the West -yet otherwise modern.”  Trouillot argues that the Caribbean has served the role of alter-native for Europe at least since the 15th C.. It would become the laboratory where the `ideologies of state of nature’ and `encounters with an embodied Other’ could be realized. 
The data deemed relevant to support the intentions of modernity were developed in the New World and as a consequence we can rightly maintain that “the Caribbean has been modern since its early incorporation into various North Atlantic empires. ... [Furthermore its] history gives us various glimpses at the production of the modern self - a self producing itself through a particular relation to material production, even under the harshest possible conditions.”  Trouillot’s sense of modernity and of the Caribbean as the place within which the modern self takes shape leads to a competing yet alternative interpretation of the Western theorists of 18th, 19th, and 20th C..
Frederick Douglass, in his attempt to have Africans be recognized as United States Americans, adopted the modern vernacular of atomist liberalism. He is, as we know, one who exemplified in his own person the virtues of individualism, and in his social activism the ideals of liberalism. They served his purposes well and helped him in practice to secure the benefits of freedom due Africans in the U.S.A. individually and socio-politically. So the expectation for a person like Douglass is to uphold the ideals of atomist liberalism at the same time that he is expected to reject any policy domestic or foreign that would prove to be antagonist to the principles of negative freedom. Instead, however, Frederick Douglass pledged intellectual allegiance to liberalism nationally but could not see that internationally the fashionable ideal of liberalism would lose currency and become outmoded if used for national expansionism.
Douglass although a traveler of at least three continents, remained an advocate of national ideals to the point of imperialism. Frederick Douglass was placed by training, wish and experience in the unenviable role of gauging the moral relevance of expansionism, against a sovereign country, Haiti, for purposes of American commerce and influence in the 19th C..
The problem that Douglass faced was of ridding himself of the “colonial mentality” which consists of “an over-valuation of what comes from the West.”  Faced with this semi-conscious and uncritical habit, the philosopher that emanates from such colonial circumstances is required to focus on a successful language, the link or connection between language and behavior, a vigilance on treatment of oneself, others, nature, and a recognition and exploration of the memories of creation and the traditional sources of the present condition.
Douglass seems to be a prime candidate to rid himself of the colonial mentality. First, he is a product of the institution of colonialism and of its most vile expression, slavery. He is an inheritor of the colonial mentality as a former slave. Second, given his own personal experience as a former slave in a society wrestling with its own identity of either a practitioner of slavery or of a free society would imply that Douglass be expected to maintain the integrity of his being and reject oppressive situations. Third, he would be expected also to develop an appropriate vernacular for scrutinizing the conditions. He fulfilled all three of these requirements but he did so with both national and ideological partiality. So Douglass in my view rid himself of the colonial mentality and adopted in the process a conception of cosmopolitanism that did not enable the liberation of others in the global environment nor shield them from becoming victims of these conditions. His cosmopolitanism suffered from national political allegiances.
IV- Douglass’s Liberalism
Douglass believed that the vernacular of atomist liberalism served his purposes well. It helped him in practice to secure the benefits of freedom individually and socio-politically. Douglass is, as we know, one who exemplifies in his own person the virtues of individualism and in his social activism, the ideals of liberalism. In short, the expectation of a person like Douglass when practicing in my sense the vigilance of survival is to uphold the ideals of atomist liberalism at the same time that he is expected to reject any policy domestic or foreign that would prove to be antagonist to the principles of negative freedom. A vigilant Douglass would help promote the conditions for a thriving atomist liberalism. Indeed given his embrace of freedom, one would expect him, when in position of power and influence, to at least not perpetuate the ideals of oppression inconsistent with those of atomist liberalism.
Frederick Douglass’s international work has significance both philosophical and practical for our times. He brings to full view the question of whether one is first a citizen of the world and of a nation second, or vice versa. One can also ask in considering Douglass whether the criteria of current international vernacular are appropriate tools by which to assess his contribution to the field of international affairs. Did he have at his disposal the standard of international moral behavior as had Ralph J. Bunche in the middle section of the past century ?  Douglass would not need such an institution as the United nations to promote cosmopolitan ideals. He used his own experiences to promote those ideals he served as it were as a double agent for individual freedom on the one hand and U.S. foreign policy on the other. In his decisions to favor or not the annexation of countries he deemed it necessary to satisfy the expansionist interests of the U.S., and my view to undermine the conditions of individual freedom for others living beyond the borders of the U.S.A..
To set the circumstances, it would be appropriate to remind ourselves that Frederick Douglass was not the first official or unofficial member of a delegation of Americans or African Americans, for that matter, to visit the island of Haiti. Haiti after its independence in 1804 was the subject of many considerations for relocation purposes by some of the more prominent members of the African American community, especially those in the State of Maryland. Interest in a place of refuge outside of the bounds of the U.S. was motivated by the well documented history of The U.S.’s ambivalent relationship with peoples of African descent. Many friends of the cause for civil rights even in its burgeoning stages in the nineteenth century contemplated territories within and without the U. S.. The perceived false promises of America compelled some individuals like William Watkins, a Baltimore abolitionist, to weigh the options to live elsewhere as “freemen.”  Watkins however favored Africa and was a critic of migration to the Caribbean in general. George McGill and other members of the Maryland-Haytian Company however were attracted by Haiti and in 1819 McGill headed the first Maryland delegation to visit Haiti. Later other delegations would be dispatched culminating in the settling of some Americans of African descent in the country of Haiti as early as 1832.
Douglass himself was not unfamiliar with Haiti, and the attraction it commanded from African American and others. He however was not an advocate of relocation. As a civilian and American citizen in the post-emancipation U.S. (1865), he was unapologetically opposed to relocation or colonization of Blacks in Africa or the Caribbean.  In fact, according to C.G. Woodson, Douglass felt that it be more important for Blacks to remain in the South and gain political power by virtue of their numbers and to amass economic wealth and power rather than to migrate within the country or to emigrate to another region of the globe.  His contact with Haiti proper would come by official means as he would come to play a crucial role in the 19th C. history of the foreign Affairs of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Douglass was first appointed, in January of 1870 by President Grant, assistant secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission to explore the socio-economic conditions in that part of the island and to assess the possibility of annexing both the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti. Later in 1889, he would be appointed U.S. Minister to Haiti by President Benjamin Harrison. In 1893, he was chosen by the government of Haiti to serve as its Commissioner to administer the Haitian Pavillon at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. 
V- Expansionism and Imperial Service
Admittedly, the focus here on Douglass and Haiti is limited to Douglass’s position in Haiti as a political operative. My interpretation of Douglass’s expansionist position is not without controversy. There are arguments afloat that suggest that Douglass was an anti-annexationist and that position caused him his reputation as a skilled diplomat within the U. S. State Department. I however would like to address the issue of national expansionism by offering an argument as to why such an ardent defender of rights for Blacks would support the annexation of all or part of the only repository and symbol of Black freedom in the world. Douglass argued in support of a) the annexation of the Dominican Republic which presumably was also consistent with the wishes of the Dominican people and b) the occupation and use as a port of patrol and refueling base one of the islands of the coast of the Haitian mainland, the Mole St. Nicholas. My answer resides in the fact that Douglass although a traveler of at least three continents, remained to use Benjamin Barber’s phrase a `parochial American’ and an advocate of imperialism. Douglass’s motivation for the acquisition of a naval base in Haiti while he was Minister to Haiti is clear. He
comprehended the value of such an acquisition, both in respect to American commerce and to American influence. The policy of obtaining such a station is not new. … I said then that it was a shame to American statesmanship that while almost every other great nation in the world had secured a foothold and had power in the Caribbean Sea, …, we, who stood at the very gate of that sea, had there no anchoring-ground anywhere. … While slavery existed I was opposed to all schemes for the extension of American power and influence. But since its abolition I have gone with him who goes farthest for such extension. 
In The Hispanic American Historical Review, Louis Martin Sears captures accurately the potential motivators to Douglass international behavior as an official of the American government. He lists Douglass’s motivators as liberalism and race pride to conclude ultimately that Douglass was “unfitted for the diplomatic service”  for he let his complexes of inferiority, superiority, and martyrdom get the best of him in his negotiations for the Mole. Sears however places more value on Douglass’s race pride than to his liberalism even as he admits in the end that Douglass’s failure to acquire the Mole was also the result of complex issues internal to both the U. S. A. and Haiti. But in contrast to Sears judgment that Douglass’s ineptitude as an international agent were mostly to blame in the delayed expansion of the U.S. in that part of the Caribbean, I should like to suggest contrary to Sears that short of being a failed diplomat in his mission to Haiti that Frederick Douglass was indeed a person of his time, a time in which the ideal of liberalism was articulated and then widely believed in and adopted. On the basis of that influence, Douglass failed, if he failed at all, where many other liberals have failed, namely in their expansionism.
In the 19th C., in England as it was in the United States of America, atomist liberalism was being moved beyond its borders in the form of exported nationalism, a matter of civilizing the world and protecting one’s geo-political investments nestled with the colonialism of the time. The movement of liberal nationalism offers an explanation to the warring conflicts between the members of the family of European nations and of the jingoism and Imperialism reflected in the various foreign policies of that period. Liberal nationalism transplanted in our time, has prompted individuals such as Martha Nussbaum to advocate for a cosmopolitanism that would restore the ideals of justice and right to the international arena without partiality to any particular country. In fairness however to Douglass, he had not at his disposal the wide ranging international institutions like the United Nations or the League of Nations to enable him to balance the imperialism that followed philosophically, and in many instances practically, from the broad appeal of atomist liberalism.
VI- Conclusion : Douglass’s Allegiance to American Liberalism
The theme of doing as the other powerful nations of the world have done is a recurring one in liberal expansionist literature. We find it expressly articulated in some of the works of arguably the most prominent of the liberals of the 19th C., J.S. Mill who himself despite his eloquent defense of individual liberty and non-intervention at the domestic and international level, was also at once a fervent advocate of imperialism against those backward nations, and infantile peoples of the world. It was a duty so Mill thought for the greater civilized powers to hasten the march of civilization globally. 
As a word of clarification however, and without going too far into the history of liberalism, I should mention that what I am calling atomist liberalism is the liberalism in social and political philosophy interpreted at times to be best articulated through the works of Mill. It is one in which the emancipation and mitigated freedom of action of the individual is deemed of quintessential value to the thriving of a healthy society.
The Millian position is theoretically equipped to limit the abuses of government and promote by its limit an environment of activity, ingenuity and conviviality. In this context of social and political liberalism, a self governing group is formed and in a world of self-governing thus civilized nations and territories, intervention by a liberal nation against another would be unjustified even as such nations teem with the energy of individualism and liberalism. One is not free to harm or interfere with the individuality of another of equal stature.
Threat to the liberal environment however is embodied in the non-liberal groups and can be eliminated through the expansionism of the liberal ideals. Whereas the liberal would not admit, as exemplified by Douglass, to the enslavement, to the suppression of the freedom of any individual internal to the nation, he would gladly again as Douglass illustrates, admit to the subservience of another group. In the instance of concern here, Douglass supported the subjugation of another liberal nation, Haiti, on Liberal and utilitarian grounds. The prospective subjugation was deemed to be a promoter of the well-being of all. The failure of Douglass’s diplomatic ventures in imperialism does not reside as Sears proposes in his delusion of grandeur but rather in limiting the values gleaned from his liberal analysis to the boundaries of the U. S. A..
Douglass does make show of a national parochialism. We recognize that the illustrious “Sage of Anacostia”, Frederick Douglass, succumbed in his dealings with the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to his patriotic pride and he fell victim to one of the barriers to rational deliberation in international politics, the feeling that one’s own cultural universal are adaptable globally. That attitude true of Douglass failed him in the context of 19
th C. Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Douglass although well-meaning exemplifies well the potential problems associated with a one-sided cosmopolitanism imposed from above and promoting ideals presumed to be universal. Once again the conditions of the Caribbean and of the former colonies in Africa and beyond, are promoters of reflections that if heeded would benefit humanity as a whole, the benefit this time is acknowledged philosophically and not simply economically or in realists terms.