Fox News' Glenn Beck has spent the past several months relentlessly promoting his upcoming “Restoring Honor” rally, scheduled to take place this Saturday. Beck claims he originally wanted to schedule the rally for September 12, but decided to change the date because he didn't want to ask people to “work on the Sabbath.” Instead, Beck and his event planners scheduled the rally for August 28, which coincides with the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic “I have a dream” speech -- a fact that Beck insists he only later discovered in a New York Times article.
Nonetheless, Beck seized on the supposed coincidence, which he chalked up to “divine providence.” To Beck, the 8-28 rally is more than just a gathering of like-minded conservatives calling for a restoration of “honor.” Instead, he views the 8-28 rally on a much grander scale. In his words, it will be a “historic” day that will mark a “turning point in America” that your “children will remember.”
Beck's discussions of the rally's supposedly crucial role in American history have included frequent invocations of the civil rights movement, and Martin Luther King Jr. in particular. According to Beck, the rally will “reclaim the civil rights movement” because “Martin Luther King's dream” has “been distorted” and “massively perverted” by progressives. In attacking the people he claims are “perverting” King's legacy (i.e. progressives), Beck has suggested that he and his followers are the “inheritors and the protectors of the civil rights movement.” In Beck's words, they will “take that movement, because we were the people that did it in the first place.”
Beck is completely rewriting history.
King forcefully advocated for drastic action by the federal government to combat poverty; supported “social justice”; called for an “economic bill of rights” that would “guarantee a job to all people who want to work”; and stated that we must address whether we need to “restructure the whole of American society” -- all ideas that Beck has vilified.
Beck accuses progressives of trying to rewrite history and implores his followers to read original sources, but a review of King's own words clearly shows that Beck's insistence that he and his followers are the custodians of King's dream and legacy is nothing more than a lie.
Beck has tried to rewrite King's economic views. Recently, he attacked Al Sharpton for “telling people that Martin Luther King's dream was really about redistribution of wealth.” Beck added: “I don't remember that. Really?”
Beck may not “remember that,” but King advocated for better “distribution of wealth” and “radical redistribution of economic power.” Beck constantly rails against “big government,” but King repeatedly and explicitly endorsed an expanded role for the federal government in fighting poverty in our country.
Beck: “Big government never lifts anybody out of poverty. It creates slaves, people who are dependent on the scraps from the government, the handouts.” In one of his regular attacks on government programs aimed at helping the poor, Beck said that groups like Media Matters “dream of quotes” about how politicians (and Beck, by extension) want to make the poor “uncomfortable.” Beck quoted Benjamin Franklin saying “the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty but leading or driving them out of it” and added that this sentiment is “true.” He then ridiculed the idea that “generosity is expanding government” and mocked people who think that “true charity comes from extending welfare, raising the minimum wage, giving away free internet. Here's some concert tickets.” According to Beck, “big government never lifts anybody out of poverty. It creates slaves -- people who are dependent on the scraps from the government, the handouts”:
BECK: Imagine for a moment what would happen to a politician, especially a conservative, if he said this about the poor and poverty -- look at this -- “I think the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth, I traveled much, I observed in different countries that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves and, of course, became poorer. And on the contrary, the less that was done for them, the more they did for themselves and they became richer.”
That only makes sense. The more you do for somebody else, the less they're going to do for themselves.
Media Matter, you know, geeks dream of quotes like this from a politician. They're just like, “Oh, please say something about the poor and how you want to make them uncomfortable.” But it's true. Today, all it takes to be labeled a hatemonger is proposing a smaller budget, which is still an increase, smaller than the increase from the other guy. You're a hatemonger. Yet, here is Ben Franklin advocating that doing less for the poor is better. Even if you agree, that probably sounds radical, but it wasn't.
We're bombarded with the messages that generosity is expanding government. That's where true charity comes from, extending welfare, raising the minimum wage, giving away free Internet. Here are some concert tickets. I mean, what else do we have to give people? But Franklin's ideas were not -- at least most of them -- were not radical. They were common sense. Some of them, some of them were radical. I mean, the cure for us today is to have just a little bit of the common sense and what would seem radical.
No politician would say something like make the poor uncomfortable. But he's right. Big government never lifts anybody out of poverty. It creates slaves -- people who are dependent on the scraps from the government, the handouts.
Uncle Sam can't lift you out of poverty. That's up to you to do. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, Uncle Sam is wearing striped pants for a reason. The guy should be in prison.
Beck: President Obama is “addicting this country to heroin -- the heroin that is government slavery.” Glenn Beck has frequently claimed that progressive policies create “slavery,” which he described as “slavery to government, welfare, affirmative action, regulation, control,” and that recipients of federal aid have been “taught to be slaves.” In a typical outburst on the February 11, 2009, edition of his Fox News program, Beck claimed that the story of a homeless woman who had asked Obama for help finding a home was evidence that Obama “is addicting this country to heroin -- the heroin that is government slavery.”
King: “We will place the problems of the poor at the seat of government of the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind.” In contrast to Beck, King was quoted in an article published shortly after his assassination in 1968 as saying that it was the government's responsibility to “acknowledge its debt to the poor,” or else it will have “failed to live up to its promise to insure 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to its citizens.'” He called for an “economic bill of rights” that would “guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work”:
We call our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we feel that the economic question is the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, are confronting. There is a literal depression in the Negro community. When you have mass unemployment in the Negro community, it's called a social problem; when you have mass unemployment in the white community, it's called a depression. The fact is, there is major depression in the Negro community. The unemployment rate is extremely high, and among negro youth, it goes up as high as forty percent in some cities.
We need an economic bill of rights. This would guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work. It would also guarantee an income for all who are not able to work. Some people are too young, some are too old, some are physically disabled, and yet in order to live, they need income. It would mean creating certain public-service jobs, but that could be done in a few weeks. A program that would really deal with jobs could minimize -- I don't say stop -- the number of riots that could take place this summer.
We need to put pressure on Congress to get things done. We will do this with First Amendment activity. If Congress is unresponsive, we'll have to escalate in order to keep the issue alive and before it. This action may take on disruptive dimensions, but not violent in the sense of destroying life or property: it will be militant nonviolence.
In any event, we will not have been the ones who will have failed. We will place the problems of the poor at the seat of government of the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind. If that power refuses to acknowledge its debt to the poor, it would have failed to live up to its promise to insure “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to its citizens.”
[A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., Pages 67-69]
While King called for an “economic bill of rights” that would “guarantee a job to all people who want work and are able to work,” Beck has labeled Cass Sunstein the “most dangerous man in America” in part because Sunstein supposedly called for a “second Bill of Rights” that includes a guarantee of jobs. Attacking FDR over the idea of a “second Bill of Rights” last July, Beck called the idea that you have a “right” to a job “Marxism.”
Beck: “It's economic justice, which is socialism, which is forced redistribution of wealth, which is Marxism.” During one of his frequent assaults on social justice (which is covered in detail below), Beck linked Rev. Jim Wallis to a “Marxist Dorothy Day” plot to pervert the gospel and “rot us from the inside.” In the rant, Beck described “economic justice” as “socialism, which is forced redistribution of wealth, which is Marxism.”
King: “Some will be called reds and Communists merely because they believe in economic justice and the brotherhood of man. But we shall overcome.” King predicted that critics like Glenn Beck would vilify those who believe in “economic justice” by invoking communism. In a 1961 speech to the AFL-CIO, King dismissed the idea that his adherence to “economic justice” somehow made him a Communist, saying: “Yes, before the victory is won, some will be misunderstood. Some will be dismissed as dangerous rabble-rousers and agitators. Some will be called reds and Communists merely because they believe in economic justice and the brotherhood of man. But we shall overcome.” [A Testament of Hope, Page 207]
Beck mocked the idea that “evil rich people” don't “pay their fair share” in taxes, rips the “protected poor.” Beck has also lashed out at the “protected poor” who are taking tax money from the rich. Using a series of pies as props, Beck tried to show “who isn't paying their fair share” and mocked the idea that the “evil rich people” don't pay enough in taxes:
BECK: Here's the pie. This represents all of the money that we have in the federal government, all the taxes that are paid. Well, let's see who isn't paying their fair share. You decide. Is it the top 1 percent? This is the entire budget, all of our revenue, all of our revenue. How much do the top 1 percent pay? Only -- only about this much. That's it. Only -- if I can just get underneath here -- and it's going to be yummy. Only about this much. That's the top 1 percent. Oh, I hate those evil rich people. When will they pay their fair share? This again is one. One percent. OK?
Now, how about the top 2 percent to the top 10 percent? OK? So, this would include the 1 percent here and the rest of them in the top 10 percent. That would be -- let's see -- that would be about here. We have from 2 percent to 10 percent, they're paying -- mmm, doesn't this pie look yummy now? Who wants some? Seriously. OK, so that's -- this is the top 10 percent. So, I got to put 10 people in the pie. That's 10 people.
Now, we've got now 71 percent of the pie. The top 50 percent of pie-eaters account for -- now, this is the rest of the top 50 percent -- and that's going to be these people. Got it? We got to put 50 people to pay for that piece of pie. One, nine, 50. This represents the bottom 50 percent. They pay -- do I have any more? Yeah. They pay the bottom 3 percent. OK? So, don't you hate this one guy? Oh, my gosh, he's just not paying enough. Got it? He's paying 40 percent.
Now, the top -- the bottom 3 percent I have to -- I have to let you know, the bottom 50 percent, that 3 percent, they pay -- the bottom 50 percent pays only 3 percent of everything that we spend. The rest of it is put in a protected poor pie place. They got their own pie, never even touched. In fact, from time to time -- it's so great -- from time to time, we just whip people up in such a frenzy -- we're like, “I hate those people. Give them some pie!” Every year, we just give them some of the more -- yeah, we just give it -- because we hate the top 1 percent. We just take more of their pie, and we put it in the protected zone now.
Nobody, nobody could get in the protected zone. No. Don't take the poor pie. It's these people that we hate. These people are good. Got it? Now, that's our income. This is all we've got left. Don't even think about taking this. This is what we have to spend.
King's “American Dream”: "[P]roperty widely distributed" and “a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.” On the other side of the spectrum, in his 1961 address to the AFL-CIO, King discussed how the “American dream” hasn't yet been fulfilled because it requires “equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed.” King specifically decried the idea of taking “necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.”
This will be the day when we shall bring into full realization the American dream -- a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality -- that is the dream.
[A Testament of Hope, Page 206]
Beck: “They're collapsing the system and replace it with a system of guaranteed annual income for all the workers! Workers of the world unite!” During one of his regular segments fearmongering about the so-called Cloward and Piven strategy -- which calls for an overloading of government-provided services to force the government into a providing an income for every citizen -- Beck told his viewers to Google the names “Cloward and Piven” because the Obama administration is “collapsing the system and replace it with a system of guaranteed annual income for all the workers! Workers of the world unite!” [transcript for the November 3, 2009, edition of Glenn Beck, from the Nexis database]:
BECK: Here's two other names that they won't ever say. Put them on the bottom of the screen, please. Two names they will never say: Cloward and Piven. If you are watching with a DVR and you don't know what Cloward and Piven is, I want you to pause this show right now and go google it! Google it! Pause, please! Look it up.
This is important, because Cloward and Piven, the Cloward and Piven strategy, it's what they're doing. They're collapsing the system and replace it with a system of guaranteed annual income for all the workers! Workers of the world unite!
They need to do it this way. They need it do it in the cover of darkness. They need you to not to listen to me -- because if you start to listen to me, you're never going to willingly give up your freedom. You're going to be nudged into it, and if they can't nudge you into it, well then they'll push you into it.
King: “We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed national income.” While Beck invokes the idea of a “guaranteed national income” to scare his viewers, King called on the U.S. to “develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed national income” to counter the “dislocations in the market operations of our economy.” In his final speech as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King dismissed the idea that such a program would be “destructive of initiative and responsibility”:
We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income. Now, early in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation, as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual's ability and talents. And, in the thinking of that day, the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber. We've come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that the dislocations in the market operations of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. Today the poor are less often dismissed, I hope, from our consciences by being branded as inferior or incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands, it does not eliminate all poverty.
The problem indicates that our emphasis must be twofold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.
[A Testament of Hope, Page 247]
King's compassion for the poor, who he hoped were “less often dismissed, I hope, from our consciences by being branded as inferior or incompetent,” is a far cry from Beck's regular mockery and ridicule of those who are less fortunate than he is. During the debate over health care reform -- which Beck characterized as “good old socialism ... raping the pocketbooks of the rich to give to the poor” -- Beck and his crew repeatedly mocked the uninsured. In May, Beck played a clip of a protestor whose home was foreclosed on and yelled, “Get a job!”
Glenn Beck has repeatedly attacked President Obama for saying shortly before the 2008 election that “we are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” In January of this year, Beck compared Obama's call to “fundamentally transform” America to Vladimir Putin and Boris Yeltsin transforming the Soviet Union into an oligarchy. Beck also invoked the idea before the passage of health care reform, claiming that if the bill passed, the “pieces that the president needs to control every aspect of your life, to fundamentally transform America, will be finished.” Though Beck fearmongers about Obama discussing a “fundamental transformation” of the country, King called for people to ask questions about “restructuring the whole of American society.”
Beck fearmongered about a “fundamental transformation” based on “social and environmental and economic justice.” On the May 5 edition of his Fox News program, Beck mocked the idea that we have a “broken system” and claimed that progressives will “tell us if the market has failed us, that consumerism was the problem, that it all led to greed and carelessness for the planet and everything has got to change” (from Nexis):
BECK: Somebody has got to be there to pick up all the pieces of the broken system and show us a better way to live. They will tell us if the free market has failed us, that consumerism was the problem, that it all led to greed and carelessness for the planet and everything has got to change. We have to have a fundamental transformation to move forward again.
And this time we will build a caring, loving, tolerant society based on social and environmental justice and economic justice. And all the animals will start to talk like they do in every Disney movie. It will be great.
But who are the people telling us that things are unsustainable? That's weird. All the people who helped create the problem. And this will affect us how again? Oh, yes. Yes, that's right. Because of mutually assured economic destruction, we're all connected, tied together.
King: "[T]he movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society." In his last address as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King discussed the direction the civil rights movement should “go from here”:
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about “Where do we go from here,” that we honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” You begin to ask to the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?” These are questions that must be asked.
Now, don't think you have me in a “bind” today. I'm not talking about communism.
What I'm saying to you this morning is that communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truth of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.
[A Testament of Hope, Page 250]
Beck declared that Obama “really is a Marxist” because he “believes in the redistribution of wealth.” On the August 4, 2008, edition of his CNN Headline News show, Beck said: “The thing that I do find about Barack Obama is that -- and I think America is starting to catch on to this -- this guy really is a Marxist. He believes in the redistribution of wealth. He believes in the global government and everything else.”
King: "[W]e are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars -- and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power." In his book Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws That Changed America, author Nick Kotz writes that during a 1968 trip to Mississippi, King stated: “It didn't cost the nation one penny to integrate lunch counters,” and, “It didn't cost the nation one penny to guarantee the right to vote.” King concluded that “now, we are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars -- and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power.”
Part and parcel of his ongoing fight against the idea of redistribution of wealth are Beck's many attacks on the concept of “social justice” and his demonization (literally) of churches, religious figures, and progressives that support the idea.
Among many other examples:
- Beck advised listeners that when they see the words “social justice,” they should “run, and don't listen to anyone who is telling you differently.”
- Beck told people to question church leaders who are “basing their religion on social justice.”
- Beck said progressives are trying to “hijack churches” with “social justice” and “economic justice.”
- Beck has also smeared supporters of social justice by saying that both Nazis and communists supported “social justice” and “talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly -- I love this -- democracy.”
But Beck's attacks on social justice place him at odds with King, who dedicated his life to the cause of social justice.
Beck: "[C]ivil rights marchers" weren't “crying for social justice” In May, Beck attacked Democratic members of Congress for purportedly conflating health care reform with civil rights. Describing the “civil rights marchers,” Beck said they “were people with profound belief in God. They were trying to set things right. They weren't crying for social justice, they were crying out for equal justice”:
BECK: These people want to try to paint themselves as civil rights movement. You know, they're just a civil rights guy. “No, we're not revolutionaries, what? No, we're civil rights marchers.”
Who were the civil rights marchers? They were people with profound belief in God. They were trying to set things right. They weren't crying for social justice, they were crying out for equal justice.
But these people, these mobs -- they're trying to recreate the civil rights thing all over again -- health care, banking reform, housing, the presidency, everything. Watch. Watch this.
[begin video clips]
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH): I believe health care is a civil right.
REP. PATRICK KENNEDY (D-RI): The parallels between the struggle for civil rights and the fight to make quality affordable health care accessible to all Americans are significant.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): This is a Civil Rights Act for the 21st century.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is a civil rights act.
King: "[W]e will be able to go this additional distance and achieve the ideal, the goal of the new age, the age of social justice." King gave a speech in 1963 at Western Michigan University expressly on the topic of “social justice.” During the speech, King identified “the age of social justice” as a “goal” and “the ideal”:
There is another thing about this attitude. We'll help those of us who have been the victims of oppression, and those of us who have been the victims of injustices in the old order, to go into the new order with the proper attitude, an attitude of reconciliation. It will help us to go in not with an idea of rising from position of disadvantage, to one of advantage, thus subverting justice. It will not cause us to substitute one tyranny for another. This is why I have said all over this nation that we must never substitute a doctrine of black supremacy for white supremacy. For the doctrine of black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy. God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race, the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers.
I think with all of these challenges being met and with all of the work, and determination going on, we will be able to go this additional distance and achieve the ideal, the goal of the new age, the age of social justice.
King discussed the “pursuit of social justice” In an interview that appeared in the January 1965 edition of Playboy magazine, King lamented the “socioeconomic vise” that led to riots. King specifically pointed to “social justice” and the “pursuit of social justice” as one of his goals:
PLAYBOY: Whom do you mean by “the establishment”?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: I mean the white leadership -- which I hold as responsible as anyone for the riots, for not removing the conditions that cause them. The deep frustration, the seething desperation of the Negro today is a product of slum housing, chronic poverty, woefully inadequate education and substandard schools. The Negro is trapped in a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign, caught in a vicious socioeconomic vise. And he is ostracized as is no other minority group in America by the evil of oppressive and constricting prejudice based solely upon his color. A righteous man has no alternative but to resist such an evil system. If he does not have the courage to resist nonviolently, then he runs the risk of a violent emotional explosion. As much as I deplore violence, there is one evil that is worse than violence, and that's cowardice. It is still my basic article of faith that social justice can be achieved and democracy advanced only to the degree that there is firm adherence to nonviolent action and resistance in the pursuit of social justice.
Beck: “They have infiltrated our churches” and “confused the gospel with government-run programs.” Criticizing cap-and-trade legislation in June, Beck again attacked people who advocate “social justice,” saying that they “have infiltrated our churches” and “confused the gospel with government run-programs.”
King: "If America does not use her vast resources to end poverty ... she too will go to hell." King regularly painted the war against poverty -- which, again, he advocated fighting with large federal programs -- in a religious light. For example, in an address at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis delivered weeks before his assassination, King recounted the biblical story of Dives and Lazarus, and interpreted the story as telling people that “Dives went to hell because he wanted to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.” He continued:
And I come by here to say that America too is going to hell, if we don't use her wealth... If America does not use her vast resources to end poverty .. make it possible for all of God's children to have the basis.. basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.
King: Communism “should challenge every Christian -- as it challenged me -- to a growing concern about social justice.” While King was firmly opposed to communism -- considering it to be “basically evil” -- he credited it with leading him to “a growing concern about social justice.” In an essay published in the September 1958 edition of Fellowship magazine, King discussed how Marxismchallenged the “social conscience of the Christian churches” and noted that the “Christian ought always to be challenged by any protest against unfair treatment of the poor.” Once again, King approvingly cited the role that “social reforms” had played in reducing the gap between “superfluous wealth and abject poverty” and once again explicitly advocated for “better distribution of wealth”:
Yet, in spite of the fact that my response to communism was and is negative, and I considered it basically evil, there were points at which I found it challenging. The late Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, referred to communism as a Christian heresy. By this he meant that communism had laid hold of certain truths which are essential parts of the Christian view of things, but that it had bound up with them concepts and practices which no Christian could ever accept or profess. Communism challenged the late Archbishop and it should challenge every Christian -- as it challenged me -- to a growing concern about social justice. With all of its false assumptions and evil methods, communism grew as a protest against the hardships of the underprivileged. Communism in theory emphasized a classless society, and a concern for social justice, though the world knows from sad experience that in practice it created new classes and a new lexicon of injustice. The Christian ought always to be challenged by any protest against unfair treatment of the poor, for Christianity is itself such a protest, nowhere expressed more eloquently than in Jesus' words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
But in spite of the shortcomings of his analysis, Marx had raised some basic questions. I was deeply concerned from my early teen days about the gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, and my reading of Marx made me ever more conscious of this gulf. Although modern American capitalism had greatly reduced the gap through social reforms, there was still need for a better distribution of wealth. Moreover, Marx had revealed the danger of the profit motive as the sole basis of an economic system: capitalism is always in danger of inspiring men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life. We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity -- thus capitalism can lead to a practical materialism that is as pernicious as the materialism taught by communism.
In short, I read Marx as I read all of the influential historical thinkers -- from a dialectical point of view, combining a partial “yes” and a partial “no.” In so far as Marx posited a metaphysical materialism, an ethical relativism, and a strangulating totalitarianism, I responded with an unambiguous “no”; but in so far as he pointed to weaknesses of traditional capitalism, contributed to the growth of a definite self-consciousness in the masses, and challenged the social conscience of the Christian churches, I responded with a definite “yes.”
My reading of Marx also convinced me that truth is found neither in Marxism nor in traditional capitalism. Each represents a partial truth. Historically capitalism failed to see the truth in collective enterprise, and Marxism failed to see the truth in individual enterprise. Nineteenth century capitalism failed to see that life is social and Marxism failed and still fails to see that life is individual and personal. The Kingdom of God is neither the thesis of individual enterprise nor the antithesis of collective enterprise, but a synthesis which reconciles the truths of both.
Media Matters intern Kevin Zieber contributed to this report.