The Walls of Jericho

Brass Tacks

Amid the bombast of demagogues and the protests of mothers, some potential moderates are hoping to translate the integration battle into a more general social conflict. Vague fears and noisy rhetoric have identified the desegregation process with other ideological issues, for men who otherwise would have gracefully acquiesced. Thus certain natives of border states, having quietly accepted integration in their own communities, devote themselves to their neighbors' resistance efforts.

While most Southern politicians talk about states' rights and the threat of Communism to mask with more high-toned prejudices their own ambitious use of popular bigotry, some Southerners do not consider these issues entirely rhetorical. They fear big government and the status revolution which accompanies its growth. They sense a creeping commonality which threatens customary moral standards and seems to derogate the supreme values of privacy and personal autonomy.

Such an enemy is elusive, however, and it is tempting to oversimplify its agencies, seeking a ground on which organized resistance is possible. Like Ahab, these idealists want to grapple with a symbolic embodiment of pervasive evil. They find in the idea of a Communist conspiracy a suitable devil, responsible for the sins of their no-longer Jeffersonian world. States' rights form a barrier against political manifestations of this insidious movement, and traditional values become weapons against social sabotage. Integration, upsetting custom, supported by left-wingers, and enforced by centralizied national power, seems an instrument of the alien interest.

Still, a grim alternative remains. Governor Almond expressed it yesterday, interpreting the recent Little Rock decision as saying "to the states that they must totally abandon not only free public schools where they cannot be operated on an integrated basis, but that they must not render any affirmative assistance to parents who will not send their children to racially mixed schools." The only way for a state to prevent mixed schools is to withdraw absolutely from the field of secondary education.

Such a step might even prove a rallying point for the fearful idealists, turning their battle for a public iniquity in the name of private rights into a consistent defense of a traditionally private area of discretion and control. For any attempt to legislate or adjudicate the composition of genuine private schools, as the moral sense of the rest of the nation would require, would set a new precedent in the extension of public power and diminution of personal autonomy.

Several factors make such an interesting showdown unlikely. Not the least is the political power of Southern education lobbies, whose sponsors would lose their bread and butter. Also more and more citizens are seeing a greater danger in postponing education, much less setting it back to the Eighteenth Century, than in sending their children to school with negroes. Their position is shared by most moderates. It will attract some who are tempted to provoke the show-down, but fear it would result in decisive restriction rather than reaffirmation of the independent spheres of life.

But perhaps the strongest bastion against destruction of the Southern public school system is the peculiar moderation of many politicians such as Faubus. It is the moderation of inertia and short-sightedness. Even as they failed to make the schools equal, in order to keep them separate, so they now will probably fail to follow their rhetoric to its logical consequences.

Resistance is likely to collapse, state by state, according to the Arkansas pattern of badly-planned illegal dodges. Indeed Faubusian opportunism may help retrieve the situation it brings about. Having gained the maximum public support a show of opposition can produce, few politicians would want to risk unpopularity by ending public education altogether. Liberals may well hope that Faubus misestimates the rigor of his idealism in likening himself to Ghandi.