Philosophy and Politics

[By Jerry Ward]

HBW Board Member Prof. Jerry Ward responds to questions
posed on the HBW Blog and Facebook Accounts
Q:  Where can
I read more about how Wright employed philosophy in his writing?  Who did he drawn on and what political
experiences was he responding to?

A1:  You can read Philosophical Meditations on Richard Wright (Lanham, MD: Lexington
Books, 2012), edited by James B. Haile, III and The Other World of Richard Wright: Perspectives on His Haiku
(Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), edited by Jianqing Zheng.  These books will inform you about Wright’s
uses of Western and Eastern philosophies. 
To gain some insights about how philosophy was an integral part of
Wright’s life and creativity, you should the biographies of Wright by Constance
Webb, Michel Fabre, Margaret Walker, and Hazel Rowley.

A2:  An avid reader, Wright drew upon ideas from
Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Albert Camus, David Hume,
Voltaire, Miguel de Unamuno, Jean-Paul Sartre, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,
Plato, Martin Heidegger and from philosophical dimensions in the novels of
Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
A3:  In the writing he produced from 1933 to 1960,
Wright responded to American democracy and 
capitalism, Marxism, socialism,
fascism, Communism and anti-Communism, Pan-Africanism, and colonialism.  He responded powerfully to how segregation
and systemic racism falsified the promises of American democracy and the
American Dream, to what World War II exposed about the triangulation of
democracy, fascism, and Communism, and to the obligations the Cold War imposed
upon aligned and non-aligned nation-states. 
Please read The Color Curtain: A
Report on the Bandung Conference
(1956) with passionate attention and be
surprised by how much Wright understood about the origins of such terrorism as
plagues the contemporary disorder of the world.
A4:  As James B. Haile aptly notes in his
introduction to Philosophical Meditations,
literature and philosophy are not mutually exclusive modes of thinking.  “Formal” considerations as used by
professional philosophers, however, exclude Wright from the club.  As an African American intellectual, Wright
was cognizant of the philosophical undercurrents in folklore and the
blues.  His sustained interests in folk
wisdom, political economy, history, human psychology, the nature of ideology,
sociology, and philosophy made Wright one of the most astute thinkers among
writers of the twentieth century.  Taken
as a whole, Wright’s philosophically informed works constitute a model for
contemporary critical thinking.