Brendan O’Neill on MLK’s most famous speech:
Tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, made on the Mall in Washington, DC on 28 August 1963. Re-reading the speech 50 years on, the most striking thing about it is how much faith it puts in the American Dream. Where today it is positively hip to be disdainful of all things American, to look upon America as a land of shopping addicts and fat rednecks, King and his listeners were passionately devoted to the idea of America and an American project. Using tellingly capitalistic lingo, King said of those gathered that “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” King said that his dream, of racial equality, was “deeply rooted in the American Dream”.
Not for King the fashionable disgust for America’s obsession with consumerism and wealth. On the contrary, he said blacks were sick of living on “the lonely island of poverty” and longed to wade in America’s “vast ocean of material prosperity”. Not for King any sneering at America’s promise of wealth and opportunity to its citizens — “now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children”, he said. Not for King any mocking of the founding fathers of America, who have in recent years been judged by radical Leftists to have been racist and evil (in the words of The Nation magazine just last month, Thomas Jefferson was a “slave-owning rapist”). Instead, King extolled the “magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence” and talked about all men’s “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
In the run-up to the fiftieth anniversary of King’s speech, there’s been a great deal of debate about what has changed, especially for America’s blacks. But perhaps the most sweeping, dramatic change has been in attitudes towards the very idea of America. Today, cheap anti-Americanism is the glue that holds so-called liberals and radicals together. Tapping one’s toe to the Green Day song “American Idiot” while laughing knowingly at the fallacy of the American Dream is what passes for being edgy these days. Both within and without America, many Leftish activists and serious thinkers view America as dumb, fat, polluting, reckless and unwittingly hilarious, founded by narcissists and drunks, a “greedy and overweening power”, as the New Statesman said in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.