With another Martin Luther King Day come and gone, we were reminded that the views of King are regarded as the model for the “civil rights movement.”
Some of this is merited, of course. King stood up to governments that used state force, via Jim Crow laws to mandate segregation and violate property rights.
Unfortunately, not all of King’s views on property and economic independence were equally enlightened.
For a start, King was no friend of markets. In , Tom Woods uncovered a speech King gave to his staff revealing his disapproval:
You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars…. [W]e are treading in difficult waters, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong… with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.
But King wasn’t working alone in the civil rights movement. While far less remembered and honored today, Malcolm X provided a far different and more radical view of how to achieve more independence and prosperity for historically disadvantaged groups.
Libertarian rapper Eric July produced an excellent video explaining Malcolm X’s philosophy when contrasted to MLK’s vision of forced integration. Malcolm X recognized the power of capitalism, and saw it as a means of advancing the community.
July highlights an interview with Eleanor Fischer in which Malcolm X called forced integration hypocritical and understood the flaws of its involuntary nature:
Well, any form of integration, forced integration, any effort to force integration upon whites is actually hypocritical. It is a form of hypocrisy involved. If a white man puts his arm around me voluntarily, that’s brotherhood. But if you hold a gun on him and make him embrace me and pretend to be friendly or brotherly toward me, then that’s not brotherhood, that’s hypocrisy. And what America is trying to do is pass laws to force whites to pretend that they want Negroes into their schools or in their places of employment. Well, this is hypocrisy, and this makes a worse relationship between black and white, rather than if this could be brought about on a voluntary basis.
He then expanded on the flaws of MLK’s forced integration strategy when the topic of the Montgomery Bus Boycott came up:
I don’t think having an opportunity to ride either at the front or the back or the middle of someone else’s bus does not dignify you. When you have your own bus, then you have dignity. When you have your own school, you have dignity. When you have own your own country, you have dignity. When you have something of your own, you have dignity.
But whenever you are begging for a chance to participate in that which belongs to someone else, or use that which belongs to someone else, on an equal basis with the owner, that’s not dignity, that’s ignorance.
Malcolm X also critiqued the sit-in strategies civil rights activists employed and insisted that blacks build their own economic institutions instead:
Instead of the negro leaders having the black man begging for a chance to dine in white restaurants, the negro leaders should be showing the black man to do something to strengthen his own economy, to give himself an independent economy, or to provide job opportunities for himself. Not begging for a cup of coffee in a white man’s restaurant.
In sum, Malcolm X was not interested in forced integration and focused his energies toward black economic self-sufficiency. It did not matter to him if blacks had to live separately from whites, as long as each community did not infringe on the rights of others.
He drew examples from the Japanese and Chinese communities in the U.S. to drive this point home:
When you are equal with another person, the problem of integration doesn’t even arise. It doesn’t come up. The Chinese in this country aren’t asking for integration. The Japanese aren’t asking for integration. The only minority in America that’s asking for integration is the so-called Negro, primarily because he is inferior, not inherently inferior, but he’s economically, socially, politically inferior. And this exists because he has never tried to stand on his own two feet and do something for himself. He has filled the role of a beggar.
For these reasons, among others, Murray Rothbard praised Malcolm X describing him as a “great black leader” and acknowledged that Malcolm X’s black nationalism was “a lot more libertarian than the compulsory integration pushed by King, the NAACP, and white liberals.”