Caveat: the supremacy of the individual conscience

On Monday, the US commemorated Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Dr King's memorial has become the somewhat anodyne fillip to an annual dialogue about race and civil rights, couched in terms guaranteed to offend no one. But he was pretty offensive to those aligned against him, in his era – and those people were offensive right back at him. Not least, consider this bit, written shortly after his assassination:

Those who mourn Dr. King because they were his closest followers should meditate the implications of the deed of the wildman who killed him. That deed should bring to mind not (for God's sake) the irrelevance of non-violence, but the sternest necessity of reaffirming non-violence. An aspect of non-violence is submission to the law.

The last public speech of Martin Luther King described his intention of violating the law in Memphis, where an injunction had been handed down against the resumption of a march which only a week ago had resulted in the death of one human being and the wounding of fifty others.

Dr. King's flouting of the law does not justify the the flouting by others of the law, but it is a terrifying thought that, most likely, the cretin who leveled his rifle at the head of Martin Luther King, may have absorbed the talk, so freely available, about the supremacy of the individual conscience, such talk as Martin Luther King, God rest his troubled soul, had so widely, and so indiscriminately, indulged in. – William F. Buckley, April 9, 1968.

Buckley, in essence, blames the actions of Dr King's murderer on the message he advocated and preached. It is deeply disturbing that in Buckley's view, "submission to the law" is a component of non-violence. This confuses the admonition to "render unto Caesar" for a quite different notion: "submit to Caesar." This is definitely not what any notable advocate of nonviolence has ever had in mind, including Jesus himself.

In light of this, please don't believe that dogwghistle racism and "blaming the victim" are in any way new to the right's discourses contra civil rights. I once thought rather highly of Buckley, but over the years I have seen more and more evidence to support the idea that he was, behind his high rhetoric, yet another defender of the Jim Crow status quo ante.

The only thing actually new in our current Emperor is a certain incisive vulgarity – the content of the message is little changed. Yet it is the content of the message we need to be concerned about, not the manner of presentation.

[daily log: walking, 7.5km]

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