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Dark Side of the Light

Slavery and the French Enlightenment

2005
Author:

Louis Sala-Molins
Translated by John Conteh-Morgan
Introduction by John Conteh-Morgan

Dark Side of the Light

Interrogates the philosophy and politics of slavery during the French Enlightenment

Translated into English for the first time, Dark Side of the Light scrutinizes Condorcet's Reflections on Negro Slavery and the works of Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Diderot side by side with the Code Noir (the royal document that codified the rules of French Caribbean slavery). In doing so, renowned French intellectual Louis Sala-Molins uncovers attempts to uphold the humanist project of the Enlightenment while simultaneously justifying slavery.

Dark Side of the Light is a brilliant commentary on some of the fundamental eighteenth-century texts that are commonly referred to as cornerstones of modern thought.

Michel Laronde, University of Iowa

Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau and Montesquieu are best known for their humanist theories and liberating influence on Western civilization. But as renowned French intellectual Louis Sala-Molins shows, Enlightenment discourses and scholars were also complicit in the Atlantic slave trade, becoming instruments of oppression and inequality.

Translated into English for the first time, Dark Side of the Light scrutinizes Condorcet’s Reflections on Negro Slavery and the works of Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Diderot side by side with the Code Noir (the royal document that codified the rules of French Caribbean slavery) in order to uncover attempts to uphold the humanist project of the Enlightenment while simultaneously justifying slavery. Wielding the pen of both the ironist and the moralist, Sala-Molins demonstrates the flawed nature of these attempts and the reasons given for this denial of rights, from the imperatives of public order to the incomplete humanity of the slave (and thus the need for his progressive humanization through slavery), to the economic prosperity that depended on his labor. At the same time, Sala-Molins uses the techniques of literature to give equal weight to the perspective of the “barefooted, the starving, and the slaves” through expository prose and scenes between slave and philosopher, giving moral agency and flesh-and-blood dimensions to issues most often treated as abstractions.

Both an urgent critique and a measured analysis, Dark Side of the Light reveals the moral paradoxes of Enlightenment philosophies and their world-changing consequences.

Dark Side of the Light

Louis Sala-Molins taught political philosophy at the University of Toulouse and at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. His many publications include Le Code Noir ou le calvaire de Canaan, La Philosophie de l'amour chez Raymond Lulle, Le Dictionnaire des inquisiteurs, and La loi, de quel droit?.

John Conteh-Morgan is associate professor of French and Francophone, African American, and African studies at Ohio State University. He is the author of Theatre and Drama in Francophone Africa: A Critical Introduction.

Dark Side of the Light

Dark Side of the Light is a brilliant commentary on some of the fundamental eighteenth-century texts that are commonly referred to as cornerstones of modern thought.

Michel Laronde, University of Iowa

Dark Side sheds brilliant light on the invisibility which the Enlightenment conferred on the slaves, an invisibility which still reigns in the ivory towers of western academe and political incorrectness. This book perhaps will stimulate and consolidate the work of those ‘avengers of the New World.’

Caribbean Review of Books

Dark Side of the Light

Contents

Translator's Introduction: The Color of the Enlightenment

Dark Side of the Light: Slavery and the French Enlightenment

Preface

1. Condorcet, "Lamenting" At Thirty-five, You Will Become a Human Being, My Son Animal, We Will Give You a Soul Ham's Time. Shem's Love. Japheth's Goodness Nobody's Fault but His Majesty's, Sugar
2. The Market of Equals "All French Men Are Born and Remain Free and Equal" A Young Black Child in the Boudoir Dawn, after the Night of Prejudice Perfectibility and Degeneracy
3. Of Men and (Under) Dogs The Dogs of the Colonies The Men of the Nation At Twilight: The Enlightenment by Day... ... And at Night

Epilogue
Notes

Index