The Roots of Haitian Despotism

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Review

“The Roots of Haitian Despotism” by Robert Fatton Jr. is a profound exploration of the historical and social origins of authoritarian rule in Haiti. Here’s an academic summary:

  • The book delves into the history of Haiti, a nation founded in the aftermath of a revolution that embodied its slave population’s quest for freedom and equality.
  • Despite its revolutionary beginnings, Haiti has endured a history marked by a persistent pattern of repressive dictatorial regimes.
  • Fatton provides a rigorous explanation of how and why the legacy of colonialism, the struggle against slavery, and the intersection of the domestic and world economies have contributed to both material scarcity in the country and the entrenchment of authoritarian rule.
  • Fatton illuminates the culture of authoritarianism that, coupled with conditions of extreme underdevelopment, continues to undermine Haiti’s recent struggle to establish a meaningful democracy.
  • The author identifies two distinctive groups that shared Haiti’s free black upper stratum: one consisting of planters and merchants, and the other of members of the army and police forces.
  • The book documents how these two groups used different strategies to pursue the common goal of economic and social advancement.
  • Fatton examines the rural or urban bases of these groups’ networks, their relationships with whites and free blacks of lesser means, and their attitudes toward the acquisition, use, and sale of land, slaves, and other property.
  • The main source for the book is the notarial archives of Saint Domingue, which offer a rich glimpse of free black elite life.
  • The book portrays race relations far from the European centers of colonial power, where the interactions of free blacks and whites were governed as much by practicalities and shared concerns as by the law.
  • “The Roots of Haitian Despotism” is a vivid portrayal of the free colored population of Saint Domingue in the decades prior to the outbreak of the French colony’s revolution.
    In conclusion, Fatton’s work is a profound exploration of the social origins of Haitian despotism and provides a deep understanding of the persistent history of dictatorial regimes in Haiti. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the complex socio-political landscape of Haiti. It offers a comprehensive analysis of the historical factors that have shaped the country’s political culture and provides valuable insights into the challenges and potential solutions for establishing a meaningful democracy in Haiti. The book’s rigorous academic approach, combined with Fatton’s clear and engaging writing style, makes it an invaluable resource for students, researchers, and anyone interested in Haitian history, politics, or international relations.

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