A Certain Democracy: The Political Philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr. And Cornel West

Dissertation, Bowling Green State University (2004)

This study exposes the democratic theories located within the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cornel West. Special attention is given to their different conceptions of human psychology, Christian identities, and appreciation of Marxist social analysis. A guiding assumption of this work is that the democratic philosophies of King and West provides a bridge between African American theological and philosophical traditions. ;This study presents a close examination of King's and West's corpus, including their public addresses and artistic productions. The study first considers their work singularly, then highlights their points of agreement and disagreement, and lastly examines aspects of their democratic philosophies in relation to broader theological and philosophical traditions. This study is interdisciplinary in nature, borrowing methodologies from history, philosophy, theology, and cultural studies. ;King and West share similar backgrounds and motivations for their work. They both spring from stable middle class families and grew up in African American neighborhoods. They both claim Christian identities rooted in the African American Baptist tradition. Additionally, they both cite the cause of fighting on behalf of those who suffer unjustly---e.g., racism, sexism, classism, etc.---as their principal motivation. ;This study, however, reveals the tension between King's optimistic human psychology and West's pessimistic human psychology. Also considered here are their distinct Christologies: King understands the Christ-event as God's direct intervention in human history, however, West sees it as a model for courageous living. ;The conclusion of this study is that both King and West understand the expansion of democratic practices to be the best hope for humanity. That is, democratic values and procedures, at their best, are a moral corrective and institutional safeguard against the human propensity for evil
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