Should an editor’s politics matter for where you place your scholarly work?

I recently faced this question. Conservative philosopher, Ph.D. invited me to write on Brightman’s personalistic idealism. I was to write up one of those chapters that summarizes the legacy of Brightman’s work similar to an Oxford Handbook on such-and-such. To my dismay, Conservative Philosopher shared a news article praising Trump’s recent presidential order. Trump’s order denied systemic racism existed and would not approve any federal contracting businesses that held race training sessions nor would approve of any grants that assumed systemic racism as a premise of the grant. On Conservative Philosopher’s Facebook Wall, I was both mocked and laughed at. That’s not what bothered me.

I faced a dilemma: Either I should publish something about Brightman in this anthology or I should not. The reason why Brightman’s thought is accorded status and why I think it ultimately valuable rests on two facts. First, Brightman’s moral law system enshrined that the absolute dignity of another is central to what it means to hold a religious ethics. Next, Martin Luther King, Jr. chose Brightman, I think, for this very reason to be his mentor in graduate study. Unfortunately, Brightman died about two years into King’s attendance at Boston University, and yet King still persisted in identifying himself as a personalist finishing his dissertation with L. Harold DeWolf, Brightman’s student. As I am want to do for the same reason that both King and Brightman are valuable, I in good conscience could not work with and for someone who denies that systemic and structural racism persist in the United States. I withdrew my chapter. I spoke of how troubling I found it to be.

Moreover, like postmodernism, critical race theory became a bogeyman for many on the Right that this Presidential order somehow shed light on. When I confronted that nobody in that thread had read or taken up the work of many thinkers in that tradition, but that they did not offer any specific attack or thesis of Leonard Harris, Tommy Curry, and Charles Mills to simply name a few off the top of my head, I only got back silence. In effect, they are attacking the philosophical tenability of a position they have not read about nor at least won’t communicate anything about it if they had. While more than likely the former, I still think that we should not impugn philosophical views we have not adequately explained nor understood. A proper exposition gives one a right to say something about it. Clearly, this was not the case here.

With all things being equal, my chapter on Brightman would not have highlighted any disagreement with this person about contemporary matters. Racism would never been brought up, and when cornered on that thread, my withdrawing from contributing was interpreted as I was the one who was retreating from engaging others who I disagree politically. I can only conclude, however, that where I place my scholarship must follow the values of dignity I find in Brightman and King’s work. In a sense, I am not retreating from the importance of teaching these authors nor doing scholarship about them, I am simply not publishing a chapter about them in a book with someone whose values will not benefit someone who is clear denial of history and the structural racism that personalist frameworks have highlighted. I think this decision is the right one.


How to Regard Religion?

Religere is a Latin verb; it means “to bind or to mend.” This word origin gives only an inkling as to what religion means and how best to regard it. Religion escapes us precisely because no single intellectual discipline can lay claim to a phenomenon so complex and intricate. For the Sociologist, religion is a social system. For the English scholar, religion is in its literature. For the psychologist, religion is in the psychological states of believers. For the philosopher of religion, wisdom is the goal, and so the best philosophers of religion should take stock of religion as a phenomena that encapsulates looking at the il_570xN.1969108006_ixjxother disciplines to see how they regard religion. For this reason, philosophy of religion is not a precise disciplinary look at religion, but a trans-disciplinary inquiry that attempts to look at the grounds on which the claims religions proffer about reality. In this way, the metaphysician is one who attempts to interpret the concepts that remain unexamined ontologically in any particular religious worldview at the most fundamental level of being and reality. So, a philosopher of religion may be one who attempts to work through the source of what it might mean to be religious more generally. Borden Parker Bowne (1847-1910 writes):

No external action can develop an empty mind which has no law, no nature, or direction into anything. This would be to act upon a void. Hence it is hopeless to look for the source of religious ideas in external experience alone. We must assume a germ of religious impulse in the soul in order to make religious development possible. But, on the other hand, this germ is not self sufficient. It develops only under the stimulus of outer and inner experience, and unless under the criticism and restraint of intellect and conscience it develops into grotesque or terrible forms. The stimulus may be manifold (4).

For Bowne, then, religion comes from an impulse. The source of the Divine is animated by some type of inner wellspring, and yet it also requires the world for the inner experience to be realized. In fact, if we assume there’s some religious impulse in human beings, then we can explain why it is the case that there are so many religions and the many avenues of stimulus that give rise to better and worse forms of religious expression. In this way, out of the onto-relationality of human experience, which are my words put into Bowne’s Philosophy of Theism (1887), originates many avenues and sources of religious knowledge. For Bowne, they can be 1. a sense of dependence, 2. the needs of the intellect, 3. the demands of a foreboding conscience, 4. the demands of cravings in the affectations, 5. the demand of revelation, 6 or some direct influence of God (5). Whether or not religions are formed from all of these or only one of them is a question “for separate study.” However, what is clear is that Bowne’s conception of both demand and need originate in something similar to James’s agential psychology of selective interest in the attentive field.

According to James, a person’s experience is guided by the selective interest. Selective interest ushers forth from the attentive field of consciousness. Since consciousness transforms some aspect of our experience into an object of awareness, then we name this thread of experienced object and the duration of our attending feeling act to it until another experience in the stream is introduced that breaks with the act-object experience. As we are dealing with thread and connections of experience, there is no perspective outside of time and space according to James, but only the immediate and the practical needs (needs and demands in Bowne’s language or selective interest in James’s earliest language even in The Sentiments of Rationality in which religious concepts must mesh with our human powers of experience) The coming and goings, the attention and the receding emergence and withdrawal of conscious life engenders the concepts that philosophers then speculate about. However, the important point to notice is does Bowne break with James by insisting then that there is a rational ground for religion at all. That’s the guiding question of Bowne’s Philosophy of Theism: Is there a rational ground within the religious impulse? Certainly James would say that there’s a certain rationality bound up with feeling this particular way, but it is another thing to propose the singular rational ground for the Divine and God.


Holding Sand

downloadAfter years of study of the Earth’s religions (and you must humble yourself before how complex these various religious systems are) and many years of academic philosophy, religions all melt together. They lose their luster because each one claims access to describe what truly is. Since there are so many descriptions of what truly is, they each become almost reducible to various ways of being. The philosopher in me is tempted to say they become systems of thought, but that is not quite right (though tempting a thesis to think every religion reducible to propositions making claims about reality).

Each religion becomes like the attempt to hold onto sand. When you scoop sand into your hands, you start to feel much of it escape through your fingers and the edges of your hand. As you try and squeeze harder, the more sand escapes you. By analogy, the more you attempt to believe and claim one vision of what truly is, the more other parts and other descriptions and ways of being elude you. In the end, all religion is like holding onto sand. You cannot tell from what conceptualization you have of it left which version may describe what truly is; you only know what you cannot know. The only religion left to learned people and scholars is, then, to be Socratic while everyone around you in the American South thinks it possible to conceive what’s true from what little sand is left in their hands.


My Wife’s Effect on Me and Vice Versa

My wife, Ashley, showed me a whole bunch of foods when we started dating. Now, I eat Thai, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, Korean, and Korean-fusion. I was very boring in a culinary sense at the age of 22. On a recent road trip, my YouTube music plays old 80s cartoons. There’s no reason my wife should be able to sing Centurions, Thundercats, Mask, and Defenders of the Earth extended themes. But, she can. Marriage is a two way street.


Azerrad’s New Right is Just Ambiguity

downloadProfessor David Azerrad makes some controversial claims inside his most recent piece over at The American Conservative. To be fair, the piece is not written to me or to you if you are sympathetic reader of mine. Instead, it’s one of those rare pieces that critiques conservatism from within, and it’s an interesting and revealing read even for those of us who do not share these same moral or political beliefs. Azerrad chooses the expression fiddling in the title as if contemporary supposed expressions of conservatism are not truly conservative enough for the challenge of the times while “Rome is burning.” Every once in a while a piece comes out and attempts to re-situate the philosophical conscience of what someone sees as the best version of conservatism and locate its exigency in the here and now. You can expect a pieces like this every few years, especially when conservatives seem on the run from being defeated in Congress and the Presidency as one could see happening in November.

What I want to do is take a look at those expressions of what Azerrad claims true conservatism must be like. Azerrad is offering us a “New Right” in his own words, and rather than engage in refutation or principled argument, he understands that culturally the New Right must be concerned with power.

This new Right understands not just ideas, but power. The Left’s ideological hegemony is not principally the result of better ideas, but of its long march through the institutions. We understand the need to build new institutions—in particular those with the power to shape public opinion—and to reconquer lost ones or, at the very least, defund them. The universities, in particular, must be brought to heel.

In this passage, Azerrad never makes a specific claim about which ideas of the Left are bad, and this is typical rhetorical strategy employed by thinkers on the Right. They merely infer that the Left has ideas, and the Conservative author is allowed to leave it empty and ambiguous inside The American Conservative magazine or website. In this piece, though, Azerrad claims that there exists a Leftist hegemony, an institutional power that dominates culture at large. I think this presence is overstated culturally, but if he only means American universities, then there is charitable grounds to accept such a claim. American universities are dominated by Leftist attitudes, and I happily count myself among them for ethical reasons and arguments I can offer if any conservative ever wanted to inquire about them. Azerrad does not seem to want to have those types of discussions. He merely wants to assert what is true through power. We can see this when he writes that he wants to “reconquer lost [institutions, especially universities].”

Defunding universities comes from a fear of losing a cultural battle before it is already fought. Notice that Azerrad dares not fight that battle here with argumentation. Perhaps, I can give him a pass when writing for TAC. And yet, this fear of Leftist indoctrination is, at best, a belief that is not supported by empirical evidence. To bring universities to heel is not the best metaphor for education. Why the militant imagery then? I imagine that Azerrad may share in the common negative view of universities. Consider the summary of this growing trend amongst Republicans and independents who lean Republican,

The increase in negative views has come almost entirely from Republicans and independents who lean Republican. From 2015 to 2019, the share saying colleges have a negative effect on the country went from 37% to 59% among this group.

Let’s move on to the second passage I find somewhat troubling, This is the bulk of the claims Azerrad makes about his New Right. I will not take up every claim, but discuss those I find ambiguous.

As for our priorities, they are clear. We must confront the great threats of our time: unsustainable immigration levels and rapid demographic change; cratering fertility rates and collapsing families; the corrosive acids of neoliberalism and identity politics (in all their manifestations, from tech censorship to racial preferences); pathological white guilt; a political system largely unmoored from the consent of the governed; fiscal irresponsibility; and the emasculation of men through feminized education…

Azerrad claims these are the “great threats of our time.” Is immigration unsustainable? Since whites are not having as many children and a younger generation is needed to carry the economic torch, then the United States is probably going to have immigration for the long haul as many European and Commonwealth countries have enacted. Also, we must ask if this decline of the family and white children reflect a deeper anxiety amongst conservatives since this demographic shift brings with it a loss of privilege and power? It seems that Azerrad is very much longing for the day such notions of power might return. Am I wrong? Again, ambiguity doesn’t help.

Next, we get a rather ambiguous phrase, “the corrosive acids of neoliberalism and identity politics.” First, I applaud that neoliberalism can be corrosive in the sense that it creates a mindset very much that works against collective well-being. Neoliberalism is a capitalist mindset that all is possible to commodify and profit and in our pursuit for wealth, we exploits others, work against intrinsic values, harm the environment, and alienate ourselves from our own labor. Although I do not think this is what he means there may be some aspect of his critique of neoliberalism where common ground could be found.

Conservatives have long criticized the attention of minority consciousness-raising politically. They hide contempt for such efforts in the academy. I cannot see exactly how identity politics is corrosive here, and Azerrad is clearly ambiguous again, choosing the rhetorical flourish without spelling out exactly what this corrosiveness means. In sequence, we also get “pathological white guilt” immediately following the corrosiveness of identity politics. One could speculate there’s a connection. Could Azerrad mean that he does not want to theorize about how whiteness functions in a philosophical or cultural sense to introduce the implicit division and preference for whiteness to which many of my diverse brothers and sisters are responding to academically by choosing their own frame of reference as a counterweight? I only say this to indicate that some conservatisms are equally ladened with identity politics, especially if they draw from some well-known philosophical and cultural sources that are overwhelmingly white and less inclusive in the political ideals they offer. So if you write a dissertation at the University of Dallas on John Locke and consider yourself a Lockean like Mr. Azzerad may in fact be, then it may be that a Lockean (or similarly informed position) is going to have to answer for favoring a political framework that itself condoned slavery in the very charter constitution for the Carolinas that John Locke authored himself. Refusal to talk about racism in the United States is itself pathological.

Lastly, I want to know exactly what Azerrad means by this claim about education, “the emasculation of men through feminized education.” As before, this phrase is ambiguous. We can express some questions about it. Does Azerrad mean that somehow public education is somehow feminized to the point that men are no longer allowed to what? Be individualist and self-interested creatures without thought of our shared ontological interdependence? Is this an attack on what many call toxic masculinity but what Azerrad thinks is not toxic? At the very least for Azerrad, education is too feminized, but that feminization claim may be a response to the empirical fact that in 2015-16 school year of the 4.5 million K-12 teachers in the United States about 76% were women. Is Azerrad just annoyed at gender disparity of teachers and uses that demographic information to suggest some type of causal claim that is unwarranted? Whatever that causal claim might be implicitly that causes the emasculation of men goes unnoticed and without argumentation. We cannot know, and I do not think it’s reasonable for conservatives to claim they know what such language means here either.

What we can take away is that Azerrad’s new right is an insistence on the assertion and creation of conservative social power. It’s a type of conservatism that sees itself needed as a correction to a lack of virtue within conservative circles. I wonder if people on the political right ever tire of this type of reasoning. When conservatives lose elections, they get righteous about not being conservative enough, and when they are in trouble, a similar piece will appear. This may be one of those pieces. What’s clear from a philosophical viewpoint is the ambiguous rhetoric present in the piece. That ambiguity might mean something or is vacuous intentionally that many conservatives readers will fill into the meaning what he specifically avoided to spell out explicitly. In truth, Azerrad does not say much here except to desire power and emulate what he takes the Left to have done institutionally, even though he is not specific about what institutions or types of Leftism he is targeting except universities tout court.

Is this very much a new Right? I doubt it.


Dermot Moran’s Phenomenology of Solitude

Here’s Dermot Moran’s explanation of our shared interrelation. He even pulls from Scheler,

Other phenomenologists also emphasize human collectivity even in isolation. Max Scheler writes, in his classic Formalism in Ethics (1916/1973), that even Robinson Crusoe was never completely alone; he brought with him into solitude all the language, ideas, skills, clothing, of his seventeenth-century world. Scheler writes:

An imaginary Robinson Crusoe еndowed with cognitive-theoretica1 faculties would also со-ехрeriеnсе his being а member of а social unit in his experiencing the lack of fulfillment of acts of act-types constituting а person iп general. (Scheler 1973, 521)

In the Nature of Sympathy (1923/1954), Scheler clarifies further:

Robinson Crusoe would never think: ‘There is no community and I belong to none : I am alone in the world’. He would not only possess the notion and idea of community, but would also think: ‘I know that there is a community, and that I belong to one (or several such); but I am unacquainted with the individuals comprising them, and with the empirical groups of such individuals which constitute the community as it actually exists.’ (Scheler, 1954, 234)

Humans are intrinsically social even if there are no ‘others’ in my immediate community. Indeed, solitude can only ever be an artificial state. One needs extraordinary discipline – to maintain silence, to lose physical contact with other human beings. Indeed, unless it is explicitly chosen as a methodological way to gain access to oneself, solitary confinement is a punishment – a torture for human beings. Part of the key to coping with living in solitude is structured routine and tremendous mental discipline.


Resources for African American Philosophy

Recently, I asked colleagues what books or essays they recommend for African American Philosophy. This is the result of that ask. I also want to add that this list is in no way complete, but it may be the starting resource for other colleagues who do not know much about where to start.

  1. Alice Walker. Any essay of hers.
  2. Barbara Holmes, Race and the Cosmos
  3. Barbara Coleman, Making My Way Out of No Way.
  4. Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Uncommon Faith: A Pragmatic Approach to the Study of Religion
  5. Father’s Kingdom documentary about Father Divine.
  6. Barbara Fields and Karen J. Fields, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
  7. James Baldwin and Audre Lord, “Revolutionary Hope” a dialogue published in Esssence 1984 originally,
  8. Saidaya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection
  9. Sylvia Wynter, “No Humans Involved”
  10. Calvin Warren, Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation
  11. Fred Moten, “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh)”
  12. Patrice Douglass and Frank B. Wilderson III, “The Violence of Presence: Metaphysics in a Blackened World.”
  13. James W. Perkinson, Reversing the Gaze: Constructing European Race Discourse
  14. James Cone, God of the Oppressed. James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (esp. Chapter 2).
  15. Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited
  16. Benjamin Elijah Mays, The Negro’s God as Reflected in His Literature
  17. Angela Davis, Women, Race, and Class.
  18. Slave narratives: Harriet Jacobs, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano
  19. W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk also his debate with Booker T. Washington
  20. Anthony Pinn, “Why Lord?”
  21. Anything by Cornell West
  22. George Yancy, Black Bodies, White Gazes
  23. Anything by Martin Luther King, Jr. I’d go with Where Do We Go From Here and Strength to Love.
  24. Lewis Gordon, Intro to Africana Philosophy
  25. Anthony Neal, Common Ground
  26. John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy

Depositing This Thought for Later

In many ways, I have long accepted some of Derrida’s claims regarding a metaphysics of presence, the same with Heidegger, and Nietzsche’s attack on Platonism (philosophy tout court) but more through a Jamesian lens. They’re all part of the Kantian tradition that metaphysics cannot be done in the way that philosophers and theologians have long held–that we have access to reality to know and confirm what we find to be our biases, purely speculated and unknowable. The only knowable dimension is the consequences to which they yield and the coherence they have with other aspects of our overall life. And yet I find experimenting with idealism attractive for its coherence even though I am mostly inclined to believe that human beings and our concepts are continuous with nature. Add to this critique an inability for idealism to comprehend that reality is unfolding, emerging, and perishing all at once, you get my state of confusion about whether or not continuity with nature implies a continuity with an all encompassing conscious mind-universe or that nature is more materially-based with allowances for the irreducible without a mental aspect to the overall totality. It’s as if James was right to pit the materialist and the idealist together as two sides of what is philosophically possible. All positions amount to these aspects of our existence read into the immediacy of our experience in relation to the larger project of making sense of human life, our part in relation to the whole. I have inherited James’s questions as my own and am entirely suspicious of philosophers of religion whose confidence outstrips our ability to truly know. I have yet to read Schellenberg’s three volumes. Brief surveys as to what amounts to “skeptical religion” seem correct to me.


Reflecting Back on the Derrida Letter and Recent Reengagement With the Letter on Facebook

downloadDerrida and other committed deconstructionists would write books not in an unclear style, but enacting the very decentering and decoupling of language in their texts. What was taken as ambiguous was an enacted deconstruction set in motion in their writing style. In other words, they were doing a type of metaphilosophy by enacting what they thought illustrated their skepticism about language’s inherent rational structure. Analytics hated it, never understood or were charitable in this regard. Had they known that language was enacted to transgress what others took to be the referential function of language on purpose, I still think analytics would have protested Derrida’s honorary doctorate. By contrast, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty enacted existential description, which makes more intelligible sense, and doesn’t dissolve like deconstructionists. But they thought that was ambiguous too. In the end, describing the limits of language and the structure of lived-experience in the human condition were fetishized by argument-centric philosophers as not doing real philosophy.
What bothers me about Schliesser‘s analysis of the letter and the comments about it are that no one has yet raised any favorability about interdisciplinary appeal of philosophical work. The fact that a philosopher’s work is read in film studies and literature is a good thing, not a bad thing. As a philosopher, my work in phenomenology and pragmatism now finds its place in religious studies, humanities journals, interdisciplinary journals about pacifism, and philosophy journals because American philosophy involves a host of figures that defy canonical categorization. Moreover, I have to interact with other disciplines in order to do American philosophy well. I read intellectual historians on James and Emerson as much as philosophical interpretations of these works, and I engage in theological reflection about Whitehead because the way in which Whitehead became understood was exactly how West coast seminaries took up his work in John Cobb. Also, Cobb is the process-metaphysican Aquinas-like figure that has done a great deal of work to translate Whitehead into Christianity as Aquinas made Aristotle Christian. While this may be a distortion of Whitehead himself, it also shows the relevance of where rubber meets the road for reasons someone takes up his work. By analogy, the fact that Derrida was understood in other departments, even if a distortion, shows that there was an element of pragmatic upshot in his work that got ignored by analytic purists. Policing the boundaries of philosophy requires a narrow vision and lack of imagination for how philosophy should engage with other disciplines apart from trying time and time again to emulate some natural science while all the while in constant denial of the sad truth that philosophy is one of the humanities, too.

Let’s say it again with pride. Philosophy is one of the humanities. It has no central agreed upon method. It is a form of literature that takes on difficult ultimate philosophical questions. It may be argumentative, creative, and almost always in critical response to another before it. It tends to system even in the denial that one is systematic. 


Reflections About Where Martin Luther King, Jr. Talked About Whitehead in “The World House” and Process-Based Ethical Relationality of Beloved Community

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.[1]

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.”[2] 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.[3]

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. images

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.”[4] 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,”[5] 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.[6]



[1] Martin Luther King, Jr. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), 177.

[2] King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 191.

[3] King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 179.

[4] King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 181.

[5] King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 181.

[6] King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 183.