Blogs > Liberty and Power > Martin Luther King Jr., Freedom, and the State

Jan 17, 2005 6:00 pm

Martin Luther King Jr., Freedom, and the State

Jeffrey Tucker at LRC Blog quotes at length from Martin Luther King Jr.'s critique of the Vietnam War. Well worth reading.

The early King (before he became enamored with wacky ideas like the Poor Peoples Movement) is especially worth a second look. I have quoted before from Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story , which was published in 1957, but it is worth doing so again:

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."

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Ralph E. Luker - 1/18/2005

Chris, religious belief is not inherently any more "individualistic" than any other assumption. In fact, it is a step, perhaps the step, in the direction of communal thought. King's faith is so essential to his message that I should think that you'd want to have the intellectual honesty to no longer invoke his name.

chris l pettit - 1/18/2005

for all the wonderful things MLK Jr accomplished...noticed that he still invokes his individualistic non-existent god and the ideology of that god and imposes them on others. To object to communism because there is no room for god has no place in academics or rational discussion. It is an ideological position built on blind faith that can never be proven or argued without relying on fundamentally flawed assumptions that can be demonstrated to be irrational and wrong unless one depends on some sort of individualised blind faith. it is unfortunate that human excrement like Bush can seize upon this huge flaw in MLK's teachings and twist it to fit their own ideological extremism. god has no place in anything dealing with universal values and should be kept to individualistic practice (which hardly exists anymore).


Ralph E. Luker - 1/18/2005

The FBI made sure that MLK's wife received a copy of such incriminating tapes and it was making them available to journalists it believed might be willing to expose him to public embarrassment. There is no way to know exactly how widely they circulated, but there is no doubt but that the fellow to whom you refer was indirectly, at least, in debt to the FBI for having them in his possession.

Kenneth R Gregg - 1/17/2005

Yes, David, I quite agree.
There was a strong individualist streak in MLK which breaks out into a powerful expression of freedom in his earlier writings particularly, and still there later on in life.
I remember one guy (strong southron accent and probably an FBI plant) at a teach-in during the '60's who just couldn't get past his "filandering with white wimmen" and "comminism" to actually listen to what MLK was saying. He kept wanting everybody to listen to his tapes of private conversations with MLK. Now where did he get those tapes if he wasn't an agent procateur?

Just a thought
Just Ken