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The Cult Of St. Martin Luther King—A Loyalty Test For Careerist Conservatives?
Among the sins that neoconservative enforcers ascribed to presidential candidate Ron Paul, one that weighed particularly heavy for the Weekly Standard’s editors is a statement Paul once made (or might have made) describing Martin Luther King as a “world class philanderer who beat up his paramours.” According to writer James Kirchick [The Company Ron Paul Keeps, December 26, 2011], Paul also said (or might have said) that the fallen civil rights leader “seduced underage girls and boys.“ [Ron Paul Newsletter, December 1990, PDF]
These comments are held to indicate that Paul was a shameless racist. Although King’s womanizing can be found in any standard biography, while the notion that he preyed on young female followers is evident from certain revealing FBI files,(sealed until 2027, but contents fairly well known) Kirchick and the Weekly Standard consider it nothing short of blasphemy that anyone dare criticize a man they insist we venerate.
In significant contrast, the neoconservative press never showed the slightest inhibition about publishing and fawning over the now-deceased outspoken atheist and ex-Marxist Christopher Hitchens, although he raged in print against the Judeo-Christian deity and poured obscene bile on Mother Theresa. Hitchens enjoyed the adulation of National Review not in spite of but apparently because of his irreverence. Michael Novak in NRO told readers about how much he “admired the courage and polemical force” with which Hitchens defended his atheism. [Christopher Hitchens Is a Treasure, May 17, 2007]
After all, some things count more than some other things. Insulting a Christian saint and wishing her ill may not be tasteful—but it isn’t as bad as noticing that a Civil Rights saint, whose birthday is a now national religious holiday, behaved badly around women.
Furthermore, Paul added insult to injury by once suggesting that the MLK birthday was turning into “Hate Whitey Day.” [December 1990, JPG]What kind of hate-filled mind would utter this far-fetched conceit? (Other than mine?)
We’re now supposed to be past the idea that King’s birthday could be used for any other purpose than to celebrate interracial brotherhood. And yet, for some reason, the events and TV programs I’ve encountered in connection with the MLK festival seem all centered on white racist iniquities.
Perhaps I’ve not been looking at the right places to see how America’s civil rights struggle and its central hero are truly celebrated.
Supposedly the places where we may learn about the “real King” are neoconservative publications and GOP foundations. According to Establishment Conservative sources, King was a conservative thinker and a conservative Christian theologian. He devoted his life to building a “color-blind society” and drew on a wide range of patristic and medieval authorities, including the Pauline Epistles, Saint Augustine and the Summa of Thomas Aquinas.
This learned theologian put his life on the line to realize his Christian conservative values in a society full of primitive racist delusions. Human Events (November 14, 2011) assures us that the Tea Party Revolt is now following the “legacy of Martin Luther King,” and the head of The Conservative Student Union, David Ferguson, writing in the same publication (January 5, 2007), refers to King’s birthday as “this revered federal holiday” when we should “thank you [King] for your ideas of love, equality, peace and values that will live long after you, me and future generations.”
Given King’s “conservative” accomplishments, it appears the least we can do is venerate him on that one “revered day” of the year. This, according to Kirchick, was what Paul’s hero Ronald Reagan acknowledged when he signed the King Holiday into law, after its congressional passage in 1986. The PC consensus appears to be that King was so free of lust, contrary to what was once widely known about him, that there may soon be a new conservative movement doctrine, the perpetual virginity of Saint Martin Luther King. Tales about his lechery are not only untrue but sure evidence of the fallen state of anyone who even hints at this vice in a venerated object of civic worship.
Needless to say, there’s not a word of truth in any of this agitprop. King’s speeches feature very little serious Christian theology, a fact that is obvious as soon as one looks beyond his Southern Baptist mannerisms and plagiarized passages. Theodore N. Pappas in Plagiarism and The Culture Wardocuments the frenzied looting that went into King’s rhetorical exercises as well as his doctoral dissertation in systematic theology, submitted at Boston University in 1955. It is doubtful that King studied much of anything, except what he thought he could adapt to his political or professional use. Assertions about his theological learning and intellectual depth are not only an exercise in futility but a dishonest act typically pursued by those on the liberal (or neocon) dole.
It is significant that the worst distortions about King’s life are not found in the standard leftist biographies. Such as those by David J. Garrow and Taylor Branch. Despite the spin that these authors put on political events and the triumphalist tone of their narratives, they still show King’s personal defects and dependence on Communist mentors and give accurate accounts of his radical leftist politics.
The most ridiculous accounts are found not on the left but in the neoconservative-induced propaganda about King the conservative Christian. The mythical figure who emerges from this propaganda opposed Affirmative Action quota programs, although from interviews—and most palpably in comments printed in Playboy in 1965—it seems clear that King favored the remedies that he is supposed to have resisted. In the Playboy interview King went beyond affirmative action remedies to call for a government compensatory program of $50 billion to be paid mostly to blacks but also to other groups that had been subject to past discrimination. [Martin Luther King Jr.: An Interview with Playboy Playboy Magazine, January, 1965]
In contrast to Kirchick’s account, Ronald Reagan yielded only reluctantly to Congress (and especially to the importuning of GOP Congressmen Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich) when he signed off on the King Holiday.
Reagan undoubtedly held the same doubts about King’s character and politics as a Democratic predecessor, Jack Kennedy, according to recently-revealed interviews of Kennedy’s widow. (See for example Jackie Kennedy Onassis not a fan of Martin Luther King Jr., Politico.com, November 9, 2011) Indeed, Paul’s observations about King are perhaps generous next to those of Jackie Kennedy and the Kennedy Administration—and a fortiori National Review, before it fell into neoconservative hands.
My book 2009 Conservatism in America documents the loathing for MLK and his movement that from NR throughout the 1960s. See, for example, pages 12, 141, and 153n of this heavily documented work. In an unsigned NR editorial dated February 13, 1987, after the passage of the King holiday, no holds are barred in the attack on this later “conservative” saint:
“The historian David Garrow, in two recent—and sympathetic—studies of Dr. King, gives copious documentation showing that King, a married man and an ordained minister, was a compulsive philanderer, and compulsive may be too weak a word. Professor Garrow also shows that King was closely and continuously associated with several men who were almost certainly Communists and, though warned about this by the Kennedy brothers, persisted.
During his final phase he moved far to the left, planned those Poor People's Marches on Washington (which failed), and talked vaguely of revolution.
As one pursues with Professor Garrow the historical Martin Luther King—as contrasted with the mythical one—the gap between the two widens, and the famous Dream detumesces. One now feels that Martin Luther King Day represents affirmative action in the creation of national memorials. “
With biting sarcasm, the editorial exhorts readers: “But let’s hang in there and contribute to the disposal of the historical Dr. King down the memory hole.”
A question we should ask ourselves as members of what Peter Brimelow calls the “Right Opposition” is: exactly why has the King cult has taken such hold of the Established Conservative movement? It is certainly not essential to the defense of limited constitutional government, distributed powers, national sovereignty, strictly controlled immigration and other ideals that the American Right has traditionally espoused.
Significantly, in a lecture given to honor the “conservative virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King” at the Heritage Foundation on November 5, 1993, black Republican activist Robert Woodson spoke of King’s difficulties in getting black advocates of the older generation to respect his role as a Civil Rights leader. According to Woodson,
“when Dr. King tried to bring the Civil Rights movement together with the peace movement, it was Carl Rowan who characterized King as a Communist, not Ronald Reagan. I remember being on the dais of the NAACP banquet in Darby, Pennsylvania when Roy Wilkins soundly castigated King for this position. “
Note that these figures who were rejecting King as a radical leftist were bona fide black liberal Democrats of the 1960s. And yet the leftwing extremist whom black liberals once understandably scorned had his “conservative virtues” lavishly celebrated at Heritage in 1993
Not only that, but Bill Bennett, who organized the celebratory lectures with Woodson and Heritage Vice President Adam Meyerson, complained about the mistake of depicting King as a “social activist.” According to Bennett, “he was not primarily a social activist, he was primarily a minister of the Christian faith whose faith informed and directed his political beliefs.”
Another example: The conservative movement publication Human Events, which in 1986 fully accepted the negative picture of King then prevalent among his critics, was exalting “Dr. King” as a Christian, conservative hero by the beginning of this century.
One may have to look all the way back to the elevation of the previously-banned Christian faith to the Roman Empire’s preferred religion under Constantine the Great to see an inversion of positions quite as dramatic as this one.
An obvious reason for this inversion: the neoconservatives took over the Conservative Establishment and thereafter got to change what they wanted.
But the question remains: why were the neocons so determined to impose this inversion of positions on a movement that had previously regarded King as an unsavory agitator? Why did they work so hard to turn around the Establishment Right on a subject that was extraneous to what matters most to neocons: namely, finding jobs for their friends while ensuring a pro-Israeli global democratic foreign policy?
The explanation that makes sense to me: the King Cult provides a sort loyalty test for those “conservative” activists, fundraisers, and journalists who hoped to enjoy neoconservative patronage. This test also became a dividing line (albeit not the only one) between the neoconservative Realm of Peace and its enemies on the right, who had to be marginalized and ostracized. Only those who swallowed the King myth whole could be trusted to serve their overlords.
Unlike most popular historical narratives, the King myth is not a mixture of facts and hyperbole. It is entirely manufactured as a test of Political Correctness.
I have argued on VDARE.com that pre-MLK America was not the unrelieved hell hole that many younger writers now seem to imagine. However, the bad treatment of blacks in the segregated South that the neoconservatives highlight was all too often the case. Nevertheless, this reconstruction of King is pure fabrication. There is no resemblance between the invented King so beloved to the neocon press and the Media-Education complex, and the black revolutionary who contributed to social and political convulsion.
The Left is spot-on when it pokes fun at this fiction. It is a cynical deceit that has nothing to do with reality. Anyone who repeats it, which could easily have come out of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, is so morally compromised that his natural servility or boundless stupidity is proved beyond doubt.
Paul Gottfried [ email him ] recently retired as Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt and The Strange Death of Marxism His most recent book is Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America