Friday, January 12, 2007

MLK and Liberalism

Andrew Busch makes some interesting observations about three ways in which Martin Luther King Jr.'s views cut against the grain of modern liberalism:
The first was his original grounding of his civil rights efforts in a vision of a nation that lives up to its Founding ideals and treats its citizens as individuals rather than ciphers defined by their pigmentation. One can sincerely believe in a nation that defines its children by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin; one can sincerely believe in giving those children a 20-point bonus on their college applications for the color of their skin, as the University of Michigan did; apparently one can, if one suppresses cognitive dissonance, believe in both approaches, as King claimed to when the civil rights movement began its transition from moral crusade to manifestation of interest-group politics; but one cannot bring both into being. . . .

Second, King based his struggle on a moral and religious view that eschewed relativism. Indeed, his use of civil disobedience was predicated on his belief that one could distinguish between just human laws and unjust human laws, the latter consisting of those human contrivances which violated the “moral law,” the “natural law,” “God’s law,” or the “eternal law,” as King alternately put it. Yet the social thrust of liberalism today has as its foundation the dismissal of notions of absolute truth or the notion that human law must strive to meet some transcendent moral standard. In this respect, liberalism now has more in common with famed post-modern philosopher Stanley Fish than with King.

Finally, in a related vein, King, like the abolitionists and the Congregationalist clergy of the 1770s, had no qualms about bringing religious language and arguments to bear on the issue at hand. To the contrary, it was perfectly natural to him. It is rather difficult for liberals today to embrace King while attacking conservatives for moral absolutism and for daring to mix religion and politics.

Busch goes on: "If the conceptions of racial justice and the legitimate bounds of discourse widely insisted upon by the Left today were strictly applied to King, he would appear not as a seeker of justice but as a theocratic advocate of regressive color-blindness."