Monday, 8 February 2016

Out of His Cosmopolitan Tree : Kwame Anthony Appiah

Today’s subject, Kwame Anthony Appiah (b.1954), is a philosophy professor and cultural theorist. He has used his multi-cultural ancestry and upbringing to champion the Cosmopolitan philosophy.

In an article in “Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education” (2008) Appiah defined Cosmopolitanism as “universality plus difference”. That’s very much what various sub-communities have been, and still are, fighting for, to be accepted by everyone and to have their differences of race, gender, sexuality, religion, politics and ability recognised as of equal status. Some people have misused this philosophy to support their own political or economic ideals of globalisation. The internet has lots of sites which explains Cosmopolitanism better than I can.

Cosmopolitanism also applies on a personal level to Kwame Appiah, an Anglo-African, bi-racial, gay man with a white American partner. Kwame’s philosophies were directly influenced by the general cosmopolitan views of his father, the Ghanaian statesman Joseph Emmanuel Appiah (1918-1990).

Joseph Appiah was born into a family of noble Asante (Ashanti) blood. His ancestors have been involved in the government of the Asante state since it was formed in 1701. The Appiah family trace their lineage back to the founding father of the old Asante Empire, King Osei Kofi Tutu I (c.1660-1717). Osei Tutu was already the ruler of the Asante people. He managed to unite various other tribes and groups together against their oppressive rulers of the wider area. On succeeding in gaining his supporters’ nomination as their first king (or Asantehene) of the Asante Empire in 1701. A new constitution was formed, one which survives to this day among the Asante, one which survived the expulsion to the Seychelles of the royal dynasty by the British colonial government in 1896. They retained their court in exile.

The exiled Asante royal family received only partial recognition from the UK government of their former status in 1924 and in 1931 a new king-asantehene succeeded to the exiled Asante throne. His name was Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II (c.1892-1970). He worked hard with the Asante tribal representatives, the colonial government back home in Africa, and nationalist groups to have the Asante Confederacy, as the empire was now termed, restored. He was successful and is hailed as one of the greatest heroes of modern Ghana and the Asante. He was recognised by the UK government and awarded a knighthood as a head of state in his own right.

In King Prempeh II’s court his Chief Secretary, a kind of Prime Minister, was James Wellington Appiah. Not only was he his Chief Secretary but he was also his brother-in-law, having married James’s sister. James’s son was Joseph Appiah, Kwame’s father. Joseph was also to become as leading figure in Ghana politics, and also held the position of Chief Secretary to King Prempeh II’s successors. After the independence of Ghana from the British in 1957 Joseph became an MP in the new parliament.

Kwame Appiah’s maternal ancestry is no less distinguished in politics and statehood. In 1959 his father Joseph married Enid Margaret Cripps (1921-2006), known to all as Peggy. She was the youngest daughter of one of the UK’s most famous and controversial politicians, the Rt. Hon. Sir Stafford Cripps (1889-1952). Crips was expelled twice from the Labour Party and had Communist sympathies. During World War II he has a seat on the War Cabinet and later served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The post-war economy was difficult to control and in the end he did what all failed Labour Party Chancellors have done – he devalued the pound. Sir Stafford’s father was also an MP before being created the 1st Baron Parmoor in 1914. He became a member of the UK’s first ever labour government in 1924.

The Cripps family had many political family links and two of Sir Stafford Cripps’s great-grandfathers were MPs. One of them, Richard Potter, became an MP because of his disgust at the unfair and corrupt representation within parliamentary seats and was instrumental in influencing the Reform Act of 1832. Richard’s son, also called Richard, married the daughter of Kwame’s other MP great-grandfather. But the main connection between them was the railways, not politics.

Richard Potter jr was Chairman of the Great Western Railway and President of the Grand Trunk Railway in Canada. Lawrence Heyworth (1786-1872), MP from 1848 to 1857. The Heyworth family were northern wool merchants who saw the invention of the railway as a means of expanding their market. They even expanded into South America where Lawrence became a director of the Central Argentine Railway. Back in the UK he began to move away from business and into railway investment.

Lawrence Heyworth was also a campaigner for the free trade movement and the abolition of slavery. He married one of his servants and had several children, the eldest of whom married Richard Potter jr.

Returning to the Cripps family line we can go further back. Lord Parmoor’s parents were cousins, both grandchildren of William Lawrence, a surgeon. Their brother was Sir William Lawrence, 1st Bt., a physician to Queen Victoria. Their ancestors included the Fettiplace family who can trace their line back to the Boleyns. Kwame descends from Queen Anne Boleyn’s great-grandfather.

Through several lines Kwame Appiah is descended from some Magna Carta barons of 1215 and an illegitimate son of King Henry I of England (1068-1135).

If you look at Kwame’s Wikipedia page you’ll see the claim that he also descends from the Winthrops of America. He isn’t. His great-great-uncle married a Winthrop, not Kwame’s ancestor.

On both sides of the family Kwame Appiah has political and royal blood from both Europe and West Africa. With such a family background it would have been hard for him not to be an advocate for Cosmopolitanism and the acceptance of diversity.

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