The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. started his essay, “The World House” with the following passage,
Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: “A widely separated family inherits a house in which they live together.” This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family separated by ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.
I’d like to take note of the themes in this passage. First, note that the ideal animating this opening passage is the onto-relationality of persons as described through the metaphor of inheriting a house together. The onto-relationality of persons is a fancy way of saying what lies at the bottom of King’s idea of beloved community. In that metaphor, members of the family are members of the world, and the world is the inherited house. Just as much as beloved community is also multiracial for us in the United States, for world over it also serves as an ideal for however human beings carve each other up that gets in the way of recognizing the onto-relationality of persons: geographic, racial, and religious differences being those mentioned here. Instead, this onto-relationality cuts deep down, all the way down into the existential and ontological condition for what it means to be human. “[W]e can never again live apart, [we] must learn to live with each other in pace.” We cannot ignore the gift of proximity. Instead, being near one another reflects the deep ontological truth of our interrelationship.
The reason why I am focusing on this end essay is that it appears at the end of Where We Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1968). Moreover, because King recycled some famous passages, extreme editorial control of passages and an essay’s position matters. What’s more, when Coretta Scott King wrote the introduction to the sermons included in Strength to Love, she noted this same theme that occurs towards the end of this final chapter, “All men are interdependent…all life is interrelated. The agony of poor impoverishes the rich: the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever effects one directly affects all indirectly.” This is what human community ought to look like. We must acknowledge those bonds that inform and underlie us. Notice for King it’s unavoidable to speak here about what humanity is, but only about what it should be.
In this chapter at the end of Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, the problem of community and its underlying onto-relationality serve as a transcendental norm. I read it this way against the thought of George Yancy that posits whiteness as a transcendental norm. In doing so, Yancy puts whiteness beyond the threshold of space and time that then conditions the concrete manifestation of whiteness itself. A transcendental norm conditions what and how we ought to under the metaphysical reality and positionality of whiteness. By contrast to King’s onto-relationality of persons, white supremacy depends upon the existence of this hierarchical notion that removes the value of being white beyond history, time, and place. For this reason, King’s beloved community ideal and the metaphysics of onto-relationality that underpin are a new way of thinking in that they describe how we ought to be beyond history, time, and place. Only one transcendental norm may defeat and replace another transcendental norm.
For a long time, I have had a fascination to which this end chapter has inspired me greatly on this point as reflected in the only time I am aware that King mentions and may be drawing from themes in Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy. Let me reproduce that passage,
We live in a day, said the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, “when civilization is shifting its basic outlook; a major turning point in history where the presuppositions on which society is structured are being analyzed, sharply challenged, and profoundly changed.” What we are seeing now is a freedom explosion…The deep rumbling of discontent that we hear today is the thunder of disinherited masses, rising from dungeons of oppression to the bright hills of freedom. In one majestic chorus the rising masses are singing, in the woods of our freedom song, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.” All over the world like a fever, freedom is spreading in the widest liberation movement in history. The great masses of people are determined to end the exploitation of their races and lands.
In this passage, an analogy to Whitehead is claimed. He is a process metaphysician and revived a way of conceiving being that had not been considering in the long history of Western philosophy, though it has its precursors in Buddhism as impermanence. Buddhist impermanence is often described as co-dependent origination. One object is the product of becoming of all previous causes from the past, and those that are unfolding in the present. For the Buddhist, we might call this interbeing. All being is interbeing. Like Buddhist impermanence, the analogy to Whitehead thematizes that reality is ongoing and ever unfolding and a product of what comes before that gives rise causally to what is now. In this way, King is claiming that the onto-relationality of persons is expressed in a directed freedom that acknowledges this onto-relationality as a transcendental norm.
Whereas Buddhist impermanence and Whitehead are attempts to describe all natural processes in a causal way, the onto-relationality of persons has become a process-based ideal of ever unfolding and constantly determinate and interrelated relations between persons. For process philosophy posits individual objects are not isolated, but are themselves things abstracted from unfolding processes. A persons unrelated to others is to reify it and take it out of the world house to which we all ought to belong. Notice that term interrelated. King also uses phrases like this throughout some of his other works. What affects one affects all. A threat to injustice to one is a call for justice everywhere. When people do not recognize others in dignity as persons, they attempt to extricate them outside of the very onto-relations that serve as the guiding norm to how we should about our relationships to others in the here-and-now.
In other words, living in community is as much an ontological and ethical process about how persons choose to recognize others in freedom. Thus, the liberation movement, the postcolonial liberation worldwide and the hope for a Pan-African freedom of former British colonies that resonated with King in relation to Gandhi’s efforts for Indian liberation from British rule in Asia. These movements manifest as post-World War 2 movements based on a new metaphysical paradigm not only about persons relating to nature and how nature should be understood in thinkers like Whitehead’s philosophy of organism as a process, but so too should we understand our ethical relationality to each other in beloved community. In fact, the term process when it comes to human freedom is synonymous with movements, which are political, economic, and social—the very themes King takes up concretely in the essay and to which I will return to later at another time. Now, we must ask then how does King understand beloved community as process philosophy as it relates to movements?
Persons relate to each other in their choices as expressed by freedom. Freedom was the immediate and unfolding fact about how persons ought to be in the Whitehead analogy and freedom is essential to understanding that this onto-relationality expresses a norm. It expresses a possible understanding of person to person relations as unfolding and causally determinate parts that fold into the entirety of the whole. However, freedom is also the very reason that it is a transcendental norm. We can choose freely against realizing the norm. This failure and affirmation cut in two directions: the internal nature of persons and the external nature of persons. King describes the affirmation of interrelated intrinsic values of persons as spiritual and moral ends as the internal in persons. The external is “that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms and instrumentalities by means of which we live.” In other words, persons treat other persons freely as either external things like objects, or they can choose recognize persons as that which they are affected by in the very exercise of their freedom others, even those with whom one cannot see physically are in relation to another person in the very systems and movements we have designed legally, politically, socially, and economically. Freedom is, then, never an individually-based ontological reality as so often described. A man is never as free as he is in a society of justice. For justice guarantees a space in which we respect all persons in the here-and-now, tomorrow, and the next day.
This wave of ethical relationality rises as a possibility and fades away when persons de-personalize others and perpetuate “fraternities of the indifferent.” This de-personalization happens “where we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external,” the spiritual ends to which we ought to be aspiring in love become lost in the indifference we commonly treat objects as instrumental to some desired end. Notice also that the end of that first section is exactly where he describes the internal becoming absorbed into the external rather than the internal guiding the external. For the former problem goes by another name King also introduces in the next section: the problem of the color line.
 Martin Luther King, Jr. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), 177.
 King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 191.
 King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 179.
 King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 181.
 King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 181.
 King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 183.