Their Malcolm...and Mine

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This originally
appeared in the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, February 1993.

Why Malcolm
X? Why the sudden rage, replete with baseball caps inscribed with
X’s, for a man assassinated nearly thirty years ago? Partly it’s
media hype, centered around the new hagiographic movie made by our
Most Politically Correct Movie Director, Black Division. More seriously,
the nostalgia for Malcolm is part of America’s permanent Jacobin
Celebration Project, in which new politically correct birthdays
and anniversaries are dug up and compulsorily celebrated (Earth
Day, Earth Week, “Dr.” Martin Luther King Day, etc.), while others
are overlooked or dumped altogether (Washington’s Birthday, Columbus
Day – you should forgive the expression). To paraphrase LBJ,
seize control of a nation’s celebrations, and their hearts and minds
will follow.

OK, but why
specifically Malcolm? Isn’t “Dr.” King for Heaven’s sake, enough?
Are we now to boycott any state that doesn’t give a paid holiday
or two in honor of Malcolm? The Authorized Version holds that Dr.
King is indeed not quite enough, that restless black youth need
a more militant and less “Christian” icon and “role model,” someone
who was at least willing to flirt with violence, someone therefore
more in tune with their own proclivities.

It’s true that
Malcolm was more militant than King; he was a black nationalist
rather than an integrationist. Yet, the emphasis on Malcolm’s ideas
in the Received Version doesn’t begin to explain the Malcolm phenomenon.
In the first place, Malcolm’s original nationalism in the form of
the Black Muslims still lingers on in the person of “Minister” Louis
Farrakhan. Yet, who really cares about Farrakhan? Surely he is scarcely
the figure cut by Malcolm, Farrakhan’s original mentor. In fact,
Malcolm made most of his impact in the scant few months after he
had broken with the Black Muslims and before his assassination.
And it was then that his ideology was in a state of severe flux.
Groping his way out of the Nation of Islam, he had a conversion
experience toward genuine Islam when he traveled to Mecca. Furthermore,
ideologically, he was courted and pulled at by groups ranging through
a wide ideological spectrum, from the Trotskyites of the Socialist
Workers Party, over to free-market economist and Fortune
journalist Charles Silberman, who was trying to make Malcolm into
a free-marketeer. Indeed, Malcolm’s Black Muslim emphasis on black
self-help, his attacks on drugs and going on welfare, were an attempt
to bring ghetto blacks over to a Protestant Ethic, and it had a
limited success in what could have developed into an ideology of
Black Capitalism. But it is impossible to say where Malcolm would
have headed had he not been gunned down in Harlem’s Hotel Theresa
Ballroom in February 1965.

There is no
question that black nationalism is a lot more libertarian than the
compulsory integration pushed by King, the NAACP, and white liberals.
But there are deep problems with black nationalism, which Malcolm
never had a chance to explore. The most fundamental: black nationalism
in what territory? A nation has to have territory, and blacks
are only one-fifth of the American nation. “Black nationalism” within
the United States is then only a phony nationalism, and beginning
to look like a drive for an aggravated form of coerced parasitism
over the white population. The territorial question was at least
faced by the Black Belt thesis of the Communist Party of the USA
during the 1920s: Black Belt slave counties of the South. There
were two grave problems with this doctrine: (a) what do you do with
the existing usually majority white population in these areas, and
(b) as time has gone on since 1865, more and more blacks have moved
out of the historic Black Belt, and have taken over various inner
cities in the North.

A second, and
more plausible, form of black nationalism is for a separate black
nation in currently existing black areas: a New Africa comprised
of Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Detroit, Watts, et al. with its capital
the old Washington, D.C., and President Jesse Jackson sitting in
the Black House. But then more problems arise. Apart from all the
problems of enclaves and access, does anyone really believe that
this New Africa would be content to strike out on its own, with
no massive “foreign aid” from the U.S.A., and strictly limited migration
between the two nations? In a pig’s eye.

since Malcolm’s preferred term was “African-American” and since
this word has now become the PC moniker, it would make the most
sense to adopt the solution of early twentieth-century black leader,
Marcus Garvey: a mass exodus, a return to West Africa, there to
carve out a new black nation, as a people’s exile from the Old Sod
is at last redeemed. It is true that in contrast to voluntary immigration,
black migration from Africa to America was coerced, and voluntary
black “Zionism” or African repatriation was the preferred solution
to the black problem for most groups, North and South, before the
Civil War. Even now, I bet that many Americans would cheerfully
chip in to support such a crusade. But why am I convinced that such
a Back to Africa solution, even though it would offer a permanent
escape from the alleged horrors of White Racism, is not going to
fly, especially among those who aggressively like to refer to themselves
as “African-American”?

In the last
analysis, then, it is not Malcolm’s ideas, militant or not,
nationalist or not, that continue to fascinate, and to attract followers.
Not at all. On the contrary, it was Malcolm as a person who
was the great attraction when alive and still is, thirty years after
his death. For Malcolm was indeed unique among black leadership,
past and present. He did no shuckin’ and jivin’, he was not a clown
like “the Rev.” Al Sharpton, he was not moronic like Ben Hooks or
Thurgood Marshall, he did not simply threaten Whitey in a loutish
manner like the Black Panthers, he was not a fraudulent intellectual
with a rococo Black Baptist minister style, like “Dr.” King. He
stood out like a noble eagle among his confreres. He carried himself
with great pride and dignity; his speaking style was incisive and
sparkled with intelligence and sardonic wit. In short, his attraction
for blacks was and is that he acted white. It is a ridiculous
liberal clich that blacks are just like whites but with a different
skin color; but in Malcolm’s case, regardless of his formal ideology,
it really seemed to be true.

I had the privilege
of seeing Malcolm speak on two occasions in the year before his
death. It was a delightful experience. His answers to questions
were a match for any political leader, for intelligence and wit.
He was, for example, a lot more impressive than Bill Clinton. My
favorite memory of Malcolm was the second speech, before a large
gathering, when he made mincemeat out of the insufferable Jimmy
Wechsler, ex-Communist turned Social Democrat, and beloved columnist
and editor of the New York Post. In his speech, Malcolm had
spoken of black tenants living in Harlem, while their landlords
“lived on the Grand Concourse” (a large, once fashionable street
in the west Bronx, then almost exclusively Jewish). In the question
period, Jimmy Wechsler bounced up, and pointed out that Malcolm’s
remark had “anti-Semitic” implications. “Oh,” replied Malcolm in
fine mock indignation: “Are you telling me that only Jews
live on the Grand Concourse? Why that’s terrible; that’s ‘segregation’;
that needs to be investigated!”


N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic
officer of the Mises Institute.
He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor. See
his books.

Best of Murray Rothbard

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