A Revolution of Values


Here’s an excerpt from MLK’s speech “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam,” a speech which seems to me, with every passing day, to have more and more meaning for our times. The whole thing is worth listening to or reading of course, but I think of the first four minutes here as the highlight.

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.”

It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say, “This is not just.”

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.”

This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries.

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind.”

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  1. Doug Gibson says:

    What makes this most significant for me is the way in which King here reminds us that America’s progressive streak is based on certain native and universally-recognized values, values that we have a hard time these days naming, let alone practicing.

    What’s worse, the progressive blogosphere, after a decade in which it made concrete progress defining itself in opposition to American authoritarianism and American oligarchy, seems unable to integrate these values into its rhetoric.

    How many times during the health care debate did we hear progressives – and don’t get me started on Democrats in general – say, “it is unjust to force millions of Americans to choose between impoverishment on the one hand and illness and insecurity on the other”?

    How many times in the discussion over “austerity” have we heard a blogger say that the principle of equality demands that anyone who works – or is willing to work – a full-time job deserves an economic system that goes to the same lengths to guarantee her a decent life that it does to underwrite the billionaires that gamble for profit?

    And how many times in the debates over what we’re doing in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen-and what we might potentially do in Iran-have we heard a lefty blogger say that peace is itself an absolute and uncompromising demand, and that while self-defense may sometimes delay peace, mere arrogance and the scrabble for empire should never do so?

    We have all sorts of intelligent people saying that the American left needs to get better at messaging. I don’t disagree, but I don’t think that’s our first task. We will never speak loudly enough or eloquently enough to convince anyone of our positions until we know clearly and concretely what positive vision we stand for. And we cannot see that until we can name the principles on which that vision is founded.

    Against militarism, racism, and economic exploitation, MLK spoke out for peace, equality, and justice – each of which is only a variety of “all-embracing, unconditional love.” There are other varieties, other names for that love that may seem more apt as circumstances change, but for the past 50 years love has been the only force capable of moving our country forward in any significant way. All of us who read and write and comment need to remember that, and remember that love is an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind.

  2. shadmarsh says:

    thank you for this comment, for its exactness and eloquence.

  3. D.Dial says:

    One can hope that King’s observations would become fact….but it’s not happening at this time….40 + years after this speech.

    “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.”

    Looks to be the nature of the beast.

  4. Diogenes says:


    not everyone “[has] a hard time these days naming [values]… Americans are too undisciplined, too heavily armed, and too deeply programmed in melodramatic vengeance to notice that some political parties may actually be made up of non-morons with something besides holy retribution on their minds.

    To wit:
    The Green Party – Ten Key Values


    Every human being deserves a say in the decisions that affect their lives and not be subject to the will of another. Therefore, we will work to increase public participation at every level of government and to ensure that our public representatives are fully accountable to the people who elect them. We will also work to create new types of political organizations which expand the process of participatory democracy by directly including citizens in the decision-making process.


    All persons should have the rights and opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, barriers such as racism and class oppression, sexism and homophobia, ageism and disability, which act to deny fair treatment and equal justice under the law.


    Human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature, not separate from nature. We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. We support a sustainable society which utilizes resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation. To this end we must practice agriculture which replenishes the soil; move to an energy efficient economy; and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems.


    It is essential that we develop effective alternatives to society’s current patterns of violence. We will work to demilitarize, and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, without being naive about the intentions of other governments.

    We recognize the need for self-defense and the defense of others who are in helpless situations. We promote non-violent methods to oppose practices and policies with which we disagree, and will guide our actions toward lasting personal, community and global peace.


    Centralization of wealth and power contributes to social and economic injustice, environmental destruction, and militarization. Therefore, we support a restructuring of social, political and economic institutions away from a system which is controlled by and mostly benefits the powerful few, to a democratic, less bureaucratic system. Decision-making should, as much as possible, remain at the individual and local level, while assuring that civil rights are protected for all citizens.


    We recognize it is essential to create a vibrant and sustainable economic system, one that can create jobs and provide a decent standard of living for all people while maintaining a healthy ecological balance. A successful economic system will offer meaningful work with dignity, while paying a “living wage” which reflects the real value of a person’s work.

    Local communities must look to economic development that assures protection of the environment and workers’ rights; broad citizen participation in planning; and enhancement of our “quality of life”. We support independently owned and operated companies which are socially responsible, as well as co-operatives and public enterprises that distribute resources and control to more people through democratic participation.


    We have inherited a social system based on male domination of politics and economics. We call for the replacement of the cultural ethics of domination and control with more cooperative ways of interacting that respect differences of opinion and gender. Human values such as equity between the sexes, interpersonal responsibility, and honesty must be developed with moral conscience. We should remember that the process that determines our decisions and actions is just as important as achieving the outcome we want.


    We believe it is important to value cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity, and to promote the development of respectful relationships across these lines. We believe that the many diverse elements of society should be reflected in our organizations and decision-making bodies, and we support the leadership of people who have been traditionally closed out of leadership roles. We acknowledge and encourage respect for other life forms than our own and the preservation of biodiversity.


    We encourage individuals to act to improve their personal well-being and, at the same time, to enhance ecological balance and social harmony. We seek to join with people and organizations around the world to foster peace, economic justice, and the health of the planet.


    Our actions and policies should be motivated by long-term goals. We seek to protect valuable natural resources, safely disposing of or “unmaking” all waste we create, while developing a sustainable economics that does not depend on continual expansion for survival. We must counterbalance the drive for short-term profits by assuring that economic development, new technologies, and fiscal policies are responsible to future generations who will inherit the results of our actions.

  5. Doug Gibson says:

    Thanks, Shad. I am obliged to point out that just below this thread on the front page, a progressive blogger has written an entire post about equality.

  6. shadmarsh says:

    I don’t read progressive bloggers, they make me itchy.

  7. Doug Gibson says:


    I never said that progressive Democrats didn’t espouse many of the values that MLK – and the Green Party – espouse. I would say, however, that they do so privately, and then fill the airwaves with discussions of policy.

    I got an e-mail from the Obama organization today listing all the wonderful accomplishments contained in the health care bill. It was implied that expanding coverage for everyone was the right thing to do, but left out of the discussion was any assertion of health care as a right. And that’s where I would say the problem lies.

  8. TJ says:

    “remember that love is an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind.”

    I would agree with this. I would add “reason.”
    I don’t mean that in the sense of excuses, etc. Rather, I see one of the top reasons we feel change is slow is that a large segment of our society has abdicated their sense of reason to those whom have none or whom choose to use their reason to overpower others. Many would choose to feel comfortable, rather than step out and be the voice of reason in the sea of unreasonable verbage. It takes no less courage than standing up to the bully in grade school(which, BTW, it is “no-name calling” week, addressing the issue of bullying/we could learn a good bit from our kids).
    I’m glad to have found the hooligan’s here whom don’t mind speaking up. It’s refreshing.