Alberto Moreiras

Historicality and Historiography: Haiti and the Limits of World History

At the very beginning of his extraordinary book Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment Peter Hallward makes a series of disclaimers that I believe have more of a punch than it was intended.   He says: “I have visited Haiti only twice, and make no claim to the sort of insider or anthropological knowledge that authorizes much published work on the country. I have no special interest in the peculiarities of Haitian society, of its (remarkable) language or (even more remarkable) religions.  I have assumed the reader will have still less interest in an account of my own (altogether unremarkable) travels of experience.  Instead this is purely and simply a political book”  (xxiv).   I would like to read that passage in direct continuity with another passage that comes at the very end of the book, in its Conclusion.  This happens right after Hallward refers implicitly to the new avatar of Toussaint’s dilemma that Jean-Bertrand Aristide had to confront:

If Aristide’s government shares some responsibility for the debacle of 2004 it is because it occasionally failed to act with the sort of vigor and determination its more vulnerable supporters were entitled to expect.   . . . After rapidly emerging as Haiti’s most popular political organization, Fanmi Lavalas became too inclusive, too moderate, too indecisive, too undisciplined.  After gaining an overwhelming popular mandate for radical change, Aristide’s government was too often willing to negotiate with its enemies and too rarely willing to mobilize its friends.  Aristide tried to placate opponents that he needed to confront.  He may never have drawn the full implications of elite hostility, both in Haiti and abroad: drawn from the beginning into a political war, he tried till the end to govern with the strategies of peace. (313)

Yes, this is a version of Toussaint’s dilemma, and with it of the dilemma that confronts what Emmanuel Kant used to call the moral politician (as opposed to the political moralist, the opportunist).  I am not suggesting that a Dessalinean solution is not available to the Kantian moral politician—only that Toussaint’s and Aristide’s dilemma is a dilemma precisely because it needs to be decided along political and not pathological lines.  I think it is precisely from that perspective that Hallward goes on to say:

Historicality and Historiography, pdf version

Dipartimento di hispanic studies della Texas A&M University