Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) Over Spinoza rest een systeemkaartje én vermelding in een toespraak

In weinig boeken van of over de bekende dr. Martin Luther King (die hier verder uiteraard geen introductie behoeft, maar ik neem hier toch een time line op), vind je iets waaruit blijkt dat hij zich serieus met ook Spinoza heeft bezig gehouden. Na het snuffelen via in 30 boeken van en over King, waarbij ik slechts in 3 iets over Spinoza aantrof, ben ik gestopt. Je kunt zeggen dat er nauwelijks tot geen aanleiding was om King met Spinoza in verband te brengen.

Hij is in zijn studie de grote namen in de filosofie tegen gekomen en hij zou interesse in continentale filosofie hebben gehad, maar ontwikkelde hij zijn denken mede aan de hand van zienswijzen van filosofen als Kierkegaard, Nietzsche e.a., maar vooral aan Hegel, zoals je meermalen tegenkomt? Hierna kom ik op zo’n auteur. Maar ik begin met een die zich daar zeer over ergert.

Keith D. Miller, Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Its Sources [University of Georgia Press, 1992 –]

Tamelijk verontwaardigt lees je bij hem: “[…] many scholars focus on King's years in white graduate schools, where he read prestigious European philosophers - notably Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Locke, Nietzsche, Hegel, and Marx, - and distinguished America theologians..." [p. 7] En op p. 44 worden daar nog Kierkegaard bij opgesomd. Miller maakt zich sterk om aan te tonen dat het niet die blanke filosofen waren, maar predikers van vooral Afrikaanse origine waardoor King beïnvloed werd. Zo schrijft hij:

“Not only does King's sermonic argumentation fail to reflect the influence of Marx, Hegel, Spinoza, and other philosophers, his deductive-then-inductive persuasion constitutes the polar opposite of the epistemology and organization of Western philosophical argument. His typical form of argument also owes virtually nothing to the systems of knowledge and arrangement that characterize theological discourse. Instead his argument is decidedly homiletic. King's sermons gained additional authority from his ability to blend elements of folk sermons and liberal, white homilies. Most African-American folk sermons are loosely organized in associational clusters. Related images, phrases, and ideas form together in clusters that are sometimes-but not always-framed by a larger homiletic conception mentioned in the introduction. Floating freely from one sermon to another, certain set pieces, subthemes, and formulaic expressions also bind folk sermons together. [p. 122]

En nog eens sterk retorisch argumenteert hij verder: “Had King stepped down from Boston University and sounded like Spinoza or Tillich, no one would have listened. Had he sounded like a professor talking about Spinoza or Tillich, no one would have listened. He succeeded largely because he steadfastly refused to imitate either prestigious philosophers or professors who talked about them. He rejected their forms of argument, their ice-cold language, and many of their ideas and assumptions. Philosophical and theological discourse failed to impinge on his sermonic language and has almost nothing to do with his persua-siveness. [p. 140]

Kortom, het was juist goed dat King zich niet door Spinoza e.a. had laten beïnvloeden, want dan zou hij nooit de King geworden zijn, zoals we hem leerden kennen, zo is de boodschap.

John J. Ansbro, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Nonviolent Strategies and Tactics for Social Change. [Madison Books, 2000 –] is daarentegen een auteur die wél zulke invloed van de filosofie op King ziet, maar dan niet Spinoza, maar vooral Hegel:

“While King too expressed admiration for Hegel's insights into the dialectical nature of human spiritual development, in Stride Toward Freedom he also in effect accepted Kierkegaard's critique of Hegel's pantheism and overemphasis on the World Spirit to the neglect of the individual when he explained, "His [Hegel's] absolute idealism was rationally unsound to me because it tended to swallow up the many in the one." In his dissertation in referring to the systems of Hegel and Spinoza, King contended:

In each of these systems finite individuality is swallowed up in the unity of being. Individual persons become merely transitory modes of the one substance, having no substantial character of their own."

In Strength To Love King challenged Hegel's apparent attempt through his system of thought to resolve all of life's conflicts:

In their revolt against Hegel's essentialism, all existentialists con-tend that the world is fragmented. History is a series of unrecon-ciled conflicts, and man's existence is filled with anxiety and threatened with meaninglessness.

Thus King attempted to adopt a Hegelian approach even in his in-terpretation of Hegel. While deeply impressed with those truths he found in Hegel's system, he was not reluctant to reject as false those portions of that system which he thought either ignored or negated the freedom and dignity of the individual.  [p. 127-128]

Dan was er nog één van deze drie boeken die laat zien hoe Spinoza zeker één keer voorkwam in een toespraak   – die bewaar ik voor het slot. Iets heel anders nu:

Tussen de vele systeemkaartjes die door The King Center op hun website worden gegeven en waarover ze aangeven: “Education was essential in the development of the mind of Martin Luther King, Jr. From his matriculation at Morehouse College through his doctoral studies at Boston University, Dr. King took notes on various subjects and referenced some of the most important philosophers of all time. The note cards shown in this section give you a glimpse into the molding of one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers and orators. Religion, natural law, metaphysics and the meaning of wisdom are just a few of the topics highlighted. These subjects and many more helped Dr. King’s capacity to expand his intellectual and spiritual capacity three dimensionally.” Tussen die vele kaartjes dus, treffen we ook deze notitie aan over ‘Happiness’;


Systeemkaartje hier aangetroffen, maar is afkomstig van The King Center (ook van Spinoza zouden we elke snipper die er maar nagelaten was bewaren en bestuderen…)

Je kunt je afvragen of hij dit wel uit een boek van Spinoza zelf heeft overgeschreven, want dit is niet precies de definitie van happiness bij Spinoza (maar van laetitia, blijdschap/joy).
Enfin hier hebben we in ieder geval de naam van Spinoza, geschreven door Martin Luther King.

                         * * *

Tot slot nog een passage uit een toespraak die hij hield: "Address at Public Meeting of the Southern Christian Ministers Conference of Mississippi" op 23 september 1959

“We must make full and constructive use of the freedom we already possess. We must not allow our oppression and lack of full freedom to drive us into a state of contentment with the mediocre and satisfaction with the non-productive. History has proven that inner determination can often break through the outer shackles of circumstance. Take the Jews for an example. For years they have been forced to walk through the dark night of oppression. They have been carried through the fires of affliction, and put to the cruel sword of persecution. But this did not keep them from rising up with creative genius to plunge against cloud-filled nights of affliction, new and blazing stars of inspiration. Being a Jew did not keep [Baruch] Spinoza from rising from a proverty stricken ghetto to a place of eminence in philosophy. Being a Jew did not keep [George Frideric] Handel from lifting his vision to high heaven and emerging with creative and melodious music that sill shakes the very fiber of men's souls. Being a Jew did not keep [Albert] Einstein from using his profound and genius-packed mind to challenge an axiom and add to the lofty insights of science a theory of relativity. Being a Jew did not prevent Karl Marx from adding to the accumulated knowledge of political science, making it necessary for men to study his theories whether they agree with him or not. Being a Jew did not keep Sigmund Freud from delving into the inner chambers of the subconscious, making it easier for man to discover the source of his inner conflicts and the roots of his personality disintegration. Being Jews did not prevent Amos and Hosea, Ezekial, Isaiah and Jeremiah from standing up amid forces of religious idolatry and unjust power structures and declaring with prophetic urgency the eternal word of God, and the never ceasing necessity of being obedient to his will.” [p. 284-285]

Uit: The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr: Threshold of a new decade, January 1959-December 1960. Editor Clayborne Carson, University of California Press, 2005 –


Time line uit: Dona Herweck, Martin Luther King, Jr. Teacher Created Materials, 2005 –