Monday, January 17, 2011

The Quest for Peace and Justice

To commemorate this year's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here is a passage from Dr. King's Nobel Lecture, "The Quest for Peace and Justice," that he delivered on December 11, 1964 upon receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize:

There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.

Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau: "Improved means to an unimproved end". This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual "lag" must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the "without" of man's nature subjugates the "within", dark storm clouds begin to form in the world.

This problem of spiritual and moral lag, which constitutes modern man's chief dilemma, expresses itself in three larger problems which grow out of man's ethical infantilism. Each of these problems, while appearing to be separate and isolated, is inextricably bound to the other. I refer to racial injustice, poverty, and war.
The entire speech, along with numerous related documents, can be read on the Nobel Foundation's web site. It is noted there that King's lecture was not printed in its entirety when first reported in the New York Times, but was instead excerpted.

Documentation for all Nobel Peace Prize winners, as well as laureates in all fields, can also be found on the Foundation's site. President Obama, the Peace Prize winner in 2009, cited King among others in his Nobel Lecture entitled, "A Just and Lasting Peace." The text and video for Obama's lecture are both available online. Liu Xiaobo, the Peace Prize winner in 2010, is imprisoned by the Chinese government and did not attend last month's ceremonies. The Nobel site does, however, contain the text of Liu's document, "I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement."

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