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Martin Luther King’s Conservative Principles

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Unread 01.15.12, 07:15 AM
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Martin Luther King’s Conservative Principles

On 01.15.12 06:00 AM posted by Matt Spalding

Martin Luther King Day has arrived once again, and like clockwork, liberals are invoking King’s name to support their causes.

In an e-mail to activists, Obama’s former “green czar,” Van Jones, calls King the “original Occupier.” He urges activists to use MLK day meet-ups to energize left-wing campaigning for 2012.

Despite these efforts, conservatives should not surrender King’s legacy to the left.

Conservatives, of course, have reservations about certain aspects of King’s legacy. For one, he became too close, later in his career, to the welfare state. He was enamored of the theology of the Social Gospel, the movement that undermined much of mainstream Protestantism in the 20th century. Later in life, he was a vocal opponent of American involvement in the Vietnam. And we now know that in his scholarship and personal life King was far from perfect.

Nevertheless, there are three ways in which King’s message is profoundly conservative and relevant.

First, of course, concerns the question of race. King dreamed of a nation for his children where they would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He dreamed of a color-blind society based on the equality of all Americans and their sharing of equal unalienable rights.

The American dream, King said at Lincoln University in 1961, “says that each individual has certain basic rights that are neither conferred by nor derived from the state. To discover where they came from it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity, for they are God-given.… The American dream reminds us that every man is heir to the legacy of worthiness.”

An agenda that advocates quotas, counting by race and set-asides, takes us away from King’s vision.

Second, King believed in the critical importance of faith and moral character. He spoke of self-improvement and self-help in both moral and practical terms. He believed in work ethic and thrift and spoke against crime and disorderly conduct. In stark contrast to modern liberalism’s militant secularism, King explicitly ground his efforts in the Christian tradition. King believed that churches and other faith-based associations were necessary for a grassroots revival of American culture.

He also stressed the importance of the family. Indeed, King’s fears about black family breakdown led him to become one of the few civil-rights leaders not to reject Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s controversial 1965 report that warned of rising illegitimacy rates among blacks.

This forgotten aspect of King’s thought is told expertly in an article entitled “Where Dr. King Went Wrong.” Joel Schwartz suggests that King turned to the welfare state when he became disheartened by the emergence of the black underclass.

Third, King firmly embraced the core principles of America’s founding. Unlike so many modern liberals beset with nihilistic multiculturalism, King did not talk about remaking America. His dream was one “deeply rooted in the American dream,” as he said, and one that hearkened back to America’s founding principles

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