Monday, January 19, 2015
On MLK Jr. and Robert E. Lee Things
(Terrible title but the best I could do.) In the current state that I live in, Arkansas, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee Day are celebrated. I didn't even realize there was a Robert E. Lee Day until this year thanks to the left-wing outcry about it. So a few random thoughts for the day:
I wonder how many protesters in the Occupy movement or at Ferguson have read and were inspired by, as was MLK Jr., the Greek Classics--that is, what are now often referred to disparagingly by university leftists as the works of Old Dead White Males. If you've read the Letter from the Birmingham City Jail (as anyone with a college degree in the U.S. should) and are familiar with Plato (as any university graduate in the West should be) you'll of course note its similarities with Plato's Crito, with the exception that MLK Jr. (reasonably) argues, contrary to Socrates, that it is permissible to break a law, but (a) only when it is unjust, (b) when one does so non-violently after a full examination of one's moral state, and (c) where one willingly suffers any consequences (even if those consequences are themselves unjust). In addition, one's actions must be directed towards the realization of concrete goals. The similarities between Socrates and MLK Jr's. situations are striking (as MLK indirectly alludes to in the letter).
Regarding General Lee, it's often said that he was a dishonorable traitor. Being myself both a Northerner (who has thought about buying this shirt) as well as one who finds little value in psychoanalyzing and moralizing about the long since departed, I have no dogs in this race. Moreover, I know very little about the man--far less than I know about King (who himself was a flawed man, plagiarizing his dissertation and cheating on his wife among other things).
I raise a question only about whether he was a traitor and if being a traitor is necessarily, morally dishonorable. It seems hard to doubt that he was a traitor to the Union. The only way I can see that he was not (and correct me if I'm wrong) is if, when the Confederate States of America was formed, he immediately thereby became a citizen of the CSA, his Union citizenship being immediately dissolved. I'll leave questions about the historical facts to the historians and the metaphysics of states and citizenship to political philosophers.
Suppose, as seems likely from the little I know, that Lee was a traitor to the Union. Is being a traitor, by itself, intrinsically wrong? It seems not since one could be a traitor to an unjust, immoral, or illegitimate regime. Being a traitor in such circumstances would be a good thing. Furthermore, one can have more than one (legitimate) allegiance, for instance, to one's country, one's state, one's town, one's family, etc. When conflicts arise among allegiances one will thereby be a traitor (at least in some sense) to the others.
Of course for the Christian one's ultimate allegiance is to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--not to MLK Jr. or Robert E. Lee. That's the ultimate trumping allegiance.