How to discuss M.L. King
Martin Luther King Day will soon be upon us with its attendant bashing of the eponymous civil rights icon by many conservatives. And though I agree that King has become, in the words of one author, “the patron saint of white guilt” and is not deserving of a national holiday, I won’t enjoy any of the revisionist essays (though I certainly don’t, like many, consider criticism of him to be “racist.”) The first and most obvious reason is that I believe bringing up his adultery, as many of his enemies do, is out of line as his personal failings have nothing to do with his public accomplishments. This includes alcohol-fueled comments to friends when he was unaware of being recorded. It’s remarkably petty to hold something said during private drunken-talk against a man. Liberal historians often engage in these tactics to discredit famous historical figures and by extension the entire notion of “great men” and though I know this isn’t what King’s critics have in mind, I am reminded of it. Undoubtedly if the good reverend had been white, liberals would be the first to expose him and relish that a religious man had been caught with his pants down, but for that very reason conservatives should not be doing the same thing simply because they dislike this particular man. They are better than this.LA replies:
I agree with everything you say.
Jake Jacobsen writes
Please allow me to be the counter-intuitive grouch to Rose’s inclusive nice persona. I don’t have a problem with every race being allowed their own myths and heroes. What I have a problem with is the demand that I celebrate them under pain of social excommunication and being called harsh names. I think MLK was a fraud and a huckster, it is my right to believe as much.LA replies:
Your last point is not exactly responsive to Rose’s comment, since she was not demanding that anyone celebrate King.January 17
Lydia McGrew writes:
I don’t think you and your commentator Rose agree as much as one might think, given that you say that King’s adulteries are relevant to an historical evaluation of him, and she seems to think that they aren’t, because they were “private.” A man’s character most certainly is relevant to the conclusion that he was a great man, a man to be celebrated, quoted, and emulated, and plagiarism and adultery (a fortiori the extreme and unrepentant form in which King engaged) are relevant to character. King was not a great man for so-called “private” reasons, as well as because what he was demanding (e.g., federal legislation against all racial discrimination) was misguided and has proved bad for America. And, yes, I would say this about conservative politicians and leaders as well; they, too, deserve to be blamed and not to be treated as great men and heroes if they do the kinds of ostensibly “private” things King did.Lydia continues:
I don’t believe Rose actually brought up King’s plagiarism, but I think you mentioned it. Plagiarism is not a private sin on any construal, nor is it a minor matter, in my opinion. It is a form of fraud, and should be taken very seriously. It resulted in King’s receiving a title, by which all of us are expected to call him world without end, to which he was not rightfully entitled. This is most definitely a public matter, a matter of cheating and deceit.Rose writes:
I just wanted to emphasise that I think King’s liberalism is definitely a legitimate topic for discussion and criticism. I wouldn’t even say that it’s an impolite one as it’s not something that many people (and most blacks) would find to be discrediting to their hero (unfortunately.) I once read a post on an internet forum by a liberal complaining of how the media and history books suppressed King’s later leftist turn to make him more palatable to the mainstream. When discussing his assassination, according to this poster, everyone deliberately leaves out that the reason he was in Memphis in the first place was to support a worker’s strike.Rose replies to Lydia McGrew:
That one shouldn’t discuss private flaws when evaluating public men is a view I hold consistently for everyone and so defending it would take us far beyond King. I’ll only say that I have a very conservative uncle who firmly believes in the Thomas Jefferson and the slave girl tale. I don’t know if the gossip was true or not but even if it was I wouldn’t think it relevant to the Founding Father’s legacy or the wisdom of his political ideas (I know that Mr. Auster has some firm opinions on those). My uncle however still admires Jefferson and has a bust of our third president in his house.Mike writes:
I think that the content of this post suggests that the myth of MLK is unhealthy for an America of the non-proposition variety:January 18
Maybe it’s a question of taste. I personally am turned off by the angry, mean attacks on King that we see in some conservative quarters: Adulterer! Plagiarist! To me that’s a sign of impotent reactiveness. The record of his adulteries is a legitimate subject. The record of his plagiarism is a legitimate subject. But since when do we have campaigns directed against a public figure in this country on the basis that he was an adulterer? And what if King were not an adulterer and a plagiarist? Would it change anything substantive about his meaning to the country? Would he then be ok by you? Is your opposition to him based on his adulteries, or on his politics? So the people pushing the adultery and plagiarism line don’t look like serious people.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 16, 2010 08:38 PM | Send