Martin Luther King and Crito

1 January 2017

While this may have led to a degree of congruence between the arguments of both men, their drastic contrast in opinion concerning the appropriate method by which to carry out an act of political protest must be given sufficient attention. Indeed, while the two men share a similar drive towards promoting political protest, their definition of the concept seems to have differed to a high degree.

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In comparing and contrasting these historically consequential opinions, we can better understand the various methods by which an act of political objection may be committed, and we may also reason as to how both methods are applicable in their own right. To begin, Socrates and King each spend time in prison within their works, with King in the Birmingham Jail and Socrates residing in a Greek prison. Not only were they imprisoned, but both men also refuse to give up their arguments in exchange for their escape.

Thus, it may be stated, that each man is imprisoned because he is in pursuit of a betterment of society, and the powers at be feel their vision of society to be in conflict with the prisoner’s own. In addition, both men are aware that they may be illegally freed through a variety of activities, with King noting that many of his followers proceeded to follow him to Birmingham, and Crito ensuring Socrates that assistance in his escape was “at no great cost. Perhaps, these three situational commonalities (that of imprisonment, pursuit of a better society, and the ability to physically free oneself), offer an explanation for the similar characteristics they proceed to embrace in their approach to political objection. One major similarity in the approach of both is that they develop their ideas around the premise of critical thought. In any argument, they each promote contemplation and conversation over direct action. In committing cts of political objection, it is not as if Socrates and Martin Luther King advocate rioting, coups, or physical resistance. Rather, quite the opposite is the case. We find that in the scene of Socrates’ arrival to prison, Socrates is increasingly tentative with his determined friend, telling him that, “I am extremely desirous to be persuaded by you, but not against my own better judgment. ” Socrates may have felt the impulse to escape his imprisonment, but his principles allowed him to defeat his self-betrayal by thinking critically about the consequences of his jailbreak.

King, to the same effect, delayed any direct action in Birmingham so that he could meet with business owners in the city and discuss racial problems, attempting to reach a form of compromise. By these actions, he tried to avert any disastrous consequences that direct action might cause. It was only after King had, in his words had, “been the victim of a broken promise”, that he decided to perpetuate any directly confrontational activity.

In order to pursue a better society, it is logical that cooperation and contemplation would have to precede direct confrontation, so that bridges are not burned and bonds can be made to last into the proposed future. Both King and Socrates aim to lead in the direction, not of violence to one extreme or inaction to another, but rather towards deliberation and non-violent resistance. King attests to this when he writes that, “The way of nonviolence became an integral part in our struggle. ” Without this principle of nonviolent demonstration, King believes that, “many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. The structure of civil society had to be maintained so that the populace would associate to a sense of peace and order. If chaos were to occur, King and Socrates would be blamed by the established powers, and with their names tarnished they would be ignored, never attaining the opportunity to implement their ideas. While the similarities entailed above are indicative of the fact that King and Socrates maneuvered towards political objection from parallel beginnings, we must now turn to the undeniable differences in principle that King and Socrates pursued.

Socrates makes his final claim to righteousness, and it becomes increasingly apparent that he blames individuals, not the law, for his unjust persecution. Socrates does not argue that the laws are to blame, but rather that the leaders themselves have manipulated the laws to convict him. Indeed, he does not support the system that the leaders have constructed, fundamentally revoking it for a system related to a higher order. He supports certain absolutes like justice, which have been constructed into the tenants that make up the original Athenian law.

In such a view of society, laws and individuals must be considered in two different realms. Opposition then is not against the entirety of society, rather it is against the lawmakers of the society in question, and the laws themselves are justified at their core. This is a consequential finding, certainly one that comes into direct conflict with Martin Luther King’s form of protest. According to Martin Luther King, multiple factors, including unjust laws, are to blame for the injustices being perpetrated against African-Americans.

At some great length, King writes about the white moderate, and how “few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. ” It is clear to King that the white moderate empowerment, and its unwillingness to perpetuate a more equal society, plays a major factor in the injustice of society. In concordance with this statement, King realizes that the white moderate is responsible for the drafting of laws within society.

Not only do whites make decisions regarding the affect and implementation of laws at the time that he writes, indeed, whites have made the laws for African-Americans through all of modern American history. Thus, because “we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor”, we can interpret that King sees both the white moderate and the laws they draft and support as equally unjust. For, if the oppressor never gives freedom voluntarily, then the rules conceived by the oppressor will have at their core the principle of oppression and inequality.

The leaders and the laws are tied together in an inescapable fashion. This is the principle in which we truly find the most important difference between King’s and Socrates definition of, and deliverance of, political dissent. As stated, the principle of absolute justice is of the highest importance to both Socrates and Martin Luther King, Jr. , and yet the processes by which both participate in political arguments to maintain this principle are opposite in their methods.

The argument can be simplified by making the assertion that Socrates, with his distinction between unjust leaders and just laws, refuses to break a law due to the unjust nature of such an action. In his argument, there can be no justification for breaking a law, for breaking such a law constitutes an unjust act. Martin Luther King, on the other hand, maintains absolute justice by advocating for the breaking of laws that are inherently unequal, he held both the individuals and the laws accountable for racial injustice, and that his method of political protest would reflect this point.

Essentially, oppressive leaders make laws that oppress, and because King has a vision of an absolute justice that supersedes both the oppressive laws and individuals, he is able to politically dispute against both. In such a manner, he fully advocates the breaking of unjust laws. Thus, Socrates and Martin Luther King, Jr. were each, in their own right, pursuing a better society through the quest for absolute justice and the implementation of political argument.

For Socrates, this meant staying true to a judicial code, and not acting against laws that he felt placed justice at their core. For King, this meant causing civil disturbances to disrupt the State, aimed at rearranging the principles of both the unjust individuals and the unequal laws associated with society. In either case, one may reason that the means and motives by which both men went about objecting were rational in their own instances, and the consequences of their actions brought about the eventual betterment of society through civil justice.

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