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Freedom as Marronage.

Neil Roberts

Freedom as Marronage. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015. XIII +254 pp. (Paper US$29.00)

Freedom as Marronage is an extended examination of the concept of political freedom and its relation to the practice of slavery. Neil Roberts is interested in the moment of fleeing slavery in search of freedom, and its broader significance for political theory. His aim of developing this transitional or "in-between" moment in the move toward freedom is the primary theoretical reason for his interest in marronage. The book is thus a major attempt to rethink the transitional place of flight--and marronage in particular--in our major theories of freedom.

Roberts classifies the leading theories of freedom into two types: positive and negative. He sees theorists such as Thomas Hobbes and Isaiah Berlin as representatives of negative theories and Hannah Arendt as an example of a positive theorist of freedom. In his view, the major problem with negative theories is that they limit freedom to the absence of domination, while the positive ones have the problem of limiting freedom to self-mastery, participatory agency, and such types of action. For Roberts, what both types have in common is the rejection of freedom as a process of flight bridging the negative and positive polarities. He hopes not only to fill this gap, but also to expose the disavowal of slave agency in these two kinds of theories.

Roberts defines marronage as flight from the forms of domination identified by the negative theories to some of the practices of the positive theories--in this case, the act of breaking free from slavery and engaging in practices such as constitution writing. Further, he distinguishes between three forms of marronage: petit, grand, and sociogenic marronage. Within the grand category, he further distinguishes the subcategory of sovereign marronage.

In developing the notion of marronage as flight Roberts turns first to the works of Frederick Douglass deriving the premise that "slavery is the foundational human condition," and hence that "we conceive of freedom as a condition involving liberation from bondage" (p. 57). On this foundation, Roberts turns to the Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture as a case of sovereign marronage.

Sovereign marronage goes beyond the establishment of separate communities of ex-slaves that we normally associate with grand marronage. The former's scale and purpose are much bigger--they are national. As Roberts notes, the goal of sovereign marronage "is emancipation, its scope social-structural, its spatialization is polity-wide, its metaphysics includes the individual and the community, and its medium is the lawgiver" (p. 103). He emphasizes the top-down nature of sovereign marronage and the contradictions that its forms of authority created for Toussaint. Roberts contrasts this sovereign conception of freedom with the Haitian people's "non-sovereign conception of freedom" (p. 109).

After examining these difficulties of sovereign marronage, he turns his attention to sociogenic marronage. This he defines as "macropolitical flight whereby agents flee slavery through non-fleeting acts of naming, veve architectonics, liberation, reordering of the state of society, and constitutionalism." Roberts insists that this is a "non-sovereign state of being" (p. 116).

In fleshing out his concept of sociogenic marronage, he discusses in detail the creative acts of naming, veve architectonics, and constitutionalism specified in his definition. Thus the ability to name is seen as an important act of freedom and self-determination. In veve architectonics--floor drawings from the Vodou religion--Roberts sees "the blueprint of freedom" of the Haitian masses. It is a blueprint "that resists sovereign decisionism" (p. 126). The third principle of sociogenic marronage is the transformation of the state of society in the interest of the masses, producing such outcomes as class, race, and gender equality. Constitutionalism "is the foundation of freedom... [and] the fourth precept of sociogenic marronage" (p. 130). In his discussion of the Haitian constitution of 1805--in contrast to the Toussaint constitution of 1801 -- Roberts emphasizes its references to flight and the ways in which it reflects the suggested changes to be made in the social order.

From the above outline, the nature and scope of this book's important contributions to the field of political theory should be clear. Together, they constitute a bold scholarly attempt to rethink the place of marronage in major theories of political freedom. On a more concrete level, Roberts's work will require us to consider the maroon origins of many New World states, particularly those of the Caribbean. In short, this book will be an essential reference text for future work on marronage.

Paget Henry

Sociology and Africana Studies, Brown University, Providence RI 02912, U.S.A.
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Author:Henry, Paget
Publication:New West Indian Guide
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2016
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