From the rave reviews in the Wall Street Journal and other vehicles of low-octane conservatism, it seems that Tamar Jacoby has produced a work for the ages. Like earlier marvels by Dinesh D’Souza, John J. Miller, and Francis Fukuyama, this study was made possible by funds flowing from neocon foundations, a gesture thoughtfully repaid by the recitation of the prescribed historical views. In accordance with the authorized version, we are told that the United States until the 1960’s wallowed in racial injustice, but then came the federal government and liberals Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, Hubert Humphrey, and Lyndon Johnson to raise the collective moral consciousness. Though the later civil rights movement aggravated “black rage” and “white racism” (terms revealingU’ juxtaposed throughout the book), the concept of racial equality expounded by King supposedly holds the key to racial reconciliation. This visionary focus comes through unmistakably in Jacoby’s 600-page narrative, tracing American race relations back to the beginning of the century while examining the situation in New York, Detroit, and Atlanta in particular. In this survey of what is depicted as mostly white cruelty to blacks, we are reminded of King’s invocation in a speech in 1957 of a multiracial America gathered together in one “beloved community.”

Jacoby’s idea of two divergent civil rights movements is overstated. Already in the 1960’s, King, among other black “integrationists,” was calling for stringent racial quotas in both private and public employment and for reparations to be paid to blacks by white Americans. Such concessions were thought to be fully consistent with a “beloved community” that would include a once victimized black race entitled to temporary privilege. And if there were in fact two contradictory civil rights movements, it may be assumed there would be legions of civil rights spokesmen and activists conspicuously leaving a movement which they believed had betrayed their ideals. Defections of this type did take place in the communist and Nazi movements, but, with very few exceptions, they did not occur in American civil rights politics from the 60’s onward. Jacoby praises Andrew Young for renewing King’s integrationist vision while seeking the Georgia governorship in 1990, and she attributes Young’s defeat in the Democratic runoff with the present governor, Zell Miller, to “racial clannishness.” But Miller was and remains both an explicit advocate of racial quotas and a critic of the Confederate battle flag, which Jacoby regards as a hate symbol. Not surprisingly, the “integrationist” Young has been equally zealous in embracing both of these positions.

Although Jacoby and her promoters believe that she holds independent opinions about black civil rights issues, it is hard to understand this claim. Despite her widely publicized ties to a self-described libertarian foundation, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Jacoby has much good to say about LBJ’s Great Society. What she does find wrong with this costly and coercive “initiative” is that it did not go far enough: it was “only a beginning of the effort that would be necessary to make integration possible! for the poorest black.” And while she weakly criticizes affirmative action as “a Band-Aid on the cancer of black underdevelopment,” she characteristically proposes her own wish list of remedial policies. An examination of this list in the last chapter proves the obvious, namely, the lack of any striking discrepancy between what Jacoby wants and what public administration is currently doing to solve racial problems. Despite the repeated complaint that the state may have tried too much too soon, it is not clear what Jacoby would have done differently, save to centralize public education more thoroughly in order to avoid the anti-Semitic black nationalism that engulfed predominantly black neighborhood schools in Brooklyn in the late 60’s.

One place where Jacoby tips her ideological hand is her commentary on the New York mayoral race of 1973. Here she vividly contrasts the idealistic liberal victor, John V. Lindsay, to his Conservative Party opponent, William F. Buckley. Although Lindsay is portrayed as an “impractical” do-gooder and Buckley as a sober realist who knew that “government could not solve all the problems blocking black entry into the mainstream,” Jacoby does not hide her true feelings. Lindsay was expressing noble sentiments, though mistaken about specifics and clumsy about applying his ideals. But Buckley ran “a pandering campaign,” presumably because his supporters were Catholic ethnics and because he told harsh truths, a point grudgingly conceded by Jacoby, who observes that “not everything that Buckley said about blacks was wrong or racist.” The problem with this analysis is that Jacoby comes up with nothing Buckley said that was noticeably wrong; nor does she reveal anything Lindsay said that was strikingly correct. Her judgments are formed on the basis of a highly parochial sensibility. Thus the civil rights movement, we are led to believe, used to be a good thing until it turned against New York Jews and against Israel, at which point it became bad and deserving of contempt. But even then it was only bad in its derailed state, while those who continue to be “idealistic” about a socially engineered multiracial society, at least for the United States, are seen as praiseworthy.

Two of Jacoby’s “idealistic” heroes are Albert Shanker and Sandra Feldman, leaders of the American Federation of Teachers, who (we are told) stood tall when black nationalists were allowed to run schools in the Ocean Hill district of Brooklyn in 1968. While the black leadership, whom the New York City Board of Education refused to resist, antagonized the white, predominantly Jewish teachers, one might equally criticize what Jacoby calls the “educational establishment.” For more than 30 years. Shanker and his union associates have tried to maintain a public school monopoly of American education run with minimal parental or neighborhood interference. They have raved against the danger of religion influencing American education and have been exemplary supporters of the big-government left. Nonetheless, Jacoby cannot find sufficient praise for Shanker in particular, as an upholder of educational standards in the turmoil of 1968. This “son of Eastern European Jews, raised in poverty in Manhattan’s Lower East Side,” said “bluntly what no one else dared to say: that the emperor had no clothes—that the activists on the governing board did not represent the district or the civil rights movement, that their vituperative anger would do no good for the city.” It is questionable that the board, consisting of public figures and black activists, had no support among blacks; or that their black nationalist ideology would be foreign to the evolving black politics of the time. But, even more, it is hypocritical to cast the noisily vituperative Shanker as the voice of reason. Unlike his black opponents in Ocean Hill, he would be around for years making noise, most of it unseemly and highly partisan.

Like her sponsors and blurbers, Jacoby is a leftist at heart who entertains doubts about the excesses to which her beliefs and policies can he and have been pushed. Only because a credible right has collapsed or been marginalized has Jacoby been able to appear as something she clearly is not, a “conservative,” for quibbling over race-based affirmative action and for decrying the anti-Semitism of some black separatists. But arguably her relentlessly integrationist vision may be more dangerous for established communities, white or black, than the toleration of separate racial and ethnic patterns of association. Separate communities do not necessarily hate each other, while groups which have been forced together may come to dislike each other intensely. And to solve the resulting tensions, ever newer “policies” will be inflicted upon an increasingly fragmented society. With due respect to Jacoby, it is absurd to argue that unless we are brought together through her dreams of integration, we shall be choosing “chaos” over “community.” For centuries Americans lived in authentic communities, as opposed to governmentally orchestrated ones, without felling into utter darkness.

One recent development that particularly offends Jacoby is a popular Southern sign that says, “We should have picked our own cotton!” Since the sign by implication laments the removal of blacks from Africa and their enslavement in the New World, I was initially puzzled as to why it might anger the author. My own explanation is that—like other liberals and neocons—Jacoby has adopted something like the Catholic concept of the felix culpa with regard to race. Mimicking the view presented in the Good Friday service, that the Fall of Adam was partly fortunate for bringing Christ, Jacoby and her ilk rejoice over the enslavement of blacks for leading to a multiracial America. That is the only explanation that seems to fit, given the author’s obsessive concern about getting back to the integrationist project which she insists has now stalled.


[Someone Else’s House: America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration, by Tamar Jacoby (New York: The Free Press) 613 pp., $30.00]