Candor for Dr. King

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the passing of another Martin Luther King, Jr. Day we find the standard
bromides about promoting a color-blind society and realizing the
"Dream." (Last year saw a "Redeem the Dream March.")
The holiday is so much hollow hagiography, validating the great
Ambrose Bierce's definition of applause: "The echo of a platitude."

Francis wrote over a decade ago that King "has been promoted
to full fellowship in the national pantheon," and today he
is arguably its preeminent member. Even more than Abraham Lincoln,
criticism of King is a secular heresy.

understate the case, King's advocacy and legacy don't embody libertarian-conservative
tenets. He extolled the student sit-ins that conflated trespassing
with advancing justice and successfully sought to nationalize emasculation
of proprietary rights at the expense of organically designed decentralization.
Given the "Persuasion that freedom and property are inseparably
connected" is one of Russell Kirk's six canons of conservative
thought, King was a decidedly un-conservative and more accurately
anti-conservative individual. (Contemporary conservatives' affection
for King is a ludicrous phenomenon I won't get into here.)

however, is a sanitized saint. Michael Eric Dyson's recent I
May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.

examines his parochial lionization. (Dyson is a self-described
"radical democrat" affiliated with the Democratic Socialists
of America.)

Dyson recognizes that King had radical conceptions and devotes a
chapter to his "Progressive Social Blueprint." It is impossible
to read this section and maintain King was programmatically conservative
or simply a Great Society reformer. (The latter would have been
sufficiently bad.) He came to endorse social democracy with increasing
ardor and openness, speaking of redistributive policies and "restructuring
the whole of American society" in his 1967 Southern Christian
Leadership Conference presidential address. (This followed a 1966
speech where he said, "There must be a better distribution
of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism.")

isn't news to libertarians and conscious conservatives. There exists
a clear nexus between the explicit radicalism of King's last years
and his earlier encouragement of activism via trespassing (the sit-ins)
and compulsory association (Titles II and VII of the 1964 Civil
Rights Act).

King's partisans might object, he criticized Leninist methodology
and wrote that "communism reduces men to a cog in the wheel
of the state" (an excellent evaluation of the totalitarian
creed). To call him a social democrat or socialist thus distorts
his political philosophy.

fact is that King rejected capitalism and Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy
alike. He said in the 1967 SCLC address, "[T]he kingdom of
brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the
antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found
in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both." This
is in the mode of the Third Way, social democracy being the "higher
synthesis." (Social democracy's objective, of course, is socialism.)

King was a "certified plagiarist and adulterer of Clintonian
proportions" (Debra Dickerson) is one aspect of his suppressed
character. King's counter-constitutional efforts to assail private
discretion and advance a socialist polity are more significantly
suppressed. His legacy deserves more candor.

18, 2001

Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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