Liberation as Process
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Liberation Activism as Inspiration for Omni-Inclusivity
The process of liberation is a movement toward greater diversity, interiority, and communion. At the social level, liberation celebrates differences and dialogue while renouncing monoculture. Liberation’s method recognizes spirituality and relationality, both of which can deepen through humanity’s conscious participation. Today, we see the liberation process in movements for social justice, animal rights, and climate activism, among others. In this article, I interpret Martin Luther King Jr.’s worldview and influence during the 1960s through the lens of integral philosophy, as recently expanded by the new political philosophy of post-progressivism. I critically examine how King’s example can inform cultural intelligence in liberation activism today.
Through a post-progressive philosophical lens, Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1960s civil rights movements reveal cultural evolution’s complexities, beginning with modernity’s reliance on traditional morality. King was a married black minister who upheld the value of women and their place in the home. He demonstrated his enculturation into “the well-established or deeply entrenched gender hierarchy in the black church and at other levels of black society” by maintaining a solid stance of patriarchy in his speech and actions. The civil rights movements of the 1960s, with which King is culturally associated, strived for modernist rights for every individual, regardless of race or social status. King attempted to remedy the ethnocentric shortcomings of traditionalist Christianity and gain modernist rights initially for blacks, then all people of color, and finally all poor people.
While progressivism’s new layer of moral concern is deeply sensitive to the perceived victims of modernism, the progressive worldview does not recognize the ongoing necessity of the traditional and modernist worldviews upon which it has evolved.
King’s success in civil rights activism began with his language of shared Christian values. King was a preacher in a lineage of preachers, and ‘’his rhetoric effortlessly identified the aspirations of African Americans with mainline Christianity and liberal political ideals.” The media shared the homiletics of his public speeches that reflected “the same worldview and ethos to which white Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians had long been accustomed…His manner of speech reflected the cadences and phrasing of the King James Version of the Bible.” This shared sacred worldview allowed diverse audiences to hear King’s words receptively and interpret them according to their specific context. As a result, King’s speeches in the civil rights struggle aligned values across black and white audiences, providing momentum to the process of liberation. Some people, however, critique MLK Jr. for not lending his voice directly to the liberation of women. How is it possible, then, that he is one of the heroic figures of progressivism? As shown by history, liberation movements evolve along with the cultural worldviews that precipitate them.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968, prevented him from taking direct action in women’s liberation alongside blacks, all people of color, and the poor. The women’s rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s built on the civil rights movement by extending modernist rights to every individual regardless of sex. Today, the liberation movement’s historical progression continues to gain ground in the LGBTQ community, and as BIPOC communities now take center stage. This evident dialectical pattern also leads toward “campaigns, already underway, for the liberation of animals, and then for the sustainability of the Earth itself.” Liberation’s telos toward greater diversity, interiority, and communion is evident in its victories over time, but the progressive worldview is anything but satisfied.
The progressive worldview has become hypercritical of modernity. Progressives cite the West’s failings, including slavery and colonialism, destruction of indigenous peoples, exploitation of workers, and environmental degradation. While progressivism’s new layer of moral concern is deeply sensitive to the perceived victims of modernism, the progressive worldview does not recognize the ongoing necessity of the traditional and modernist worldviews upon which it has evolved. Instead, progressivism calls for the negation or cancellation of traditional and modernist values. As summarized by Josh Leonard in Progressive Inclusivity is Not Enough, the focus on externally observable and objective traits provides broad inclusivity across diverse exteriors while missing the opportunity to find unity and the resonance of shared values within our varied interiors.
The post-progressive omni-inclusive approach to politics and culture proposes a system of values integration that transcends and includes the positive values of traditionalism, modernism, and progressivism while leaving each worldview’s pathologies behind. King’s worldview was interrelational and cosmocentric, while his direct action reflected the human consciousness structures active during his life. As the process of liberation continues to move toward greater diversity, interiority, and communion, it necessitates a new omni-inclusive worldview to move beyond progressivism’s negation. King identified the birth of the progressive value structure while still upholding traditionalism and modernism. In his final sermon, he said, “I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.” Today, we can uphold the positive value structures of traditionalism, modernism, and progressivism by practicing the pluralistic inclusion of an omni-inclusive post-progressive vision.
Post-progressivism advances its goals through “philosophical activism,” and Dr. King, who was a philosopher before he was an activist, is an early example of the power of this approach. Having studied Hegel, King was committed to dialectical thinking, which informed his perception of history and his strategies as a freedom activist. His thinking is reflected in the four basic steps of a nonviolent campaign, outlined in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail in 1963: “(1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, (2) negotiation, (3) self-purification, and (4) direct action.”
Robert Birt captures King’s progression along the evolutionary spiral of worldviews when he writes, “in the post-1965 period, King as a dialectician becomes more Hegelian, approximating a dialectics of negation in the practice of a more radical opposition to the status quo.” The liberatory process moved King’s moral center of gravity beyond his race and nation to active participation in the emergence of the new communitarian ethos of progressive postmodernism.
By actively fighting the values of the worldviews that preceded it, progressivism is ignoring the success of King’s nonviolent philosophy, and actively inflaming the culture war that prevents its political success.
King’s final sermon brought a sense of time’s evolution and world awareness to his audience while upholding the value structures of each dialectical turn in the spiral of human consciousness’s evolution. King, therefore, effectively foreshadowed the emergence of the post-progressive worldview. His legacy invites us to follow his nonviolent campaign steps; after collecting facts and negotiating comes self-purification. Self-purification for today’s liberation activists should include the recognition that “within every domain of development, evolution grows from within itself as each new level of emergent novelty transcends and includes the levels of development that proceeded it.”
Lacking this key insight into the actual nature of human progress, progressivism has become its own most significant stumbling block towards the liberation of oppressed peoples, animals, and our planet. By actively fighting the values of the worldviews that preceded it, progressivism is ignoring the success of King’s nonviolent philosophy, and actively inflaming the culture war that prevents its political success. In response to progressivism’s limitations, the post-progressive integral worldview will increasingly become active in the world as progressive postmodernists make the dialectical turn from antithesis/negation to synthesis/integration, thereby allowing their longing for liberation to be realized.
As the social construct of race continues to disrupt the American landscape, I will be considering the perspectives of Greg Thomas in Culture vs. Race: A Polemical Take. Thomas’s writing is a masterful example of omni-inclusivity that offers reconciliation and integration of progressive values with mainstream modernity and religious traditionalism. Martin Luther King Jr. has provided an example of what a shared language of values can do to accelerate the process of liberation. By evolving from the concept of “fighting the system” to a more inclusive idea that instead sees an ongoing process of liberation, we can eventually transcend race, thereby gaining ground towards America’s founding ideals of equality.
 Mark Hathaway and Leonardo Boff, The Tao of Liberation: Exploring the Ecology of Transformation (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2009), 292.
 Crystal A. DeGregory and Lewis V. Baldwin, “Sexism in the World House: Women and the Global Vision of Martin Luther King Jr.,” edited by Vicki L. Crawford and Lewis V. Baldwin, 107-29 in Reclaiming the Great World House: The Global Vision of Martin Luther King Jr. (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2019), 120.
 Richard Lischer, The Preacher King: Martin Luther King, Jr. And the Word That Moved America (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), 145.
 Lischer, The Preacher King, 146.
 Robert McDermott, Steiner and Kindred Spirits (Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks, 2015), 256-257.
 Drew Dellinger, “Martin Luther King Jr: Ecological Thinker,” in Common Ground Magazine, April 2014. https://drewdellinger.org/martin-luther-king-jr-ecological-thinker/
 Martin Luther King Jr., “I See the Promised Land,” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by James M. Washington, 279-86 (New York, New York: HarperCollins, 1986/1991), 280.
 Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by James M. Washington, 289-302 (New York, New York: HarperCollins, 1986/1991), 290.
 Robert E. Birt, The Liberatory Thought of Martin Luther King Jr.: Critical Essays on the Philosopher King . (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2012), 6.
 Steve McIntosh, Developmental Politics: How America Can Grow into a Better Version of Itself (St. Paul, Minnesota: Paragon House, 2020), 53.
 McIntosh, Developmental Politics, 106.
I learned of “diversity, interiority, and communion” from Thomas Berry; did he learn it from someone else?