Dennis P. McCann (review date 20 December 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Go Tell It On the Mountains,” in Commonweal, December 20, 1985, pp. 708-9.

[In the following review, McCann offers a positive assessment of Prophesy Deliverance!]

In this brief programmatic sketch Cornel West has produced the most promising Afro-American liberation theology to date. With his theoretical sophistication, his deep roots in Afro-American culture, and above all, his forthrightness in criticizing the intellectual traditions of Marxism and Christianity, West takes his rightful place among the architects of liberation theology, bold innovators like Mary Daly and Juan Luis Segundo. Whether we agree or disagree with their thinking, these religious...

(The entire section is 1034 words.)

George Cotkin (review date December 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Truth or Consequences?”, in Reviews in American History, Vol. 18, No. 4, December, 1990, pp. 519-24.

[In the following excerpt, Cotkin offers a positive assessment of The American Evasion of Philosophy.]

The great age of American philosophy, dominated by the figures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles S. Peirce, William James, Josiah Royce, and John Dewey, consistently draws the attention of scholars from a variety of disciplines. These philosophers serve as a source of inspiration, a tradition to be appropriated, and a subject for sustained analysis. As debate about the nature of truth, the role of language, and the relationship between theory and practice...

(The entire section is 1966 words.)

Rickard Donovan (essay date Spring 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cornel West's New Pragmatism,” in Cross Currents: Religion and Intellectual Life, Vol. 41, No. 1, Spring, 1991, pp. 98-106.

[In the following essay, Donovan examines the historical development of American pragmatism and the philosophical underpinnings of West's social pragmatism as presented in The American Evasion of Philosophy.]

Cornel West is rapidly becoming an important figure on the intellectual scene. A recent meeting of the American Philosophical Association devoted three separate sessions to his most recent work, and West spoke at all of them. He has even been interviewed by Bill Moyers.

On each occasion, West was exciting and...

(The entire section is 3291 words.)

Robert Gooding-Williams (essay date Winter 1991-92)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Evading Narrative Myth, Evading Prophetic Pragmatism: Cornel West's The American Evasion of Philosophy,” in Massachusetts Review, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, Winter, 1991-92, pp. 517-42.

[In the following essay, Gooding-Williams examines West's concept of “prophetic pragmatism,” its associations with the pragmatist tradition, West's reading of W. E. B. DuBois, and the problematic significance of West's “universal moral discourse.”]

Cornel West’s The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism is a rhetorically compelling history of American pragmatism that reconstructs, promotes, and purports to extend what West characterizes...

(The entire section is 9704 words.)

Cornel West with Bill Moyers (interview date Winter 1991-92)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Subversive Anger, Subversive Joy—An Interview,” in Cross Currents: Religion and Intellectual Life, Vol. 41, No. 4, Winter, 1991-92, pp. 538-46.

[In the following interview, West discusses contemporary social and political issues, black culture, religion, and black leadership.]

[Moyers:] For an intellectual, you’ve been sighted in some very unusual places, the storefronts and streets of Harlem, the shantytowns of South Africa, one of the worst high schools in one of the worst districts in Brooklyn. How come? Those are so far from Princeton, so far from the ivory tower?

[West:] Yes, well, I understand the vocation of the...

(The entire section is 3620 words.)

Howard Brick (review date September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The American Evasion of Philosophy, in Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 2, September, 1992, p. 687.

[In the following review, Brick offers a positive assessment of The American Evasion of Philosophy.]

The title of this book [The American Evasion of Philosophy] is laudatory, not pejorative. Here evasion is emancipation: Turning away from “epistemology-centered philosophy” and its search for absolute standards of knowledge and ethics can release intellectual energy for cultural criticism, political action, and social change. That transformation of intellect, Cornel West says, is the burden and promise of American pragmatism...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Nancy Bancroft (review date October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, in Journal of Religion, Vol. 72, No. 4, October, 1992, pp. 618-9.

[In the following review, Bancroft offers a mixed assessment of The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, finding weakness in West's Marxist perspective and arguments.]

Despite its title, [The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought] Cornel West’s book does not simply focus on Marx’s ethics. West does emphasize Marx’s commitment to the values of democracy, individuality, and freedom. But his broader treatment of Marx’s ethics is part of the book’s central argument concerning the nature of Marx’s thought as a...

(The entire section is 635 words.)

Glenn Loury (review date Summer 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Preaching to the Converted,” in Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 3, Summer, 1993, pp. 80-3.

[In the following review, Loury offers an unfavorable evaluation of Race Matters.]

No one would likely dispute the claim that coming to grips with “race matters” is fundamental to understanding American politics, history, or culture. But an argument is certain to arise if one ventures to be more specific. There is no common definition of the problem, no consensus on a historical narrative explaining how we have come to this juncture, no agreement about what now should be done. Perhaps most important, Americans lack a common vision of the future of our racial...

(The entire section is 2233 words.)

John Bellamy Foster (essay date June 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Introduction to a Symposium on The Ethical Dimension of Marxist Thought,” in Monthly Review, Vol. 45, No. 2, June, 1993, pp. 8-16.

[In the following essay, Foster delineates West's Marxist perspective and his approach to the problem of moral relativism as put forth in The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought.]

In the decade before his death Raymond Williams frequently referred to the need for “resources for a journey of hope” that would enable socialists to continue the “shared search” for human emancipation in spite of all the obstacles posed by the reality of capitalism and of the first attempts to create socialism.1 Cornel...

(The entire section is 2607 words.)

David Nicholson (review date 13 June 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Race, Culture, and Morality,” in Washington Post Book World, June 13, 1993, p. 5.

[In the following excerpt, Nicholson offers a favorable assessment of Race Matters.]

If questions of morality are largely absent from Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy [by Houston A. Baker Jr.], they are always present in Cornel West’s Race Matters. There are parts of this book that are as moving as any of the sermons of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as profound as W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, as exhilarating in their offering of liberation as James Baldwin’s early essays.

This is not to suggest, however, that...

(The entire section is 958 words.)

Randal Jelks (review date 30 June-7 July 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Race Matters, in Christian Century, June 30-July 7, 1993, pp. 684-5.

[In the following review, Jelks offers a positive assessment of Race Matters, though disapproves of West's humorlessness and the book's title.]

The eight essays in this collection extend themes that Cornel West has been developing over the past ten years. This is the eighth book for this wide-ranging academician and cultural critic, who is director of the Afro-American Studies Program and professor of religion at Princeton University.

West has been concerned with the advancement of democracy, politically and culturally. He has sought to deconstruct...

(The entire section is 613 words.)

Arch Puddington (review date August 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Immoderate Moderate,” in Commentary, Vol. 96, No. 2, August, 1993, pp. 62-4.

[In the following review, Puddington offers an unfavorable analysis of Race Matters and West's Leftist perspective.]

Cornel West has been acclaimed as one of the most important commentators on race relations in America. He has been the subject of feature profiles in major publications and appears frequently on televised public-affairs programs. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard, has described West as “the preeminent African-American intellectual of our generation”; according to Marian Wright Edelman, president of the...

(The entire section is 2091 words.)

Linda Kulman (review date 9-23 August 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Fire Down Under,” in New Leader, August 9-23, 1993, pp. 18-9.

[In the following review, Kulman offers a positive evaluation of Race Matters.]

The national discourse on race relations deteriorated into intellectual ambulance-chasing this past April while Americans awaited the outcome of the “second Rodney King trial”—in which four police officers previously acquitted of beating the motorist now faced Federal charges of having violated his civil rights. As long as the violence that had leveled parts of Los Angeles following the initial decision a year earlier threatened to recur, talk-show hosts and Op-Ed-page columnists flocked to address the race...

(The entire section is 1144 words.)

Ellen K. Coughlin (essay date 22 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cornel West Matters: The Celebrity Philosopher,” in Chronicle of Higher Education, September 22, 1993, pp. A8-10.

[In the following essay, Coughlin discusses West's emergence as a public intellectual and his controversial social and philosophical perspectives.]

It was hard to escape Cornel West this summer.

As professor of religion and director of Princeton University’s highly regarded program in Afro-American studies, Mr. West has been a rising academic star for some time. As a committed “public intellectual,” he is also familiar to a certain segment of readers outside the universities.

But in late April, when...

(The entire section is 2285 words.)

Eugene Goodheart (essay date Fall 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Common Ground,” in Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History, Vol. 23, No. 1, Fall, 1993, pp. 93-6.

[In the following essay, Goodheart discusses West's innovative stance concerning the usefulness of political debate and communication between individuals rather than artificially homogenous groups.]

A column is the medium for freewheeling meditation. It is also a challenge and test, for the columnist must trust his instincts to find and focus upon events and books that reveal a significant tendency, whether inspiriting or dismaying, in our cultural life. I begin my column with something inspiriting. Cornel West’s Race...

(The entire section is 1449 words.)

Andrew Hacker (review date 7 October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Diversity’ and Its Dangers,” in The New York Review of Books, October 7, 1993, pp. 21-5.

[In the following excerpt, Hacker offers a tempered assessment of Race Matters.]

What is intended by the demand that the United States should recognize—and recast—itself as a “multicultural” society? In physical appearance, we are ethnically more diverse than at any other time in our history. Americans who describe themselves as “white” now account for less than 75 percent of the population, and only 55 percent in California. But the issue has less to do with our varied origins than what we make of them. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., is not alone in...

(The entire section is 692 words.)

George Packer (review date 12 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Question is Race,” in Chicago Tribune Books, December 12, 1993, p. 4.

[In the following excerpt, Packer offers a tempered assessment of Keeping Faith, citing shortcomings in West's inaccessible scholarly allusions and indefinite promptings for change.]

Taken together, these two essay collections point up how difficult it is for writers to act as true “public intellectuals”—to bring their talent and discipline to bear on ideas that matter to general readers in a shared culture. James Baldwin did it; Irving Howe did it. But as journalism grows ever crasser, academic criticism ever more specialized and inward and the public less and less...

(The entire section is 662 words.)

Sanford Pinsker (review date Winter 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “What's Love, and Candor, Got to Do With It?,” in Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 70, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 174-81.

[In the following positive review of Race Matters, Pinsker examines West's observations and concerns about contemporary racial unrest.]

Race Matters may be a slim volume, but it has propelled its author to wide public attention, not only because the eight essays collected between its hard covers deal with such controversial issues as black-Jewish relations, black rage, and the crisis in black leadership, or even because its publication date coincided with the first anniversary of the profound social unrest that exploded in...

(The entire section is 2573 words.)

Cornel West with Anders Stephanson (interview date February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “West of Righteous,” in Artforum, Vol. XXXII, No. 6, February, 1994, pp. 66-71, 104, 111.

[In the following interview, West discusses his role as a public intellectual, his philosophical and religious perspectives, American culture, and art.]

When I first met Cornel West in 1979 or ’80, I had been operating on the Eurocentric assumption that each of the three central philosophical traditions of Western culture—the German, the French, and the Anglo-American—had a proper style and language of its own. So I was wholly unprepared for Cornel’s disquisitions on Hegel, which he advanced, with great verve, in a thoroughly black style and idiom. I was...

(The entire section is 6595 words.)

Michèle Lamont (review date May 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Symbolic Politics and the Hill-Thomas Affair,” in Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 23, No. 3, May, 1994, pp. 346-9.

[In the following excerpt, Lamont offers a positive assessment of Race Matters.]

The three books reviewed here usefully canvas public debate within the African-American community, and between it and American society at large. The main point of convergence between these books is the “mobile social laboratory,” “the referendum on our most cherished values,” that was the Hill-Thomas affair. These books offer a repertory of stances taken by a number of public intellectuals on the most poignant and divisive televised collective drama that...

(The entire section is 758 words.)

Donald E. Messer (review date 21-28 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Keeping Faith, in Christian Century, September 21-28, 1994, pp. 864-5.

[In the following review, Messer offers a positive assessment of Keeping Faith.]

Disappointment and disillusionment with America are more prevalent now among African-Americans than at any time since the 1920s. Though the decline and decay of American life appear irreversible, Cornel West hangs on to the hope that “our prophetic thought and action” may yet open a way if we but keep faith with our deepest religions, moral and democratic commitments.

A self-defined public intellectual, West has been described as “inheriting the mantle of Reinhold...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Michael J. Quirk (review date Winter 1994-95)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Notes on Prophetic Pragmatism,” in Cross Currents, Vol. 44, No. 4, Winter, 1994-95, pp. 535-9.

[In the following review, Quirk offers a favorable evaluation of Keeping Faith, though finds that West fails to distinguish between secular and Christian pragmatism.]

In his pathbreaking The American Evasion of Philosophy (Wisconsin, 1989), Cornel West argued that the often-overlooked tradition of American pragmatism contained plentiful, potent resources for social and political change and the spiritual renewal of the American republic. Yet, according to West, two important moral and intellectual hurdles need to be cleared before pragmatism can...

(The entire section is 1849 words.)

Leon Wieseltier (essay date 6 March 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “All and Nothing: The Unreal World of Cornel West,” in The New Republic, March 6, 1995, pp. 31-6.

[In the following essay, Wieseltier provides an extended negative critique of West's social theory, philosophy, and rhetorical style. According to Wieseltier, “West's work is noisy, tedious, slippery, … sectarian, humorless, pedantic and self-endeared.”]


Where are the public intellectuals? The question is asked everywhere in America, but it is not merely an American question. It has been a long time, after all, since calm was preferred to crisis as the proper mood of the mind. For the Marxist tradition in particular, crisis is...

(The entire section is 5506 words.)

Tikkun (essay date March-April 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Attack on Cornel West: Racism and Media Cynicism,” in Tikkun, Vol. 10, No. 2, March-April, 1995, p. 7.

[In the following essay, the critic refutes negative criticism leveled against West by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic.]

Having profiled The Bell Curve and helped give national prominence to the racist attack on the intelligence of ordinary Black folk, The New Republic’s literary editor Leon Wieseltier focuses five pages of his magazine on Cornel West, to show that these uppity Blacks who are lauded as the leading intellectuals are also undeserving of respect. Wieseltier was once a young Harvard student with great potential, so it...

(The entire section is 594 words.)

Anita L. Allen (review date July 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Keeping Faith, in Ethics, Vol. 105, No. 4, July, 1995, pp. 954-5.

[In the following review, Allen offers a positive assessment of Keeping Faith.]

Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America is a collection of philosophic essays about race, religion, art, law, and architecture. The author of the collection is a professor of African American studies and religion whom admirers herald as America’s premier black intellectual. A quirky, synthetic genius, Cornel West is getting to be about as famous as a midcareer ivy-league academic could hope to be. Shortly after West’s book Race Matters became a “best-seller” in 1993, he...

(The entire section is 665 words.)

Robert Gooding-Williams (review date October 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Keeping Faith, in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 104, No. 4, October, 1995, pp. 601-3.

[In the following review, Gooding-Williams offers a tempered evaluation of Keeping Faith.]

This volume brings together a wide-ranging collection of seventeen essays, most of which were published elsewhere during the last ten or so years and some of which appear here in revised versions. Its subtitle is somewhat misleading, because Keeping Faith is neither a sustained philosophical discussion of American racial identities nor an extended argument to the effect that some noteworthy assumptions about race have helped to shape the history of American...

(The entire section is 1002 words.)

Cornel West with John Nichols (interview date January 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cornel West,” in The Progressive, Vol. 61, No. 1, January, 1997, pp. 26-9.

[In the following interview, West discusses American religious faith, black political action and leadership, and the possibility of radical democracy.]

At forty-three, Cornel West is a professor of Afro-American Studies and Religion at Harvard University, a noted theologian, a prominent democratic socialist, and a prime mover in efforts to renew the dialogue between blacks and Jews.

A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, he grew up in Sacramento and was influenced both by the black church and the Black Panthers. His books, including Race Matters, published in 1993,...

(The entire section is 3565 words.)

J. A. I. Bewaji (review date June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Keeping Faith, in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 27, No. 2, June, 1997, pp. 212-8.

[In the following review, Bewaji offers a positive analysis of Keeping Faith.]

In more senses than one, West’s Keeping Faith is an essay in postmodernist and poststructuralist pragmatism shot through with a commitment to the possibility of shaping the truth to the end of a futuristic good, a future and a good that are not neutral or ascetic. The work is a multidimensional gold mine of ideas on diverse issues; it is a culmination of years of consistent, persistent, and persevering toil in a not too clement academia, where there are benign and...

(The entire section is 2347 words.)