The Philosophical Foundations of King, Gandhi and the OWS – Part 2

By: Tera Ertz

Yesterday we explored the philosophical principles involved with income inequality and how they related to the Civil Rights Movement and the current OWS movement.  Today, in continuing the philosophical comparison of the two movements, we’ll take a gander at the goals and motives of the two movements.

Goals of Civil Rights Movement and OWS

During the 1960s, the South was still mired in laws designed to restrict the natural rights of citizens based on skin color. The right to vote, the rights of business owners to serve whomever they chose where and how they chose, the right to seek employment, to equal access to public education and the right to peaceful assembly and petitioning for the redress of grievance were all curtailed for blacks in many places, but nowhere more strongly than in the segregated South. For many years the public sentiment had been growing that this was an injustice that needed the Federal government to step in and provide a remedy. This sense of injustice was based on the premise that our Founding Principles, best illustrated in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, were being violated because a large segment of our population were being deprived of the God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The very concept that the government governed with the consent of the citizenry was in question when a large portion of that citizenry was being deprived of the ability to participate in the process of political expression. This all culminated in the 1960s civil rights movement, under the auspices of Dr. King’s theory of Direct Action. Dr. King developed this theory after studying Mohandas Gandhi’s theory of civil disobedience and the tenets of non-violence (Lawhead 629-32).

Both men posited the idea that justice was best served when man’s law was just. They defined unjust laws as those that conflicted with the laws of God, or what Locke might have described as the Law of Nature. In the case of Gandhi, the injustice was the British Empire depriving the people of India of their right to self-governance and self-determination (Lawhead 625).With Dr. King, it was the States depriving the blacks of the equal application of the law. In both cases, the goal was to bring man’s law into compliance with God’s law, or Nature’s law. As we examine OWS, it is difficult to determine which natural rights they believe are being violated by government, or even the overall goal of the movement. The main website for the movement lists a wide range of disparate demands, but the people operating the site have declared that this list does not in fact reflect the goals of the OWS, and that OWS does not have a set of demands ( Individuals within the movement questioned about why they are participating give a wide range of responses, including variations of “end capitalism”, “forgive student loans”, “the Federal Reserve needs to be abolished”, “we need to withdraw our troops from the Middle East”, generalized complaints about unfairness and inequality, and nearly one in five answered that they did not know (Hayat, Covert). Thus far, there has been no alternative vision offered, no specific legislation either refuted or proposed by a unified OWS, and no clear picture of what the OWS as a whole is trying to accomplish. The only constitutionally defined right they are currently claiming is the right to free speech, which has not been denied them.  Vague claims to a “right to a fair share” and “a shot at the American Dream” do not provide the basic premise for moral justification, unlike the Civil Rights movement and the Indian Independence movement which identified clear violations of established civil rights and defined clear goals for bringing about specific, morally just changes to the laws.

Motives of Gandhi, King and OWS 

Both Gandhi and King based their moral justification for breaking man’s law on an appeal to the higher law of God. Dr. King stated that a law could be considered unjust, and therefore worthy of being broken, if it was not rooted in eternal or natural law, and if it degraded human personality (Lawhead 630). Under those guidelines, Dr. King posited that laws based on skin color that legalized difference (or treating someone differently for no reason other than skin color) degraded human personality and violated natural law. Under Dr. King’s theory, economic justice would entail equal opportunity and equal protection of the law, with the outcome being left to the efforts of the individual and to God. Christian and Hindu doctrine, at the core of King and Gandhi’s philosophy, both denounce justice determined by material wealth in their rejection of the love of money, greed, envy and covetousness. By focusing primarily on income disparity as the perceived injustice, OWS negates the religious moral foundation of King and Gandhi’s civil disobedience, even as it appeals to the moral obligation to help our fellow man that is contained in those same religious philosophies. They have also failed to offer a non-religious argument to classify income inequality as injustice and justify disobedience to the law.

The other motive of Dr. King and Gandhi was that, as all other recourse was either exhausted or unavailable, the only alternative to continued injustice or to civil disobedience was a building momentum toward outright violent rebellion. This justification was supported by the theories of Locke and Rawls on justice, particularly as expressed in the Declaration of Independence (Lawhead Ch. 6). There are many avenues of recourse currently available to the OWS. They have not petitioned the government for redress, they have not attempted to elect representatives that support their political position, and rather than seeking to provide an alternative to violent rebellion, there are elements within OWS that either advocate or threaten violence if their demands, which as stated earlier are not clearly articulated, are not met by the corporations they have targeted (YouTube).

Tomorrow:  Part 3 – Methods of the King, Gandhi and the OWS

To read more from Tera Ertz, check out The Pursuit of Happiness Show or become her friend on Facebook.

Tags: Tera Ertz, Herman, OWS, poor, communism, Marx, Civil Rights, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, John Stuart Mill, John Rawls, John Locke, Eugene Robinson, CBO



Works Cited

CBO. Trend in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007. 18 November 2011. 5 December 2011.

Chappell, Bill. “Occupy Wall Street: From A Blog Post to A Movement.” 20 October 2011. NPR. 5 December 2011.

Hayat, Ali and Darcy Covert. “Capturing Occupy Wall Street Movement Demands.” 11 November 2011. Huffington Post. 5 December 2011.

Nolte, John. “#OccupyWallStreet: The Rap Sheet, So Far.” 2 December 2011. Big Government. 5 December 2011.

Occupy Wall Street. “Forum Post: Proposed List of Demands For Occupy Wall St. Movement.” 25 September 2011. 5 December 2011.

Robinson, Eugene. “The Study that Shows Why Occupy Wall Street Struck a Nerve.” 27 October 2011. The Washington Post. 5 December 2011.

Sandel, Michael. Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do? Episode 03: “Free to Choose”. Harvard, 8 September 2009.

YouTube. Occupy Wall Street eviction – Protester talking about throwing Molotov Cocktails at Macy’s. New York, 15 November 2011.





About sswimp

I am not an "African-American'. I am a proud American, who happens to be of African descent. I am Christian. My personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the Word of God shapes my concepts of what it means to be a conservative. I am Pro Life. Devoted to the principles of free enterprise, limited government,and individual responsibility. I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman.
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One Response to The Philosophical Foundations of King, Gandhi and the OWS – Part 2

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