Conservatism and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every January Conservatives join in with liberals in celebrating the achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr., despite the fact that King sought a program of socialism that is the antithesis of the conservative platform.
Every January, America honors the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps because it has now been decades since this occasion has been declared a federal holiday, most Americans today—especially the young—have no recollection of just how much resistance its proponents faced. More specifically, the lion’s share of this resistance came from just that party whose media apologists now regularly join with their leftist counterparts in paying the obligatory praise to this iconic reverend.
The self-sworn guardians of Republican “conservative” orthodoxy, those anti-leftists who spend several hours each day at least five days a week (correctly) drawing attention to the socialistic agenda of Barack Obama and his party, invariably pay homage to Dr. King. This is, at the very least, ironic, for far from being the conservative hero of popular Republican lore, King was not only a leftist, but a radical leftist—whether measured by the standards of our generation or those of his own.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. upon whom Republicans routinely lavish praise is a fiction. More precisely, it is a fiction spawned from the union of ideological convenience and intellectual laziness. This King, a virtual saint who tirelessly promoted and died for the sake of a vision of color-blindness, is a prophet who offered to America its one and only chance at redemption. For this legendary figure, race or color is as morally relevant a characteristic as a wart or a pimple.
But, as black leftist and King admirer Michael Eric Dyson insists, only by focusing on a single line from a single speech—King’s “I Have a Dream” speech—can Republicans justify this reading of King. By now, it is with the greatest of ease that most Americans can recite this famous line: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” In his I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., Dyson laments “the conservative misappropriation” of King’s words and insists that King is not the “advocate of a color-blind society” that Republicans and “conservatives” make him out to be (emphasis mine).
Dyson argues compellingly for his contention that King was a radical. To begin with, let us look at King’s position on what we today call “affirmative action.”
Republicans routinely assume that since King was a staunch champion of “equal opportunity,” he would never have countenanced “affirmative action” policies. But as Dyson is quick to show, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
King insisted that “the struggle for rights is, at bottom, a struggle for opportunities;” yet he was equally insistent upon his belief that “with equal opportunity must come the practical, realistic aid which will equip” blacks to “seize” this opportunity. King declared that “the nation must not only radically readjust its attitude toward the Negro in the compelling present, but must incorporate in its planning some compensatory consideration for the handicaps he has inherited from the past” (emphasis mine).
King, then, rejected the dichotomous terms in which the Republican relates “equality of opportunity” with “equality of results.” To put the point more bluntly, King very much favored a system—a “massive” system, as he described it—of mostly race-based policies providing blacks with preferential treatment. “I am proposing,” King wrote, “that, just as we granted a GI Bill of Rights to war veterans, America launch a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, our veterans of the long siege of denial” (emphases mine).
King admitted that “the idea of reforming the existing institutions of” American society that he once held was a mistake. He came to believe that nothing less than “a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values,” is needed (emphasis mine). Such a “fundamental transformation,” as Barack Obama would put it some forty years later, is necessary, for it became King’s considered judgment that “America is a racist country.” Most whites, King asserted, “are unconscious racists” who, as such, must be compelled to insure blacks their just desserts.
America, according to King, “was born in genocide,” “racial hatred,” and “racial supremacy.” Insofar as it was founded by slave holders—particularly those slave holders who authored the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence—it “has a lot of repenting to do.” Blacks had good reason to be distrustful of America, King proclaimed, because its creed as it is embodied in the Declaration “has never had any real meaning in terms of implementation” in the lives of blacks. Furthermore, “a nation that put as many Japanese in a concentration camp as” America did during World War II “will put black people in a concentration camp,” King assured his followers.
This “reconstruction of the entire society,” this “revolution of values” for which King called has a name, and it is a name that he ascribed to it. It is called “democratic socialism.”
Many people today tend to look upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as being the civil rights movement’s two signature achievements. This, though, is not a view that King shared. Such laws and the changes that they attended “were at best surface changes,” he said, “not really substantive changes” at all. Moreover, since these bills had become law, “the plight of the Negro poor” had actually “worsened [.]” King was convinced that “the roots” of the problem lie in “the system rather than in men or faulty operations.” Hence, he concluded, the antidote lies in “a redistribution of economic power.”
Now, King confesses that what he is “saying” is “that something is wrong…with capitalism [.]” This is “the system” that is the root of the great injustices on which King sets his sights. In order, then, to address injustice, this system must be abolished in favor of another. With what system does King seek to replace “capitalism?” His answer is to the point. Since “there must be a better distribution of wealth,” “maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism” (emphases mine).
Not only did King charge America with being a “racist” country founded in racial “genocide” and “hatred.” Not only did he demand the abolition of economic liberty as Americans had traditionally conceived it—“capitalism”—in favor of “Democratic Socialism.” King accused America of being “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” characterized the Vietnam War as “senseless” and “unjust,” and declared that America’s prosecution of the Vietnam War was “racist.”
There is one final consideration that accentuates the irony of self-sworn “conservatives”—“Reagan conservatives,” as many of them like to regard themselves—heaping praise upon King: King disdained Ronald Wilson Reagan. That he held Reagan in contempt becomes obvious when we remember that King very rarely disparaged those public figures with whom he disagreed. Yet in Reagan’s case, he was ready to make an exception. Of Reagan King stated: “When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor, can become a leading war hawk candidate for the presidency only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events.”
The civil rights movement of which King was at the vanguard began as a revolt against Southern-style Jim Crow segregation. Under this system, not only did government directly practice racial discrimination but it as well compelled private property owners to engage in this activity. There is no mystery as to why any self-styled disciple of liberty would commend King for the courage and conviction that he displayed resisting this great injustice.
However, it is either ignorance or intellectual dishonesty that accounts for why they would heap praise upon him for the incalculable contributions he made toward the advancement of a leftist agenda that is supposed to be against everything for which they stand.
Originally published on January 17, 2012