Quoting WSJ

Twenty years [Forty] ago last week, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The toll his family took was heavy. But the goal was – is – worthy. Bret Stephens contrasts King with Mugabe. Those who admire (mostly past tense, of course) both missed the core concept of the Civil Rights movement, of the assumptions of the will to live free. David Hackett Fischer notes how freedom and liberty are intertwined concepts in our history. Still, it is the very limits of our freedoms and liberties (the points where they touch others) that gives them shape and power, within those broad limits they empower us. If we don’t accept the limits of our freedoms – our human condition, others’ freedoms – they become perverse. Willing our death, willing other’s – that hardly changes our condition. And the most perversely revolutionary thought doesn’t throw over tradition for a universal of individual growth but rather to allow expression of one individual (one corporate) will that uses each to express that will. (Perhaps talking about Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” over and over with freshmen newly exposed to that terror makes me read the editorial pages with hyperbolic context – or maybe it is Conrad’s that is the real context.) Anyway, here is Stephens:

Maybe the question is better put this way: Why is it that “progressivism” seems so prone to nihilism? Friedrich Nietzsche, who knew something about nihilism, had an answer: “Man,” as he famously concluded in his Genealogy of Morals, “would rather will nothingness than not will.” Ultimate freedom, complete liberation, demands that man overthrow every constraint, or what Nietzsche called “a revolt against the most fundamental preconditions of life itself” – including life itself. In this scheme, nature and the natural order of things become subordinate to the mere act of willing. This is the essence of totalitarianism, a political order that recognizes no higher authority, no limits and no decencies.
Which brings us back to Martin Luther King Jr. In his 1958 essay “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” King described his encounter with, and rejection of, Marxism. “Since for the Communist there is no divine government,” he wrote, “no absolute moral order, there are no fixed, immutable principles; consequently almost anything – force, violence, murder, lying – is a justifiable means to the ‘millennial’ end. . . . I am convinced now, as I was then, that man is an end because he is a child of God.”

“Exterminate the brutes!” may be the colonial view but it was also Stalin’s, Hitler’s and it wasn’t just the cry of Europeans in Africa but also of Cambodians in Cambodia, Rwandans in Rwanda. Wars prove less deadly than democide, for winning a battle doesn’t require the extermination of the “restless spirit” Frederick Douglass describes.

9 thoughts on “Quoting WSJ”

  1. “Why is it that “progressivism” seems so prone to nihilism?”…it does seem prone to nihilism, but this is also true of certain right-wing movements. I’m thinking specifically of the Spanish fascists and their slogan “Long live death!”

  2. Though I have a profound respect for King and all he had done I simply dislike his religious stuff as much as marxist nonsense…both are illusions, though I am sure one might suggest that Marxism brought bad things into the world. But then…..wasn’t it Christianity that Harrient Beecher Stowe portrayed among the slave-owning class?

  3. Mr. Lapides,
    Whatever your religious issues, your sense of understanding of others would be deepened if you read history more closely.
    Do you honestly think that the sister of the great Beechers and the daughter of a man who ventured out to Cincinnati to establish a seminary and the wife of one of her father’s students would be anti-religion? Are you arguing that the American religious establishment was allied with slavery and southern in sympathies? The histories of the main Protestant denominations in this country can tell you a good deal about what rationalizations were given in some pulpits for slavery but more strongly where the springs of abolitionist support arose. The lyrics to “Amazing Grace” but also “The Battle Hymn of Republic” reflect those currents. I’m not quite sure how this disconnect has come about in our understanding of history. I am not myself religious but am awed by the influence – often positive – of religious feeling on our history. (Edited for bad writing on my part – Ginny.)

  4. Ginny–I am sufficiently aware pf history to know that many religious folks in the North did in fact take a strong stand against’ slavery,but I also know that the bible was used in the South to justify slavery too and that Uncle Tom’s Cabin makes the point that only the Quaker family were true to their religious convictions.Now if you can show me where the South was anti-slavery because of Christian beliefs, I will be happy to rethink my view of the past.

  5. Exterminate the brutes!”

    Horrible, yes, but, if the “brutes” are indeed brutes it is really rather reasonable. A brute will not treat one fairly and will physically harm and kill others in order to satisfy himself.

    Colonialism, like the dictators (Stalin, etc.) used force to achieve it’s ends. Unlike the dictators colonialism itself was (generalizing here) more concerned with the profit motive than attaining and keeping power. Power was the means to an end, not the end itself. Colonialists would rather not be brutish because it’s more expensive than the alternatives. Of course they turned brutish when opposed by the weaker cultures. Stalin, etc., had to be brutish without question because they arose in the midst of shared cultures….no technological advantage over a weaker culture such as Europe enjoyed.

    Furthermore, the argument can easily be made (if one believes that greater longevity, higher standards of living, and less stressful living is a good thing) that colonization benefited the original inhabitants in many cases and in the long run. Colonies pushed history in the right directions, generally, and often incidentally. The despots laid ruin to their fellows with little to show for it.

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