Malcolm X = John Locke
After reading Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet,” I began to think how Malcolm X’s actions and beliefs could be compared to the other philosopher’s we had studied this semester so far. Did he portray Machiavellian characteristics, MLK’s peaceful determination, Hobbes’s naturally violent, competitive spirit, or Locke’s views on peace and equality?
As I analyzed Malcolm X’s speech, I came to the realization that he used many of Locke’s ideas and reasoning. John Locke believed that we should have a sense of community and equality and that we should get what the government isn’t protecting for us through any means necessary. Malcolm X felt that the United States hadn’t given blacks the proper rights or respect that they deserved and he didn’t feel any sense of belonging. In fact, he said:
“No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver–no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”
Unlike MLK, Malcolm X didn’t believe in peaceful solutions. If someone used violence or force against him and his people, he would retaliate in the same manner. In other words, he advocated the “eye for an eye” idea. This seems more like Hobbes than Locke, since Hobbes wrote that people tend to be naturally violent. Consequently, he seems to display a Machiavellian characteristic, since it seems as if he’s willing to do whatever necessary to get what he wants (ends justify the means). Malcolm X argued that blacks in America had their rights violated by the government, therefore, they had the right to revolt against them in order to gain them back. Also, he said that representation should be done by people of that specific demographic. It makes no sense for a wealthy, white man to represent poor, black men from the ghettos, when he doesn’t know what these people need or what their lives are like. Democracy is founded on a “no taxation without representation” ideal, and the fact that African Americans had no rights went against this. Locke said that God naturally gives us a right to land and our own bodies, and that if we put labor into the land then we deserve it. Locke’s law of property provides Malcolm X with his strongest argument. Blacks were introduced to the United States against their will and had worked endlessly, under slavery, until they earned their freedom. Therefore, shouldn’t they have a right to the land as well? If so, shouldn’t the government protect their property like they do for the whites? He says:
“Well, we’re justified in seeking civil rights, if it means equality of opportunity, because all we’re doing there is trying to collect for our investment. Our mothers and fathers invested sweat and blood. Three hundred and ten years we worked in this country without a dime in return–I mean without a dime in return.”
Malcolm X said that civil rights violate human rights. In his passage about the United Nations (UN), Malcolm X says:
“But the United Nations has what’s known as the charter of human rights, it has a committee that deals in human rights. You may wonder why all of the atrocities that have been committed in Africa and in Hungary and in Asia and in Latin America are brought before the UN, and the Negro problem is never brought before the UN.”
Malcolm X says that civil rights in the United States are meant to restrict blacks’ human rights. Human rights are something you are born with, but the way society works, people are too busy worrying about civil rights to even think about their God-given human rights. Malcolm X said something along the lines of how civil rights are appealing to the very government who is holding them down. The other reason he mentioned the UN is because he compared blacks in the United States to smaller, poorer nations in the UN. Just like blacks in the United States, these poorer nations want some power and some representation. This deals with Locke’s idea of equality, where everyone should be able to have the things they need as long as it doesn’t make anyone else worse off.
Malcolm X’s speech, in my opinion, is an extreme way to revolt. Sure, violence is sometimes necessary in order to attain what we want, but I don’t think total separation, like he proposed, was the answer to ending segregation, but would rather make it worse. I respect what Malcolm X did, and I think it’s better that he followed Locke’s ideas instead of Hobbes’s or Machiavelli’s violent beliefs. Regardless of his approach, Malcolm X’s courage and determination turned him into a martyr, being one of the most influential African Americans in our nation’s history.