"Universal suffrage as decolonization" refers to an important but forgotten dream in twentieth century political thought. It was the imaginative achievement of midcentury black and anticolonial intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic, and it figured suffrage expansion as a vector for political and cultural self-determination. At its heart was the belief that, properly instituted, universal suffrage could enunciate the voice of colonial peoples within the heart of imperial institutions and thereby revolutionize the colonial global order. This paper reconstructs this dream from Francophone intellectuals and their Anglophone fellow travelers, drawing especially on their engagements with psychoanalysis and surrealism. It also offers a surprising perspective on decolonization’s fate: it may have been the century’s greatest act of disenfranchisement. As dependent territories won national independence, they lost their political voice in metropolitan representative institutions.
Kevin Duong teaches political theory at the University of Virginia. Much of his research focuses on European political thought and intellectual history, with a particular focus on modern France. His first book, The Virtues of Violence, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.