Book Review: Malcolm X at Oxford Union by Brandon Terry

Brandon M. Terry, Harvard University

Brandon Terry

Book Review: Political Theory

A challenge confronting any attempt to revisit Malcolm X’s intellectual legacy is the need to sift through a fragmentary and often contradictory inheritance to precisely describe his thought near the end of his life. Saladin Ambar’s innovative solution to this dilemma is to recover and rely upon what he calls “the lost jewel of the American civil rights movement” (p. 33): Malcolm’s 1964 speech at the Oxford Union. In the legendary debating hall, Malcolm spoke passionately in favor of the evening’s motion, drawn ironically from Barry Goldwater’s inflammatory 1964 Republican convention speech: “Extremism in the name of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

As Ambar readily admits, Malcolm “left no legislation, no philosophical treatise, no building, no organization” (p. 168). Traditionally, therefore, scholars have focused on “The Message to the Grassroots” (1963) or “The Ballot or the Bullet” (1964) as most representative (Breitman, 1994). Ambar, however, argues that Oxford “represented the most comprehensive, best articulated, and clearest sense of [Malcolm’s] personal and political vision on the future of race relations—not only as a domestic concern, but also a global one” (Tuck, 2014, p. 33). To this interpretive claim, he appends two other major arguments.

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Perspectives on Politics / Volume 14 / Issue 01 / March 2016, pp 207-208 / Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016