Book Review | The Radical King by Edited by Cornel West


“King and Mandela are the two towering public figures in the past fifty years in the world. Both have been Santa-Clausified – tamed, domesticated, sanitized, and sterilized – into nonthreatening and smiling old men with toys in their bags and forgiveness in their hearts. yet both were radical and revolutionary. They were hunted, hated, and hurt by the powers that be. And both had radical love.”

The above quote was written by Cornel West to introduce a section of The Radical King, which is a collection of speeches and writings by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As the quote and title suggest, this collection went beyond the feel-good stuff most people are familiar with and dug deep into the way King actually was: hated by the police, the government, and a large percentage of the populace.

King was not a Marxist, as many anti-King people will tell you. He didn’t believe capitalism was particularly successful in the world he lived in, but his goal was to reform and not replace it. One of the essays is both a long critique of capitalism and a condemnation of communism:

The revolution of values must go beyond traditional capitalism and Communism. We must honestly admit that capitalism has often left a gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few, and has encouraged smallhearted men to become cold and conscienceless so that, like Dives before Lazarus, they are unmoved by suffering, poverty-stricken humanity. The profit motif, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspire men to be more I-centered than thou-centered. Equally, Communism reduces men to a cog in the wheel of the state.” 

I learned a lot of things in this book, including King’s real opinions on violent versus non-violent protest (hint: it’s not what you think) and, yes, a lot of his thoughts on economic reform.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” 

I would certainly recommend this thought-provoking and beautifully written collection by one of the wisest men the world has known.

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