Universal Suffrage as Decolonization
By Kevin Duong, University of Virginia
This essay reconstructs an important but forgotten dream of twentieth-century political thought: universal suffrage as decolonization. The dream emerged from efforts by Black Atlantic radicals to conscript universal suffrage into wider movements for racial self-expression and cultural revolution. Its proponents believed a mass franchise could enunciate the voice of colonial peoples inside imperial institutions and transform the global order. Recuperating this insurrectionary conception of the ballot reveals how radicals plotted universal suffrage and decolonization as a single historical process. It also places decolonization’s fate in a surprising light: it may have been the century’s greatest act of disenfranchisement. As dependent territories became nation-states, they lost their voice in metropolitan assemblies whose affairs affected them long after independence.