Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Dr. King’s philosophy is, among other things, a good example of what I mean when I discuss “cosmopolitan” philosophies. He preached pacifism, and that’s a major reason he’s remembered, but what’s really remarkable is why he believed as he did: he knew that violence would only serve to drive everyone further apart, and so his dream could never be realized that way; it could only lead to more division.

It is especially interesting to compare his message of peace and union among all people with Malcolm X’s nationalist message of separation.  It is a good example of the difference between the two worldviews to consider two contemporaries, both trying to solve the problem of the unfair treatment of black people  in the United States, and both coming up with such radically different ideas.

Malcolm X did seek to unite people to an extent: he made efforts to unite people of African descent,  but, for most of his life at least, he saw no reason to extend these efforts at unification to whites.  (It is often the way with nationalists: Otto von Bismarck united many various different Germanic states into a single German State, but would never have considered uniting them with, say, France.)

Not so with Dr. King.  He believed in the need for uniting all groups; his was a very universalist vision.  Part of what makes him such a remarkable man is that he not only had the courage to take on one of the major problems of the time, but he also attempted to do so in a way that would prevent it from recurring—that is, without sowing the seeds of a new conflict between people of different races.  He knew that was the only way of establishing a liberal, diverse society.

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