Discourse on Colonialism Themes

Césaire, Aimé and Pinkham, Joan
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Civilization

Throughout Discourse on Colonialism, Césaire subverts Western Europe’s definition of civilization to show that, contrary to its own self-perception, Western Europe’s colonial past and present have made it uncivilized. For centuries prior to the publication of Discourse on Colonialism, Western Europe has propagated the idea that it is more civilized than non-European civilizations, and that by colonizing non-European peoples, Europe is actually civilizing them. This thinking is characterized by what Cesaire calls the “dishonest equations Christianity = civilization, paganism = savagery” (33). By positioning Christianity as more civilized than savagery, Europe portrays itself as more civilized than non-Christians. This logic therefore frames evangelization and missionary work as acts of the civilizing mission, and supposedly justifies colonialism overall.

However, Césaire inverts this logic, showing how colonial activity actually de-civilizes both European culture and people. As Césaire writes, “colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in...

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This section contains 3,085 words
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Buy the Discourse on Colonialism Study Guide
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