Research

Interests

Broadly, my research interests include the history of modern political thought (17th-20th century), comparative political theory (African, Asian and European diasporic), and intellectual history. I focus primarily on questions concerning empire, religion & politics, and international law.

Article & Working Papers

  • “Leaders Fit for the Masses” – Du Bois and Democratically-Accountable Leadership in Japan (under review)
  • Separating Power (from/beyond) the West – Montesquieu on China’s Checks and Balances (under review)
  • “The Burden/Blessing of Civilization” – Creolizing Rousseau & Fukuzawa on Social Progress (in preparation)

Book Project

An Appeal to the World: Universalism, Particularism, and Domination in the Political Thought of Montesquieu, Wei Yuan, and Du Bois (manuscript in preparation)

An Appeal to the World: Universalism, Particularism, and Domination in the Political Thought of Montesquieu, Wei Yuan, and Du Bois, gestures toward a vision of global politics without domination by exploring how three influential, but temporally and geographically distant, political thinkers appealed to extant global political cases to contest the possibility and/or reality of domination in their respective contexts. My main contention is that these thinkers’ appeals to the global, while simultaneously rooted in localized political conditions, enabled transnational political visions of non-domination rooted in flexible and contingent institutions (Montesquieu), non-parochial and self-reflexive global orders (Wei), and democratically empowered local populations (Du Bois). In the first chapter, I critically engage recent literature on non-domination in the history of political thought as a means of clarifying the stakes for turning to the global/local approaches of Montesquieu, Wei, and Du Bois. I argue that a continued problem with extant accounts of non-domination is the sustained (and sometimes exclusive) focus on Western—usually advanced and industrialized—democratic contexts. Drawing inspiration from recent methodological interventions in comparative, transnational, global, and international political theory, I sketch out how a “creolized” historical recovery of approaches to domination from disparate temporal and geographic writers can enable a more robust view of the challenges presented by various forms of domination now. In chapter two, I reconstruct Montesquieu’s analysis in The Spirit of the Laws of substantial institutional checks and balances in contexts both within—and beyond—Europe that are aimed at stemming the ever-present threat of despotism. This chapter builds on recent work on Montesquieu that has attempted to challenge the notion that he only views non-European contexts as despotic by highlighting his concerns about the potential for European despotism and the need for specific institutional arrangements to counter these tendencies. However, my chapter moves beyond these accounts by showing how Montesquieu positively identifies institutional checks and balances in non-European contexts—for example, in China and northern and western Africa. I use these contexts to show that Montesquieu’s emphasis on flexible and contingent institutions applies to Asia and Africa, as much as it applies to celebrated European contexts like England. In chapter three, I explore Wei Yuan’s seminal work, Treatise on the Maritime Countries (Haiguo Tuzhi), foregrounding how Wei’s appeals to global contexts (e.g. Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa) in the context of a mid-nineteenth Chinese statecraft crisis engendered, in part, by the onset of the first Opium War (1839-1842), championed trans-temporal Chinese (Ming-Qing) statecraft informed by Western cartography and the latest technological developments abroad in an effort to stem domination. This chapter builds on “internalist” and “New Qing” Chinese historiographical developments over the last few decades to situate Wei’s conclusions within a broader history of imperialism in East Asia. I contend that Wei’s unique approach to potential domination by the West involves both locating reformist statecraft justifications in earlier Chinese history while also incorporating recent developments in Western cartography. By doing this, Wei anticipates (and in some ways, challenges) later reformist grappling with parochialism and provincialism. By tying his approach to later Chinese reformers (even while noting his limits), I show how Wei self-reflexively attempts to eschew parochial Chinese responses to Western territorial expansion and potential domination in the global order. Chapter four turns to Du Bois’ international writings, with a particular emphasis on Du Bois’ “Afro-Asia”. In contrast to scholars who are largely critical of Du Bois’ conception of leadership, I argue that Du Bois consistently pushed against Western imperialism and colonialism through “colored”, democratically accountable leadership. My argument does not excuse Du Bois’ ill-advised political moves or racialized and gendered assumptions, but it highlights Du Bois’ consistent (and increasingly complex) articulation of democratically accountable leadership, whether in the early form of the Talented Tenth (and his subsequent Guiding Hundredth), later defenses of Japanese imperial leadership, Indian independence leaders, or the revolutionary leaders of China in the 1950s and 60s. Chapter five draws on the previous three chapters by creolizing (or illicitly mixing) Montesquieu, Wei, and Du Bois across their domestic contexts. I leverage Montesquieu’s institutional nuance with respect to France, Wei’s self-reflexive cartographical and military analysis of China, and Du Bois’ empowerment of—and solidarity with—marginalized African diasporic populations to critically assess each thinkers’ limits and show how bringing them together overcomes these challenges in pursuit of a more robust approach to non-domination. I contend that this approach might aid us, for instance, in our efforts toward developing international institutions that are more adaptable, anti-colonial, and accountable, in keeping with efforts to decolonize the UN through reform of the UN Security Council and IFI structural adjustment programs.

Support

My research has been supported by the U.S. Department of Education, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Mustard Seed Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Political Science Association, among others.