The Racial Contract

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The Racial Contract
First edition
AuthorCharles W. Mills
CountryUnited States
SubjectPolitical philosophy
PublisherCornell University Press
Publication date
Media typeHardcover

The Racial Contract is a book by the Jamaican philosopher Charles W. Mills in which he shows that, although it is conventional to represent the social contract moral and political theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant as neutral with respect to race and ethnicity, in actuality, the philosophers understood them to regulate only relations between whites; in relation to non-whites, these philosophers helped to create a "racial contract", which in both formal and informal ways permitted whites to oppress and exploit non-whites and validate their own moral ideals in dealing with non-whites.[1] Because in contemporary political philosophy, white philosophers take their own white privilege for granted, they don't recognize that white supremacy is a political system, and so in their developments of ideal, moral and political theory never consider actual practice. Mills proposes to develop a non-ideal theory "to explain and expose the inequities of the actual nonideal policy and to help us see through the theories and moral justifications offered in defense of them." Using it as a central concept, "the notion of a Racial Contract might be more revealing of the real character of the world we are living in, and the corresponding historical deficiencies of its normative theories and practices, than the raceless notions currently dominant in political theory."[2][3] The book has been translated into various languages.


Mills argues that racism is at the core of the "social contract", rather than racism being an unintended result attributed to the failings of imperfect men. Specifically, the racial contract is a tacit (and at times explicit) agreement among members of the tribes of Europe to assert, promote, and maintain the ideal of white supremacy as against all other tribes of the world. This intention is deliberate and an integral characteristic of the social contract, a characteristic which persists to the present day. In Mills' words, "...what has usually been the racist 'exception' has really been the rule; what has been taken as the 'rule'...[racial equality]...has really been the exception."[4]

Mills argues however, that these ideals of the social contract are at worst pure fiction or at best were intended only to apply to a specific group of people, namely members of the tribes of Europe and their genetic descendants. "...when white people say 'Justice,' they mean 'Just Us'."[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mills, Charles W. (1997). The Racial Contract. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. pp. 3–4.
  2. ^ Mills, Charles W. (1997). The Racial Contract. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. pp. 1–2, 5, 7.
  3. ^ Cohen, Philip N. (1999). "Book Review: The Social Contract". Review of Radical Political Economics. 31 (2): 102–105. doi:10.1177/048661349903100208. S2CID 153979951.
  4. ^ Mills, Charles W. (1999). The Racial Contract (paperback ed.). Cornell Paperbacks. p. 122.
  5. ^ Mills, Charles W. (1999). The Racial Contract (paperback ed.). Cornell Paperbacks. p. 110.

Further reading[edit]