This course is about “freedom.” Though it does take account of dominant liberal and capitalist notions of freedom—as individual, as “personal” and separate from contexts, as “negative,” meaning denoting an absence of constraint, not a presence of a certain practice, and as tightly connected with property—that is not our focus. Rather, the course tries to show that in certain “recent political theory,” in the last 25 years or so, a remarkable agreement about the nature of freedom emerges between several distinct traditions: Indigenous thought in the Americas as well as in Africa; the “Black Radical Tradition;” and a certain Situationist-inspired “anarcho-communism” or “Autonomism” passing through 1960s France and 1970s Italy. On the shared view of these traditions, freedom is collective, not individual; positive, not negative—it denotes a process of action, not simply an absence of constraint; and praxical, meaning that it denotes an engagement and reciprocity with real contexts. From this perspective, one is never free alone, and freedom exists in the process of struggle, not as some utopian end goal. Further, anyone whose pattern of life and physical environment is determined from without is not “free,” even if they have ample leisure, significant property, and can move unencumbered. However, there may exist a rich “freedom in struggle” which is available to everyone who forms active, democratic community with people around them in order to act on the structures that are immediately acting on them.

We begin by looking at some theoretical foundations of these three traditions, as well as of the dominant individualist notion of freedom. We then consider each tradition in turn: a lineage of anarcho-communist thought; a lineage of “Black Radical” thought. Then, for the second half of the class, we are firmly in the 21st century, looking especially at Indigenous thought. The course thus moves historically, from foundations in the 19th century and earlier, quickly into the twentieth century. Mostly our material is post World War II. What we read and discuss will be easily placed in relation with our own experience, and that will be our key concern throughout the course: we want to see how the perspectives we’re reading relate with what we’re seeing every day. And we want to determine what our freedom might consist in, with respect to police, prisons, streets and schools.

At the theoretical level, a key concern of this course is the relationships of collective actors to physical places—an emphasis that Vine Deloria suggests is particularly Indigenous. We need to understand how environmental structuration and the organization of everyday life forms our lives, and to ask how we can again be involved with what is around us and what we ourselves do. How do we find or make places in which to “practice freedom”? These concerns exist also for the 1960s-era Marxist-Anarchists we’ll read, and they are central for the very definition of “Black Power,” where Black communities determine their own economic, political, cultural and educational structures, versus “White Power,” where all patterns of life are put in place by an external community.