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Dr. Robert W. Williams
Political Science, Bennett College
Faculty Lecture Series
Presentation: 22 January 2015
(Note: This is a DRAFT version only. It is *not* in final, publishable form.
Also, it includes later clarifications.)

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© 2015  Robert W. Williams
W.E.B. Du Bois and The Paradox of Democracy
Dr. Robert W. Williams
Political Science, Bennett College
Faculty Lecture Series
Presentation: 22 January 2015
(Note: This is a DRAFT version only. It is *not* in final, publishable form.
Also, it includes later clarifications.)
© 2015  Robert W. Williams

0.1.  Abstract of the Presentation

The presentation concentrates on W.E.B. Du Bois's "Of the Ruling of Men" (OROM), which is Chapter VI in his 1920 book, Darkwater. Specifically, two themes, or goals, stated in "Ruling" are discussed:
(a) Du Bois supported and sought to widen the electoral franchise by relating knowledge — including that deriving from marginalized persons — to gov­ern­ance, rather than by basing suffrage on natural rights; and
(b) he argued that after demographically widening the franchise, we should widen the scope of citizen participation into areas deemed private, such as some large-scale industries, because of their often negative public (social and polit­i­cal) consequences.
By achieving OROM's second goal, Du Bois argued that we can overcome the paradox of "democratic control" by bringing under citizen input and scientific expertise those areas that negatively affected the citizens but which heretofore have been subject only to the interests of individual and corporate control.
Lastly, this presentation sketches the significance of "Ruling" in terms of its illu­mi­na­tion of Du Bois's contributions to democratic theorizing (including the concept of unknowability), as well as outlines several caveats to his formu­la­tions in "Ruling".
• To continue, click "NEXT" at the bottom right of the screen •

0.1.  Abstract of the Presentation

The presentation concentrates on W.E.B. Du Bois's "Of the Ruling of Men" (OROM),
which is Chapter VI in his 1920 book, Darkwater. Specifically, two themes, or goals,
stated in "Ruling" are discussed:
(a) Du Bois supported and sought to widen the electoral franchise by relating knowledge
— including that deriving from marginalized persons — to governance, rather than by
basing suffrage on natural rights; and
(b) he argued that after demographically widening the franchise, we should widen the
scope of citizen participation into areas deemed private, such as some large-scale
industries, because of their often negative public (social and political) consequences.
By achieving OROM's second goal, Du Bois argued that we can overcome the
paradox of "democratic control" by bringing under citizen input and scientific expertise
those areas that negatively affected the citizens but which heretofore have been subject
only to the interests of individual and corporate control.
Lastly, this presentation sketches the significance of "Ruling" in terms of its
illu­mi­na­tion of Du Bois's contributions to democratic theorizing (including the concept
of unknowability), as well as outlines several caveats to his formulations in "Ruling".

0.2.  Navigating the Online Presentation


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0.2.  Navigating the One-Page Version of the Presentation


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0.3.  Online Accessibility of Texts


This presentation online:



Lectures page:


W.E.B. Du Bois's texts:


Du Bois's "Of the Ruling of Men" (OROM) — Ch. VI in Darkwater — is available at my website (html) or at Project Gutenberg (repository).


My website also provides links to other DuBoisian primary texts. One may visit the site map or peruse the Sources page.


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0.3.  Online Availability of Texts


This presentation online:



Lectures page:


W.E.B. Du Bois's texts:


Du Bois's "Of the Ruling of Men" (OROM) – Ch. VI in Darkwater
is available at my website (html) or at Project Gutenberg (repository).


My website also provides links to other DuBoisian primary texts.
One may visit the site map or peruse the Sources page.

0.4.  Acknowledgments


I wish to thank the many at Bennett College who helped to make
this presentation possible:


The Provost's Office,


My colleagues on the staff and faculty,


My students.


Copyrights and Fair Use


The various image files found in this presentation are copyrighted
by their respective owners or registrants. The image files are used for
edu­ca­tion­al purposes only and in accordance with the guidelines of
"educational fair use".


If anyone has a concern regarding an image file, please contact
Dr. Robert W. Williams.

0.5.  Dr. Robert W. Williams: Who I Am


My C.V.



My Academic Websites




My Page at


0.6.  Thematic Outline of the Presentation Tonight

Section 1: Introduction
• W.E.B. Du Bois
• "Of the Ruling of Men" (OROM): Darkwater
• Democracy and the Paradoxes of Democracy
• Themes in OROM
• Du Bois's Elitism & Masculinism

Section 2: OROM & Democratization
• Historical Generalizations, Normative Interpretations
• Governance, Democratization, and Industrialization
• Problems of Governance
• The Roots of Democracy
• The Knowable/Unknow­able Governing Dynamic
• Unknowability as a DuBoisian Theme

Section 3: Natural Rights & Their Critique
• Definition: Self Evident & Unalienable
• The Role of Natural Rights in Social Justice
• Why Criticize Natural Rights?
• Importance of Du Bois's Critique

Section 4: Widening the Scope of Democracy
• Natural Rights & the Public/Private Framework
• The Roles of Public & Private Realms
• The Paradox of "Democratic Control"
• OROM's Reformulation of Public & Private: Mountaintop & Valley
• The Importance of Du Bois's Reformulation

Section 5: OROM & Its Significance
• Illuminating Du Bois
• Lessons for Democratic Theorizing
• Limitations of OROM: Caveats
• OROM's Legacy for Du Bois

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SECTION 1:  Tonight

Photo: Du Bois in 1918
Photo: Du Bois with his daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandson
Photo: Du Bois and NAACP, 1929

1.1.  W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)


Early Life and Education.


Scholarship and Activism.


Academic research.


The Souls of Black Folk (1903).


NAACP and editor of the The Crisis.


Ghana and Passing.

1.2.  "Of the Ruling of Men" ("Ruling" or OROM)


My general topic tonight centers on "Of the Ruling of Men" by Du Bois.


Chapter 6 in Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (1920), a book that is not as well known to most persons as is The Souls of Black Folk (1903).


Darkwater and "Ruling" represent an increasingly radical Du Bois.


I will explore how democracy is conceptualized by Du Bois in "Ruling".


My specific focus will be on the paradox of democracy.


This is related to my recent research on Du Bois's concept of unknowability.


More details are available:




In this presentation I use "OROM" and "Ruling" interchangeably to refer to Du Bois's "Of the Ruling of Men".


All citations, unless otherwise specified, refer to "Ruling".

1.3.  Democracy


Defined in general: The demos — people/citizens — rule, or at least set forth the general direction of policy and hold the government accountable for its actions (i.e., representative democracy).


In "Ruling", Du Bois wrote: "Democracy is a method of realizing the broadest measure of justice to all human beings." [¶ 23]

1.4.  Paradox(es) of Democracy


For Du Bois, paradoxes arose when democratic principles were undermined by actual practices. In "Ruling" Du Bois wrote:
"Democracy alone is the method of showing the whole experience of the race for the benefit of the future and if democracy tries to exclude women or Negroes or the poor or any class because of innate characteristics which do not interfere with intelligence, then that democracy cripples itself and belies its name." [¶ 29]


Such paradoxes illustrated the limitations on the application of democracy:


Debates typically take place on matters relevant to the politics of the public realm.


But also debates do occur regarding the boundary between public and private domains. What should be a matter of public concern for the citizens? What should be a private matter for the individual or between individuals?


"Ruling" addressed several paradoxes of democracy (¶¶ 13, 29, 54).

1.5.  Themes in "Ruling"


Support and widen the franchise via relating knowledge to governance (not simply basing the franchise on natural rights)


After demographically widening the franchise then widen the scope of citizen participation into areas heretofore deemed private, but also with societal consequences.

1.6.  Du Bois: Elitism and Masculinism


Du Bois's elitism: Talented Tenth (1903) and Guiding One-Hundredth (1948).


Masculinist biases: for example, Du Bois often wrote in ways indicating that African American women needed protection.


Du Bois as proto-feminist: women as agents of change.


"Ruling" problematized but did not eradicate Du Bois's elitism and masculinism.

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SECTION 2:  OROM & Democratization

Painting: Storming of the Bastille in 1789
Photo: Voters waiting to vote, 1994 South African elections
Line drawing: The First Vote (Harpers Weekly, 1867)

2.1.  Historical Generalizations, Normative Arguments


OROM's opening paragraphs (¶¶ 1-13):


Very brief overview of the rise of democracy in modern Europe and Reconstruction Era United States.


Who are the citizens? Who has the political power? The social power? What is the extent of participation?


Normative Arguments and Interpretations:


Consequences of lack of participation and voting on citizens and on governance?


Namely, negative results for citizens and for government.

2.2.  Governance, Democratization, Industrialization


"Ruling" linked governing to the development of democracy in the context of the growth of capitalist industrialization.


Historically: increasing, but only partial, demographic inclusion in the midst of much struggle and politicking.


Contradictions (RWW's term)


Industrial capitalism aided some inclusion but was historically joined with colonial exploitation (¶ 13). See also Du Bois's 1915 "The African Roots of War" ("democratic despotism").


U.S. Reconstruction Era: Chance for democratic advancements after emancipation.


Du Bois built on his earlier papers "The Freedman's Bureau" (1901) and "Reconstruction and Its Benefits" (1910) and anticipated his "Marxism and the Negro Problem" (1933) and Black Reconstruction in America (1935). (For example, "democratic control" is a phrase that Du Bois used extensively in Black Reconstruction.)


Southern former plantation owners and Northern industrialists did not wish to widen democracy.

2.3.  Problems of Governance


"Ruling" argued that governing problems in aristocratic, monarchical, and even so-called democratic regimes arose from the lack of knowledge that was located, indeed embodied, in the populace (¶¶ 20, 25, 32; also ¶¶ 1, 2, 4).


Du Bois did not extensively document the problems resulting from a government's lack of knowledge of what its citizens/subjects wanted and knew.


However, Du Bois did indicate that social problems arose from the government's (or rulers') ignorance of issues pertinent to and involving gender, children, and race (¶¶ 32-33).


What obstructed governments from gaining knowledge?


Disfranchisement is Du Bois's focus (¶¶ 15-23).


"Ruling" incorporated some of his previous "Disfranchisement" pamphlet (ca. 1912).

2.4.  The Roots of Democracy


In "Ruling" Du Bois wrote that we must "examine the roots of democracy." (¶ 14). Specifically:
"In fact no one knows himself but that self's own soul. The vast and wonderful knowledge of this marvelous universe is locked in the bosoms of its individual souls. To tap this mighty reservoir of experience, knowledge, beauty, love, and deed we must appeal not to the few, not to some souls, but to all. The narrower the appeal, the poorer the culture; the wider the appeal the more magnificent are the possibilities. Infinite is human nature. We make it finite by choking back the mass of men, by attempting to speak for others, to interpret and act for them, and we end by acting for ourselves and using the world as our private property. If this were all, it were crime enough — but it is not all: by our ignorance we make the creation of the greater world impossible; we beat back a world built of the playing of dogs and laughter of children, the song of Black Folk and worship of Yellow, the love of women and strength of men, and try to express by a group of doddering ancients the Will of the World." [¶ 20]


Such words bear some resemblance to Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "The Solitude of Self" (1892).


Also, such thoughts are similar to existentialism, which implicates the irreducibility of individual experience, but "Ruling" entailed more social mediations of the individual than did some existentialists.

2.5.  The Knowable/Unknowable Governing Dynamic


Information needed for governance was knowable potentially in the form of the "excluded wisdom" possessed by marginalized groups and in the form of scientific knowledge (¶¶ 27-28).


What did marginalized groups know? Namely, their valuable experiences and skill sets.


However, this "excluded wisdom" was directly unknowable to others.


Epistemologically opaque to the parsimonious principles that undergird various quantitative techniques, e.g., surveys, polls, and aggregate data.


Qualitative methods can access something of the irreducibly distinct individual experiences.


Hence, individuals themselves must vote and participate politically because no one could speak for them.

2.6.  Unknowability as a Recurring DuBoisan Theme


Examples from Du Bois:


"The Individual and Social Conscience" (1905) [see below].


Correspondence with American Philosophical Association president (1943) and to Aptheker (1956).


"Steps towards a Science of How Men Act" (ca. mid-1940s), unpublished manuscript.


Du Bois's words in "The Individual and Social Conscience":
"Here in this my neighbor stand things I do not know, experiences I have never felt, depths whose darkness is beyond me, and heights hidden by the clouds; or, perhaps, rather, differences in ways of thinking, and dreaming, and feeling which I guess at rather than know; strange twistings of soul that curve between the grotesque and the awful." [¶ 3]


Du Bois did not often foreground the unknowability theme; but it was conveyed in various ways across his life.

2.7.  The Importance of Unknowability


Unknowability, I argue, provided a justification for voting.


In terms of his rationale for the franchise, Du Bois was similar to others in the Progressive Era: e.g., Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Jane Addams, who also recognized that irreducibly distinct individuals could help both society and themselves when they contributed politically via voting.


For Du Bois science and social science were important but limited in what could be studied.


For example, the value of equality as an ideal and ultimate goal — what should be — could not be adequately addressed by scientific means (which examine what is). But philosophically based approaches might approach such a topic, although not necessarily resolving it fully.


Thus, DuBoisian unknowability supported the argument for multiple ways of knowing in addition to science.


OROM's argument for democracy was not based on natural rights.


Indeed, DuBoisian unknowability offered an implicit criticism of conceptions of democracy based on natural rights.

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SECTION 3:  Natural Rights & Their Critique

Photo: U.S. Declaration of Independence
Line drawing: Seneca Falls Meeting, 1848 (by Granger)
Photo: Frederick Douglass
Photo: Anna Julia Cooper, 1893

3.1.  Self Evident and Unalienable


Natural rights are self-evident, universal, timeless, and unalienable (in principle, according to those considered to be in the social-contract tradition, such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau).


Social contract theorists, especially John Locke, influenced the U.S. Founders.


Individuals in a Lockean state of nature are social and pre-political.


Several well known documents: "U.S. Declaration of Independence"; "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen" (French Revolution).


Examples of natural rights: self-protection; private property; freedom of speech; freedom of personal association.


Positive rights derive from natural rights: voting and free elections; no taxation without elected representation, presumed innocence in legal matters until prosecution proves guilt, etc.
Thomas Hobbes John Locke Jean-Jacques Rousseau

3.2.  The Role of Natural Rights in Social Justice


Women's suffrage movement (Seneca Falls: "Declaration of Sentiments", 1848).


Civil Rights movements in U.S.A. and elsewhere.


Natural rights still resonate today.

3.3.  Criticizing Natural Rights?


Progressive Era critiques:


Natural rights were too abstract because their justification derived from an ahistorical and unscientific pre-political state of nature (as their supporters held).


Science was needed to address political matters and social problems.


Critique from within the Women's Suffrage movement: expediency doctrine of Jane Addams and others


Du Bois's critique (as RWW has interpreted it):


Typically, natural rights and positive rights were not applied to some groups, thereby marginalizing them politically as well as socially.


In "Ruling" Du Bois did not focus on an (or THE) "Individual" that was characteristic of social contractarian thinking. According to that diverse body of political thought, the individual's supposed primacy (vis-à-vis government) and purported universality (with regard to reason, capacities, and drives) constituted her/his irreducible concreteness in a imaginary state of nature, and thereby grounded her/his natural rights. However, such a conception of the individual, as Du Bois implied, was abstract and not derived from what actually grounded an individual's distinctiveness within her/his social relationships.


"Ruling" implicated that what made an individual irreducibly distinct and thereby "concrete" was one's embodied experiences as an agentic self-in-the-world (as Du Bois's thought could be stated).
Alternatively, we could state in a phenomenological manner: "Ruling" focused on what made an individual fundamentally distinct and "concrete": namely, one's embodied experiences of the world are grounded in being an irreducible and indivisible agentic self-in-the-world.


Such personal and very human experiences became the basis for the "excluded wisdom" needed for governing.
Photo: Jane Addams

3.4.  The Importance of OROM's Critique of Natural Rights


Du Bois explicitly widened the groups to be included in the franchise.


Not all Progressive Era thinkers and activists were so inclusive; some supported discrimination towards immigrants and African Americans.


Jane Addams was a well known exception.


In "Ruling" Du Bois's use of what I have called the knowable/unknowable governing dynamic emphasized the importance of knowledge for governance that derived from marginalized groups — a point that thereby permitted a critique of Progressive-Era biases.

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SECTION 4:  Widening Democracy's Scope

Photo: Popocatepetl (Volcano) in Puebla, Mexico
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog: Painting by Caspar David Friedrich

4.1.  Natural Rights and the Public/Private Framework


Natural rights support and indeed constitute the boundary between the realms of the private and the public.


Public and private realms: domains in which individuals can act in certain ways.


Both public and private realms are considered vital to democracy.


Historical note: John Locke in his Second Treatise (1689) provided a well known justification of the fundamental distinction between the realm of private actors and their individual decisions, and the realm of political actors and their collective decisions.


Du Bois asked in "Ruling": after the franchise was secured, what then?


In "Ruling" Du Bois did not directly address what some, such as Jürgen Habermas, have labeled a "public sphere" — a domain of citizens whose discussion of, and reasoning about, common matters occurred beyond the private domain of individuals, households, and businesses, as well as also beyond the control of governmental institutions.


Accordingly, I have employed the term "public realm (or domain)", rather than "public sphere" so as to more closely correspond with Du Bois's formulation of the public and private within the text of "Ruling".


In addition, I use the term "public/private framework (or thematic)" herein in order to illuminate the mutually constitutive relationship between the two realms.

4.2.  The Roles of Public and Private Realms


The private realm (as a concept in Western political theory):


Realm of the individual, family, groups actions outside of political control.


Deemed natural in theories inspired by social contract thinkers because natural rights hold priority.


Protects individuals from government actions: freedom from constraints.


Government is minimalist: fewer regulations, military supported, criminal justice system supported.


The individual can think and believe as she or he wishes, and also act in ways that do not physically harm another or that violate another's property rights.


Also, according to Du Bois in "Ruling", the private realm permitted: "The Few [sic] who govern industry envisage, not the work of mankind, but their own wants." (¶ 58)


The public realm (as a concept in Western political theory):


Domain of governmental institutions, policies, and processes in which decisions and laws are legally binding (at least in principle) on the members and residents of the territory.


Deemed artificial (in social contract theories), because government is not part of nature.


Governmental institutions include those institutions that perform legislative, executive, and judicial functions, as well as (in democratic regimes) provide avenues permitting citizen participation and governmental accountability.


Positive rights hold sway in the public domain: voting and free elections; no taxation without elected representation, presumed innocence in legal matters until prosecution proves guilt, etc.).


Within the Western political tradition, the boundaries between public and private realms are sites of controversy.


What private actions of human individuals and companies can be politically controlled or regulated?


Justifications for political control: physical harm to others? (Nonetheless, how to determine harm?)


Tensions occur between voluntary private actions and government imposed policies with punishment.


Examples of such controversies: gun reform in the interests of public safety versus gun ownership rights; public smoking bans.


Private realm carries much ideological weight to it.


What should be the extent of government surveillance?

4.3.  The Paradox of 'Democratic Control'


In "Ruling", Du Bois wrote:
"The paradox which faces the civilized world today is that democratic control is everywhere limited in its control of human interests." [¶ 54]


Du Bois implicitly criticized the public/private thematic:
    "In this intricate whirl of activities, the theory of government has been hitherto to lay down only very general rules of conduct, marking the limits of extreme anti-social acts, like fraud, theft, and murder." [¶ 55]
    "The theory was that within these bounds was Freedom — the Liberty to think and do and move as one wished." [¶ 56]


According to OROM's criticisms, within the private realm what we might call today science in the public interest and citizen input were not permitted to influence, or at least were restricted in influencing, industry decision-making.

4.4.  OROM's Reformulation: Mountaintop and Valley


In "Ruling" Du Bois challenged the public/private distinction that supported Western industrial societies.


Du Bois wrote in "Ruling":
"The real realm of freedom was found in experience to be much narrower than this in one direction and much broader in another. In matters of Truth and Faith and Beauty, the Ancient Law was inexcusably strait and modern law unforgivably stupid. It is here that the future and mighty fight for Freedom must and will be made. Here in the heavens and on the mountaintops, the air of Freedom is wide, almost limitless, for here, in the highest stretches, individual freedom harms no man, and, therefore, no man has the right to limit it." [Excerpted from ¶ 56]
    "On the other hand, in the valleys of the hard, unyielding laws of matter and the social necessities of time production, and human intercourse, the limits on our freedom are stern and unbending if we would exist and thrive. This does not say that everything here is governed by incontrovertible "natural" law which needs no human decision as to raw materials, machinery, prices, wages, news-dissemination, education of children, etc.; but it does mean that decisions here must be limited by brute facts and based on science and human wants." [¶ 57]

4.5.  The Importance of Du Bois's Reformulation


"Ruling" challenged the distinction between a Lockean-inspired, natural, pre-political *and* societal, realm of private actors, on the one hand, and the artificial, political [i.e., governmental] domain of the larger public body of citizens and residents, on the other.


"Ruling" challenged this distinction by emphasizing, via natural imagery, the natural qua scientific dimension of politics.


OROM held that the negative social and political consequences of individual, including industrial, decision-making can be and should be regulated democratically in the public interest (as we might call it).

4.6.  The Roles of Scientists and Citizens in "Ruling"


Scientific laws cannot be contravened: e.g., no repealing or vetoing the law of gravity.


Du Bois implied that science could not be used to make decisions outside of human intervention because (as interpreted in Weberian fashion), science studied the possible results of different means; it did not address the ultimate value of political goals.


Also, because science before and during the Progressive Era had been used to discriminate, then citizen participation is vital.


"Ruling" did not explicitly scrutinize Progressive Era science.


Moreover, OROM's reformulation of mountaintop and valley arguably encouraged popular participation because it specifically sought to incorporate the knowledge of excluded groups.


This stands in contrast to classical liberalism, to theories of republicanism, and to ancient and modern views of democracy as mob rule — none of which necessarily encouraged all individuals to participate as a matter of fundamental principle.


Thus, "Ruling" did not prioritize individual liberty over political participation (which was in contradistinction to natural rights and its attendant public/private framework which justified many restraints on government so as to secure individual liberty in general).


"Ruling": Individual liberty can be regulated only in cases where social harm is generated and then only on the grounds of science.




Du Bois provided only a few justifications that supported when and where individual liberty might be curtailed: e.g., when based on the "social necessities of time production" [¶ 57].


Du Bois assumed that science would not be controversial.

4.7.  What the Public/Private Framework Obscures


OROM's reformulation of mountaintop and valley helped to reveal what the public/private thematic hides or otherwise distorts.


Specifically: individuals and groups can become marginalized politically and socially — e.g., hindered in pursuing opportunities and life chances that are supposedly available to persons as both citizens and individuals — via the private decisions of others.


Such private decisions can contribute to marginalization via their expressions in normative structures: e.g., expectations of behavior conveyed in gender, racial, class, sexual orientation, and other terms.


As some might say, private decisions can generate public harm insofar as individual (including industrial) decisions influence the conditions that undergird the exercise of other's liberty in both private and public domains.


Du Bois provided several examples of marginalization in "Ruling".


Women, African Americans, and the "submerged tenth" of the working class faced discrimination due to biases held by those in the private domain, as well as faced the apathy or antagonism emerging from political decisions made in the public domain (e.g., disfranchisement: ¶¶ 27-28).


Also, we could add examples such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911.


Thus, according to Du Bois, private decisions with negative public consequences should be regulated and controlled.

4.8.  Justifying Government Actions


In addition, OROM's reformulation of mountaintop and valley implicitly required government actions to be justified — made more transparent — by science and citizen participation.


This justification runs counter to public/private framework in which individual decisions are not necessarily justified because they are private matters.


Caveat: Du Bois did not specify how conflicts between science and citizenry might be reconciled.

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SECTION 5:  OROM & Its Significance

Plato: The Allegory of the Cave
Painting: The County Election (Missouri, 1852)

SECTION 5: "Ruling" & Its Significance

5.1.  Illuminating Du Bois's Thought and Activism


"Ruling" represents part of Du Bois's technique of using historical cases and evidence to set forth a normative critique of oppressive practices and social injustice.


Democracy and its associated values were recurring themes in Du Bois's many works.


What did equality and freedom mean in practice?


Who was to be equal and free?


Who had citizenship? Why not?


Agency of marginalized persons was stressed: both individual and groups, community, and continental.


"Ruling" highlighted a recurring DuBoisian theme of the unknowability of others, as RWW argues.


"Ruling" built on a previous text, "The Individual and Social Conscience" (IASC 1905).


"Ruling" provided a political way for some ideas in the IASC to be practiced (via franchise and via widening the scope of participation).


Using related ideas, Du Bois wrote of the "incalculability" of human behavior in the unpublished "Sociology Hesitant" (ca. 1904-5) and of studying "the limits of chance in human action" in his Autobiography (1968: p.324).


"Ruling" did not mark the end of Du Bois's elitism or his masculinist language, but it did problematize them. "Ruling" stressed the agency of individuals in general, and of women and African Americans in particular.
Du Bois: Photo accompanying Talented Tenth essay, 1903

5.2.  Lessons for Democratic Theorizing: An Overview


"Ruling" and Du Bois in general did not address all facets of democratic theorizing. However, "Ruling" speaks today to longstanding debates.


"Ruling" focused on concrete problems.


This is more akin to Africana philosophy: "Philosophy born of struggle" (Leonard Harris).


Urgency is vital.


Conceptual abstractions are to be avoided.


OROM's analytical method of critique addressed relevant concerns:


What are the historical dynamics of marginalization, of political inclusion and exclusion?


Context is needed: what structures hinder participation and promote oppression?


What justifications are made in defense of exclusion?


Who benefits from oppression? Who has relatively more social and political power?


What opportunities are possible? What methods (e.g., voting; widening democracy's scope) are possible?


Who are the agents of change?

5.3.  OROM's Lesson: Democracy and Classical Liberalism


"Ruling" implicitly challenged the relationship between the tenets of democratic participation (emphasizing equality and cooperation) and the tenets of classical liberalism (with its emphasis on natural rights and the liberty of individuals, especially in the private sphere).


Their tenets are similar and related: conscious, reasoning agency of individuals.


However, democratic participation did not inevitably arise from the promotion of the generally pro-capitalist views of classical liberalism.


They are not fully or necessarily congruent.


E.g., The inegalitarian results of classical-liberal policies can generate effects that hinder or negatively impact citizen participation.


"Ruling" emphasized individuals as irreducibly concrete, and not as abstractions, such as are found in the theorizing of rational choice models and of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice.


"Ruling" implicitly addressed the role of difference in democratic theorizing, especially the marginalized viewpoints (as Du Bois implied):


The multitude of individuals >> different experiences >> different needs >> different perspectives and knowledge >> different policy inputs.


"Ruling" anticipated in general ways the discussions of Iris Marion Young, and the agonistic (agonal) theories of democracy espoused by Chantal Mouffe and Bonnie Honig.

5.4.  OROM's Lesson: Governance


Du Bois expanded the scope of democratic control.


"Ruling" put forth a general policy agenda: control various industries, such as "public utilities and monopolies", but the public control would not be limited only to these (¶ 61).


A "public democratic ownership of industry" (¶ 61) would promote not only public welfare, but also art and education (¶ 60).


The public would be trained in "business techniques", and via working in co-operatives and unions (¶ 62).


Not all later theories of democracy are this explicit politically.


Good governance was linked to democracy:


"Ruling" supported both science and citizen input into policy.


Citizen input means that technocratic control, which some in the Progressive Era supported, was constrained in principle via citizen participation.

5.5.  Lesson: OROM's Use of Metaphor


"Ruling" provided an example of how imagery can be used — or perhaps abused — in argumentation.


The mountain is a well known metaphor in the struggles for justice.


Ex., speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

5.6.  Limitations of "Ruling": Caveats


Previously mentioned caveats:


Science was assumed to be non-controversial and scientists were assumed to be in agreement.


No indication of how to reconcile potential conflicts between citizens and scientists.


Knowledge was needed for governance but Du Bois did not fully justify this.


Other political philosophies suggested virtue (e.g., classical republicanism).


"Ruling" assumed that citizen expertise and "excluded wisdom" are to be equally valued.


H.L. Mencken: "Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance."


Du Bois did not address partisanship or potential manipulation.


No focus on manipulation of citizens by politicians or bureaucrats.


Also, no focus on manipulation of science for partisan or bureaucratic purposes.


Du Bois seemingly assumed that scientists would pursue objectivity and the public good. (He did not define the pubic good).


Du Bois in "Ruling" and Progressive Era scholars criticized natural rights as outdated.


However, others would consider this to be ludicrous because individuals — from their perspective — are the fundamental, responsible decision-makers.


Also, some would consider such criticisms to be dangerous because natural rights secured (supposedly) individuals and the private sector against the transgressions and tyranny of an overbearing government.


"Ruling" emphasized exclusion and its personal, social, and political consequences. As such, Du Bois did not stress how agreement among citizens on public policies might be reached.

5.7.  OROM's Legacy for Du Bois


"Ruling" was critical of society and politics, but basically optimistic, seeking to work within the system in order to transform it via challenging the current relationship of public and private domains.


In the years after 1920 Du Bois did retain the goal of democratizing industry, yet was less optimistic about racial justice.


In the 1930s and later, Du Bois advocated for economic nationalism and cooperatives within Black communities, and also for separate schools.


In "My Evolving Program" (1944) Du Bois expressed less optimism about working within existing U.S. political institutions.




"Ruling" represents one constellation of analyses and goals that Du Bois delineated during his long life.


Also, "Ruling" participates in the on-going dialog with other engaged scholars theorizing about democracy in practice.
Thank you for your time.
 – Robert W. Williams

• Thank you for your time.
— Robert W. Williams

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