When someone changes the world for the better, everyone loves to try and hang their labels around them. The Democrats like to try and take credit for Martin Luther King Jr because of his support for John F. Kennedy. The Republicans try to say that Martin Luther King Jr was one of them because his daughter, a Republican activist, claims he was. They each try to use MLK quotes to their advantage.
However, neither of those offer substantial evidence of MLK’s party choice. In reality, he was non-partisan and never publicly supported a candidate of either party. Martin Luther King Jr was not a Republican, nor was he a Democrat.
Now, just because he wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat does not mean that Martin Luther King Jr was a libertarian by default. King was a very complex man who held political beliefs on all sides of the spectrum. He did, however, hold a few very important libertarian positions.
The first of which is exemplified in the famous quote:
“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”
Martin Luther King Jr was a strong believer in civil disobedience and disobeying unjust laws. That belief was the starting point for every one of his marches and demonstrations. Libertarians today hold that an unjust law is no law at all as we believe in natural law and natural rights. The government cannot simply pass laws that take away our natural rights and those laws should not be obeyed if they are passed.
The other base for Martin Luther King Jr’s protests and speeches was his strict belief that they should be non-violent. He rightfully understood that he would never achieve his goals through force. Libertarians believe in the non-aggression principle that states aggression against another’s property is inherently illegitimate. The most important property of all is our own bodies and therefore violence against another person is the worst form of violence. Martin Luther King Jr agreed with that sentiment and consistently preached non-violent methods of protest.
Another area where Martin Luther King Jr was a libertarian was in foreign policy and his famous opposition to the Vietnam War. King saw the dangers of American imperialism abroad and the threat to freedom that it posed at home as well.
Although Martin Luther King Jr was a strong believer in natural rights, non-violence, and sincerely anti-war, he was not a libertarian. Martin Luther King Jr could best be described as a social democrat or someone that wanted a large welfare state, heavily regulated capitalism, as well as civil liberties and natural rights being protected. King even called for restitution at one point. Using the government to steal from some people to give other people money isn’t libertarian in any way, shape, or form. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
That said, Martin Luther King Jr did not have the impact he had on the 20th century and civil rights because of those beliefs. It was his dedication to human freedom, his libertarian side, that won him the support and respect of millions. Martin Luther King Jr believed in individual, natural rights that transcended government and man’s unjust laws and that’s what he’ll be remembered for.