Cornel West is regarded by many as the foremost African American intellectual of his generation. Insofar as “intellectual” suggests an ivory-tower remoteness from the concerns of ordinary people, however, it hardly seems the right term to describe West. His status as a lay preacher is merely one indication of the depth of his Christian commitment, and West’s Christianity is at all times deeply involved with the realities of existence. He is the kind of Christian who can build a social outlook on the insights of Karl Marx and who can test those insights against the real experiences of the African American community, which calls forth his deepest loyalty. If an intellectual is someone who can forge vital relationships between the life of the mind and the life of the street, then no one has a clearer claim to the title than does Cornel West.
West’s first book was Prophecy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (1982). This was followed in 1988 by Prophetic Fragments. In these books, West formulated a critique of capitalism on the basis both of Marxism and of the tradition of social protest associated with the African American church. In The American Evasion of Philosophy, West turns his attention to an American tradition that is primarily a product of the white middle class. West has insisted that an African American self-regard cannot be based on either demonizing or deifying white America. His ability to...
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