This essay focuses on Aimé Césaire's post–World War II commitment to colonial emancipation without national independence. It examines how his constitutional initiatives to enact a future with France in an age of decolonization may be read as politically untimely and strategic utopian engagements with the complex problem of freedom. It suggests that they can be grasped as such only if we recognize that Césaire's 1946 program to transform Antillean colonies into French departments and his subsequent attempt to reconstitute France as a federal republic were mediated by the spirits of Toussaint Louverture and Victor Schoelcher and the legacies of the 1790s revolution in Saint-Domingue and the 1848 abolition of slavery. At these crucial turning points, imperial conditions had created the possibility of nonnational colonial emancipation even as certain kinds of instituted liberty themselves obstructed the prospect of substantive freedom. For subsequent generations, such failed initiatives then became futures past that condensed not yet realized but ever-available emancipatory potentialities.

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