Catherine Chimley – Liberal Language’s Failings and Successes: Davis, Marx, and Locke

I am drawn to Angela Davis’s discussion of the connections between Neoliberalism’s linguistic refusal to acknowledge the continued existence of racism and the overwhelming statistical evidence that institutionalized racism continues to exist. Davis’s illustration of this connection captures my interest because the strikingly evident disconnect between American society’s perceptions of racism and the clear inequality faced by Americans of color is a subject that I’ve recently been interested in exploring, and I found it interesting that Davis was willing to call attention to this issue long before it was widely discussed by broader movements. The connection also drew my interest in combination with the other readings we have experienced in this Humanities course and President Quillen’s recent speech, “Being Human,” on the inadequacy of the Lockean language with which we approach our differences as humans. The most immediately evident example of these connections within the passage “Recognizing Racism in the Era of Neoliberalism” is found when Davis describes the language of neoliberalism as “a kind of repartee that imagines human agency as simply a matter of individualized choices, the only obstacle to effective citizenship and agency being the lack of principled self-help and moral responsibility” (Davis 174). This connection between the political philosophy Locke posits – the belief that humans are born with freedom and equality in their choices and that their own actions are directly connected to their “success” – and the language of Neoliberalist political philosophy called to mind the lack of true equality in American and global society. Due to this connection, I chose Locke as one of the authors on my imaginary panel in order to mentally discern how his philosophy would connect and differ from the views of Davis. I also connected certain aspects of Davis’s critique of modern political philosophy to Marxist political ideals, specifically when she describes the community as being “eliminated to make way for the notion of individual responsibility” (Davis 169). Her choice to include the community created interesting parallels with Marx’s view of the worker as a member of a larger group and the power of collectivization. 

  1. How does the language in which a particular group within society is described impact the perception of that group? 
  2. Can true equality ever exist within human society? Could you look at the world and truly believe that no matter where you were born/who you were born to be/your race that you would be able to attain the same level of success?
  3. In what ways can society change the way that it approaches political conversation to express the diversity of human experience?

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