Martin Luther King did not argue for welfare dependency

Whatever the Left may have convinced itself, Martin Luther King wanted to liberate black people from legal disabilities but he also wanted African Americans to take responsibility for self-improvement

He didn't dream of welfare dependency
Vincent Cooper
On 3 September 2013 11:03

BBC Radio 4 recently marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s moving ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Twenty people from diverse backgrounds around the world, from Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (a five-year position for which Ms Robinson receives a generous taxpayer-funded life-long pension), to Joan Baez, the wealthy Sixties counter-culture singer, read extracts from King’s speech.

What was notable about the twenty readers was that, with the possible exception of the Dalai Lama and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl shot by the Taliban, all belonged, to some degree, on the liberal-left. The conservative voice, it seems, is no part of the Martin Luther King legacy.

This exclusion of the conservative voice is very much part of modern liberalism’s perception of mainstream bourgeois social values as always and everywhere a block on progress, as if Martin Luther King had to fight the ordinary people of the United States to get racial justice.

But this is false. Martin Luther King, in pushing for racial equality, was pushing against an already wide-open door.

The vast majority of Americans did not object to King’s demands. The Christian churches supported him. The Kennedy clan in power supported him. Hollywood supported him, including high profile people such as Charlton Heston (conservative), Burt Lancaster, Bob Dylan and the whole establishment culture of the Sixties.

The liberal-left like to portray social progress in individual human rights as a ‘struggle’ against ‘oppressive’ Western interests and values. But the truth is that it is only within Western values that the concept of individual human rights is to be found. It was only against the background of the Constitution of the United States, largely derived from the bourgeois values espoused by John Locke, the English political philosopher of the 17th, century that the demand for equal treatment could be made.

Martin Luther King understood this. As a Christian, he called on his fellow Christian Americans to deliver on the values expressed in their Constitution. The American people did deliver by striking down all forms of segregation. The black man was now equal before the law.

But American liberals were not satisfied. As Jonah Goldberg points out in his book, Liberal Fascism, “The civil rights movement, which had captured the public’s sympathies through King’s message of equality and color blindness, quickly degenerated into a riot of racially loaded entitlements.”

American liberals saw blacks, not as King’s free men before the law, but as a victim group, dependent on welfare hand-outs from the state: “The War on poverty, affirmative action, community redevelopment, and the vast panoply of subsidies that fall under the rubric of welfare—Aid to Families with Dependent Children, housing grants, Medicare, Women, Infants, and Children benefits, food stamps—were churned out by a massively increased administrative state on a scale undreamed of by FDR.”

Liberal progressives had always wanted a centralised welfare state with which to build their utopian socialist future, but had always come up against a sceptical public. Now they had the victim group par excellence, African-Americans, to justify their tax-and-spend policies.

Of course, this implied that the black man was not the equal of whites in the market place. The black man needed help; he needed the support of the white progressive intelligentsia. This, of course, was pure patronizing; liberal condescension on a national scale.

But welfarism has not brought economic equality to American blacks. It has created ghettoes of dependency and levels of urban crime and family breakdown (particularly fatherless families) unseen before the advent of the welfare state.

As the black academic Thomas Sowell has pointed out, before the welfare state, unemployment rates among blacks were lower than among whites. Today, blacks have more than twice the unemployment rate of whites. Also, the incidence of fatherless families in the black community rocketed from the moment the state (the taxpayer) took over the financial responsibility for children.

The welfare state, according to Sowell, pays people to fail. In education, welfare money goes to schools with low scores, thereby creating an in-built incentive to fail. This, Sowell says, has had a devastating effect on the black community. Welfarism has institutionalised a poverty trap for blacks and entrenched them in their ghettos.

Martin Luther King wanted to liberate black people from legal disabilities. He wanted African Americans to take responsibility for self-improvement and to stand as equals in the market place.

Many have succeeded. But for many more, perhaps the majority, white liberal welfare condescension has created ghettos on a scale unknown before the Second World War. In cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia, the level of black crime is a matter of major national debate.

With the money running out and increasing white flight, the bankruptcy of liberal welfarism has been exposed.    

Vincent Cooper is a freelance writer with a particular interest in philosophy, mathematics, and economics

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