Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (originally published in 1961) is an enlightening and yet deeply troubling book. In advocating for the sort of things progressive and liberal readers support – an end to colonialism, growth of authentic national culture – he also advocates for ideas and tactics that leave those readers rather queasy – violence, nationalism, and in some readings, even racial separatism. It can be tempting to cherry pick the safe ideas from Fanon and, for example, embrace his views on culture while rejecting those on violence or to dismiss him as a product of his times, whose ideas might have been new and necessary at the time but many of which are sadly outdated and dangerous in our more enlightened times. Both of these approaches do him a disservice, and a more honest reading of Fanon would attempt to at least comprehend, if not embrace the more troubling facets of his work. While many readers may choose to reject some of his views, it is possible to give them a careful consideration without relegating them to the dustbin of history.
Pierre Englebert argued in a recent New York Times op-ed (as well as in a previous article with Denis Tull) for the removal of state status or legitimacy from some nations that are failing to adequately perform their functions of state and government, most notably Somalia. Their reasoning is novel, and a bit frightening: most African states were recognized as states during decolonization before they had actually begun to function as independent states, and thus they were given a gift of sovereignty by outside actors, rather than develop sovereignty organically, as a contract between a ruler and a people. The authors presume that this means those outside actors also have a right strip this sovereignty away. The illegitimacy of states and governments has been used as an excuse for foreign powers to invade, and the lack of recognizable state structures existing in parts of the world became the basis for colonialism. Questions of what is legitimate secession, versus and illegal attempt of a region to breakaway, have allowed struggles for independence to continue, often violently, for decades because the international community and neighboring countries cannot agree on whether to intervene and on which side. Thus, what Englebert is advocating for is not entirely unprecedented, though he is approaching it quite differently.
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