A Bogus Holiday
Last week, the Mises Institute didn’t celebrate Martin Luther King Day. Why not? Is it because we are “racists”? Not at all. King has become an icon, who in the eyes of the Left must be viewed with adoration. He was in fact a disreputable person, underserving of honor in a free society. The transformation of King into a moral saint resembles the way George Floyd, a thug and drug addict, has become the “Gentle Giant,” while people riot in his name.
The great historian Paul Gottfried has explained the way in which worship of King has become a religion: “A young friend has just sent me the program for the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday that will take place next week at Kenyon College. The unifying theme is ‘Martin Luther King, Was He a Twentieth-Century Jesus,’ a key question that one is led to believe should be answered in the affirmative. The featured speaker for this sacral event is the Black Nationalist professor of law at New York University and ‘a pioneer in the Critical Race Theory Movement,’ Derrick Bell, who in all probability will tell the audience what he has been invited to say. What my young disciple did not know when he sent me the announcement is that our college is sponsoring a similar celebration, albeit one without Bell. Our students and faculty are expected to spend all of next Monday attending carefully selected panels dealing with the self-sacrificing goodness of Dr. King and the abjectly racist society he came to redeem. While our chaplain at a recent ‘holiday luncheon’ could not bring herself to mention the Christian savior in a Christmas prayer, lest she offend some unidentified Kwanza celebrant, she and her onetime Christian colleagues are exhausting themselves in preparation for next Monday’s events.
Although this form of savior-displacement opens the door to many questions not all of which I can address here, there are two misconceptions concerning the King cult that warrant immediate discussion. In both cases, I am criticizing my well-meaning traditionalist friends who have pooh-poohed what is going on. The holiday, contrary to what some predicted would happen twenty years ago, has not turned into ‘just another George Washington birthday-type vacation,’ marked by bargain sales and a few entirely forgettable media references. MLK comes as the prelude to a new Lenten month that is full of compulsory meditation on the sins of white racism. The national birthday shows all the spontaneity of a celebration of Hitler’s birthday held in Germany during the Third Reich. Already in the late eighties my youngest daughter had to spend MLK’s birthdays in an elementary school in Montgomery County, Maryland, listing the reasons for which we were to feel grateful to the honored hero. When Sara noted that among King’s achievements was that the ‘blacks got to use white bathrooms’ in Southern states, the teacher complained that she was not ‘respecting him sufficiently.’ Jesus may be praised in the Bible for helping to cater a Jewish wedding but for King we are only allowed to bring up the big stuff. Perhaps my daughter should have praised King for repeating the Old Testament miracle of causing the sun to stand still.
It is also insufficient to compare the adoration of King to various statements made by Abolitionists, which likened the martyrdom of real or alleged anti-slavery crusaders to the crucifixion of Jesus. Eulogies heaped on John Brown and Abraham Lincoln may have been tasteless but they were also relatively harmless. The people who made them were usually devout, Bible-reading Christians, and although carried away by their rhetorical zeal, they then went back to their traditional beliefs and established ways of life. Although some of these zealots such as Ralph Waldo Emerson may have been whacky religious innovators, they never tried to substitute the worship of a violent Abolitionist for that of the Christian God. For one thing, they were living in a still intact American Protestant society, at which at most they could chip away at the edges. Moreover, New England Brahmins usually exemplified social propriety, and once slavery as an issue was gone, they took up other sorts of activities, e.g., preserving their cultural and ethnic hegemony in the face of the new immigration. (Emerson and Henry Adams, from their correspondence, seem to have dreaded the impending disappearance of the WASP America in which they had spent their youth.)
What I am suggesting is that the state- and media-enforce
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