Chronicles, May 2015

The latest issue of this Old Right journal bears Geertgen tot Sint Jans’ (circa 1465-circa 1495) lovely painting “The Holy Kinship” on its cover.

Last month’s issue featured an article in which Claude Polin traced the intellectual influence of Calvinism in the early USA.  A letter in this month’s issue objects that some of the Calvinist ideas Professor Polin discussed there were not representative of John Calvin’s own thinking.  Professor Polin’s response to this is a succinct and admirable statement of one of the basic tenets of intellectual history:  “Either there never was any true Calvinist besides Calvin, or Calvin generated an attitude that was not his, but was logically derived from his writings.”

Steve Sailer (known to some who read this blog simply as “the hated SAILER”) writes about Thomas Jefferson’s contributions to the system of land ownership and property registration in the early USA, a system which Mr Sailer argues has given the USA a crucial advantage in economic development.  Mr Sailer’s argument that the abstract nature of the grid plan along which Jefferson led the USA’s lands to be surveyed made for a far more efficient structure than the more concrete metes-and-bounds system it replaced makes a odd counterpoint to Chronicles‘ editor Thomas Fleming’s column, in which he declares Jefferson’s similarly abstract, anti-historical views on inheritance to be of a piece with the exaltation of the nuclear family that has enabled the destruction of traditional kinship bonds and therefore of traditional community structures and traditional gender roles in today’s world.  Both Mr Sailer and Dr Fleming agree that Jefferson’s ideas have led to the rise of capitalism, but while Mr Sailer’s chief concern is extolling the prosperity that capitalism has brought, Dr Fleming’s emphasis is on capitalism’s destruction of those bonds and identities that have traditionally ennobled human life.

Clyde Wilson, editor of The John Calhoun Papers and an unreconstructed defender of the Old South, may be the last person you would expect to speak up in favor of the view that agents of the US government killed Martin Luther King, Junior, yet that is precisely what he does in his review of John Emison’s The Martin Luther King Congressional Cover-Up.  Professor Wilson seems to believe that the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated the assassination, pointing out that the agency had a file on small-time criminal James Earl Ray, the supposed gunman, and that the two federal judges who were, “years apart,” poised to reopen the case died of sudden heart attacks, which are “a standard tool of the CIA.”  Professor Wilson also refers to two other notorious 1960’s-era activities of the American national security state, Operation Northwoods, a Joint Chiefs of Staff plan to carry out terrorist acts in the USA and blame them on Fidel Castro, and Cointelpro, a Federal Bureau of Investigation project overseen by W. Mark Felt, who was among other things the FBI’s liaison with the Joint Chiefs.  For my part, if there was a high-level conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King, I suspect Mark Felt was its mastermind and the offices of the Joint Chiefs were its nursery.  Professor Wilson closes his review with a lament about all the crimes whose true provenance we will never know because high US officials saw to the destruction of evidence, the intimidation of witnesses, and the railroading of convenient suspects; his first example is the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  Many documents connected with the assassination of Martin Luther King are sealed until 2029; until they have been opened and examined, I think it is premature to put the King assassination into the same baleful category.

Scott Richert writes about Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which, unlike the federal law and the many state laws of the same name, does not apply only to civil suits to which the government is itself a party, but to a wide variety of lawsuits between private citizens.  Mr Richert, responding to the widespread fear that the law would enable unjust discrimination against sexual minority groups in Indiana and the consensus in favor of legal protection for such groups against discrimination which this fear revealed,* argues that the growth of civil rights protection for sexual minorities is the result of a strategy on the part of big businesses in the USA.  These businesses want the benefits of a reputation for friendliness to sexual minorities, but don’t want competitors to carve out a niche in which they could exploit any costs that such a reputation might entail.  So, big businesses want to advertise their own “gay-friendly” programs, while outlawing or stigmatizing any “unfriendly” programs competitors might come up with.

*I commented on the Indiana law here when it was first passed.

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Martin Luther King Day, 2015

Last week, National Public Radio reported on a study by Indiana University professor Sara Konrath and others.  Professor Konrath and her co-authors showed that, while Americans of all races think warmer thoughts about African Americans in general on Martin Luther King Day than they do the rest of the year, their opinion of General Colin Powell and President Barack Obama goes down on that day.  Professor Konrath’s theory is that this is because Mr Powell and Mr O are prominent male African American leaders, and Dr King was a prominent male African American leader, so we compare them to him on that day.  Since Dr King is presented on his birthday as a saint of America’s civic religion, that sets an impossible standard for any living person to meet, and they look bad by contrast.

I am sure there is much truth in Professor Konrath’s theory.  At the same time, I would point out that Messrs. Powell and Obama are particularly ill-chosen as comparisons with Dr King.  Dr King was a thoroughgoing pacifist, while Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 war against Iraq and Secretary of State during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  And Barack Obama is one of the most warlike US presidents ever, responsible for ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, for injecting the US into wars in Libya and Syria, and for sponsoring a coup in Honduras that constituted an act of aggressive war against that country, among many other acts of extreme violence.  If people actually listen to Dr King’s message on the day America sets aside to remember him, one would expect their opinion of warlords like Mr Powell and Mr O to be very low indeed.

In honor of this MLK Day, I’d like to post this statement of Dr King’s on the power of nonviolence:

“King of Hope,” by Honor Finnegan

An original ukulele song by Honor Finnegan calls for us to observe Martin Luther King’s birthday by giving him the gift he always wanted.

Martin Luther King on the disturbing power of love

In the aftermath of the Tucson massacre, many Americans (including the president) have quoted Martin Luther King’s remark, made in the aftermath of the assassination of Malcolm X, that we must learn “to disagree without being disagreeable.”

Today the USA observes a national holiday honoring Dr King.  It strikes me that the great man had more to say about Malcolm X than that one phrase.   In this video clip, Martin Luther King answers critics such as Malcolm X who claimed that his nonviolent resistance to white supremacy brought comfort to the oppressors:

Counterpunch, 1-15 November 2010

The latest issue of Counterpunch quotes a Nashville Tennessean article that  documents how much-publicized “anti-terrorism expert” Steven Emerson has never shown any evidence that he knows anything at all about terrorism, but that he has made a great deal of money by smearing and persecuting certain law-abiding Muslims.

The same issue cites another Tennessee newspaper article much less favorably.  In September, the Memphis Commercial Appeal recently ran a story labeling photographer Ernest Withers (1922-2007) as an “FBI mole” inside the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  That piece went so far as to insinuate that Withers may have been complicit in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Junior.  Other news outlets picked the story up, claiming that Withers had been exposed as a “closely supervised, paid informant.”  Counterpunch‘s Daniel Wolff read the documents on which the Commercial Appeal based its story, finding that none of them supports any of the inflammatory charges against Withers.  For example, the articles claim that Withers gave the FBI a list of names of organizers of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis; that charge is technically true, in the sense that Withers helped put together the press release in which those organizers announced their names to the public.  The rest of the charges are even less well-founded.  It’s a shame that so distinguished a figure as Dick Gregory took the Commercial Appeal‘s story at face value and called Withers a “thug,” a “Judas,” and “a guy hired by the FBI to destroy us.”

Withers’ photos played a crucial role in raising public awareness of the civil rights movement; the Panopticon Gallery has a fine collection of them, viewable here.   This one shows Dr. King’s funeral procession:

Funeral Procession for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior; photograph by Ernest C. Withers (courtesy of Panopticon Gallery)

Martin Luther King had a mustache, therefore Zoe likes him

Look for MLK at 1:31 in this video.

(I embedded the video previously, but not for MLK Day.)

Martin Luther King makes a funny

A 35 second clip from a 1968 installment of the Tonight Show.

The guest host was Harry Belafonte, who talks about the interview here.

“Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam,” by Martin Luther King, Jr

No moving picture, but extremely moving words.  A 1967 speech doesn’t have any business being so relevant to the events of 2010.  The “demonic destruction tool” Dr King describes from about the 5 minute mark on is still operating quite smoothly.   

30 April 1967

Here’s a transcript.