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A Reason for the Left to Hate MLK

October 16, 2009

MLK put his faith in a higher power.

Earlier I noted the reasons Martin Luther King Jr. was not a political conservative. He was not a New Left street radical, either. The young MLK rejected Marxism:

During the Christmas holidays of 1949 I decided to spend my spare time reading Karl Marx to try to understand the appeal of communism for many people. For the first time I carefully scrutinized Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. I also read some interpretative works on the thinking of Marx and Lenin. In reading such Communist writings I drew certain conclusions that have remained with me as convictions to this day. First, I rejected their materialistic interpretation of history. Communism, avowedly secularistic and materialistic, has no place for God. This I could never accept, for as a Christian, I believe that there is a creative personal power in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality — a power that cannot be explained in materialistic terms. History is ultimately guided by spirit, not matter. Second, I strongly disagreed with communism’s ethical relativism. Since for the Communist there is no divine government, no absolute moral order, there are no fixed, immutable principles; consequently almost anything-force, violence murder, lying-is a justifiable means to the “millennial” end. This type of relativism was abhorrent to me. Constructive ends can never give absolute moral justification to destructive means, because in the final analysis the end is preexistent in the means.

Third, I opposed communism’s political totalitarianism. In communism, the individual ends up in subjection to the state. True, the Marxists would argue that the state is an “interim” reality which is to be eliminated when the classless society emerges; but the state is the end while it lasts, and man is only a means to that end. And if man’s so-called rights and liberties stand in the way of that end, they are simply swept aside. His liberties of expression, his freedom to vote, his freedom to listen to what news he likes or to choose his books are all restricted. Man becomes hardly more, in communism, than a depersonalized cog in the turning wheel of the state.

This deprecation of individual freedom was objectionable to me. I am convinced now, as I was then, that man is an end because he is a child of God. Man is not made for the state; the state is made for man. To deprive man of freedom is to relegate him to the status of a thing, rather than elevate him to the status of a person. Man must never be treated as means to the end of the state; but always as an end within himself.

From the 1957 book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. Thanks to David Beito at HNN for posting the whole section.

To be fair, the young King went on to say he responded to Marx with “a partial ‘yes’ and a partial ‘no,'” and among the things he affirmed was “a better distribution of wealth.” But that landed him somewhere firmly in post-New Deal liberalism, the dominant economic philosophy of his day.

  1. steve ryan permalink
    October 16, 2009 5:38 pm

    I am very appreciative of this article and of David Horowitz who is an inspiration for me..

    • October 16, 2009 10:05 pm

      Thanks for the kind words about my article, Steve.

  2. Walt permalink
    October 16, 2009 7:04 pm

    His viewpoint would be viewed as reactionary in progressive circles today.

    • October 16, 2009 10:02 pm

      Made by a modern conservative, this would be considered a sign of creeping theocracy.

  3. Petronius permalink
    October 17, 2009 4:11 am

    Full marks to Pastor King for at least making the effort to understand Marx and communism.

  4. October 17, 2009 4:17 am

    Dear Ben,
    Some time in the 1970s I devoted several months to reading the three volumes plus Grundriss and a few other writings, mostly in German. I was an untenured assistant professor in a business school at the time, but somehow survived, I guess because I read other books & articles too. I would not recommend so much Marx to anyone; in fact I would recommend very little of his writings. As an economist he was already significantly behind at least half a dozen other writers of the time or earlier. His economics consists of three ratios (See Joan Robinson’s much more readable short book on this subject.), each of which is unobservable and untestable. As an historian, he seems to be half the time on another planet. As a philosopher, I imagine Hegel has quite the headache standing on his head. As a critic, he was unreasonably nasty, probably one reason why so many modern Marxists find it necessary to be nasty about writers they are so ill equiped to understand.
    I approached Marx, Ben, not with the religions and spiritual feelings that you so well spelled out, but as an economist, perhaps materialist
    (maximize GDP), but with a vast opening to the non-materialist concern with human welfare.

  5. Jonathan permalink
    October 17, 2009 11:52 am

    MLK was a Republican. So, if he were alive today, it would be interesting to see how things might have turned out. Would MLK have changed parties? Would the Dems vilify him? Would the left be calling him an “Uncle Tom” or merely trying to minimize him? How would the left have handled this icon of civil rights?

    At any rate, I think MLK might have made a good neocon, like JFK would have. His stance on economics seems in line. But, I don’t think he would have lined up on the foreign intervention scale like JFK did. Perhaps he might have been more of a Buchanan paleo, ironically enough. I think he would more likely have been a theocon, in the ilk of Robertson.

    For those interested in the history of blacks and Republicanism, here is the website of the National Black Republicans Organization:

  6. David Thomson permalink
    October 17, 2009 12:50 pm

    Bayard Rustin reportedly introduced convinced Communist Stanley Levison to Martin Luther King, Jr. around 1956. This man is greatly responsible in turning the civil rights leader into a non-violent political radical. Levison was King’s number one ghostwriter —and the only person apparently able to argue with him and get away with it. There is also a very good possibility that he is the individual mostly responsible for damaging the GOP’s relationship with Afro-American voters. Levison employed the excuse that the Republicans weren’t doing enough to fight the evils of racial discrimination. He conveniently did not add that he also thought the political party too anti-Communist and pro-capitalist.

  7. fiftyfifty permalink
    October 17, 2009 2:40 pm

    Black leaders like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton shows how the civil-rights establishment has made a lucrative career out of keeping racial strife alive in America. These guys have been handing out band- aids to neighborhoods along with false promise’s to people. I’ve notice the low profile Al Sharpton has been keeping since his best partner Acorn been getting hammered.

  8. Jonathan permalink
    October 18, 2009 7:09 am

    A large part of the civil rights establishment’s problem is their lack of practical common sense. They are great at organizing and protesting, but not at affecting solutions once they’ve won. Like most liberals, they have no answers. Only complaints. I can’t decide if they are useful idiots for the left or deliberate subversives. Or a combination of both.

  9. October 19, 2009 1:56 pm

    Us Lefties love Martin Luther King Jr. because he talked the talk and walked the walk.

    MLK didn’t just preach about moral principles, equality and a hard day’s work for a fair day’s pay and educating on Jesus’ extensive track of teaching the gospels and advocating for social justice – King and many people like him went out & led a movement of populist preachers, working & middle class African-Americans and idealistic college students who helped this nation live up to its promise: ended segregation through a protracted civil rights struggle, registered African-Americans to vote, got the Civil Rights Act passed and helped bury draconian Jim Crow laws.

    King is a hero to all of us who long for principled moral leadership in an age of global exploitation (also known as “globalization”), cynical politics, unionbusting race-to-the-bottom anti-worker employer tactics, yes-man cronyism and Wall Street corruption.

    Of course, King was not a marxist though his political enemies and vindictive men like Jay Edgar Hoover painted him as one.

    King and the Civil Rights movement, which took foothold during the Montgomery bus boycott before MLK took his first preaching job in Alabama, is as American as baseball and apple pie. Hence, the reason conservatives rush to paint King – and the greatest bottom-up grassroots movement for social change this country’s ever seen – as one of their own.

    • Jonathan permalink
      October 19, 2009 2:47 pm

      You are a leftist? But you are against globalization and Marxism? How do you do that? Your ideology is leading the march to globalism and socialism, if only the benevolent type.

  10. Jonathan permalink
    October 19, 2009 2:15 pm

    You are a leftist? But you are against globalization and Marxism? How do you do that? Your ideology is leading the march to globalism and socialism, if only the benevolent type.

    • October 19, 2009 2:48 pm

      The Clergyman is a good friend of mine and he tends to regard himself as a “populist progressive” as opposed to a Marxist. His icons are Ed Schultz and Ralph Nader, not Che Guevara and Rosa Luxembourg. I’ve tried to point out the similarities between his conception of “the people vs fat cat ceos” and Marxists’s “proletariat vs bourgeoisie” but he usually just gets mad at me and starts accusing me of McCarthyism.

      • Jonathan permalink
        October 19, 2009 4:01 pm

        Hmmm. Well, I’m going to have to go back to some books and history to sort out the real and practical differences between Marxism and populist progressivism. If his icon is Ralph Nader, than that means he favors a more indirect approach than Che Guevara did. The fact that he accuses you of McCarthyism is a give away for one thing. Oh, what interesting times we live in. BTW, did you catch Fred Thompson’s wife on Cavuto tonight? Very interesting.

  11. October 19, 2009 11:54 pm

    Jonathon & David,

    I don’t know if i’d say my icons are Ed Schultz and Ralph Nader.

    Sure I respect both those chaps, but icons??? Come on…ya act as though we’re talking about false idols or sun gods or something.

    I deeply respect people like Martin Luther King Jr. (he’s more of an icon to me than anybody besides uh…Jesus, perhaps?), Andrew Young, John Lewis & all the giants from the Civil Rights movement.

    Mother Mary Jones, Ceasar Chavez and Eugene Debs, (though I need toread more about Debs…did you know he garnered his biggest % of the vote as a third party socialist, party usa candidate from behind bars as a political prisoner after being locked up following a heated labor strike he supported?) – these folks all had a lot of courage and fought much of their lives for better conditions for ordinary working people. And without early reformers in the early labor movement (when it wasn’t cool to be a union organizer…before Big Labor & the UAW’s heyday in the 50s, 60s and 70s) make no mistake – we wouldn’t have a 40-hour workweek, we wouldn’t be able to take for granted things like overtime pay, and the “weekend,” or social security for the elederly or the family medical leave act for the unlucky & sick.

    Likewise, if it weren’t for Ralph Nader we wouldn’t have seatbelts and airbags in cars, clean water/clean air, OSHA workplace safety laws or the freedom of information act, which promotes the freedom of press and openness in government.

    So yeah…that’s why these folks are important.

    In addition, as someone who enjoys good writing I admire authors like George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson. All lefties I’d imagine. But I admire them more for their literary prowess, the ideas they make us ponder, how they make us question ourselves and our country more than for their politics.

    My buddy in the army read a book about Che this summer and came away saying he admires him. He told me a little bit about his adventures as a socialist revolutionary (& i know a little from like reading a brief bio online) but I have yet to read or watch anything on Che. Maybe I should watch the “Motorcycle Diaries” or something?

    And David, your propensity to throw around the communist card and the marxist card (“all the isms” as Ed Schultz would say) in line with your mentor Mr. Horowitz has definitely multiplied in the past year or so. Ever since I came out and said the obvious that I was done dicking around with an inadequate bought off two-party system and a democracy bought and paid for by lobbyists that doesn’t make sense anymore you’ve really amped up the uber-conservative card when talking with me. But I guess that prolly is more in line with your alliance with Horowitz and transformation to the “darkside” than it is my saying the Democrats have sold out, not unlike the GOP, now doesn’t it? 😉

    • October 20, 2009 7:07 am

      I’ve said that you’re not a Communist or a Marxist. And I’ll stand by those assertions until you embrace Che. 😉

      But I don’t think you’ve really engaged with my points. You attack my use of such terms and my references to these ideas but you don’t seem to really understand why I make them. Did you read my series on Michael Moore?

      I’m not smearing here, I’m making an intellectual argument about the similarities in thinking.

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