This essay examines how Du Bois’s critique of global political economy proceeds as a critique of American constitutionalism in his 1935 Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. Analyzing how Du Bois reworks a set of Marxian concepts—phantasmagoria, fetish, and transubstantiation—toward a theory of the “new imperialism,” Powers argues that Black Reconstruction subverts a triumphal narrative of American constitutionalism as exceptionalism by undoing the temporality of legal progressivism that sustains it. Writing against a generation of historians who treated Reconstruction as an anomalous deviation from an American constitutionalism thought to embody the realization of immanent reason at the end of history, Du Bois demonstrates that the forms of barbarism, custom, and status posited as prior in this telos of constitutional progress to be products of the American juridico-political regime. Through examining the ways in which the Constitution operates as a fetish that doubly posits a fiction of race war as an alibi for its own lawlessness, and a fiction of world-historical lawlessness as an alibi for empire, Du Bois punctures a doctrine of race that phantasmagorically distorts human capacity for both juridical and phenomenological modes of recognition.

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