The Martin Luther King Jr., Plagiarism Story Theodore Pappas, editor Rockford Institute Paperback, $10.00, 1994
In the Honors Great Books seminar that this reviewer conducts at his university, we recently discussed a passage from John Stuart Mill's essay "On Liberty." One of the things Mill most emphasized was the value of free speech as an on-going process of honing the truth and confronting error.
Unfortunately, such an inspirational piece rings hollow with naivete for many of us in late twentieth century America, not because we no longer support free speech, but because we know from long experience that such freedom often falls far short of its promise. In America today, great obeisance is given to the concept, but a truly open marketplace of ideas hardly exists. Our public discourse, such as it is, is replete with intensively cultivated illusions and blackholes of non-speak.
On the left twenty-five years ago, Herbert Marcuse argued in his essay "Repressive Tolerance" that freedom of speech backfires in a bourgeois society by providing a weapon through which the mass of men are lulled into a complacent acceptance of things as they are.
He offered a totalitarian solution: allow freedom for the Left and repress the views of the Right.
This was, of course, a vicious critique to anyone who didn't share Marcuse's revolutionary socialist aspirations. But on one thing at least he was very perceptive: he saw a possibility that was for many hardly thinkable, that instead of being full of vitality and openness, free speech can take on a surreal quality, skewed by structural warpings caused by a number of factors.
This leads us to the fact that such a skewing is a major feature of American life today. Although a great many Americans hold differing views as individuals, the fetid atmosphere of "respectable" opinion in the academic world and the major media is determined by the Left and pursues the fetishes and neuroses dictated by an egalitarian pandering to a whole series of incurably disaffected groups, all of which together form the alliance that constitutes the bulk of the Left's effective support.
A grasp of this is essential if we are to understand what has happened to the revelations, out in the open since 1989, that Martin Luther King, Jr., plagiarized virtually everything he wrote, from papers in school, to his doctoral dissertation, to his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," to his "I Have a Dream" speech. These revelations, along with others about his chronic adultery and his ideological support for Communist revolutions around the world, have been met by a wall of silence. Rather than answered, they have been ignored, so that Americans continue, as they have since Congress declared the holiday in 1984, to honor "Martin Luther King Day." Despite all that is known, King's picture continues to adorn schoolroom walls all over America. The reality of what King was counts not at all. Smug illusion reigns supreme, the ears of the body politic plugged up by the wax of a quasitotalitarian insistence that nothing is to be heard that is inconsistent with received opinion.
The Rockford Institute, publisher of Chronicles magazine and now of this book, has earned a place of considerable honor by its continuing unwillingness to accept this state of affairs. It refuses to abide the silence. In its refusal, it carries the spiritual torch that truly free men have carried in all ages.
The book under review is a compilation of the articles and letters that form the history of the revelations of King's plagiarism. It is an apparent attempt by the Institute to keep the issue alive in light of the fact that Theodore Pappas' main article in the January 1991 Chronicles has been so universally ignored. The book deserves to be in every library, in every catalog and computerized listing, so that students preparing papers on King can have access to it. And its brief 107 pages deserve to be perused by millions of Americans, with the hope that it will stimulate them to throw off the hypocrisy that imposes King on us as a near-Christlike idol. …