On this 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, even the self-avowed apostles of “individualism,” “liberty,” and “limited government”—i.e. “conservatives”—can’t resist lavishing endless praise upon its author, Martin Luther King, Jr.
As uncomfortable as it makes these declared enemies of Big Government to think it, to say nothing of openly admitting it, the stone-cold truth of the matter is that King was nothing if not a man of the hard left.
Michael Eric Dyson, a King admirer and hard leftist himself, makes this point unmistakably clear in his, I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.
Blasting away at the “the conservative misappropriation” of King, Dyson shows, not that King would have supported much of the left’s agenda, but that he in fact did do so. For starters, King resoundingly endorsed what is today called “affirmative action.” King insisted 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 compensation from the handicaps he inherited from the past.”
Moreover, King envisioned a redistributive scheme that he characterized as “massive.” “I am proposing,” King remarked, “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.”
Interestingly, King eventually came to think that his earlier belief that American institutions could be “reformed” was a mistake. Rather, because America was “born in genocide,” “racial hatred,” and “racial supremacy,” nothing less than “a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values” was demanded. After all, “a nation that put as many Japanese in a concentration camp as” America did during World War II will think nothing of putting “black people in a concentration camp” as well.
This “revolution of values” that he desired King called “democratic socialism.”
Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “the plight of the Negro poor” had actually worsened. What many view as his two signature achievements King viewed as “at best surface changes.” Only a “redistribution of economic power” could rectify the injustices that King believed were rooted in “the system” of “capitalism” itself.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.