Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government


Peter C. Myers

Friday, February 9, 2018 – 3:00 PM

Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

“Civil Rights and the Longing for Total Revolution”

Summary:   The now-revered leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr., characterized the movement as the third and greatest American revolution, and so it endures in American memory. We think of it as 20th-century America’s Glorious Revolution—glorious because of its commitment to nonviolence and because it aimed at the fulfillment of the nation’s original promise of equal liberty for all.  A successful revolution, however, is a rare and difficult achievement. As King observed, it requires that its participants be both, or in quick succession, “militant and moderate.” A revolutionary upheaval must prepare the founding of a new regime of ordered liberty, but the promise of glory in the action of rising against injustice tends to expand and perpetuate the revolutionary spirit and thus to stifle the voice of moderation. Amid present-day calls for a new or revitalized civil rights movement, we would do well to heed this lesson from the movement of a half-century ago.

Peter C. Myers is Professor of Political Science, specializing in political philosophy and U.S. constitutional law, at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is also Visiting Graduate faculty member in the Masters in American History and Government program at Ashland University, and he was 2016-17 Visiting Fellow in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation. Professor Myers is the author of two books: Our Only Star and Compass: Locke on the Struggle for Political Rationality (1998) and Frederick Douglass: Race and the Rebirth of American Liberalism (2008). He has published articles, chapters, and book reviews in the fields of liberal political philosophy, American literature, and American political thought. He is currently researching a book on race and the first principles of the American Republic.