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.
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
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
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
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
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.