A 'True Revolution of Values'

Martin Luther King, Jr., warned America about the danger of unquestioning national pride. How far have we come?

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In a commencement address at Lincoln University in 1961, King praised the American dream and the Declaration of Independence, saying that "seldom if ever in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profoundly eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality." And when he gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech before the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, King reaffirmed that his dream was "deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: `We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' "

But King understood the contradictions at the heart of American society. In his Lincoln University commencement address, King said "since the founding fathers of our nation dreamed this noble dream, America has been something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself." America, King understood, preaches democracy but practices its selective application. Moreover, King understood the perils of an isolationist nationalism that celebrates one's country at the expense of recognizing one's global citizenship. In such a case, loyalty to nation might turn vicious, demanding that one subordinate moral principle to narrow national self-interest. In his church sermon, King said that in Vietnam, America had "committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world." And we wouldn't stop it "because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation."

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