Cover: To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., from Harvard University PressCover: To Shape a New World in HARDCOVER

To Shape a New World

Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Sunday, July 12, at 5:00 p.m. EDT, join Brandon Terry (moderating) and fellow scholars Elizabeth Hinton, Robin D. G. Kelley, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Cornel West at the live online event “Where Do We Go From Here: A Fundraiser for Black Lives,” hosted by Harvard Book Store of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in collaboration with Boston Review. Registration is required.

On WBUR’s Radio Boston, listen to coeditor Brandon Terry discuss what the “righteousness” Dr. King taught and practiced means to today’s battles against injustice:

“Fascinating and instructive…King’s philosophy, speaking to us through the written word, may turn out to constitute his most enduring legacy.”
—Annette Gordon-Reed, New York Review of Books

Martin Luther King, Jr., may be America’s most revered political figure, commemorated in statues, celebrations, and street names around the world. On the fiftieth anniversary of King’s assassination, the man and his activism are as close to public consciousness as ever. But despite his stature, the significance of King’s writings and political thought remains underappreciated.

In To Shape a New World, Tommie Shelby and Brandon Terry write that the marginalization of King’s ideas reflects a romantic, consensus history that renders the civil rights movement inherently conservative—an effort not at radical reform but at “living up to” enduring ideals laid down by the nation’s founders. On this view, King marshaled lofty rhetoric to help redeem the ideas of universal (white) heroes, but produced little original thought. This failure to engage deeply and honestly with King’s writings allows him to be conscripted into political projects he would not endorse, including the pernicious form of “color blindness” that insists, amid glaring race-based injustice, that racism has been overcome.

Cornel West, Danielle Allen, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Gooding-Williams, and other authors join Shelby and Terry in careful, critical engagement with King’s understudied writings on labor and welfare rights, voting rights, racism, civil disobedience, nonviolence, economic inequality, poverty, love, just-war theory, virtue ethics, political theology, imperialism, nationalism, reparations, and social justice. In King’s exciting and learned work, the authors find an array of compelling challenges to some of the most pressing political dilemmas of our present, and rethink the legacy of this towering figure.

From Our Blog

Jacket: The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, by Anthony Abraham Jack, from Harvard University Press

Book Club Spotlight: The Privileged Poor

As students around the world deliberate their options for further education, only made more challenging in a pandemic, we’re reminded that getting in is only half the battle. In The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, Anthony Abraham Jack asks how—and why—do disadvantaged students struggle at elite colleges? What can schools can do differently if these students are to thrive? As back to school season begins, we spoke to two university book clubs that read and discussed The Privileged Poor this summer.