Progressive Spotlight: Dr. Cornel West.

Can ‘Justice’ Win? Dr. West Confronts the U.S. Empire.

Two images of Cornel West; the first he is speaking at a podium, the second he is looking to the side in thought. Image Description: Two images of Cornel West; the first he is speaking at a podium, the second he is looking to the side in thought.

Summary: Progressive intellectual Dr. Cornel West, a 2024 presidential candidate, brings his truth and justice philosophy to the mainstream and hopes to dismantle American imperialism.

Few intellectuals on the left are as recognizable as famed philosopher, academic, and activist Dr. Cornel West.

Whether it’s because of his anti-imperialist message, harmonic prose, or disarming grace, West has a unique ability to capture the attention of even skeptical observers with his meticulous unmasking of the U.S. empire.

The concept of “empire,” along with white supremacy, is to West what critiques of the “one percent” is to Sen. Bernie Sanders, another progressive icon. The world according to West is actually quite simple: From endless foreign wars and hegemonic misadventures to poverty and mass incarceration at home, imperialism is omnipresent, sinisterly effective, and ruthless in its redistribution of resources and wealth.

Listen to West in any venue, and he’ll likely weave together a masterclass that gets to the truth of so-called “American exceptionalism,” just as he’ll inevitably celebrate the antidotal qualities of music, often by invoking John Coltrane and Curtis Mayfield, among others.

Known for his soaring and often deeply impacting speeches, West commands the unbridled attention of any room or protest space, combining secular teachings with historical references rooted in social justice and civil liberties.

Uplifting the most marginalized in society is at the root of West’s moral and political mission, and he rarely neglects to reference the plight of the working class amid worsening wealth concentration.

Just take West’s response to Jacobin about building an “anti-fascist coalition”:

“We’ve got to be consistent in our critique of empire, of capitalism, of patriarchy, of homophobia, transphobia, and male supremacy, and white supremacy. And, how we do that is to hold onto our intellectual integrity, and our political courage: telling the truth about Donald Trump, the neo fascist, the gangster, his collaborators and facilitators. He is pushing the country toward genuine fascism: wholesale disregard of the law, the rule of big military, the rule of big money, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley. He is crushing workers, marginalizing women, scapegoating Mexicans, and Muslims, and Jews, and Black, brown, and indigenous people.”

You see: West has an innate ability to effectively diagnose the abuses of unfettered capitalism, America’s political duopoly, and the military-industrial complex, while simultaneously reminding everyone that the entire system is complicit in the economic and social ills poisoning the poor and disenfranchised.

That West is now running for president is illustrative of the defects of the two-party system. Once a supporter of former President Obama’s historic 2008 campaign, West became one of his loudest detractors, admonishing Obama for everything from the Wall Street bailout and growing wealth inequality to his escalation of George W. Bush’s drone wars and for not doing enough to stem police violence against Black Americans.

“You got a Black president, Black attorney general, Black head of homeland security, and Black folk voted and supported all three of them. But the police still killing young Black youth, week in and week out, and you can’t stop it other than some investigation that takes a year and so forth,” West told News Beat for a podcast episode about the root causes of social unrest.

“This is not a question of another brilliant Black face in a high imperial place,” he added, “this is a system’s problem. It’s got to do with plutocrats and the military-industrial complex. It’s got to do with how white supremacy is used and deployed to hide and conceal grotesque wealth inequality and domination of workers at the workplace.”

The Oklahoma-born and Sacramento-raised West was brought up in a family committed to social justice and participated in the Civil Rights movement. West earned a degree from Harvard and later taught at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, including Princeton, Harvard and Yale.


As a third-party candidate, West finds himself on the periphery of the 2024 presidential race. West first launched his insurgent campaign under the little-known People’s Party, switched to the Green Party, which theoretically would give him greater ballot access, before establishing and running under the newly formed Justice For All Party.

Upon launching Justice For All in January, West’s campaign said it was embarking on a 50-state ballot-access strategy, a rigorous and costly process that requires signature petitions and contending with various state-by-state election laws.

As a progressive, West’s presidential platform reflects many of the policies that have been discussed in left circles for years, though he frames it through a “justice” lens. In practice, that means policies related to economic justice, worker justice, environmental justice, racial justice, education justice, voter justice, and more.

Under his economic justice platform, for instance, West calls for the abolition of poverty and homelessness, a $27 national minimum wage (and potentially more in specific regions), establishing a federal Universal Basic Income (UBI) commission, breaking up monopolies, ending previously illegal stock buybacks, a national jobs program, and more.

On climate, or “environmental justice,” West wants to go beyond the Green New Deal and establish a “global Green Reconstruction initiative,” end water privatization, discontinue all fossil fuel projects on federal land and water, and climate reparations, among other proposals.

And as he told News Beat when he launched his bid last year, West sees the empire as the greatest threat to America itself.

“I want to hit the empire in order to dismantle the Empire,” he said.” What does that mean? We don't need 800 military units around the world. We don't need U.S. troops in over 125 countries. We don't need to be the superpower, the Phallocentric empire that has total domination of every part of the globe. That's what Washington elites know. We need to be a nation among nations. What does it mean to be a nation among nations? It means a collective community that relates to other collective communities, mediated with respect, and not obsessed with domination and subjugation.”

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Rashed Mian is the managing editor of News Beat. Mian previously covered civil liberties and the Muslim American community for Long Island Press. Mian graduated with a degree in journalism from Hofstra University. Mian is interested in under-reported stories that impact disenfranchised communities as well as issues related to civil liberties.