MLK Redivivus

Compact magazine editor, Sohrab Ahmari, has taken time off from his usual activity of advocating for social democracy and defending FDR’s New Deal to excoriate America’s right for the alleged crime of disrespecting Martin Luther King, Jr. Ahmari reprimands Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk for jokingly suggesting that the required public worship of MLK has become a bit, well … tiresome. Following this reprimand comes Ahmari’s ritualistic tribute to MLK, one that could easily pass muster at the Washington Post.

Curiously Ahmari seems never to have encountered the Old Right’s reservations about King. These animadversions, as some of our readers must know, have been appearing with some regularity in Chronicles since the 1980s. They were authored by among others Sam Francis, Theodore Pappas, and Tom Fleming, and if one goes back even further in the annals of conservative discourse, such remarks were commonplace in National Review before that publication fell to the neoconservatives in the 1980s. At the time of King’s canonization by our already cowed Congress, I was commissioned by the Washington Times to write a piece criticizing this still controversial proposal. My commentary was pulled at the last moment, lest the editorial page editor be identified with what was, by then, already a politically incorrect view.

To his credit, Ahmari begins his tribute to King by telling us something true. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written from a traditional Christian perspective, and although Ahmari tries to give this text a Catholic gloss by mentioning its reference to Aquinas and denouncing something calls “Whiggish Protestantism,” he does let something obvious slip through. One can read into the relevant passages of the letter the Christian views of the devout home in which King was raised.

King also on at least one occasion claimed that Christ appeared to him at moments of spiritual doubt. King’s admiring, but usually objective, biographer David J. Garrow stresses this Christian background, but he also indicates that his subject turned to other sources for inspiration. These inspirations were generally from the radical left, and clearly do not fit Ahmari’s reconstructionist purpose. King sought the counsels of, among others, Communist advisors, people who hardly represented the pre-Whiggish Catholic traditionalism Ahmari ascribes to King.

Chronicles has never held back from listing all the character flaws associated with King, most of which by now are easily verified. King’s private life abounded in sexual orgies, some of which ended up being recorded by the FBI. Toward the end of his life, he surrendered rhetorically to the black nationalists who had come to dominate the civil rights movement. Moreover, many of King’s invectives against white America indicated that this orator was anything but a racially unifying figure, even if our establishment conservatives never tire of quoting selectively from his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on the Washington mall in 1963.

Although our media conservatives castigate Harvard’s former president Claudine Gay for her plagiarized articles, they remain hypocritically silent about King’s lifelong practice of plagiarizing other authors. The Rockford Institute took pride in the fact that it published a short book by a Chronicles-editor, Theodore Pappas, which showed definitively the extent of King’s verbal thefts. The late Eugene Genovese, even while still technically a Marxist, called for revoking King’s doctoral degree because of Pappas’s evidence.

Although I have never viewed King as a particularly wicked person, I see absolutely no reason to make him the object of a public cult. He most certainly did not bring the races closer together; and the legacy he left behind has been one of erasing more and more of our national heritage whenever it does not fit a progressively more radical leftist agenda.

Contrary to the lies the conservative establishment tell us about this unlikely conservative hero, King did favor racial quotas and made no secret of the fact. Those who were associated with him and survived his death went on, like John Lewis, James Clyburn, and Jesse Jackson, to sound more and more stridently anti-white; and as much as some may want to believe differently, one can recognize much of King’s rhetoric in theirs.

There are lots of blacks who seem to me more deserving of tribute than King, starting with Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, and ending with Clarence Thomas and Dr. Ben Carson. But I wouldn’t recommend a national holiday for any of these black luminaries, since I’m sticking with the old list of public heroes, whom, as Sam Francis predicted, the mandated King worship quickly replaced. Let’s have all of them back, starting with Columbus and Washington! And if Americans want to celebrate Lincoln and Lee both, as Dwight Eisenhower did, that’s fine with me, too.

But what’s not fine is seeing the way the all-consuming cult of MLK has pushed out the America that the left has made war on; and how it now leads into a penitential “black history” month that is spent beating up on white America. And no, I don’t buy the narrative that this war on the American past has nothing to do with King’s legacy. Once can easily fill a book with his statements condemning white America and denouncing its racist history. And one might add to this list of King’s disparaging remarks about an older America his warnings, recorded by Garrow and other biographers, that if white Americans didn’t jump to do what he wanted, then our cities would go up in flames. Those were hardly counsels of peace.

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