King evokes many of the philosophical premises that justified Gandhi in his actions, and explicitly mentions another famous social agitator -- Socrates -- in the hopes of solidifying the logical foundations of the notion of social protest.
When it comes to commitment and communication, the two can easily be displayed in the case of King through his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, where King demonstrated both his ability to communicate his message, and to undergo deplorable treatment -- through commitment -- in the name of his cause. Essentially, King believes that taking direct action is necessary, despite the possibility of conflict, to bring individuals and society as a whole to a crisis point, at which they are forced to face the truths that they have kept hidden from themselves -- either consciously or subconsciously. He writes, "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue," (King). King mentions that this social tension -- which can often turn violent -- is analogous to the abstract, mental tension that Socrates hoped to evoke in people's minds once they began to critically examine at premises that they commonly took for granted. The underlying message is clear: King believes that this sort of tension is essential to the process of uncovering the truth; and the truth, to him, is that African-Americans have been treated in a consistently immoral manner by the dominant social groups of the United States -- namely, white Americans.
However, of course, Socrates was condemned not merely for creating a sort of mental tension among those he debated with; in addition, he was charged, and ultimately executed, for supposedly generating unrest among the young and easily influenced members of Athenian society. The apparent crime that Socrates was guilty of was generating tension by questioning the elemental notions of justice, right, wrong, and questions of virtue. Of course, questioning the common conceptions of these broad notions alone was not enough to land him in prison; it was the fact that so many young and educated individuals came to listen to him, and adopt many of his basic strategies of reasoning. This threatened the status quo, and the existing social order in Athens, because, according to many, it was determined that the social structure of ancient Athens was morally wrong or unjust.
Similarly, King was attempting to bring about this same crisis in the minds of many Americans; the ultimate goal was to show them the injustice of the society in which they lived, and hopefully spur them to take action to right these grievous wrongs. It is upon these grounds that King makes the distinction between the laws of American society and philosophical conceptions of right and wrong. He explains, "A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law of the law of God," (King).
From this point-of-view, the laws made by mankind are mere mimicry of the laws of morality -- they are humankind's best attempts to put abstract notions of right and wrong into a formal and workable framework. However, as King points out, this framework, in practice, often strays very far from the moral premises that they are supposed to protect. Segregation, obviously, is a perfect example of this. The police in Birmingham, by arresting King and his followers, and restoring order, though following the letter of the law to do so, they are simultaneously violating the moral law that says the treatment of back Americans in Birmingham by whites has been wrong. Overall, King uses this distinction to great effect in pointing out why it is wrong to break some laws and a moral obligation to break others. This tactic perfectly exemplifies King's discernment as a leader: He was willing to do whatever it took to make his message to the American people. However this was tempered with the fact that the message would be most effective if he and his followers did absolutely nothing morally or legally wrong -- adhering to the laws of human rights and the constitution, that is.
Additionally, King was well-educated and well-versed in the methods that would be most effective in achieving his goals. King did not merely attempt to communicate his message of social justice, he was competent enough to learn from the experiences of Gandhi to realize that nonviolent agitation was perhaps the most dangerous, but also the most effective way to display the brutality of the world's oppressors: "King's method of militant nonviolent direct action, inspired by the achievement of Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, disrupted the segregationist order by means of marches, mass demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts and, whenever necessary, civil disobedience." (Colaiaco 71). King is regarded as being one of the central players in bringing about the eventual United States adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, even though King's individual position was one of nonviolence, he has often been criticized for the violence that surrounded his actions, and even, for deliberately provoking this violence (Colaiaco 72). Controversy surrounding Time magazine's conferring of their "man of the year" title to King in 1964, as well as his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year, emphasized this clear difficulty with the black Civil Rights movement and violence. Essentially, it was not clear that the movement could exist without violence; consequently, it was deemed highly questionable that even those who preached nonviolence truly sought its absence from the conflict.
However, the violence, as King realized, needed to go in one direction: from the oppressors to the oppressed. King realized that one of the strongest motivations for violence is fear; white America was afraid of the threat of desegregation, and it would respond accordingly. Knowing this, perhaps the most powerful leadership characteristic that Martin Luther King, Jr. exemplified was courage. But for King to be successful it was not enough for his courage to exist, it had to be seen. Americans had to see the violence of the oppressors acting on nonviolent demonstrators.
Broadly, regardless of the mode by which power is bestowed, leadership, in all situations tends to follow distinctive patterns: it occurs around an idea, it involves the relationship between the leaders and followers, it reaches beyond formal authority, it develops in times of need, it requires individual perception, and it requires application of that perception. Leadership is a complex phenomenon and can be difficult to understand, especially from the standpoint of those involved. Yet, its continual emergence in nearly all social situations suggests some natural, human necessity to find leaders, and for these leaders to validate their status.
Nevertheless, leaders of any organization must have followers, and these followers can only truly be won through trust. Similarly, an organization or group or movement that is devoted to teamwork must have trust running throughout its ranks; this will allow for shared leadership structures, and more efficient decision-making. Since leadership is event-based, it can best be applied within social situations with varying specialties and the trust to allow any one of their members to assume command should the need arise. King was a successful leader because he embodied the key qualities of a leader, but also because historical events positioned him such that he could act and his strategy would have an audience.
Still, leadership is a dynamic trait and it requires a dynamic approach to be successful. In other words, the circumstances surrounding leadership are never static -- they are always changing. Effective leadership demands real-time decision-making; a decision made at one point, sensitive to specific circumstances, may not have made sense at another time. The military, for example, requires the most expedient form of decision-making -- indecision can cost lives. Therefore, for ages humans have endorsed the practice of assigning military rank; a system where orders are to be followed without question and without hesitation. However, people are not machines. Everyone -- even in the military -- ultimately must use their own discretion to determine whether they will or will not follow an order. It is in this way that the decisions made by true leaders, such as King, have a very intimate relationship with their followers.
Basically, leaders need to make the right choices. This notion adds an additional requirement to the model of a leader: a leader must possess a heightened capacity for information processing and perception. Broadly, "A leader gains followers when he or she performs an action that influences the followers so they accept the leader's direction. In effect, the two become one of mind. Consciousness -- the capacity to process information -- is the underlying source of leadership power," (Blank 19). Even though the followers allow an individual to make decisions for them, they reserve the right to pass judgment on these decisions. This way of conceiving of leadership is in agreement with Maxwell's notion that leaders must be capable of conveying their ideas coherently…