Reflections on Little Rock

Reflections on Little Rock

Preliminary Remarks

This article was written more than a year ago upon the suggestion of one of the editors of Commentary. It was a topical article whose publication was delayed for months because of the controversial nature of my reflections which, obviously, were at variance with the magazine’s stand on matters of discrimination and segregation. Meanwhile, things had quieted down temporarily; I had hopes that my fears concerning the seriousness of the situation might prove exaggerated and no longer wished to publish this article. Recent developments have convinced me that such hopes are futile and that the routine repetition of liberal cliches may be even more dangerous than I thought a year ago. I therefore agreed to let DISSENT publish the article as it was written—not because I thought that a year-old topical essay could possibly exhaust the subject or even do justice to the many difficult problems involved, but in the hope that even an inadequate attempt might help to break the dangerous routine in which the discussion of these issues is being held from both sides.

There are, however, two points which were brought to my attention after 1 wrote the article which I would like to mention at least. The first concerns my contention that the marriage laws in 29 of the 49 states constitute a much more flagrant breach of letter and spirit of the Constitution than segregation of schools. To this, Sidney Hook (New Leader, April 13), replied that Negroes were “profoundly uninterested” in these laws; in their eyes, “the discriminatory ban against intermarriages and miscegenation is last in the order of Priorities.” I have my doubts about this, especially with respect to the educated strata in the Negro population, but it is of course perfectly true that Negro public opinion and the policies of the NAACP are almost exclusively concerned with discrimination in employment, housing and education. This is understandable; oppressed minorities were never the best judges on the order of priorities in such matters and there are many instances when they preferred to fight for social opportunity rather than for basic human or political rights. But this does not make the marriage laws any more constitutional or any less shameful; the order of priorities in the question of rights is to be determined by the Constitution, and not by public opinion or by majorities.

The second point was mentioned by a friend who rightly observed that my criticism of the Supreme Court’s decision did not take into account the role education plays, and has always played, in the political framework of this country. This criticism is entirely just and I would have tried to insert a discussion of this role into the article if I had not meanwhile published a few remarks on the wide-spread, uncritical acceptance of a Rousseauian ideal in education in another context, i.e. in an article in the...

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