As I study the history of the United States of America, one fact that jumps right off the page is the idea that America is founded on a moral struggle; it is founded in moral arguments and an ardent willingness to act accordingly to defend such ideals. Indeed a select few Americans have taken on the Enlightenment project to look at the world–and not just sit and accept one’s place in it–but to look at the world as it is with all its pockmarks and blemishes and injustices and strive make it a better place. Such folks had the audacity of spirit and the confidence of mind know and strive for what should be. In doing so they, brought about emancipatory change to the United States of America.

Those of us who love liberty would be remiss if we did not learn from such men and women and thank them for doing the hard work of bringing an end to the past manifestations of overt violence and systematic oppression by the historically privileged.

That being said, there is still much to do.

As Frederick Douglass remarked,

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. … If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.[1]

As we have had moral arguments over our actions as a nation,  for every good moral argument there are others that end up being atrocities in and of themselves, e.g. we can point to the racist arguments surrounding the slave trade and the civil rights movement in general. Supposedly learned but certainly “popularly sovereign” and domineering men showed themselves to be not only racists but also tyrants no better than brigands on the high sea, as they argued, “natural law shows that certain races are superior and certain races are inferior.” Thankfully, others who were abolitionists at the time engaged their racist counterparts and said, “no, natural law demands that you see that all people are created equal!”

I want to jump in on this second, abolitionist argument from natural law: the idea that human beings are inherently equal in the sense that we share a common human existence. We might have different abilities. We might have different cultures, genders, races, and personal experiences. We have all sorts of different backgrounds. But in spite of these differences, we share a common human existence, a common ability to love, and a common set of uniquely human questions: where are we going? Why do we love our lives? What do we think ought to happen?

In my mind, to live out a love-based existence and answer these basic human questions with honesty and fervor is to take up that arduous Enlightenment charge of making the world a better place not only for a select few but all born-free individuals. But before we can enter the fray of the struggle, we must be willing to see the injustices of the world beyond our own stations. There are many people in this world who face hardships I cannot begin to fathom but who still deserve my empathy, respect, and courage of action.

In 2013, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I don’t want to share any words from that particular speech or from the commemoration. Though much good was said and many of the attendees probably know and understand Dr. King better than I, I still found the event to be lacking in the radical spirit it was supposed to honor. I tend to agree with Dr. Cornel West that we need to beware of the Santa Clausification of radical leaders who challenged the status quo because of a “fundamental commitment to love and to justice and trying to keep track of the humanity of each and every one of us.”[2]

That being said, I rather focus in on some words from “An Experiment With Love” Dr. King used when he was discussing love in the context of non-violent resistance. In particular, he speaks about agape love.

“Agape,” according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “is disinterested love. It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good but the good of his neighbor. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving other for their sakes. It is an entirely neighbor regarding concern for others which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friends and enemy. It is directed toward both. If one loves an individual merely on account of his friendliness, he loves him for the sake of the benefits to be gained from the friendship rather than for the friend’s own sake. Consequently, the best way to assure oneself that love is disinterested is to have love for the enemy-neighbor from whom you can expect no good in return, but only hostility and persecution.”[3]

Now, in the setting of the 1960’s Jim Crow South and more generally in the setting of a non-violent or defensive resistance to tyranny, agape love  is what changes the world. Agape truly is a love that seeks understanding. It is a creative, redemptive sense of good will. It is a love that seeks a positive peace between human beings race, station, or culture. Traditionally, agape is attributed to a God almighty and is called divine love.

For now, allow me to focus on the idea that agape begins by loving others for their sakes.

In the context of non-violent or defensive resistance, such an other-regarding idea is a profound and powerful idea proven in praxis: one great testament being the action of those men and women who stood together against the vehement racists of Alabama and essential said to these tyrants who treated them less than human, “though you don’t extend it to me, I believe you are a human being who is worthy of love.”

But what happens when you start to enforce agape not through non-violent or defensive resistance to tyranny but through the aggressive political force of the State? What happens when a tyrant takes up the mantle of divine agape love to help further his own ends? More so, what if it is not just a tyrant? What if a whole society, not understanding the true roots of agape love in non-violence, takes up the mantle of “loving people for their sake” without respecting their equality and individual right to life, liberty, and property?

If agape is not rooted in non-violence or at least defensive violence, then you will have all sorts of people coming to you, saying, “I do this not because you personally enjoy it, not because you think you will benefit from it, but because I love you, know what’s best for you, and I’m willing to force it upon you. It’s for your own good; for your own sake,” and they say this to you as you feel the legal equivalent of a gun in the small of your back. This is the essence of the world’s worse tyrannies, including that of the Jim Crow South’s white supremacists: hatred, domination, oppression, and exploitation masquerading as love and justice.

So what if a people take up this perverted version of agape love and commission their government to enforce it?

Then you will have a government not “of” or “by” the people (something which has never existed!) you will have a government simply “for” the people; a government that does not provide good will between fellows or foster a positive peace or any semblance of human justice.

You will, instead, have a government that sows division in the name of cooperation. You will have a government that tells people it must save them from themselves in the name of empowerment. You will have a government that claims “no one is above the law” while it makes laws and stands above them. You will have a government spreading war claiming its for the sake of peace and committed to calling its restrictions on freedom “personal responsibilities” as it blames liberty for the ills of the world.

If a people took up this perverted version of agape love, I fear they would see exactly what we are seeing come to pass today.

Thus, let us not stumble in our task to further the mantle of liberty in opposition to the violence of the those who wield power and privilege in the name of love by showing them what love lived in liberty.

Let us look for and make right the everyday injustices in our local communities. Let us look for voluntary, market solutions to these human problems. Let us build a future founded upon the equality of all persons. Let us yearn for justice, burn for peace, and render a renaissance of non-violent resistance to tyranny through the veracity of our action and the foresight of our judgment to know and stand for what is morally right here-and-now in order to bring about a freer and happier tomorrow.




[3] King, Martin Luther,  Jr., “An Experiment in Love”; A testament of hope: the essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., pp. 19