Hurricane West: Cornel West and American Radicalism
This academic impostor symbolizes the decline in America's intellectual and moral standards.


West is a frequent speaker at the church of Jeremiah Wright, former spiritual mentor to the president, and refers to the well-known race-hater as “my dear brother” and “a prophetic Christian preacher.” He is specifically determined to defend Wright’s notorious anathema — “God damn America.” According to West, it is the function of prophetic Christians such as Wright to call on God to damn America, because America is no different from every nation that treats its citizens as “less than human.”

As an academic celebrity, West is annually invited to deliver more than a hundred speeches on university campuses, at fees ranging from $10,000 to $35,000 per performance. “For me, these lectures were not simply money-making gigs,” he explains, “but occasions to make the world my classroom” and (with the unanchored grandiosity that is his trademark) to make “all people my congregation.” Those who attend West’s lectures are treated to oracular wisdom like the following, selected at random from West’s 2008 book Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom.

West’s view of us:

You’re made in the image of God. You’re a featherless, two-legged, linguistically conscious creature born between urine and feces. That’s us. One day your body will be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. . . . The question is: Who are you going to be in the meantime, in this time and space? You don’t get out of time and space alive.

West’s view of Christ:

Behold, that first century Palestinian Jew was born in a funky manger. He had some funky working-class parents sometimes dealing with unemployment and underemployment. He walked on some funky and dusty roads, didn’t he? He brought together 12 funky folk. He didn’t go out 100 miles to the vanilla suburbs, did he? He gathered them right from around where he came from. It’s so easy to forget the funk in Jesus’s life because our churches can become so easily deodorized.

But while his audiences nod agreeably at this mumbo-jumbo, treating it as a discourse that somehow makes sense, what they really come to hear are the progressive insults to their country and their countrymen, which West serves up at every venue and every turn:

If you view America from the Jamestown Colony, America is a corporation before it’s a country. If it’s a corporation before it is a country, then white supremacy is married to capitalism. Therefore, white supremacy is something that is so deeply grounded in white greed, hatred, and fear that it constitutes the very foundation for . . . [a] democracy called the U.S.A.

At the Lannan Foundation in New Mexico, where he was given an arts award in 2003, West elaborated:

American imperial expansion fascinates me. We’re talking about the invasion of Iraq. It’s the first time America invaded a country. Whoa! [Laughter] My God, really. Grenada, Panama, we can go right down the line. [Applause] But no, 1783, George Washington himself says that we do not want to involve ourselves with the affairs of Europe, but we do expect expansion of population and territory. You say, Mr. Washington, there’s some people on that land you have in mind [laughter] — human beings whose lives are just as valuable as yours, on intimate terms with death, with imperial expansion. The same would be true with Latino brothers and sisters, with moving borders: Mexico one day, U.S. the next. It’s not mediated with argument. It’s imperial expansion. Forms of death. Struggle for black freedom. Civic death. Jim Crow. Jane Crow. Lynching. I’d call it American terrorism.

Others might call it incoherent claptrap. But whatever it is, it certainly isn’t Christian outreach, despite West’s repeated assertion that these words bubble up from a spiritual spring: “I cannot overstate my relationship to Jesus Christ.” “My foundation consists of three powerful elements: family, the Socratic spirituality of seeking truth, and the Christian spirituality of bearing witness to love and justice.”