What It Means to be a Leftist in the 21st Century


West, Cornel




Cornel West is an American philosopher, author, critic, and activist. A professor at Princeton University in the Center for African-American Studies and the Department of Religion, West is one of the most famous public intellectuals in the United States and is known for his political, social, and moral insight and criticism. In his 2007 speech, “What It Means to Be a Leftist,” given at the 2007 Left Forum in New York, West discusses what “being a leftist” means in the twenty-first century, distinguishing it from political parties in the U.S. and tying it to a willingness to fight for social justice in radical ways. West's speech inspires discussion about what it means to make justice and equality “your calling” and whether radicalism is the best/only way to achieve justice and equality today.

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Crisis and ConflictJustice and EqualityMoney and WealthOrganizing and ActivismSocial and Political ChangeWork and Vocation

Big Questions

What is the value of disagreement and opposition? How should they be expressed?What is the world we dream of living in? Is it possible?What is the “status quo”? Does it need to be changed?What does it mean to have a “calling”?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think West means when he says that most Americans are “sleepwalking”?
  2. What is the difference for West between being a “Leftist” and being either a Democrat or a Republican? What does being a “Leftist” mean to him?
  3. What is the difference between what West calls “cheap PC chitchat” and a “calling that you're willing to fight against and try to understand the sources of”? Where do you see this difference playing out today?
  4. What are the challenges of making justice and equality “your calling”? How do you deal with those challenges?
  5. Do you think that radicalism is the best way to achieve equality? Why or why not?
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