From Athens to Atlanta and Beyond: Reshaping Ourselves for a New World Through King’s Living Legacy
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Preview: /Review: Tommy Shelby and Brandon M. Terry, eds. To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Cambridge, MA; London, England: Belknap Press, 2018), 463 pages./ To mark the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Harvard professors Tommie Shelby and Brandon M. Terry have produced a masterful reappraisal of King’s legacy, specifically as a political philosopher. More importantly, the book can be read as a mirror through which we can see King’s struggles and resistance, that led him down a “dangerous road,” having strong parallels with the dangerous road we face with current political and social upheavals (SNW, 1, 15). Negative reactions against globalization have heightened the sentiments of fear, paranoia, and partisanship. Racial tensions are reaching a boiling-point in the U.S. after the 2017 Charlottesville protests and a pattern of discrimination and senseless killings from the privileged campus of Yale to the country roads of Minnesota or Georgia, by law enforcement and civilians alike. One of the tendencies growing in this distressing hour of world history entails the rise of personality and celebrity cults forming around “strong” leaders. A mobocracy mentality is forming the way we think about politicians, judges, or even health specialists like chief U.S. immunologist Anthony Fauci. Celebrity fetishizing has infected Americans’ sense of reality, including the ways in which politics are practiced and interpreted. Engulfed in the quagmires of identity politics, our attempts to legitimate who has the right to fight for social justice have been paralyzed by these performative gestures of social change and action. It could be argued that the aesthetic presentation and the skills of rebranding have, in a certain sense, replaced the philosophical and moral concerns explored in the sections on “Traditions,” “Ideals,” “Justice,” and “Conscience,” respectively. What King teaches us philosophically has, more often than not, been glossed over by a superficial publicity or aesthetics of infotainment destined for the tabloids. For this reason, King’s iconic image is both a blessing and curse. In order to appreciate the full thrust of King’s thinking, we have to go deeper morally and philosophically to supplement our aesthetic religious values and interests, and that is what these fifteen essays deliver.
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