Letters to Birmingham Analysis

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Over the course of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963), the author, Martin Luther King Jr., makes extended allusions to multiple philosophers, among them Aquinas and Socrates. His comparison would seem to indicate that he shares an affinity with them. However, the clarity with which he makes his arguments and the dedication to a single premise strikes most strongly of Kant. Just as Kant’s magnum opus, Critique of Pure Reason, attempted to completely upend a previously accepted mode of thought, so also was King’s work devoted to a single objective: the protection of civil disobedience as a form of protest such that the Civil Rights Movement could continue in uncompromised form. Despite this singularity of purpose, the complexity of the…show more content…
King says,“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.” Here he establishes a powerful example of an unjust law (how it was illegal to aid a Jewish person in Germany during Hitler’s rule), and how he would have reacted to it (giving aid to his “Jewish brothers”). This tosses the ball back into the clergymen’s court – implying that they should think about what they would have done. It is assumed that as good Christians, they would have given aid to any person in need. He draws a correlation to the atrocities committed against the Jews to the atrocities committed against African Americans in America – though on a much smaller scale, the situations can be considered similar, with unjust laws bringing about violence and deaths. King forces the clergymen to think about the morally correct course of action. Martin Luther King then justifies his fight for an “extremist” cause by providing specific examples of other historical “extremist” causes that actually brought about changes for the better. He says, “Was not Jesus an extremist for love… was not Amos an extremist for justice.. was not Paul an extremist for the
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