Profile picture for user Desmond Jagmohan

Desmond Jagmohan

Assistant Professor of Political Science
796 Social Sciences Building
Office Hours
Personal Statement

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Like many Berkeley undergraduates, I have taken a circuitous path to academic life. I was born and raised in Guyana. After migrating to Chicago at age sixteen, I served in the U. S. military before and during college. I specialize in the history of African American and American political thought, and my current research and teaching interests include: the politics of deception; theories of property, slavery, and domination; and the ideas of nationalism and self-determination in black political thought. I am completing my first book, Dark Virtues: Booker T. Washington’s Tragic Realism, which studies the politics of deception under Jim Crow. I have also begun working on my second book, Slavery & Subversion: The Political Thought of Harriet Jacobs, which aims to recover her slave narrative as a work of moral and political theory. My research has so far been published in the Journal of Politics, Political Theory, NOMOSPerspectives on Politics, Politics, Groups, and IdentitiesContemporary Political Theory, and Boston Review. I was the winner of the APSA Best Dissertation Award from the Race, Ethnicity and Politics Section (2015), was a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University (2018), and will be the Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellow, University Center for Human Values at Princeton University in 2022-23. Prior to arriving at UC, Berkeley, I was Assistant Professor of Politics at Princeton University, where I delivered the 2018 Constitution Day Lecture and was awarded the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Preceptorship in the University Center for Human Values. I hold an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Cornell University.

Research Interests
History of African American and American Political Thought
Property, domination, nationalism, and self-determination
REP and American Political Development
Ph.D., Government, Cornell University
M.A., Government, Cornell University
B.A., Philosophy and History, Northeastern Illinois University

My current book project, Dark Virtues: Booker T. Washington’s Tragic Realism (under contract with Princeton University Press), studies the politics of deception under conditions of extreme oppression. Dark Virtues is a comprehensive study of Booker T. Washington’s political thought in four parts. Part I outlines Washington’s view of white supremacy as a resilient form of race-based oppression requiring a long and imperceptible siege (Chs. 1-2). Part II shows that he relied on dark virtues—or morally suspect conduct like equivocation (Ch. 3), concealment (Ch. 4), and deception (Ch. 5)—to survive and subvert white supremacy and defended them as necessary and permissible under conditions of extremity. Part III, drawing on several years of archival research, argues that Washington’s compliant public mask aided radical deeds: clandestine legal challenges to Jim Crow (Ch. 6), creating programs for economic empowerment (Ch. 7), and increasing civic capacity through autonomous black institutions (Ch. 8). Part IV considers the fate of his politics by turning to two of his critics, W. E. B. Du Bois, who emphasized the psychological harms of deception (Ch. 9), and Ida B. Wells, who defended candor as a virtue (Ch. 10). It concludes that Washington’s realism was quite tragic (Ch. 11). So, in addition to offering the first comprehensive study of Washington’s political theory, I analytically reconstruct and historically contextualize the role of deception in African American political thought between 1850 and 1915, from Frederick Douglass to W. E. B. Du Bois.  

In doing so, I enrich our understanding of the complex forms moral agency takes in conditions of extreme oppression. More importantly, the book approaches Booker T. Washington as an ethical case study in the politics of deception. It does so by situating his views of deception against those of Douglass (Ch. 5), Du Bois (Ch. 9), and Wells (10), effectively recovering the place of deception and dissimulation in the history of African American thought from 1850 to 1915. The views of Washington and Douglass are contrasted with those of Du Bois and Wells, both of which insisted on candor and courage as crucial political virtues. The project, then, is based on nearly a decade-long quest to recover those shards and put them into a coherent narrative and vision. 

My second book project is tentatively titled, Slavery & Subversion: The Political Thought of Harriet Jacobs. The book philosophically reconstructs Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) by situating it within the discursive contexts of mid-nineteenth America. First, I argue that Jacobs sought to refute then prevailing proslavery arguments: property- (Ch. 1), natural-inequality- (Ch. 2), and paternalist-based justifications for racial slavery (Ch. 3). Second, I place Incidents within the abolitionist public sphere and read it against an empirical analysis of five-thousand slave narratives to contextualize and normatively explicate Jacobs’s descriptions of the strategies enslaved people relied on to endure and undermine their enslavement: tactical use of cunning (Ch. 4), practices of fidelity (Ch. 5), and bearing witness (Ch. 6). And I conclude that Jacobs broke new philosophical ground, that her ownership-based conception of slavery explains why slavery is a distinct rather than merely extreme form of oppression, and her argument for veiled agency asks us to reimagine the moral and expressive contours of resistance.


Peer Reviewed Publications

“Bound in Freedom: Martin Delany on Political Inequality and Social Injury,” Oxford Handbook of Republicanism, eds. Frank Lovett and Mortimer Sellers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2024).

"Reparations without Reconciliation," NOMOS LXIII: Reconciliation and Repair: Mending Frayed Civic Bonds, eds. Melissa Schwartzberg and Eric Beerbohm (New York University Press, 2023).

"Peculiar Property: Harriet Jacobs on the Nature of Slavery," Journal of Politics, Vol. 84, No. 2 (April 2022)

“Between Race and Nation: Marcus Garvey and the Politics of Self-Determination,” Political Theory, Vol. 48, No. 3 (January 2020): 271–302. 

“Booker T. Washington and the Politics of Deception.” In African American Political Thought: A Collected History. Eds. Melvin Rogers and Jack Turner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), 167–191.

“Race and the Social Contract: Charles Mills on the Consensual Foundations of White Supremacy,” Politics, Groups, and Identities, Vol. 3, No. 3 (September 2015): 488–503.

Articles in Progress             

"Booker T. Washington and the Art of Equivocation"

“Radical Virtues: Ida B. Wells on Terror and Truth”


“Whiteness as Immunity,” Co-authored with Geneva Smith

Essays and Reviews

"Racial Utopias and Moral Nightmares," Critical Exchange—Dreamworlds of Race, in Contemporary Political Theory (Forthcoming).

“Anger and the Politics of the Oppressed,” Boston Review Forum On Anger, Vol. 45, No. 1 (January 2020).

"In His Own Day: Awareness of Wilson's Duplicity," Reflections Symposium on "The Controversy over Woodrow Wilson's Legacy: A Discussion," in Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 14, No. 3 (September 2016).

"Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism," in Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 13, No. 3 (September 2015).

Book Review of Stephen H. Marshall, The City on the Hill from Below: The Crisis of Prophetic Black Politics (Temple University Press, 2011), in Contemporary Political Theory, Vol. 13 (2014).