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In Hating Empire Properly, Sunil Agnani produces a novel attempt to think the eighteenth-century imagination of
the West and East Indies together, arguing that this is how contemporary thinkers Edmund Burke and Denis
Diderot actually viewed them. This concern with multiple geographical spaces is revealed to be a largely
unacknowledged part of the matrix of Enlightenment thought in which eighteenth-century European and American self-conceptions evolved. By focusing on colonial spaces of the Enlightenment, especially India and Haiti, he demonstrates how Burke's fearful view of the French Revolution—the defining event of modernity— as shaped by prior reflection on these other domains. Exploring with sympathy the angry outbursts against injustice in the writings of Diderot, he nonetheless challenges recent understandings of him as a univocal critic of empire by showing the persistence of a fantasy of consensual colonialism in his thought. By looking at the impasses and limits in the thought of both radical and conservative writers, Agnani asks what it means to critique empire “properly.” Drawing his method from Theodor Adorno’s quip that “one must have tradition in oneself, in order to hate it properly,” he proposes a critical inhabiting of dominant forms of reason as a way forward for the critique of both empire and Enlightenment.
Thus, this volume makes important contributions to political theory, history, literary studies, American studies, and postcolonial studies.
“Hating Empire Properly will be praised by political philosophers as well as literary critics for its brilliant ‘solution’ of the Edmund Burke ‘problem’: how could a ‘liberal’ on America and India also be a‘conservative’ on France? How can we grasp Denis Diderot’s defense of colonial commerce alongside his denunciations of empire? Neither apologia nor jeremiad,Agnani’s compelling study of the Enlightenment shows subtle consistencies where previous critics could only see contradiction."—Srinivas Aravamudan, author of Enlightenment Orientalism: Resisting the Rise of the Novel
"What should it mean to hate empire,properly? What modes of conceptual critique, what ethos of engagement, what attitude to the modern, should we adopt? In this learned and deftly argued book, Sunil Agnani offers us a revised picture of the conceits of Europe’s self-consciousness of empire by holding up the internal anticolonial mirror of Diderot and Burke. If Enlightenment is neither single nor seamless, neither a choice nor a prison, what Agnani’s reading underscores is the truth of the dictum that, for its conscripts anyway, the only way out is through."—David Scott, Columbia University
"Agnani offers wonderfully nuanced readings of two profound and vexing 18th-century thinkers–Diderot and Burke.Agnani refuses, just as Diderot and Burke did, to be defined and constrained by shallow distinctions that have so often marked our view of the Enlightenment, its critics and their relationship to European imperialism. This is a work of sustained subtlety and intelligence."—Uday S. Mehta, City University of New York
". . he [Agnani] offers a fresh textual analysis of a selection of colonial writings by Diderot and Burke."—Anita Rupprecht, University of Brighton
Every year in the January issue, in print and online, Choice publishes a list of Outstanding Academic Titles that were reviewed during the previous calendar year. This prestigious list reflects the best in scholarly titles reviewed by Choice and brings with it the extraordinary recognition of the academic library community.
Winner of the 2014 Harry Levin Prize
Sunil M. Agnani’s Hating Empire Properly: The Two Indies and the Limits of Enlightenment Anticolonialism (Fordham University Press, 2013) is an astute and learned inquiry into the Enlightenment, colonialism, and revolution in the anticolonial writings of Denis Diderot and Edmund Burke. Agnani’s nuanced analyses of Diderot and Burke and “the two Indies” demonstrate the suggestive power of ‘hating properly,’ of “entering into its [empire’s] terms and allowing the internal contradictions to be heightened rather than covered by a politic veil” (186). With rich textual analyses and theoretical agility, Hating Empire Properly more than substantiates its concluding suggestion “that the full ‘meaning’ and significance of the fragmentary discourses of the Enlightenment are manifest only in the colonies, rendered legible only by means of the colonies . . .” (190).
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