The Political Thought of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) observed that the Declaration of Independence is "the most eloquent and unequivocal expression of the dignity of man ever set forth in a sociopolitical document."
King believed that the Declaration and the Bible expressed the "sacredness of human personality."
The moral principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were based on his faith as a Christian. His inspiration came from the teachings of Jesus Christ. Therefore he did not buy into the notion that man is merely "a transient accident of protons and electrons traveling blind."
Dr. King had faith that God had ordained a moral order and a purpose to life for all people. He believed that the dignity and freedom of human persons was a gift from a gracious God. King taught that people need to love God, love their neighbors—and love their enemies.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught nonviolence in that his people should not initiate violence nor respond in kind to it. His acts of protest were to expose the violence that was extant in the hearts of others; to "force the oppressor to commit his brutality openly—in the light of day—with the rest of the world looking on."
Nonviolent protest requires courage, discipline, and self-sacrifice. It is not born of weakness but of spiritual strength. To love and forgive those who hate you awakens "a sense of moral shame in the opponent, and thereby brings about a transformation."
King did "not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but rather to win his friendship and understanding." To triumph over others is not necessary if you can show them how to triumph over themselves.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that white Americans could be redeemed from their racism, but that black violence would "intensify the fears of the white majority while relieving it of its guilt." Violence destroys community; nonviolence destroys enemies by making friends of them. Blacks must love the white man because the white man needs his love.
A Color Blind Society
"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." ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 1963
Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned a color-blind nation that is neutral toward its citizens regardless of race or ethnicity. To move toward this goal he sought to dismantle the legally enforced segregation in schools and public accommodations in the Old South. His efforts were instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—despite opposition from Democrats.
The Civil Rights Act outlawed segregation, as well as discrimination in employment. The Voting Rights Act prohibited states from demanding that voters know how to read before they could vote. It was later used to justify the printing of ballots in Spanish and dozens of other languages.
The Social Gospel and Affirmative Action
Having achieved his original goals, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. set his sights on housing, schools, jobs, and health care for Negroes. He was committed to the Social Gospel—Jesus Christ commanded us to care for the poor.
King was not opposed to Socialism, but sought a middle way between Socialism and Capitalism: "The good and just society is a socially conscious democracy which reconciles the truths of individualism and collectivism."
King went so far as to demand that people had a "right" to welfare (and job training). He would have loved Affirmative Action because "our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years" so "do something special for him now, in order to balance the equation."
Ominously he added "All of America's wealth today could not adequately compensate its Negroes for their centuries of exploitation and humiliation."
MLK on Liberalism
“I realized that liberalism had been all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism. I also came to see that the superficial optimism of liberalism concerning human nature overlooked the fact that reason is darkened by sin. The more I thought about human nature, the more I saw how our tragic inclination for sin encourages us to rationalize our actions.
"Liberalism failed to show that reason by itself is little more than an instrument to justify man’s defensive ways of thinking. Reason, devoid of the purifying power of faith, can never free itself from distortions and rationalizations.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suggested a G. I. Bill for Negroes. He believed that blacks should be compensated for past discrimination: "It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes, but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society."
King made a bold prediction as to what would happen if the programs he demanded for Negroes were enacted—which they were:
"I contend that the decline in school dropouts, family breakups, crime rates, illegitimacy, swollen relief roles, and other social evils would stagger the imagination."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. favored a guaranteed income for all Americans, even those able-bodied adults who refused to work. He claimed that all poor people were the victims of injustice whose rights had somehow been violated, and that all poor people should be compensated for this injustice. King thought that the poor have a right to the fruits of the labor of the unpoor.
King declared, "The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct, and immediate abolition of poverty. The solution to poverty is to abolish it by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income. We must make the nonproducer a consumer."
Here King took his ideas from the progressive John Rawls that the wealth of our nation comes from the "vast treasury of ideas and labor to which both the living and the dead have contributed." The idea of Rawls and then King is that whatever wealth America has produced belongs equally to all Americans.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got more radical in his later years. Even after all of his gains, he hinted that a worldwide revolution against the white man might be liberating for people of color around the globe.
He said this would be "the wildest liberation movement in history" and wrote: "The storm is rising against the privileged minority of the earth -white men - from which there is no shelter in isolation and armament."
My source for this article is History of American Political Thought by Frost and Sikkenga.