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However debilitating and demoralizing the long subjection to the regime of white supremacy in its various forms, that experience did not destroy blacks’ power of taking action in their own cause.
Professor Allen’s closing comments indirectly suggest that amid that zeal may be a Machiavellian sort of ambition.
To conceive of his people as suffering the depth of degradation and disability would certainly appeal to one who, seeking the glory proper to the founder of new orders, understood that the greatest glory would belong to one who led his people in rising from the lowest beginnings.
As Professor Allen suggests, King’s tendency to conceive of black agency, the core of black personhood, as protest risks becoming habituated and thus degenerating over time into a self-degrading, self-defeating paradox: agency as the active assertion of one’s own weakness and dependence upon others.
In a deeper sense, this paradox in King’s idea of black agency is an expression of his zeal for revolution, or his powerful attraction to the idea of immediate and radical, systemic change.
“Negroes must not only have the right to go into any establishment open to the public,” King insisted, “but they must also be absorbed into our economic system [so] that they can afford to exercise that right.” As Professor Allen notes, President Lyndon Johnson expressed the idea with blunt simplicity at Howard University in 1965: “freedom is not enough… but equality as a fact and equality as a result.” By conceiving of rights ultimately in terms of substantive, distributive outcomes, Professor Allen charges, King implicitly adopted an incoherent and demoralizing idea of the human person, the bearer of the rights for which he contended.
This is a profound and far-reaching charge, the basis and significance of which warrant further elaboration.In Professor Allen’s account, King began by aspiring to refound America in a relatively modest, moderate sense—to complete the work of the original founders, or to redeem, as King said in his most famous speech, the “promissory note” the Founders signed but could not themselves make good. That relatively moderate, ostensibly Lincolnian ambition to make good the original Founders’ principles was at once urgently necessary and noble in a very high degree.Yet King ended with a desperate call for a much more radical refounding, a sharp departure from the original Founders’ principles.At deeper levels, they implicate profound questions concerning the nature of civil rights themselves, along with the natural rights and natural laws from which they derive. Allen addresses the Act not primarily as law or policy, therefore, but as political philosophy.As a result of his inquiry into the philosophic vision informing the law, an essay on the Civil Rights Act becomes an essay on Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he singles out as the preeminent spokesman of the civil-rights thinking that stands, for many in our own day, as the authoritative legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. failed”—is attention-getting, certainly in its bold directness if not also in its countercultural substance.The winner will be notified in December and invited to the Rev. The deadline to submit nominations and letter of support for the Service Award is due in early November. Reception, the MLK Breakfast and the MLK Youth Forum/Peace Walk. Reception, the MLK Breakfast and the MLK Youth Forum/Peace Walk.Whereas the first phase was aimed at securing the civil and political rights proper to individuals in their formal identities as persons and citizens (including rights of association, rights of access to public accommodations, educational institutions, and workplaces, and rights to vote and to seek public office), a “second phase,” aimed at “the realization of equality,” would seek to achieve specific substantive, socioeconomic outcomes.The latter, in other words, concerned the fruitful exercise of rights as distinct from the legally guaranteed possession of rights.He conceived of a “fair opportunity,” however, quite expansively, involving both an expanded array of rights and an expanded array of governmental powers and duties to effectuate them. the guaranteed income.” By whatever means, he believed, “the time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct, and immediate abolition of poverty.” What is most striking, however, about King’s proposed remedies is not the magnitude of the social-insurance and welfare state that he envisioned; it is the confidence that he expressed in anticipating those remedies’ profoundly uplifting effects.From 1963 onward, King called upon Congress to enact “a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged,” designed to “guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work” and “an income for all who are not able to work.” In his final book, without renouncing the preceding demand, he focused on a simpler and more radical proposal: “The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by . Firmly convinced that the proximate causes of the disadvantaged condition of many blacks were structural and political-economic in character, he expected his programmatic remedies to “immediately transform the conditions of Negro life,” a transformation no less moral than material.