Socrates: My dear friend from the future, how pleased I am to meet you! I know you are famous in your country and around the world. I know you are struggling to make people’s lives better, so I think you have suffered a lot. I know it from my own experience…
Martin Luther King: Oh, good day to you, my teacher! I am very happy I can talk to you at last. You know, I have read many works of your pupils, and I know what a wise person you are. What is more, you are famous in our days, too!
Socrates: I am pleased to hear that, but how can it be? Is the world now perfect, everybody lives in peace and harmony and you do not forget your ancestors?
Martin Luther King: Not exactly… Yes, we remember you, my teacher, as well as our great thinkers. But as for society, nothing has changed much. We have the same problems that you had, justice and injustice are very close in our country. So we are struggling to teach people live in harmony, respecting laws, but what a pity people do not learn from the past!
Socrates: Your words make me sad, my friend… I did hope that people have learned something from my death. I know that is not much for the world, but I think that people know that obedience to law is essential for the common good. But I know that people today still struggle for their rights, and this fight have become even more severe.
Martin Luther King: Yes, someone has to carry the gospel of freedom just like you did, and like did Jesus Christ. And I am trying to make my humble contribution to this affair.
Socrates: Sounds interesting… In my days I used to teach people what I had learned from life. I had a lot of followers, by the way. I know that it is important to be an example for people, to keep your morals high, than you will be able to persuade people that your values are true.
Martin Luther King: I agree with you, my wise teacher. But in my days being a wise man is not enough to bring some important positive changes in life, and obeying laws does not always mean good to people.
Socrates: But isn’t law “the correct judgment of the state”? And don’t you have to obey laws, because they are just?
Martin Luther King: In all times there is a human factor, which we cannot overpass. And if some laws are unjust, our duty is to help people understand it.
Socrates: Yes, I admit it, my friend. You should go and tell people that they are mistaken. People are just people, and they sometimes make mistakes. So, what do you do to make the world better?
Martin Luther King: Well, we have been waiting for long for “our God-given rights”, but now it is enough. You can wait forever, and the government will not pay attention to your needs. So now, “when the cup of endurance runs over”, we have started meetings, marches and demonstrations in order to make the government improve our laws. We do not commit violence, but if we do not act nothing will change considerably.
Socrates: But aren’t demonstrations against the law? Do not they harm the city you live in? “One must obey the commands of one’s city and country, or persuade it as to the nature of justice”.
Martin Luther King: You are right, my teacher. But sometimes injustice flourishes not only inside a community or a city. Today injustice is visible all over my big country, not only here. Segregation is an everyday issue in my country, and something must be done about it, something visible. You know, that unjust law cannot be called law at all, so we should not obey such laws.
Socrates: Oh, my friend, segregation is humiliation of the citizens’ rights! People should obey laws and show respect for the country they live in, but what to do if the country shows no respect for its citizens? Only moral law is a law, and if your laws are not like this, you should do your best to help create better laws, which are just and the same for everybody.
Martin Luther King: That is exactly what I mean, my teacher. You said tension should be created in people’s minds, so that they would be able to see the things objectively and analyze what is going on around them, “… so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood”.
Socrates: Good words, my friend! I know what it means to be in jail. I myself was accused of “corrupting the young and not believing in the gods whom the city believes.” What was your case?
Martin Luther King: Oh, I have resolved to parade without permission…But it is just a pretext, you know! But I was not surprised because of it, as many men in power are “segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo”. So what am I to expect, when I am trying to prove that our laws are unjust, and “a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself”. And this is what they call law!
Socrates: Yes, my friend, a law can be called a law only if everybody is equal before it. You cannot have any harmony and understanding in society if some people are considered better than others and have more rights… Laws are made by people, and people can sometimes make mistakes about what is in fact just.
Martin Luther King: “Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application”. You know, what Hitler did was legal and lawful in his country.
Socrates: That is an awful and vivid example of how deeply people can be mistaken…
Martin Luther King: You see, my teacher, so if even such an innocent act as a demonstration was considered a crime, what can we do to protect people from disgusting effects of segregation? This cannot last for long, and positive changes are on the way, we should just not give up.
Socrates: Yes, my friend, I support you with all my heart. A law is not a law if it is against human nature, so I admit a responsible person like you can break such a law in order to make the world better and bring harmony in your country.
Martin Luther King: Thank you, my dearest teacher. I know I am moving the right way, and one day all citizens of my country will have just laws and equal rights.
Martin Luther King, Martin Luther. “Letter From Birmingham Jail”. The Martin Luther Martin Luther King, Research and Educational Institute. Web. 21 July 2010.
Plato. Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. G.M.A. Grube, trans. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 1981.