Letter from a Birmingham jail: The rules for society?

December 15, 2011

Political Theory


While reading this letter, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau’s theories on Social Contracts and Communities. MLK Jr. indirectly outlines the unspoken rules of society in relation to the racial injustices in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Dr. King talks of citizenship in America as membership to a society reminiscent of Hobbes’ commonwealth. Dr. King says, “we readily consented, and when the hour cam we lived up to our promise.” This is what being a part, member, active, or citizen of a community is all about: making and keeping our promises.

As a student, I promised to go to class, do my work and take exams. As a member of a sorority, I promised to be a loyal, helpful, and dependable friend to all of my sisters. In a marriage, both promise to be faithful, devoted and honest “as long as [they] both shall live.” In each of these situations promises are made and (hopefully) kept. Promises are the foundation of our society and the relationships we keep. No matter what, everyone is a part of some sort of  relationship, community or contract.

As American citizens we promise to be devoted to our nation, respectful to our environment and fair to our fellow compatriots. In the wise words of Dr. King, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

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One Comment on “Letter from a Birmingham jail: The rules for society?”

  1. evanhw Says:

    MLK Jr. is probably the best example of someone who reevaluated their social contract. Because injustice and discrimination were so prevalent during up until the late 60’s, MLK took the initiative to rewrite the social contract for African Americans. There was essentially no liberty or protection given to African Americans before the Civil Rights Act and therefor something had to be done. At that point in time, MLK had organized the largest movement against an unfair social contract. Equality of civil rights was the focus and it wasn’t until 1964 that a new social contract was written for African Americans.