Saturday, April 14, 2018

Martin Luther King Jr. & Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant

I just came across an article I originally saw when it appeared, and it mentions me:

"How Martin Luther King, Jr. Used Nietzsche, Hegel & Kant to Overturn Segregation in America" by Josh Jones, Open Culture, February 11, 2015

I have been familiar with King's remarks about Hegel for many years. I think that the author is exaggerating about Hegel;s influence, and that the author's title is an embarrassing exaggeration. I am more impressed by the influence that various philosophers and theologians had in overturning MLK's fundamentalist indoctrination. It should also be known that MLK not only rejected fundamentalism but was an advocate of the separation of church and state, something the ignorant people I interact with in the city in which I live cannot fathom.

Here there are two links to my web site:
As King scholar John Ansbro discovered, King “stated in a January 19, 1956 interview with The Montgomery Adviser that Hegel was his favorite philosopher.” Later that year, King gave an address to the First Annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change in which he used Hegelian terms to characterize the Civil Rights struggle: “Long ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus argued that justice emerges from the strife of opposites, and Hegel, in modern philosophy, preached a doctrine of growth through struggle.”

Independent scholar Ralph Dumain has further catalogued King’s many approving references to Hegel, including a paper he wrote entitled “An Exposition of the First Triad of Categories of the Hegelian Logic—Being, Non-Being, Becoming,” the “last of six essays that King wrote” for his two-semester course on the philosopher.
The author also mentions the Du Bois - Hegel connection and Susan Buck-Morss's work that argues for the influence of the Haitian Revolution on Hegel. He even mentions the little-known 1925 study The Logical Influence of Hegel on Marx by Rebecca Cooper. Among the other interesting links in this article I will mention just this one:

Martin Luther King Jr. and Continental Philosophy, Ethicist for Hire, February 7, 2015


jdmagness said...

Hi, thanks much for reading this. I am the author of the piece (though not of the unfortunate headline). I'm very interested in the notion that King's philosophical education swayed him from fundamentalism. I'm not sure I ever thought of his religious thought as operating in a fundamentalist way. Though he describes his Sunday School lessons as "quite in the fundamentalist in line," he also confesses holding heretical views in his early teens when "doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly." I've always been struck by him writing that despite his early indoctrination, an "uncritical attitude could not last long, for it was contrary to the very nature of my being." (All above from his "Autobiography of Religious Development.")

I suppose I've become much more interested in the influence of Du Bois' anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism on the later King (and perhaps Hegel only indirectly). Have been reading the Cornell West-edited collection The Radical King, and found an essay he wrote titled "Honoring Dr. Du Bois." Here, King offers an incisive denunciation of anti-communist hysteria and gives evidence of having read the Lincoln-Marx correspondence that most people even now are totally unaware of:

We cannot talk of Dr. Du Bois without recognizing that he was a radical all of his life. Some people would like to ignore the fact that he was a communist in his later years. It is worth noting that Abraham Lincoln warmly welcomed the support of Karl Marx during the Civil War and corresponded with him freely. In contemporary life the English-speaking world has no difficulty with the fact that Sean O'Casey was a literary giant of the twentieth century and a communist or that Pablo Neruda is generally considered the greatest living poet though he also served in the Chilean Senate as a communist. It is time to cease muting the fact that Dr. Du Bois was a genius and chose to be a communist. Our national obsessive anti-communism has lead us into too many quagmires to be retained as if it were a mode of scientific thinking.

Ralph Dumain said...

Thanks for your feedback, with some new information for me. I believe Clayborne Carson said that MLK was always animated by the social gospel, and he wrote to Coretta indicating a sympathy for socialism, broadly conceived. I believe that Adolph Reed, Jr. sees Du Bois as more of a Fabian, in line with his elitism (at least early on), but I haven't read his book, and I actually am underinformed on this matter.