Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Modern Languages and Literatures

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Daniel Mengara

Committee Member

Elizabeth Emery

Committee Member

Kathleen Loysen


This work explores the contradictions contained in the French ideals of democracy and their application to blacks in Africa and the French Caribbean. From the philosophical eruptions of French democratic ideals during the 18th century through the flux and reflux between Republican aspirations and monarchy during the 19th century that followed the proclamation of the Rights of Man of 1789 and the subsequent enshrinement of the Republic, France’s concomitant dehumanization of Blacks through the practice of slavery and colonialism has been a matter of hypocrisy. This hypocrisy would continue through the “decolonization” of francophone Africa during the 20th century and into the 21st century in the form of a Françafrique system that proved detrimental to the self determination of blacks in Africa and the Caribbean. We contend that by engaging in this dehumanization of blacks, France thus delegitimized its democratic ideals.

In Part I of this work, we examine several of the French Enlightenment philosophers, such as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau who, through their writings, helped form the philosophical base of French democracy. We show how these philosophers, while advocating for liberty and freedom for the white man, simultaneously gave philosophical justifications for the perpetuation of slavery in their writings. During the 18th century, blacks were used as manpower in the sugar trade, in the Antilles, which was considered vital to the French economy. There were several “justifications” for slavery, which are explored in this work: blacks were stripped of their humanity by the white French and this dehumanization had its roots in the writings of many of the Enlightenment philosophers.

In Part II, we show how the abolitionist’s attempts to end slavery paradoxically gave rise to the colonization of Africa. The slavery of the Antilles was replaced in Africa by a new form of dehumanization in the form of forced labor and outright takeover of the continent by French and other European powers. Under the guise of the “civilizing mission” the Europeans were in fact eyeing the continents natural resources now vital to France’s status as an imperial power. Specifically, we show how the “mission civilisatrice” (civilizing mission), under the guise of “saving” the uncivilized African, was nothing more than a means to control the African and thus the land and raw materials of Africa. We look at how the European powers “carved up” Africa at the Conference of Berlin in 1885, and how the French replaced the Code Noir (laws governing slaves since the 17th century, in the French Antilles) with the Code de l’Indigénat (laws governing the indigenous, colonized people of francophone Africa).

In the third and final section, we expose how after granting the French colonies “independence” around 1960, France continued to maintain control of its former colonies through the clandestine means of its neocolonial politics as encapsulated in the term Françafrique. Jacques Foccart, described as one of the most powerful men in France for over forty years, would be the man who facilitated this iron-handed post-colonial control of francophone Africa. We also show how through this control of Africa, France contributed to the under-development of these newly independent African countries’ economies, thus denying Africans the opportunity of democratic governance in a context in which France continued to present itself worldwide as the champion of both human rights and democratic ideals.