Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King Should be Remembered for his Ideals, Not His Politics

In commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Peniel E. Joseph, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University, said in an article:

King emerges as a talented individual whose rhetorical genius at the March on Washington helped elevate an entire nation through his moral power and sheer force of will.

The March on Washington was when King delivered his famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. Joseph goes on:

Yet missing from many of the annual King celebrations is the portrait of a political revolutionary who, over time, evolved into a radical warrior for peace, justice and the eradication of poverty. During his last three years, King the “Dreamer” turned into one of the most eloquent, powerful and scathing critics of American society. King lent his moral force and power to anti-poverty crusades that questioned the economic system of capitalism and called for an end to the Vietnam War. . . . King’s powerful rage against economic exploitation and war is often overlooked when we think of him as only a race-healer.

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The "moral power" of King's famous "Dream" speech in Washington was actually the moral power of the Founding Fathers resurrected. In that speech, King reminded Americans of the ideals laid down in the Declaration of Independence—the philosophic blueprint for the new nation—and called on Americans to fully live up to those ideals.

Yet later, King questioned the legitimacy of capitalism and turned to what he termed "democratic socialism," a hybrid of two evil systems (democracy and socialism) that repudiates the very ideals he espoused in his speech. Therein lies one of the great American paradoxes.

When the Founders drafted the Declaration of Independence, they laid down the basic principles that allowed capitalism to happen. When King reaffirmed those ideals—that all men are created equal, possessing inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness protected equally and at all times under a government of objective law rather than men—he was really, though unwittingly, affirming the foundation of capitalism.

Capitalism is the system based on individual rights, rights-protecting government and the only kind of equality that is just—equality before the law. Because of these principles, Capitalism is the only social system that banishes exploitation and war, because individual rights banishes initiatory force from human relationships—particularly force by government against the people. Under capitalism, exploitation is replaced with voluntary trade to mutual benefit among individuals, a win-win in which individuals trade value-for-value and get better together, liberating any individual willing to think and act on his own judgement and work to lift himself from poverty. And under capitalism, war is replaced with peaceful coexistence among nations based on that principle of trade.

So why would King uphold the principles of capitalism in his most famous speech while repudiating it in his politics? It'd obvious that King didn't understand capitalism or the moral implications of the Declaration of Independence. 

He undoubtedly viewed the America of the 1960s as capitalist, when in fact what America had was a mixed economy; a mixture of economic freedom and government controls—that is to say, an economy corrupted by heavy political interference. His democratic socialism would have only further strengthened and entrenched the mixed economy which he mistakenly perceived as capitalism—and, in fact, the policies he advocated have largely been enacted and the result has been exactly that.

To his credit, King explicitly opposed full-blown socialism, which he believed leads to communism, a system that he correctly understood "forgets that life is individual." But he wrongly believed that "Capitalism forgets that life is social," leading him to his hybrid democratic socialism. He failed to see that capitalism, by leaving individuals free to pursue their own values in the absence of physical coercion, provides the only proper moral foundation for flourishing and benevolent social interaction—the moral foundation implicit in the Declaration of Independence, rational egoism.

Thus is the paradox of Martin Luther King. 

Commentators like Joseph urge us to elevate his politics to at least the level of his ideals. But ideas are where the real power lies. Since ideas are the driving force of human events, Martin Luther King, despite his politics, remains one of my heroes. King reaffirmed America's Founding ideals at a crucial point in American history. That, to me, is his real legacy contribution to America. For that, I am grateful to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Related Reading:

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Fundamental Principle of America

“I Have a Dream”: Martin Luther King Urges Consistency to Founding Principles

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Mike Kevitt said...

I'll now play the race card. I dun it before. If that makes me 'racist', I DON"T CARE.

M.L.King wrongly believed?, failed to see?, didn't understand? Don't say that to a black anybody! Don't say NOTHIN' negative about King. To them, he's GOD!, because he's black, like them! Likewise, don't remind them of his ideals. That takes the 'GOD', which, to them, is in his politics, out of him. They differ not from Muslim fanatics, except that 'Ala's' ideals and politics are one and the same. They sympathize with people of all colors, except white, and they sympathize with all women, including white. So, Down with the white male! That's what it's all about. The initiator of force determines what it's all about, unless someone responds with force, effectively and permanently.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

"They differ not from Muslim fanatics, except that 'Ala's' ideals and politics are one and the same."

That's a very big "except"!

King really is a microcosm of American society. Most Americans profess a sincere belief in American ideals, but the grip of altruism and religion pulls them in the opposite direction.

That was King.

Notwithstanding that, it's important to highlight the positive King, because it leads to questioning his negative politics. I notice that the Left is really straining to accentuate his statist side. What I'm trying to do is inject the philosophical ammo to counter the Left, and King himself provides it. What better way to counter the Left on MLK Day than to use King's own words to do that.

As to racism, much of what you say is true. But so what? Plenty of whites hate King without thought because he's black. Let the racists cancel each other out. They're irrelevant. The battle is over fundamental ideas. If the wrong ideas take, the force initiator follows—not the other way around. To defeat force, defeat the ideas that unleash it.