January 15, 2007


Globalizing King's Legacy (TAYLOR BRANCH, 1/16/06, NY Times)

[D]espite our high-stakes national commitment to advance free government around the world, we consistently marginalize or ignore Dr. King's commitment to the core values of democracy.

His own words present a vast and urgent landscape for freedom. "No American is without responsibility," Dr. King declared only hours after the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" repulse of voting rights marchers in Selma, Ala. "All are involved in the sorrow that rises from Selma to contaminate every crevice of our national life," he added. "The struggle in Selma is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land." [...]

Dr. King's ideas are not so much rebutted as cordoned off or begrudged, and for two generations his voice of anguished hope has given way to a dominant slogan that government itself is bad.

Above all, no one speaks for nonviolence. Indeed, the most powerful discipline from the freedom movement was the first to be ridiculed across the political spectrum. "A hundred political commentators have interred nonviolence into a premature grave," Dr. King complained after Selma. The concept seemed alien and unmanly. It came to embarrass many civil rights veterans themselves, even though nonviolence lies at the heart of democracy.

Every ballot - the most basic element of free government - is by definition a piece of nonviolence, symbolizing hard-won or hopeful consent to raise politics above anarchy and war. The boldest principles of democratic character undergird the civil rights movement's nonviolent training. James Madison, arguing to ratify the Constitution in 1788, summoned "every votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government," and he added that no form of government can secure liberty "without virtue in the people."

By steeling themselves to endure blows without retaliation, and remaining steadfastly open to civil contact with their oppressors, civil rights demonstrators offered shining examples of the revolutionary balance that launched the American system: self-government and public trust. All the rest is careful adjustment.

Like Madison, the marchers from Selma turned rulers and subjects into fellow citizens. A largely invisible people offered leadership in the role of modern founders. For an incandescent decade, from 1955 to 1965, the heirs of slavery lifted the whole world toward freedom. [...]

His oratory fused the political promise of equal votes with the spiritual doctrine of equal souls. He planted one foot in American heritage, the other in scripture, and both in nonviolence. "I say to you that our goal is freedom," he said in his last Sunday sermon. "And I believe we're going to get there because, however much she strays from it, the goal of America is freedom."

Only hours before his death, Dr. King startled an aide with a balmy aside from his unpopular movement to uplift the poor. "In our next campaign," he remarked, "we have to institutionalize nonviolence and take it international."

The nation would do well to incorporate this goal into our mission abroad, reinforcing the place of nonviolence among the fundamentals of democracy, along with equal citizenship, self-government and accountable public trust.

Fans of Dr. King and Gandhi tend to gloss over the fact that they realized that non-violence would work precisely because those in power were not living up to their own Judeo-Christian/Anglo-American ideals. Where those ideals do not already prevail--where the Bible and Madison and Magna Carta and the Declaration and Edmund Burke and the rest are not the basis of the society--non-violence is a recipe for self-annihilation. Recall that Gandhi counseled the Jews to go willingly to their doom to teach Hitler a moral lesson.

Likewise, it was when Dr. King departed from Anglo-Americanism, when he began to insist on equalitarianism of results rather than equality of political/moral standing, that the movement he led lost its credibility. He took his power from the ideas of his culture and lost that power when he moved into opposition to that culture.

[originally posted: 1/16/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 15, 2007 12:15 AM

Fans of Dr. King and Gandhi tend to gloss over the fact that they realized that non-violence would work precisely because those in power were not living up to their own Judeo-Christian/Anglo-American ideals. Where those ideals do not already prevail--where the Bible and Madison and Magna Carta and the Declaration and Edmund Burke and the rest are not the basis of the society--non-violence is a recipe for self-annihilation.

Dead on. There's an old Harry Turtledove short story called "The Last Article" in which Ghandi goes up against the German occupation of India.

How's it turn out? I don't want to go too far into spoiler territory, but it is a short story.

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 16, 2006 10:41 AM

What makes Dr. King, despite everything, a great American is that he always considered himself fully an American. The point of the Letter from Birmingham Jail was, "look at what we are doing to ourselves." He message was, in that way, a very Christian message.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 16, 2006 10:57 AM

You are correct in that Gandi and King had better adversaries; however, at the time the British and the American Segregationists weren't pushovers and did some rather vicious things. I think Gandi would not have been as successful against the Soviets, Japanese, Germans, or perhaps even the French.

Posted by: pchuck at January 16, 2006 11:05 AM


Rather, they didn't do much at all.

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2006 11:14 AM

Actually, Gandhi did successfully lead a campaign against a non-Judeo-Christian society - his own. Gandhi believed that if you are asking an adversary to change his/her behavior, you must at the same time show yourself willing to look at injustices in your own community and make the effort to change them.

So, at the same time that Gandhi was leading campaigns against the British, he was leading campaigns against untouchability within his own Hindu community.

One big campaign that doesn't get much attention was his Vikram Temple campaign, 1922-24, in which he sought to get untouchables the right to enter the temple i.e. the most profane thing allowed admittance to the most sacred place, attacking the idea of untouchability at its core. He was successful.

Nevertheless, I totally agree with your point. Gandhi would not have been successful against Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.

However, today's anti-war protestors are neither non-violent nor peaceful in Gandhi's sense. Because of that, they persuade no one and elicit the admiration of no one but themselves.

If they did follow Gandian guidelines, they could actually be of some real use in the WOT.

Here's some examples:

1. Start with a clear-eyed assessment of the moral, political, strategic, etc. realities (grade them "F" here)

2. Show respect for all parties in the dispute (grade of "F" here for the Bushitler crowd)

3. Ask all parties in the dispute to change, as appropriate (again give the anti-war crowd an "F" as they make believe Islamists don't exist)

and on it goes.

Posted by: L. Rogers at January 16, 2006 11:57 AM

Further to my remark above about how a truly Gandhian movement could help the WOT, here are some suggestions:

1. Protest outside of an Islamic school known to be preaching terrorism. Go there everyday, for years, inviting the people inside to dialog and keeping in the minds of everyone who enters that place that people consider what they are doing unjust and immoral.

2. Protest outside mosques in France, asking them to rebuild the synagogues their community has torched, clean up Jewish graves they've desecrated, etc. Do it day after day, for years.

3. Send a request to the Saudi government to invite the Pope, the Dalai Lama and other world religious leaders to Mecca as honored guests, thus attacking Islam's intolerance at its core and creating an event that would be understood by even illiterate people.

But see, this would mean actually risking something. This would be quite dangerous. But the anti-war folk aren't adults and aren't serious. Again, that's why people don't respect them.

Posted by: L. Rogers at January 16, 2006 12:08 PM

One last thing about Gandhi. Sorry. I just realize how the arrogance, blindness and moral pretensions of the anti-war crowd has been annoying me forever.

Gandhi set up a hierarchy of moral responses to an aggressor. The most moral response was Gandhian non-violence, of course. The next best response was along the lines of the just war theory. But the bottom of the moral heap was passivity and agreement / identification with the aggressor. It seems to me that George W. Bush has chosen Gandhi's second best moral response and the anti-war crowd has chosen his worst.

Posted by: L. Roges at January 16, 2006 12:16 PM

re Rodgers first post: That the Hindus were able and eventually willing to change is why we should consider them allies, despite their non-JudeoChristian culture. As with our issues over slavery and segregation, when confronted by the contradictions, even some centuries old, they were able to chuck the immoral ones. (And I'm sure things are perfect, with lots more needing to be done, but it's a good start, and we've yet to see the same attitude in Islam.)

And add to your list for the second: Stop assuming the Palestinians are telling the truth or the victims in every one of their encounters with the Israelis, and condemn the Palestians witht the same furvor you condemn the Israelis when the Palestinians engage in even small unacceptable activities, like using ambulances for weapon transport. (I'm specifically thinking of the Rachel Corrie types who go native.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 16, 2006 2:33 PM

I don't think it is terribly accurate to say that Gandhi really went after the core evil of his own society. India is a majority Hindu nation and the caste system is a Hindu religious system. But Gandhi was a Jain, not a Hindu. It would be more accurate to say that Gandhi tried to impose Jainist preferences upon Hindu society. That's one of the reasons why he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist. Regardless, the caste system is illegal, but it is still a fact of daily life in India. (much like illegal immigration here, but more profoundly so)

Most Indians are not willing to abandon the caste system which underpins their social identities, although dalit/out-caste people have political rights. It would be logically impossible to agitate for self-rule against the British but deny it for all castes.

Posted by: Dan Doyle at January 16, 2006 4:13 PM

In fairness to all African-Americans, it should be noted that despite the fact that Martin Luther King was an adulterer (apparently blatant enough to be documented and duly noted by the homosexual J. Edgar Hoover and the "civil libertarian" Robert Kennedy) he remained married and raised a family hoping to at least give African-Americans a good role model (if fake).

And in spite of his demagoguery (e.g. he labeled the philosophy of Barry Goldwater, "Hitlerism" no wonder he's probably a role model for Harry Belafonte) he occasionally could recognize good ideas and give inspiration to his followers.

Unfortuanately he used the words of others to give voice to those ideas, but in the case of his most famous "I have a dream" speech African-Americans should note that he stole the words of not a white man (like he had done in divinity school), but a black preacher named Archibald Carey (who gave the same speech at the 1952 Republican Convention.

Which shows his other attribute of being bold and daring to steal a speech not 12 years after it had been given to a national audience.

Posted by: h-man at January 16, 2006 4:21 PM

Dan Doyle,

Gandhi was not a Jain. He was Hindu and always identified himself as such. It is true that as a child he was influenced by a Jain his mother admired. However, he was also influenced by Christianity.

Gandhi did attack untouchability in his own society. He renamed them "Children of God" and conducted a number of campaigns on their behalf. However, you are right that it was not his main goal which was the independence of India from Great Britain.

Posted by: L. Rogers at January 16, 2006 6:07 PM

You really need to read this one on Gandhi:


Posted by: oj at January 16, 2006 8:13 PM


I followed the link you provided and read the article about the film, "Gandhi."

The author does not reveal anything about Gandhi's private life which is not already well known. By the way, the girls who slept with Gandhi in his old age were frequently his grand-nieces, so there was a hint of incest in this practice.

Further, he was not a great father. His eldest son became a Muslim, an alcoholic and then committed suicide. Erik Erikson quotes a letter from Gandhi to this son which was full of double-messages. No wonder the kid went crazy.

It seems clear that Gandhi viewed his wife and children as extensions of himself and not as separate individuals. They suffered for it.

His weirdness about elimination is a little more frequent in Hindu society than ours, so it's at least partly cultural. Remember the president of India who drank a cup of his own urine everyday?

Nevertheless, as with Martin Luther King's adulteries and plagerisms, Gandhi's private life makes his sainthood questionable, but his accomplishments remain. His philosophy of non-violence and his campaigns can be profitably studied. I have read a great deal about him and do not regret the time and effort.

Posted by: L. Rogers at January 16, 2006 10:56 PM


Non-violence is, in all but the rarest cases, an amoral course.

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2006 11:52 PM


How is non-violence, with rare exceptions, an amoral choice? Please explain.

Posted by: L. Rogers at January 17, 2006 9:52 AM


Because it's generally just acquiesensce to evil. It requires a society so basically good that the non-violence isn't even needed in order for it to work, as in decolonization of India and desegregation of the U.S..

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2006 10:51 AM


Good points. I agree that presently in the U.S. it is an acquiescence to evil.
I'll reply more later. I have to go to work now.

Posted by: L. Rogers at January 17, 2006 11:13 AM