Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Conservative Bugaboos

As we await his book that "places liberal Jewish anti-Zionism (as opposed to that of Orthodox or revolutionary socialist Jews) in historical perspective", Jack Ross writes:

Today, of course, is Martin Luther King Day. Even as a kid I can remember finding something very disturbing about the fact that in America we observed something called “King’s Birthday” (that I first heard it referred to as such by a teacher with a very thick southern accent surely didn’t help). Chris Rock undoubtedly had the best attitude in reassuring us white folks way back when he was still on Saturday Night Live: “It’s just one more Monday off. What do you do on Columbus Day, put three ships in the yard?”

I mentioned in one of my more recent blogs the discovery that Straussianism explains perfectly how the American right has come to believe such bizarre things about Martin Luther King. No sooner do we have so perfect an illustration of this as a meditation by Straussian mainstay Peter Wehner on how King was inspired by the classics.

But now comes the spectacle of MLK becoming a symbol of American militarism, via Nathan. In recent days I had seen a number of references to antiwar protesters confronting the heavily military MLK Day Parade in LA, but this really misses the point. So too does the righteous rant by Cornel West I saw the other day on C-SPAN that “the election of Obama is not by itself the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream.” Much more on point was a black friend in college, who when I asked what they thought of Condoleezza Rice’s infamous statement to a black journalists’ convention that they of all people should oppose the notion that Iraqis were incapable of democracy replied “that she learned to bullshit from the master.”

The problem is not that “the dream” is being betrayed by those who would employ it for the cause of national greatness, it is that the myth of Martin Luther King only exists for the purpose of including African-Americans in the march of progress toward the millennium that can either be called Whig history, court history, Straussian mythmaking, or the NBC school or national greatness liberalism. In years past I have seen shocking reverence displayed toward King at my lefty shul, but I can live with that since, whatever his failings, King was genuine agent of social protest, making his exaltation a far cry from the era when the often-righteous rabbis portrayed in my forthcoming book would typically so exalt the emperors Lincoln and Roosevelt.

There is an interview, which has only ever been published in this rather rare book, with King’s colleague Bayard Rustin in which he is quite frank about King and in my estimation perfectly accounts for all the various conservative bugaboos about him. In short, that King was shallow and not exceptionally bright, that he developed a messiah complex, and this, rather than ideology, was responsible for King’s move into the north and to the left generally. Rustin, to be sure, had his own pathologies, but we’ll leave that for another day.

King’s famous antiwar speech is certainly an admirable one, but it can just as easily be spun into mythmaking as anything claimed by the Straussians or, to take another example, the Jewish establishment. It is simply impossible to know whether King would have become, had he lived, a Nation lefty or a Eustonite, a Democratic Party hack like Jesse Jackson or a Christian conservative notwithstanding his economic agenda. Probably the best way to honor his legacy is to make some undoubtedly vain attempt to take him down from the pedestal.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose King is overrated, but so were many conservative heroes, including William F. Buckley and the other prophets of Fusionism as a response to New Deal liberalism.

    It is interesting that Christopher Lasch was probably the most powerful critic of 1960s liberalism, but people forget that he started out critiquing liberalism from a Marxist perspective, later adding social conservatism to his general left-wing economic views.

    In any event, whatever their defects, King and other civil right leaders deserve credit for toppling a racial caste system that really was very unjust, and to be frank, I doubt it could have been done without some Federal intervention (another bugbear of conservatives).