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Socrates, MLK, and the Status Quo

September 20, 2010

If you were to ask both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Socrates whether or not they found law and government important, without question they would support the notion of government over anarchy. However, these two prolific minds did distinguish between the laws they found just and unjust and went about demonstrating their stance in rather similar fashions.

If we look at Dr. King and Socrates as the protagonists in their situations, then the governments, and perhaps ruling class as a while, are the antagonists. Like in today’s politics, there is always a large portion of the population afraid of change. Whether these people accuse Socrates of corrupting the youth or spread slander such as President Barack Obama is a foreign-born Communist Muslim, they are essentially playing the same role: attempting to preserve of the status quo. Dr. King states in a Letter from a Birmingham Jail that “Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber” in his response to Alabama clergymen (King, 3). However, what happens when this protection is not equitably distributed amongst the population? Dr. King responds to this injustice through civil disobedience, while Socrates makes a grandstanding performance in court. Both attempt to use these extreme actions to uncover the injustices so that all citizens can see the truth.

Another interesting point Dr. King mentions is that of tension. He states in his letter, “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth” (King, 3). In his instance, Whites claimed that his actions simply exacerbate problems, but in reality this tension gives the issues of segregation and equal rights immediacy and brings it to the forefront of newspapers, debates, and dinner table conversations. Without tension, issues are simply swept under the rug and the status quo remains.

Socrates also made use of this tension in The Apology. Even though his argument was contradictory and arguably nonsensical at times, the decision reached by the Athenian men was split, with only a small majority leaning toward guilty. With such a close margin, it is natural that the split decision would create tension and the people of Athens would question the verdict and the justness of the death penalty handed down to Socrates.

Work Cited:
King, Jr., Martin Luther. Letter from a Birmingham Jail. 16 Apr. 1963. The King Center, Atlanta, Georgia.

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