Du Bois's Dark Princess, Kautilya's Arthashastra, and the Welfare State


Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


W. E. B. Du Bois’s Dark Princess (1928) has become a paradigmatic text for left internationalism and Afro-Asian solidarity. This essay argues that Du Bois’s “hybrid progressivism” enchants the American welfare state by giving it an intellectual genealogy that emphasizes Eastern political thought. Dark Princess engages with the Arthashastra, an ancient work of political theory that was ostensibly written by the advisor to Chandragupta, who unified India as a subcontinent. This legend stimulated a Du Boisian fantasy of global leadership, one that parallels the contemporary recuperation of the Arthashastra for power politics. However, the Arthashastra’s discussion of social programs and infrastructure also introduces the concept of the welfare state. Interweaving the Arthashastra with black life in Chicago, Du Bois gives the progressive activist Sara Andrews a surprising agency. For our contemporary moment, the most important aspect of Dark Princess is its vision of an antiracist and culturally syncretic New Deal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-87
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Early online date27 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

In its own modest way, this essay is a transnational effort. I'm extremely grateful to the Hong Kong Research Grants Council for funding. The University of Cape Town provided a grant and teaching relief. Although separated from me by an ocean and a great deal of time, my adviser at the University of California, Irvine, Michael P. Clark, has continued to provide invaluable support. This project began years ago in John Carlos Rowe’s boundarycrossing seminar U.S. Modernisms, at UC Irvine, and I’d like to thank John for helping me to stow away on Du Bois’s ship and undertake an illuminating sea voyage.


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