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West, Cornel 1953–

Cornel West 1953

Scholar, educator, social critic, writer

At a Glance

Early Life: Family, Church, and Friends in Struggle

Developed Skills of Critical Thinking and Political Action

Into the Limelight: A Career in Teaching and Writing

The Power of Diversity

Moved Into the Twenty-first Century

Selected works

Sources

Professor of religion and Afro-American studies at Harvard University, Cornel West has dazzled a vast array of audiences from scholars and activists to students and churchgoers with his analytical speeches and writings on issues of morality, race relations, cultural diversity, and progressive politics. A keeper of the prophetic African-American religious tradition, West taught the philosophy of religion at both Union Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton before landing his position at Harvard.

As a scholar, activist, and teacher of religion, West juggles his theological concerns with his political convictions. While teaching religion at Yale, for instance, he was arrested for participating in a protest rally. Wests blend of philosophy and an on-the-streets politics reflected his passion and commitment to his main goal: namely, uphold[ing] the moral character of the black freedom struggle in America, as he was quoted as saying in Emerge.

Thought of as our black Jeremiah by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chair of Harvard Universitys African American Studies Department, West served dual roles as prophet and intellectual both within and beyond the black community in the United States. His writings, which reflect the theories of early American historian Sacvan Bercovitch, combine a dual castigation for moral failure with an optimism that insists on the possibility through struggleof making real a world of higher morality.

In a 1991 book written with West, African American social critic, bell hooks, wrote that the word prophetic has emerged as that expression which best names both Wests intellectual project, his spiritual commitment, and his revolutionary political agenda. Their book, Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, draws its title from Wests own model for an effectiveand sorely-neededrelevant black intellectual community.

West envisions the most effective role for the black intellectual as a critical, organic catalyst in what he calls the insurgency model. In this model, intellectuals would challenge the status quo, voicing opposition to an inherently racist civil authority. The rebellion would then lead to the creation in the long term of a post-(not anti-) Western civilization and the revitalization in the short term of institutions that foster insightful critical thought and serve the cause of black insurgency.

At a Glance

Born Cornel Ronald West, June 2, 1953, in Tulsa, OK; son of Clifton L., Jr. and Irene (Bias) West; divorced twice; married third wife; children: Clifton Louis. Education: Harvard College, A.B. 1973; Princeton University, M.A., 1975, Ph.D., 1980. Politics: Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Religion: Baptist.

Career : Assistant professor of philosophy of religion at Union Theological Seminary, 1977-83 and 1988, Yale Divinity School, 1984-87, and University of Paris VIII, spring 1987; director of Afro-American Studies and professor of religion at Princeton University, 1989-94; Professor of Religion and African-American Studies, Harvard University, 1994- involved in Theology in the Americas movement; joined Democratic Socialists of America, 1982; served on national political committee for seven years; became honorary chairperson.

Addresses : Office Barker Center, 2nd floor, Department of African-American Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 02138, FAX (617) 496-2871. Publisher Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108.

West defined his vision in Breaking Bread, noting, The central task of postmodern black intellectuals is to stimulate, hasten, and enable alternative perceptions and practices by dislodging prevailing discourses and powers.

Early Life: Family, Church, and Friends in Struggle

In his autobiographical introduction to his book The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, West describes the various academic, political, and personal influences on his life, attributing most significance to his experience in my closely knit family and overlapping communities of church and friends. West was born on June 2, 1953, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the grandson of the Reverend Clifton L. West, Sr., pastor of the Tulsa Metropolitan Baptist Church. Wests mother, Irene Bias West, was an elementary school teacher (and later principal), while his father, Clifton L. West, Jr., was a civilian Air Force administrator. From his parents, siblings, and community, young West derived ideals and images of dignity, integrity, majesty, and humility. These values, presented in Christian narratives, symbols, rituals, and moral examples, provided him existential and ethical equipment to confront the crises, terrors, and horrors of life. West suggests that the basis for his life vocation lies in three essential components of that Christian outlook, which he viewed most clearly in the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. These were a Christian ethic of love-informed service to others, ego-deflating humility about oneself owing to the precious yet fallible humanity of others, and politically engaged struggle for social betterment.

In Ethical Dimensions, West examined his own experiences and those of his ancestors against a broad historical backdrop. His views on what he calls the Age of Europe are informed by his descendence from seven generations of Africans who were enslaved and exploited, devalued and despised by Euro-Americans, and three more generations who were subordinated and terrorized by the legal racist practices of Jim Crow laws in the South. He recounted that both of his parents were born into a place and time Louisiana during the Great Depressionwhen Jim Crow laws of segregation were thriving. West viewed himself, however, as the product of the post-World War II eclipse of this Age of Europe, when European cultural domination of the world ended. Still closer to home, West sees himself as a child of the American Centurywhat American editor and publisher Henry Luce defined as the period of unprecedented economic prosperity in the United Statesand a youth of the time that witnessed the overturning of discriminatory segregationalist laws in the United States.

Wests community of friends and family participated actively in the struggle to overturn these racist laws. His earliest political actions included marching with his family in a Sacramento civil rights demonstration and coordinating with three other Sacramento high school students a strike to demand courses in black studies. In his youth, West admired the sincere black militancy of Malcolm X, the defiant rage of the Black Panther Party, and the livid black theology of James Cone [a noted writer and professor of religion at Union Theological Seminary].

Robert S. Boynton highlighted in the New York Times Magazine the role the Panthers played in refining Wests progressive international perspective: they taught him the importance of community-based struggle; introduced him to the writings of Ghanaian anticolonial philosopher Kwame Nkrumah; and acquainted him with the principles of critical Marxist thought, which called for the achievement of a classless society. Still, West recalled in his introduction to Ethical Dimensions that he never fully agreed with these groups and thinkers, since he longed for more of the self-critical humility found in the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition, he considers himself a non-Marxist socialist, since he champions his Christianity over Marxism and believes that religion and socialism are reconcilable doctrines.

Developed Skills of Critical Thinking and Political Action

At age 17, West enrolled in Harvard as an undergraduate. By taking eight courses per term as a junior, he was able to graduate one year early, achieving magna cum laude in Near Eastern languages and literature. While there, he once wrote a spontaneous 50-page essay to work through the differences between Immanuel Kant and George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegels conceptions of God. He even dreamed of philosophical concepts taking form and battling one another. According to Boynton, government professor Martin Kilson called West the most intellectually aggressive and highly cerebral student I have taught in my 30 years [at Harvard].

West credited his time at Harvard with fueling a reexamination of his world views; over those three years, he surveyed his own thoughts and actions and pursued a rigorous study of new ideas. In class, he developed a passionate interest on the effects of time and culture on philosophical thought and historical actions. Outside of class, he participated in a breakfast program group in the Massachusetts village of Jamaica Plain, took weekly trips to Norfolk State Prison, and worked with the Black Student Organization, which was responsible for the 1972 takeover of Massachusetts Hall to both protest Harvards investments in Gulf Oil and show support for liberation forces operating in the southwest African country of Angola. But West attributed his greatest intellectual influences on political matters to a variety of philosophers such as nineteenth-century Serbian political writer Svetozar Markovic. He continued, however, to recognize the limits of book knowledge and to value dedication in action.

After Harvard, West began pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at Princeton University. There, he discovered that the values most precious to him were those of individuality and democracy. In the introduction to Ethical Dimensions, he defined individuality as the sanctity and dignity of all individuals shaped in and by communities, and explained democracy as a way of living as well as a way of governing. The work of Richard Rorty, a philosopher at Princeton, also impressed West. West called Rortys attention to history music to my ears and subsequently developed his own vision of Rortys favorite philosophical tradition American pragmatismin his 1989 book The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism. In this book, West defined his own version of pragmatism, called prophetic pragmatism, which he believes is vital in promoting the formation of a democracy that both recognizes and extols the virtues of individual morality, autonomy, and creativity. Philosopher K. Anthony Appiah, writing in Nation, considered the book a powerful call for philosophy to play its role in building a radical democracy in alliance with the wretched of the earth and deemed West possibly the pre-eminent African-American intellectual of our generation.

Into the Limelight: A Career in Teaching and Writing

Wests books began to be published in the early 1980s, but he wrote many of them in the late 1970s. During his mid-twenties, he left Princeton, returned to Harvard as a Du Bois fellow to finish his dissertation, and then began his first tenure-track teaching job as an assistant professor of philosophy of religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. While a Du Bois fellow, West married and had a son, Clifton. Both this marriage and a later one ended in divorce.

While teaching at Union, West concerned himself with the major national progressive multiracial and religious activity in the country in the 1970s. He also traveled to Brazil, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Mexico, Europe, and South Africa, where he saw and involved himself with intellectual and political progressive movements reminiscent of our 1960s. In the early 1980s, West encountered Michael Harringtons Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), an organization that shaped the version of democratic socialism he would subsequently promote. West described the DSA in Ethical Dimensions as the first multiracial, socialist organization close enough to my politics that I could join.

West wrote The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought during his time at Union, but it wasnt published until 1991. In the book, he traced Karl Marxs intellectual development to reveal how Marx incorporated the growing consciousness of history in modern thought with values of individuality and democracy. West combined his interests in Marxism and religion in his 1982 book Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, in which he shows the potential in prophetic Christianityand especially in aspects of the black churchfor meaningful opposition to racism and oppression.

In 1984 West assumed a post at the Yale Divinity School that eventually became a joint appointment with the institutions American Studies Department. He participated in a campus drive for clerical unionism and against Yales investments in South African companies and was arrested and jailed during one campus protest. West viewed his political actions at Yale as a fine example for my wonderful son, Clifton, who had become a progressive student body president in his predominantly black middle school in Atlanta. The Yale administration punished West by canceling his leave and requiring him to teach a full load of two courses in the spring of 1987.

Before his leave was canceled, West had already arranged to teach African-American thought and American pragmatism at the University of Paris, so in order to fulfill his responsibilities to both schools, he commuted to Paris for his three courses there while teaching his two courses at Yale. He also served as the American correspondent for Le Monde diplomatique at Yale. In 1988, West returned to Union; one year after that move, he accepted a position at Princeton University as professor of religion and director of the Afro-American Studies program. West continued to write and edit books on philosophy throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In his 1985 publication Post-Analytic Philosophy, which he edited with John Rajchman, West reflected on the crisis in American philosophy. Prophetic Fragments, an essay collection published in 1988, is considered a tome of contemporary cultural criticism, addressing such subjects as theology, sex, suicide, and violence in America today. In 1991s Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, co-authors West and bell hooks limit themselves to the problems of creating black male-female dialogue and an effective black intellectual community while suggesting practical solutions to communication problems.

The Power of Diversity

Wests impassioned and insightful writings make a resounding appeal for cross-cultural tolerance and unity, while urging individuals to recognize the power of diversity within a society. As a member of the editorial collective for the journal Boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture, West draws on his research to relate Marxist thought to cultural politics of difference, including differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, and age. And out of a desire to contribute to the building of coalitions across different communities, he writes a column for the progressive Jewish journal Tikkun. Finally, in an effort to reach out to still wider audiences, West provides commentary on contemporary subjects for popular journals, such as his essay on the 1992 Los Angeles riots for the New York Times Magazine.

West continues his exploration of race relations and cultural diversity in his 1993 book Race Matters, which his publisher, Beacon Press, promotes as a healing vision for the crisis of racial politics today. Appealing to a broader audience than some of his earlier works, Wests message remains uncompromising and unconventional, according to Ellis Cose in Newsweek. He sees salvation in a renewal of love, empathy and compassion, in a radical redistribution of power and wealthand in facing difficult truths.

As Boynton indicated, Wests inimitable drive to keep on teaching and writing is so strong that West feels as though if he were to stop, he would just explode. Resolute in his belief that people of color must struggle now for a better future, he persists in his quest to create an effective, black, progressive leadership. West ends his introduction to Ethical Dimensions with a call to action: The future of U.S. progressive politics lies in the capacity of a collective leadership to energize, mobilize, and organize working and poor people. Democratic socialists can play a crucial role in projecting an all-embracing moral vision of freedom, justice, and equality, and making social analyses that connect and link activists together.Americas massive social breakdown requires that we come togetherfor the sake of our lives, our children, and our sacred honor.

Moved Into the Twenty-first Century

West is devoted to celebrating African-American citizens who have left an indelible mark on people of all cultures and races, and continues to address issues that affect the lives of all people. Since his move to Harvard, West has published several more books including The Future of the Race and The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country, both co-authored with his colleague Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The latter is a book that is comprised of approximately 100 biographies of prominent African Americans, including some obscure notables such as the first black woman aviator, Bessie Colman. For the book, the authors wrote, At the dawn of the 21st century we cannot imagine a truly American culture that has not, in profound ways, been shaped by the contributions of African Americans.

In 1996 West, along with feminist and economist, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, created the Task Force of Parent Empowerment, and later, West and Hewlett co-authored The War Against Parents: What We Can Do For Americas Beleaguered Moms and Dads and Taking Parenting Public: The Case For A New Social Movement, which was edited by Hewlett. Both books address how American government policies and the American media work against families. West and Hewlett have called for a Parent Bill of Rights.

West decided to try something new. He recorded a CD that included rap and spoken word, Sketches of My Culture. While the CD may not have measured up to a rap critics picks, West was harshly criticized by Harvard President, Larry Summers, President Clintons treasury secretary. Summers suggested that West pay attention to more scholarly pursuits and inferred that West allowed grade inflation. West was also criticized for leading a committee for AI Sharptons presidential campaign, should he decide to run. In addition, Summers commented that West should be publishing books that would be reviewed by academic journals rather than in the New York Times. According to The Economist, the incident spiraled into a full-blown tempest which caused West, along with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah, to consider quitting and going elsewhere. Summers and West have since made peace. Gates, who turned Harvards fledgling African American Studies department into a robust and thriving department that can boast of having the countrys top black intellectuals and has had record number of students enrolled said, One of Professor Wests great gifts is that he can engage in conversation with almost anyone, whatever their ideology. His keen-edged analysis forces us to remember what he has to say. Theres no one from whom Ive learned more than Cornel West. One of the most important things that he has to teach, I think, is that being a Black intellectual doesnt have to mean mindless, pompous cheerleading.

Selected works

Albums

Sketches of My Culture, 2001.

Books

Black Theology and Marxist Thought, Theology in the Americas, 1979.

Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, Westminster Press, 1982.

(Coeditor) Theology in the Americas, Orbis Books, 1982.

(Coeditor) Post-Analytic Philosophy, Columbia University Press, 1985.

Prophetic Fragments, Eerdmans, 1988.

The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

(Coeditor) Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, 1990.

(With bell hooks) Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, South End Press, 1991.

The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, Monthly Review Press, 1991.

Beyond Eurocentrism and Multiculturalism, Common Courage Press, 1993.

Race Matters, Beacon Press, 1993.

Future of the Race, 1997.

(with Sylvia Ann Hewlett) The War Against Parents: What We Can Do For Americas Beleaguered Moms and Dads, 1998.

Cornel West: A Critical Reader, 2001.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Monthly Review, Yale Journal of Criticism: Interpretation in the Humanities, Critical Quarterly, Nation, October, Tikkun, New York Times Book Review, and New York Times Magazine. American correspondent for Le Monde diplomatique, 1984-87; member of editorial collective Boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture.

Sources

Books

Bercovitch, Sacvan, The American Jeremiad, University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

hooks, bell, and Cornel West, Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, South End Press, 1991.

West, Cornel, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

West, Cornel, The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, Monthly Review Press, 1991.

Periodicals

Commonweal, December 20, 1985, p. 708.

The Economist, January 5, 2002.

Emerge, March 1993.

Essence, June 1996, p. 42.

Nation, April 9, 1990, pp. 496-8.

National Review, January 28, 2002.

Newsweek, June 7, 1993, p. 71.

New York Times Magazine, September 15, 1991.

The Progressive, January, 1997, p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, March 30, 1998, p. 60; October 16, 2000, p.57.

Religious Studies Review, April 1992, p. 103.

Time, January 14, 2002, p. 14.

Voice Literary Supplement, December 1988, pp.3-4.

Nicholas S. Patti and Christine Miner Minderovic

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West, Cornel 1953–

Cornel West 1953

Scholar, educator, social critic, writer

At a Glance

Early Life: Family, Church, and Friends in Struggle

Developed Skills of Critical Thinking and Political Action

Into the Limelight: A Career in Teaching and Writing

The Power of Diversity

Selected writings

Sources

Professor of religion and director of Afro-American Studies at Princeton University, Cornel West has dazzled a vast array of audiences from scholars and activists to students and churchgoers with his analytical speeches and writings on issues of morality, race relations, cultural diversity, and progressive politics. A keeper of the prophetic African American religious tradition, West taught the philosophy of religion at both Union Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School before landing his position at Princeton.

As a scholar, activist, and teacher of religion, West juggles his theological concerns with his political convictions. While teaching religion at Yale, for instance, he was arrested for participating in a protest rally. Wests blend of philosophy and an on-the-streets politics reflects his passion and commitment to his main goal: namely, uphold[ing] the moral character of the black freedom struggle in America, as he was quoted as saying in Emerge.

Thought of as our black Jeremiah by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chair of Harvard Universitys African American Studies Department, West serves dual roles as prophet and intellectual both within and beyond the black community in the United States. His writings, which reflect the theories of early American historian Sacvan Bercovitch, combine a dual castigation for moral failure with an optimism that insists on the possibilitythrough struggle of making real a world of higher morality.

In a 1991 book written with West, African American social critic bell hooks wrote that the word prophetic has emerged as that expression which best names both Wests intellectual project, his spiritual commitment, and his revolutionary political agenda. Their book. Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, draws its title from Wests own model for an effective and sorely-neededrelevant black intellectual community.

West envisions the most effective role for the black intellectual as a critical, organic catalyst in what he calls the insurgency model. In this model, intellectuals would challenge the status quo, voicing opposition to an inherently racist civil authority. The rebellion would then lead to the creation in the long term of a post-(not anti-) Western civilization and the revitalization in the short term of institutions that foster insightful critical thought and serve the cause of black insurgency. West defined his vision in Breaking Breading, noting, The central task of postmodern black intellectuals is to

At a Glance

Born Cornel Ronald West, June 2, 1953, in Tulsa, OK; son of Clifton L., Jr. and Irene (Bias) West; divorced twice; married third wife; children: Clifton Louis. Education: Harvard College, A.B., 1973; Princeton University, M.A., 1975, Ph.D., 1980. Politics: Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Religion: Baptist.

Assistant professor of philosophy of religion at Union Theological Seminary, 1977-83 and 1988, Yale Divinity School, 1984-87, and University of Paris VIII, spring 1987; director of Afro-American Studies and professor of religion at Princeton University, 1989. Involved in Theology in the Americas movement. Joined Democratic Socialists of America, 1982; served on national political committee for seven years; became honorary chairperson.

Addresses: Office 104 Dickinson Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. Publisher Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108.

stimulate, hasten, and enable alternative perceptions and practices by dislodging prevailing discourses and powers.

Early Life: Family, Church, and Friends in Struggle

In his autobiographical introduction to his book The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, West describes the various academic, political, and personal influences on his life, attributing most significance to his experience in my closely knit family and overlapping communities of church and friends.

West was born on June 2, 1953, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the grandson of the Reverend Clifton L. West, Sr., pastor of the Tulsa Metropolitan Baptist Church. Wests mother, Irene Bias West, was an elementary school teacher (and later principal), while his father, Clifton L. West, Jr., was a civilian Air Force administrator. From his parents, siblings, and community, young West derived ideals and images of dignity, integrity, majesty, and humility. These values, presented in Christian narratives, symbols, rituals, and moral examples, provided him existential and ethical equipment to confront the crises, terrors, and horrors of life. West suggests that the basis for his life vocation lies in three essential components of that Christian outlook, which he viewed most clearly in the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. These were a Christian ethic of love-informed service to others, ego-deflating humility about oneself owing to the precious yet fallible humanity of others, and politically engaged struggle for social betterment.

In Ethical Dimensions, West examines his own experiences and those of his ancestors against a broad historical backdrop. His views on what he calls the Age of Europe are informed by his descent from seven generations of Africans who were enslaved and exploited, devalued and despised by Euro-Americans, and three more generations who were subordinated and terrorized by the legal racist practices of Jim Crow laws in the South. He recounts that both of his parents were born into a place and time Louisiana during the Great Depressionwhen Jim Crow laws of segregation were thriving. West views himself, however, as the product of the post-World War II eclipse of this Age of Europe, when European cultural domination of the world ended. Still closer to home, West sees himself as a child of the American Centurywhat American editor and publisher Henry Luce defined as the period of unprecedented economic prosperity in the United States and a youth of the time that witnessed the overturning of discriminatory segregationalist laws in the United States.

Wests community of friends and family participated actively in the struggle to overturn these racist laws. His earliest political actions included marching with his family in a Sacramento civil rights demonstration and coordinating with three other Sacramento high school students a strike to demand courses in black studies. In his youth, West admired the sincere black militancy of Malcolm X, the defiant rage of the Black Panther Party, and the livid black theology of James Cone [a noted writer and professor of religion at Union Theological Seminary].

Robert S. Boynton highlighted in the New York Times Magazine the role the Panthers played in refining Wests progressive international perspective: they taught him the importance of community-based struggle; introduced him to the writings of Ghanaian anticolonial philosopher Kwame Nkrumah; and acquainted him with the principles of critical Marxist thought, which calls for the achievement of a classless society. Still, West recalls in his introduction to Ethical Dimensions that he never fully agreed with these groups and thinkers, since he longed for more of the self-critical humility found in the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition, he considers himself a non-Marxist socialist, since he champions his Christianity over Marxism and believes that religion and socialism are reconcilable doctrines.

Developed Skills of Critical Thinking and Political Action

At age 17, West enrolled in Harvard as an undergraduate. By taking eight courses per term as a junior, he was able to graduate one year early, achieving magna cum laude in Near Eastern languages and literature. While there, he once wrote a spontaneous 50-page essay to work through the differences between Immanuel Kant and George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegels conceptions of God. He even dreamed of philosophical concepts taking form and battling one another. According to Boynton, government professor Martin Kilson called West the most intellectually aggressive and highly cerebral student I have taught in my 30 years [at Harvard].

West credits his time at Harvard with fueling a reexamination of his world views; over those three years, he surveyed his own thoughts and actions and pursued a rigorous study of new ideas. In class, he developed a passionate interest in the effects of time and culture on philosophical thought and historical actions. Outside of class, he participated in a breakfast program group in the Massachusetts village of Jamaica Plain, took weekly trips to Norfolk State Prison, and worked with the Black Student Organization, which was responsible for the 1972 takeover of Massachusetts Hall to both protest Harvards investments in Gulf Oil and show support for liberation forces operating in the southwest African country of Angola. But West attributes his greatest intellectual influences on political matters to a variety of philosophers such as nineteenth-century Serbian political writer Svetozar Markovic. He continued, however, to recognize the limits of book knowledge and to value dedication in action.

After Harvard, West began pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at Princeton University. There, he discovered that the values most precious to him were those of individuality and democracy. In the introduction to Ethical Dimensions, he defines individuality as the sanctity and dignity of all individuals shaped in and by communities, and explained democracy as a way of living as well as a way of governing. The work of Richard Rorty, a philosopher at Princeton, also impressed West. West called Rortys attention to history music to my ears and subsequently developed his own vision of Rortys favorite philosophical traditionAmerican pragmatismin his 1989 book The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism. In this book, West defines his own version of pragmatism, called prophetic pragmatism, which he believes is vital in promoting the formation of a democracy that both recognizes and extols the virtues of individual morality, autonomy, and creativity. Philosopher K. Anthony Appiah, writing in the Nation, considered the book a powerful call for philosophy to play its role in building a radical democracy in alliance with the wretched of the earth and deemed West possibly the pre-eminent African-American intellectual of our generation.

Into the Limelight: A Career in Teaching and Writing

Wests books began to be published in the early 1980s, but he wrote many of them in the late 1970s. During his mid-twenties, he left Princeton, returned to Harvard as a Du Bois fellow to finish his dissertation, and then began his first tenure-track teaching job as an assistant professor of philosophy of religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. While a Du Bois fellow, West married and had a son, Clifton. Both this marriage and a later one ended in divorce.

While teaching at Union, West concerned himself with the major national progressive multiracial and religious activity in the country in the 1970s. He also traveled to Brazil, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Mexico, Europe, and South Africa, where he saw and involved himself with intellectual and political progressive movements reminiscent of our 1960s. In the early 1980s, West encountered Michael Harringtons Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), an organization that shaped the version of democratic socialism he would subsequently promote. West described the DSA in Ethical Dimensions as the first multiracial, socialist organization close enough to my politics that I could join.

West wrote The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought during his time at Union, but it wasnt published until 1991. In the book, he traces Karl Marxs intellectual development to reveal how Marx incorporated the growing consciousness of history in modern thought with values of individuality and democracy. West combined his interests in Marxism and religion in his 1982 book Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, in which he shows the potential in prophetic Christianityand especially in aspects of the black churchfor meaningful opposition to racism and oppression.

In 1984, West assumed a post at the Yale Divinity School that eventually became a joint appointment with the institutions American Studies Department. He participated in a campus drive for clerical unionism and against Yales investments in South African companies and was arrested and jailed during one campus protest. West viewed his political actions at Yale as a fine example for my wonderful son, Clifton, who had become a progressive student body president in his predominantly black middle school in Atlanta. The Yale administration punished West by canceling a planned leave and requiring him to teach a full load of two courses in the spring of 1987.

Before his leave was canceled, West had already arranged to teach African American thought and American pragmatism at the University of Paris, so in order to fulfill his responsibilities to both schools, he commuted to Paris for his three courses there while teaching his two courses at Yale. He also served as the American correspondent for Le Monde diplomatique at Yale. In 1988, West returned to Union; one year after that move, he accepted a position at Princeton University as professor of religion and director of the Afro-American Studies program.

West continued to write and edit books on philosophy throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In his 1985 publication Post-Analytic Philosophy, which he edited with John Rajchman, West reflects on the crisis in American philosophy. Prophetic Fragments, an essay collection published in 1988, is considered a tome of contemporary cultural criticism, addressing such subjects as theology, sex, suicide, and violence in America today. In 1991s Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, co-authors West and bell hooks limit themselves to the problems of creating black male-female dialogue and an effective black intellectual community while suggesting practical solutions to communication problems.

The Power of Diversity

Wests impassioned and insightful writings make a resounding appeal for cross-cultural tolerance and unity, while urging individuals to recognize the power of diversity within a society. As a member of the editorial collective for the journal Boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture, West draws on his research to relate Marxist thought to cultural politics of difference, including differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, and age. And out of a desire to contribute to the building of coalitions across different communities, he writes a column for the progressive Jewish journal Tikkun. Finally, in an effort to reach out to still wider audiences, West provides commentary on contemporary subjects for popular journals, such as his essay on the 1992 Los Angeles riots for the New York Times Magazine.

West continues his exploration of race relations and cultural diversity in his 1993 book Race Matters, which his publisher, Beacon Press, promotes as a healing vision for the crisis of racial politics today. Appealing to a broader audience than some of his earlier works, Wests message remains... uncompromising and unconventional, according to Ellis Cose in Newsweek. He sees salvation in a renewal of love, empathy and compassion, in a radical redistribution of power and wealthand in facing difficult truths.

As Boynton indicated, Wests inimitable drive to keep on teaching and writing is so strong that West feels as though if he were to stop, he would just explode. Resolute in his belief that people of color must struggle now for a better future, he persists in his quest to create an effective, black, progressive leadership. West ends his introduction to Ethical Dimensions with a call to action: The future of U.S. progressive politics lies in the capacity of a collective leadership to energize, mobilize, and organize working and poor people. Democratic socialists can play a crucial role in projecting an all-embracing moral vision of freedom, justice, and equality, and making social analyses that connect and link activists together.... Americas massive social breakdown requires that we come togetherfor the sake of our lives, our children, and our sacred honor.

Selected writings

Black Theology and Marxist Thought, Theology in the Americas, 1979.

Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, Westminster Press, 1982.

(Coeditor) Theology in the Americas, Orbis Books, 1982.

(Coeditor) Post-Analytic Philosophy, Columbia University Press, 1985.

Prophetic Fragments, Eerdmans, 1988.

The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

(Coeditor) Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, 1990.

(With bell hooks) Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, South End Press, 1991.

The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, Monthly Review Press, 1991.

Beyond Eurocentrism and Multiculturalism, Common Courage Press, 1993.

Race Matters, Beacon Press, 1993.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Monthly Review, Yale Journal of Criticism: Interpretation in the Humanities, Critical Quarterly, Nation, October, Tikkun, New York Times Book Review, and New York Times Magazine. American correspondent for Le Monde diplomatique, 1984-87; member of editorial collective

Boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture.

Sources

Books

Bercovitch, Sacvan, The American Jeremiad, University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

hooks, bell, and Cornel West, Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, South End Press, 1991.

West, Cornel, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

West, Cornel, The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, Monthly Review Press, 1991.

Periodicals

Commonweal, December 20, 1985, p. 708.

Emerge, March 1993.

Nation, April 9, 1990, pp. 496-8.

Newsweek, June 7, 1993, p. 71.

New York Times Magazine, September 15, 1991.

Religious Studies Review, April 1992, p. 103.

Voice Literary Supplement, December 1988, pp. 3-4.

Nicholas S. Patti

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Cornel West

Cornel West

An American philosopher, Cornel West (born 1953) quickly won recognition as a critic of culture, an interpreter of African American experience, an advocate of social justice, and an analyst of Post-Modern art and philosophy.

Cornel West, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1953, lived most of his childhood and youth in segregated working-class neighborhoods in Oklahoma, Kansas, and California. In high school he excelled in scholarship and athletics. He earned his A.B. at Harvard University, then completed his doctorate in philosophy at Princeton in 1980. While a graduate student, he was a teaching assistant in humanities and ethics at Harvard and in philosophy at Princeton.

In 1977 he joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York, teaching classical and contemporary philosophy. From 1984 to 1987 he taught at the Yale University Divinity School, then returned to Union in 1987-1988. In 1988 Princeton University tapped him to be the director of its African American Studies Program and as professor of religion. In the former program he drew together a multi-disciplinary group of literary artists and scholars who interpreted the African American experience in history and literature.

West earned an early reputation as a scholar of infectious enthusiasm, sharp insight, and wide-ranging interests. Within a decade of earning his doctorate, he accepted visiting appointments at Barnard College, Williams College, Princeton Theological Seminary, Haverford College, City University of New York (Center for Worker Education), Harvard Divinity School, and the University of Paris. In addition, he lectured at more than a hundred colleges and universities in the United States. He taught philosophy to inmates of a federal prison, an unusual distinction for an academic philosopher. Within the same decade he produced dozens of essays and reviews, published in books and in journals, both scholarly and popular.

In an age of scholarly specialization, West cultivated widely diverse interests. His nimble mind danced from one subject to another with dazzling virtuosity. On one side of his thought he was a social philosopher, drawing much from the Marxist tradition but uninhibited by allegiance to any Marxist orthodoxies. His scholarship was closely related to active involvement in movements for social and racial justice. He was simultaneously an interpreter of African American experience to white Americans, of American philosophy to Europeans, of democratic beliefs to South Africans, of religious insights to secularists, and of secular themes to the religious. As a philosopher, he showed special interest in pragmatism, Post-Modern thought, and philosophy of religion. His artistic interests included literature (he had published one short story and friends predicted that he would write a novel), opera (he was seen occasionally at Salzburg), cinema (he was a fellow at the British Film Institute), and architecture (he lectured at the School of Architecture at Milan, Italy).

The unifying center for these diverse interests was a concern for cultural criticism: intellectual, esthetic, ethical, and religious. Whatever area of human interest he entered, from the arts to the most technical philosophy, he soon related to its expressions in contemporary society and its meaning for human self-understanding and justice. West appreciated culture as an expression of human creativity; he also saw that culture often oppresses human beings, especially marginalized people. He united intellectual analysis and social involvement, scholarship and action, the academic world and political life.

Even as he boldly acknowledged his roots in the African American church, West made trenchant criticisms of religious belief and practice, and he asked no favoritism for religion in the intellectual discussions of universities and society. He drew inspiration from the prophetic tradition of the Bible, and the words "prophetic" and "prophecy" appear often in his writings.

West was an eloquent lecturer, whose lithe and energetic body was totally involved in the torrent of words and ideas that tumbled from his mouth. He asked his listeners not only to hear what he said, but to enter into his thought processes and share his enthusiasms or generate their own thoughts and enthusiasms. His speaking style was symbolic of his convictions, which rejected the divorce of body from mind, of emotion from intellect, characteristic of much philosophy since Descartes. In a time when many philosophers would be horrified to be called preachers, West (although not an ordained minister) was not embarrassed to preach an occasional sermon. For him a passion for social justice was as intellectually respectable and demanding as the most rigorous intellectual analysis of propositions, and the two were never far apart in his philosophy.

West wrote and co-authored numerous books on philosophy, race and sociology. His Race Matters won a Critics Choice Award and was listed as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1992. Other works included Keeping the Faith: Philosophy and Race in American (1993) and Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin (1995), co-authored with Michael Lerner. In 1996 he co-authored The Future of Race with his Harvard colleague, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

West was a frequent guest lecturer on university campuses nationwide. He joined the Harvard Faculty in 1994 as professor of Religion and African American Studies. During the 1996 Fall Semester he was a visiting professor at the University of Arizona. West was a featured speaker during the 1997 Martin Luther King, Jr./ Human Rights Week Celebration at Boise State University. At Harvard, West was known for his electrifying presentations that inspired students to critically analyze their own beliefs on race, culture, and class. Gates once described West as "the pre-eminent African American intellectual of our generation."

Further Reading

West's first book was Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (1982). He co-edited Post-Analytic Philosophy (1985), a collection of essays by numerous scholars. Prophetic Fragments (1988) is a gathering of some 50 of West's essays and reviews. The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism by West (1989), is a study of an America n intellectual tradition. Out There: Marginalities and Contemporary Culture, co-edited by West (1990), explores artistic interests. Jervis Anderson interviews West in The New Yorker (Jan 17, 1994). Critical reviews of West's work can be found in major newspapers and magazines such as Time. Campus newspapers where West was a guest speaker provide information on current interests and social causes. □

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West, Cornel 1953–

West, Cornel 1953–

(Cornel Ronald West)

PERSONAL: Born June 2, 1953, in Tulsa, OK; son of Clifton L., Jr. (a civilian Air Force administrator), and Irene (a school teacher; maiden name, Bias) West; divorced twice; married; third wife's name Elleni (a social worker); children: (first marriage) Clifton Louis. Education: Harvard University, A.B. (magna cum laude), 1973; Princeton University, M.A., 1975, Ph.D., 1980. Politics: Democratic Socialists of America. Religion: Baptist.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Religion, Princeton University, 1879 Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544.

CAREER: Writer, editor, lecturer, actor, and educator. Union Theological Seminary, New York City, assistant professor of philosophy of religion, 1977–83 and 1988; affiliated with Yale University Divinity School, New Haven, CT, 1984–87, and University of Paris, Paris, France, spring, 1987; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, professor of religion and director of African American Studies, 1988–94, Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion and African American Studies, 2002–; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, professor of religion and Afro-American studies, 1994–99, Alphonse Fletcher, Jr., University Professor, 1999–2002. Served as a visiting professor at various colleges and universities. Democratic Socialists of America, honorary chair; Tikkun Community, co-chair. Appeared in the Matrix movie sequels as the character Counselor West.

AWARDS, HONORS: Du Bois fellow at Harvard University; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1993, for Beyond Eurocentrism and Multiculturalism; Literary Lion Award, New York Public Library, 1993; James Madison Medal, Princeton University, 1996; recipient of honorary degrees from more than twenty educational institutions.

WRITINGS:

Prophesy Deliverance!: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, Westminster (Philadelphia, PA), 1982, anniversary edition with a new preface by the author, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 2002.

Prophetic Fragments, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1988.

The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1989.

(With bell hooks) Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1991.

The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, Monthly Review Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Race Matters, Beacon (Boston, MA), 1993, reprinted with a new preface by the author, 2001.

Beyond Eurocentrism and Multiculturalism, Volume 1: Prophetic Thoughts in Postmodern Times, Volume 2: Prophetic Reflections, Notes on Race and Power in America, Common Cause Press, 1993.

Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.

(With Michael Lerner) Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin, G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 1995.

(With Lerner) Jews & Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion, and Culture in America, Plume (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) The Future of the Race, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Mumia Abu-Jamal) Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience, Plough (East Sussex, England), 1996.

Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America, edited by Kelvin Shawn Sealey, Beacon (Boston, MA), 1997.

(With Roberto Mangabeira Unger) The Future of American Progressivism: An Initiative for Political and Economic Reform, Beacon (Boston, MA), 1998.

(With Sylvia Ann Hewlett) The War against Parents: What We Can Do for America's Beleaguered Moms and Dads, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1998.

The Cornel West Reader, Basic Civitas Books (New York, NY), 1999.

(With Gates) The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country, Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight against Imperialism, Penguin (New York, NY), 2004.

EDITOR

(With Caridad Guidote and Margaret Coakley) Theology in the Americas: Detroit II Conference Papers, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 1982.

(With John Rajchman) Post-Analytic Philosophy, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1985.

(With Colin MacCabe) James Snead, White Screens, Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.

(With Jack Salzman and David Lionel Smith) Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Jack Salzman) Struggles in the Promised Land: Toward a History of Black-Jewish Relations in the United States, Oxford University Press, (New York, NY), 1997.

(With Quinton Hosford Dixie) The Courage to Hope: From Black Suffering to Human Redemption, Beacon (Boston, MA), 1999.

Malcolm "Shorty" Jarvis, with Paul D. Nichols, The Other Malcolm, "Shorty" Jarvis: His Memoir, McFarland (Jefferson, NC), 2001.

(With Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Nancy Rankin) Taking Parenting Public: The Case for a New Social Movement, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 2002.

(With Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.) African-American Religious Thought: An Anthology, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 2003.

(With Kara Keeling and Colin MacCabe) James A. Snead, Racist Traces and Other Writings: European Pedigrees/African Contagions, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2003.

OTHER

Sketches of My Culture (music recording), Artemis Records (New York, NY), 2001.

(Author of foreword) Lee Jones, editor, Making It On Broken Promises: Leading African American Male Scholars Confront the Culture of Higher Education, Stylus (Sterling, VA), 2002.

(Author of foreword) It's a Free Country: Personal Freedom in America after September 11, edited by Danny Goldberg, Victor Goldberg, and Robert Greenwald, Nation Books/Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Coeditor of Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, 1991. Contributor to The Affirmative Action Debate, George E. Curry, editor, Addison, Wesley, 1996. Contributor to periodicals, including Monthly Review, Critical Quarterly, Nation, Tikkun, New York Times Book Review, and New York Times.

ADAPTATIONS: Some of West's books have been adapted for audiocassette.

SIDELIGHTS: Cornel West is a philosopher who combines his Christian faith with the teachings of Marxism. He has written many books and articles that address such subjects as multiculturalism, Eurocentrism, racism, and socialism. "If West hasn't written the book," claimed Robert S. Boynton in the New York Times, "he has made his influence felt as a speaker in classrooms, churches, and protest rallies all across the country; he's a significant intellectual presence, scholarly enough to be cited in footnotes yet so charismatic that colleagues have compared him to Martin Luther King, Jr. … He brings a religious zeal to intellectual issues. He makes the life of the mind exciting."

Central to West's message is his belief that Christianity, combined with the doctrine of Marxism, is a powerful weapon against white racism and oppression. One of West's earliest books, Prophesy Deliverance!: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, expounds on his theory that this combination of philosophies has the ability to affect major social change. Prophesy Deliverance! was praised by a Choice critic, who stated: "West has written a brilliant and provocative manifesto, which marks an entirely new stage of development in the movement of black liberation theology."

Additional essays on West's thoughts about Marxism and Christianity, as well as sex, suicide, and violence in modern-day America, can be found in his Prophetic Fragments. In an Essence review of Prophetic Fragments, Paula Giddings contended: "With his exceptionally wide-ranging knowledge and crisp prose, West should certainly command every thinking person's attention."

As a graduate student at Princeton, West was fascinated by the work of Princeton philosopher Richard Rorty, who has written extensively about American pragmatism. Inspired by Rorty, West developed his own version of pragmatism, which he calls "prophetic pragmatism." Commenting on West's The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, philosopher K. Anthony Appiah asserted in the Nation: "If there is much that is appealing in Rorty's antifoundationalism, his liberal revulsion against human cruelty and his arguments for pluralism, there is something worrisome, too, in his deliberate ethnocentrism and the conservatism that flows from his political pessimism. Cornel West's engaging and engaged The American Evasion of Philosophy needs to be read as a subtle polemic against the dangers of the highly influential new pragmatism as it celebrates and expands Rorty's insights." Appiah added that West's work is "rooted in a sense of the continuing relevance of Christianity and socialism," and that it "displays an inexhaustible appetite for ideas and a compelling moral vision." Appiah deemed The American Evasion of Philosophy "the most ambitious and original project that [West] has undertaken."

Most of West's writings seek to inspire individuals to use the power of their minds to better themselves and their communities. Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life is no exception, but it also covers much more. Written with educator bell hooks, Breaking Bread includes the authors' thoughts on sexism, racism, and individualism, but also offers their critiques of aspects of black modern culture, including fashion and arts. Black Enterprise writer Tonya Bolden recommended Breaking Bread to "those who value the life of the mind," and observed that "the book lacks malice and carries a message of hope attesting to the authors' love for their people and commitment to their salvation." A Publishers Weekly reviewer similarly found that Breaking Bread "is of enormous importance and offers rewarding reading."

Another of West's books aimed at promoting social change is Race Matters, a collection of essays in which West discusses how various groups (including liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites) are to blame for poor race relations in the United States. Paul Delaney, writing for the New York Times Book Review, suggested: "Mr. West's solutions [to race relations] are basic, indeed old-fashioned, resting on a kind of coming together of the minds to resolve to change things. His specific recommendations include coalition building, redistribution of wealth, 'large-scale public intervention to insure access to basic social goods,' and courageous leaders." A Publishers Weekly reviewer portrayed West as "more healing visionary than historian," and opined: "These essays … solidify his position as one of the nation's leading public intellectuals."

Reviewing West's next volume of essays, Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America, for the Christian Century, Donald E. Messer observed: "In contrast to his best-selling Race Matters, the book lacks a clear focus. Rather, it illustrates the incredible scope of the author's interests and intellect." Some of the subjects West tackles in Keeping Faith include architecture, social theory, art criticism, and legal studies. Messer noted that West's "concern for the marginalized" members of society and the "maldistribution of resources, wealth, and power" in American pervades his analysis. At the same time, the Christian Century contributor continued, "West doesn't hesitate to criticize his own African-American community." To overcome racism in American, West calls for African-Americans to form "alliances and coalitions with progressive Latino, Asian, Native American and white peoples."

In an extensive 1995 article in the New Republic, subsequently described in Tikkun as "a racist attack on a prominent Afro-American intellectual," literary editor Leon Wieseltier examined six of West's books, including Race Matters and Keeping the Faith. Wieseltier's negative assessment of West went so far as to condemn his work as "completely worthless." Quoting extensively from the volumes he was examining to support his contentions, Wieseltier further characterized West's writing as "noisy, tedious, slippery … sectarian, humorless, pedantic, and self-endeared," and West himself as "a homiletical figure, a socialist divine, who has come to lift the spirits of the progressives." An editorial in the leftist Nation by Jon Wiener described Wieseltier's article as being "highly and inexplicably critical" of West. Wiener went on to note that West, in addition to his writings, has proven a significant political force who "has been working tirelessly to revive the progressive alliance of blacks and Jews that animated the civil rights movement and, before that, the liberal and left causes of the 1930s and 1940s." It was Wiener's contention that Wieseltier's negative assessment of West had little to do with the quality of West's writings and everything to do with the positions West expresses and the active political role he plays. Wiener concluded: "Cornel West views the gross inequities in our society as despicable; he argues that individual greed is destroying whatever community we have left; he calls for a renewal of the struggle for social justice and democratic community. And he argues that Jews and blacks ought to join together to fight. That's what Wieseltier—and the New Republic—don't like about him."

In an article appearing a few months later, the New Republic again castigated West, this time for betraying his own views by making an appearance at the National African-American Leadership Summit, an event sponsored by Reverend Benjamin Chavis, an avowed black separatist. West defended his association with racial extremists by stating: "I'm not a black nationalist or separatist, but the common focus here is on black suffering and pain."

Despite the controversy generated by Wieseltier's extreme castigation of West, the long-range impact of the article appears to have been negligible in terms of West's reputation, his continued activism, and his productivity as an author. Two books written in collaboration with Tikkun editor Michael Lerner, both calling for greater cooperation between the Jewish and Black communities, soon followed. In 1996 West joined with fellow Harvard academician Henry Louis Gates, Jr., to publish The Future of the Race, an examination of and response to W.E.B. Du Bois's famous work of 1903, "The Talented Tenth," which promulgated the idea of educated blacks (the ten percent of the title) devoting themselves to uplifting the lives of less fortunate African-Americans. The West-Gates collaboration also included portraits of contemporary African-Americans, educated and successful, and how they have fulfilled the promise of a "Talented Tenth." Bonnie Smothers, writing in Booklist, felt that The Future of the Race presents "an argument that compels one to think about sacrifice for the good of humanity, whatever its rewards." However, Eric J. Sundquist, writing in Commentary, found the book's presentation of Du Bois's views to be incomplete and consequently inaccurate, and concludes: "Even if there is plenty to choose here between West's doomsaying and Gate's pragmatism, neither tells us much about the future of the race."

The War against Parents: What We Can Do for America's Beleaguered Moms and Dads marked something of a change of pace for West in that its central concern was not a racial one. Written in collaboration with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the book contended that both American government policy and American popular media are forces that work against people trying to raise children. West and Hewlett singled out both corporate greed unrestricted by government controls and an entertainment industry that plays to the youth market with no concern for its effects as significant factors that have made raising children in American so difficult. Their suggested solutions include the founding of a national organization of concerned parents, similar to the American Association of Retired Persons, and the establishment of a "Parents' Bill of Rights." A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the book as "strongly polemical" but at the same time found that "it offers a strong, well-reasoned position on an issue of national importance, and calls for action in a sober but compelling way." E.J. Dionne, writing in Nation's Cities Weekly, commented that "Hewlett and West have not worked out all the answers … they do not pretend to have solved all the problems. But their collaboration is a hopeful sign, and their effort to link values and economics is a needed tonic."

In 1999, The Cornel West Reader appeared, a book that a Publishers Weekly reviewer described as a "mammoth collection of social commentary, interviews, essays, and memoir [that] details [West's] evolution as a social analyst and public figure." The collection contains both selections from West's earlier books and previously uncollected work. The reviewer felt that although "the range of [West's] philosophical sermons can occasionally be overwhelming, his eclectic interests and original observations are quite rewarding," and concluded: "This collection amply attests that West's reputation as a brilliant, humane voice in American intellectual discourse is richly deserved."

Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight against Imperialism, West's 2005 volume, a sequel to Race Matters, finds West offering an "impassioned voice" as he "decries the dangerous drift America has taken from our original ideals of freedom and democracy," commented reviewer Deb West in the Library Journal. He identifies three conceptual trends, or dogmas, that have emerged to threaten the foundations of American democracy. Free-market absolutism stresses corporate and individual wealth over the public good, creating an atmosphere in which the chasm between the wealthy and the poor grows at an accelerated rate, and in which workers' rights are constantly eroded while scandals become commonplace in business and industry. The second dogma, aggressive militarism, concerns itself with maintaining and applying American military might to the exclusion of other approaches. West notes that the current form of American militarism exploits the poor and persons of color, who often have little economic option but to join the military. Authoritarianism, the third dogma, is represented in the Bush administration's attempts to erode civil liberties, expand its power, and establish an invulnerability to scrutiny, manifested in its purest form in the Patriot Act. Suppression of dissent, failure to apply checks and balances, and tyrannical application of government power pose dire threats to American democracy, West believes. West places the responsibility for this situation widely, throughout government and into the media, business, and the organizations that serve as the underpinnings of American society. For West, only the highly controversial step of dismantling the "American empire" as it now exists will restore democracy. He encourages advocates of this approach to "look to Socratic democratic traditions and our own for answers," commented Chris Byrd in National Catholic Reporter. "The Socratic tradition called people to question authority and hold the powerful accountable," Byrd explained. In his book, West "makes a compelling case," Byrd concluded, "one that reconfirms the author's standing as one of the preeminent social critics of our time."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Cowan, Rosemary, Cornel West: The Politics of Redemption, Polity (Cambridge, England), 2003.

Johnson, Clarence Sholé, Cornell West and Philosophy, Routledge (Oxford, England), 2002.

Wood, Mark David, Cornel West and the Politics of Prophetic Pragmatism, University of Illinois Press (Champaign, IL), 2000.

Yancy, George, editor, Cornell West: A Critical Reader, Blackwell (Boston, MA), 2003.

PERIODICALS

Black Enterprise, June, 1992, Tonya Bolden, review of Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, p. 23.

Booklist, February 15, 1996, Bonnie Smothers, review of The Future of the Race, p. 96.

Choice, April, 1983, review of Prophesy Deliverance!: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, p. 1156.

Christian Century, September 21, 1994, Donald E. Messer, review of Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America, p. 864; July 12, 2005, Cheryl J. Saunders, review of Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight against Imperialism, p. 35.

Commentary, July, 1996, Eric J. Sundquist, review of The Future of the Race, p. 60.

Essence, January, 1989, Paula Giddings, review of Prophetic Fragments, p. 30.

Library Journal, June 1, 2005, Deb West, review of Democracy Matters, p. 191.

Nation, April 9, 1990, Kwame Anthony Appiah, review of The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, p. 496; March 27, 1995, Jon Wiener, "Jews. Blacks, TNR," p. 404.

National Catholic Reporter, February 11, 2005, Chris Byrd, "Dogmas that Threaten Democracy: Author Urges Dismantling of the American Empire," review of Democracy Matters, p. 11a.

Nation's Cities Weekly, June 15, 1998, E. J. Dionne, review of The War against Parents: What We Can Do for America's Beleaguered Moms and Dads, p. 8.

New Republic, March 6, 1995, Leon Wieseltier, "All and Nothing at All: The Unreal World of Cornel West," p. 31; July 10, 1995, "The Decline of One (Repeat, One) African-American Intellectual," p. 9.

New York Times, September 15, 1991, Robert S. Boynton, "Princeton's Public Intellectual," profile of Cornel West, p. 39.

New York Times Book Review, May 16, 1993, Paul Delany, review of Race Matters, p. 11.

Publishers Weekly, November 22, 1991, review of Breaking Bread, p. 49; February 15, 1993, review of Race Matters, p. 218; March 30, 1998, review of The War against Parents, p. 60; October 25, 1999, review of The Cornel West Reader, p. 57; August 26, 2002, "September 11: Before and After," review of It's a Free Country: Personal Freedom in America after September 11, p. 53.

Tikkun, March-April, 1995, "The Attack on Cornel West," p. 7.

ONLINE

The Pragmatism Cybrary, http://www.pragmatism.org/ (October 15, 2006), biography of Cornel West.

Princeton University Web site, http://www.princeton.edu/ (October 15, 2006), "Cornel West to Return to Princeton as Senior Faculty Member"; (October 15, 2006), The Program in African-American Studies at Princeton.

Prisoner of Hope, http://influx.uoregon.edu/1998/west/ (October 15, 2006), Web site devoted to Cornel West.

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