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Sample essay on Western Philosophy

By Nancy McNally

Readings by Alexis de Toqueville “Present and Future Condition of the Negroes”, Frederick Douglass “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, Martin Luther King “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” provide historical information on the abuse of human and civil rights that the humankind encountered for nearly 170 years after the ratification of the Constitution of the country. In my opinion, all the readings mentioned above have made a tangible contribution to the development of a society and consequently are to be studied.

Western-philosophyAccording to Toqueville, an absolute democracy is not all that people can find in America as “the inhabitants of the New World may be considered from more than one point of view.” (Toqueville, Chapter XVIII, 1835) In fact, “the Negro of the United States” has lost the very remembrance of his country; the language which his ancestors spoke is never heard around him; he shunned their religion and forgot their customs as he stopped belonging to Africa, “without acquiring any claim to European privileges.” (Toqueville, Chapter XVIII, 1835) Moreover, the Negro enters upon slavery as soon as he is born: “he may have been purchased in the womb” (Toqueville, Chapter XVIII, 1835), in other words, he had begun his slavery before he began his existence. Devoid of any kind of enjoyment, a Negro accepts his fate of being a constant property of someone else. To sum up, Tocqueville’s work captured the essence of American culture and values and explained why America developed and has matured into its present state. Therefore, I consider “Present and Future Condition of the Negroes” to be of particular value for us and our future generations.

In his “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Douglass was exasperated by the current state of slavery in the country. In his rage he wrote: “in glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenceless, and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation.” (Douglass 1852) He admired those brave ancestors who had the courage to fight till the last drop of their blood, in other words, Douglass glorified those heroes whose deeds and feats should always be remembered because of the tremendous impact that they had made on the society. I believe that Douglass’ work awoke a great amount of patriotism and confidence among people. Had this paper not been written, national heroes like Roosevelt or Martin Luther King wouldn’t have sacrificed all they could for their native country.

“Letter from Birmingham Jail”, was written on April 16, 1963 by Martin Luther King, Jr., after a peaceful protest against segregation. In fact, the following letter is a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen on April 12, 1963 titled “A Call For Unity” which agreed that social injustices were taking place yet expressed the belief that the battle against racial segregation should be fought only in the courts and not taken onto the streets. King maintained that, without forceful and direct actions such as his courageous claims, true civil rights could never be achieved. He said that “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.'” (King 1963) Not only was civil disobedience justified in the face of unjust laws, but also there was moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. This is what King was unable to bear. He proclaimed: “We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that justice too long delayed is justice denied.” (King 1963)

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” also challenged the problem of slavery and equality of the black people. Although about a hundred years elapsed, Martin Luther King was frustrated that the black people are still not free. “One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” (King 1963) There’s no doubt that inequality of African Americans was a burning issue for King. That’s why he felt so strong and passionate about those underprivileged blacks. That’s why he had a dream that one day the nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (King 1963) One cannot deny that the influence of King’s speeches was immense and that these rhetorical works will always be preserved in the nation’s memory as an epitome of courage and determination.

Thirty-one years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., in his “Race and Responsibility” Shelby Steele tries to explain why King’s dream remains unfulfilled. As far as I’m concerned, the so-called white self-preoccupation has turned out to be the main obstacle to the freedom that the blacks won for themselves in the civil rights era. Steele described the society in which blacks had to learn to live in greater freedom. However, a society of whites truly doesn’t need to feel largely responsible for the advancement of African Americans in order to win its own ransom. “Black America is saddled with a leadership that constantly argues the helplessness and weakness of its own people in order ‘to keep whites on the hook.’” (Steele 1999) Yet, I do not view Black America in such a way. Even though Steele believed that King’s views were radical, I think that after King’s far-reaching speeches African Americans were able assume their responsibility and role in today’s society.

According to Friedman, “one child is born blind, another with sight. One child has parents deeply concerned about his welfare who provide a background of culture and understanding, another has dissolute, improvident parents. Children at birth clearly do not have identical opportunities in relation to abilities or environment.” (Milton and Rose Friedman, 1980) However, I consider that equality of opportunity in terms of identical opportunity for all individuals is possible. Everyone regardless of birth, nationality, color, religion, sex or any other equivalent characteristic has the right to live his or her life to the fullest. What is more, equality of opportunity and freedom are two sides of the very basic concept. In my opinion, equality of opportunity means freedom to pursue one’s own interest or vocation without any restrictions based on irrelevant personal characteristics.

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