Church and State: How High a Wall?
The Jews are probably more devoted than anyone else in America to the separation of church and state. At times, hearing some of us talk about separation, or reading the statements of our organizations, one has the impression that we think ourselves more loyal to the Constitution and more skilled in its interpretation as well-although of course nobody ever says that in so many words. Thoughts protected against expression, as this one is, can be foolish. We are not more loyal to the Constitution or more skilled in its interpretation, we are only more separationist. And with every passing year our separationism comes closer to being part of the “old order” that Tennyson, in those verses that used to be so popular, wanted to see “yielding place to new;/ . . . Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
The case for the regnant Jewish ideology or emotion goes this way: Granted, there must be something special in our own experience and memory, and some strong feeling about what is in our interest, to account for our separationist fervor; but we perceive and intend separation to be for the good of all as well as for our own good. Thirty years ago the Jews more than anyone else warned against Hitler and Nazism. Afterward, everybody could see that we had been right, that we had not merely been pleading our own cause when we said that resistance to Hitler and Nazism was not a Jewish interest alone but the interest of all. Similarly now in church-and-state matters.
Because the Jews have had to pay for the lesson-so the case continues-we know that separation of church and state is good and the absence of separation is bad. A country with separation is democratic, tolerant, open, free; a country without separation is despotic, persecuting, closed, unfree. The greater the separation, as in America and France, the more democracy and tolerance; the less the separation, as in Spain, Tsarist Russia, and the Papal States before the unification of Italy, the less democracy and tolerance. Of course Jews do better in an America and a France than in a Spain and a Tsarist Russia. Doesn't everyone? In wanting America to be ever more separationist, which is to say ever more American, we want it to be ever better for all. “Religious freedom,” in the words of the canon, “is most secure where church and state are separated, and least secure where church and state are united.”
A good, strong case-or it would be if not for the vice of faulty enumeration. Where do you put England, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, with their state churches? No one can deny that Great Britain and Scandinavia are free and democratic and that religious freedom is closer to being most secure there than least secure. Nor can any Jew deny that those countries are, as we used to say, good for the Jews. (Proportionately, more than seven times as many Jews are in the House of Commons as in the population of the United Kingdom.) On the other hand, in the Soviet Union church and state are constitutionally separate, but the Soviet Union is neither free nor democratic nor good for the Jews, and so far from making religious freedom secure-let alone most secure-it persecutes religion.
It may be argued that Soviet persecution does not fairly come under the head of separation and that state persecution of religion is a kind of negative mode of state establishment of religion. Without conceding the argument, let us return to the Soviet Union when we consider secularism and for the moment instead compare state-church England with separationist France. In democracy and freedom, the two are alike (or used to be, before de Gaulle's somewhat authoritarian Fifth Republic); in openness and tolerance to Jews, the state-church country is better than the separationist one. Which is not to say that establishment is better than separation, but only that other things-notably democracy as it is inclined by national culture and tradition-make the issue of separation/establishment quite secondary.
Only two years ago the Ecole Normale Supérieure, the nursery of the French intellectual elite, tried to keep out a qualified Jewish student because he observed the Sabbath. Why, he was asked, should he be admitted to an institution that trains lycée professors? A lycée has Saturday classes, like all state schools in France. Would not his Sabbath observance prevent him from teaching? The Ecole Normale Supéieure has been traditionally on the side of the French Revolution-republican, anti-clerical, anti-anti-Semitic—and since before the university careers of the Reinach brothers and Léon Blum, it has had Jewish students. But unlike the other Jewish students before him, this one was religious. Keeping in mind the distinction between secularist and religious Jews may help us to understand something about ourselves in the United States.
For a long time the distinction was blurred in the American Jewish community because in this country, church-state issues tend to be school issues. Our separationism goes back to the time when the public school was in many ways a common-denominator or intersectarian Protestant school. In that age of Protestant imperialism, as it has been called, the virtues and standards of America were so widely held to be the same as the virtues and standards of Protestantism that a public school had to be a basically Protestant school. One reason why the founder of American Reform Judaism, Isaac Mayer Wise, was a Copperhead in the Civil War was that he resented the Protestant imperialism of the abolitionists. (Lincoln needed the support of the Know-Nothings and did not condemn them publicly. Elijah Love-joy, the abolitionist martyr, printed anti-Catholic tracts.) It was Wise who began the unbroken Reform tradition of opposing public-school Protestantism in the name of separation. Whether he would have opposed religion-in-general in the schools is unclear. In Germany his masters and colleagues took it for granted that the state should favor religion.
Sometimes Wise's tradition was a well-kept secret among his disciples and successors, because the laity was in no mood to attract attention by protest; yet while Reform rabbis now disagree about God, Torah, and Israel, they still do not disagree about the separationist article of faith, though Protestant imperialism has gone the way of so many other imperialisms. And just as the Irish taught the rest of the Catholics how to be American, so Reform Judaism taught Orthodoxy and Conservatism. Separation became the common platform of the major varieties of Jewish religion in America. (The Orthodox have begun to go their own way, but that is a long story.) Wise would have been happy with no Lord's Prayer in the schools, but only yesterday we were unhappy even with the Regents' prayer, certified desirable by the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself.
As for the Jewish secularists, they have opposed religion in the schools for a simple reason. They are secularists. For a secularist, religion is infantile and infantilizing, the enemy of enlightenment, science, progress, freedom, and peace. The less religion a society or community has, he says, the better it is.
But religionists and secularists do not live apart in the Jewish community. They have in common ideas and, above all, emotions. Few Jews of Central or East European origin or parentage, whether Orthodox or Reform, religious or secularist, have been able to think well of the church. The church was Pobedonostsev, with his vision of a third of the Jews of Russia converting, a third emigrating, and a third dying of hunger. The church was the threat of pogroms in the Easter season. The church was the Mortara case, the Dreyfus case, the Beilis case. “Christian” was part of the name an anti-Semitic party would give itself, in Protestant Prussia as in Catholic Austria. To Christians, Theodor Reik wrote when he still lived in Austria, Judaism was uncanny (mostly because of circumcision) and therefore fearsome. To Central and East European Jews, it was the iconic, sacramental, and sacerdotal Christianity they saw about them that was uncanny, and it still is to their children and grandchildren. Until a few years ago, the common memories and emotions and sense of danger tended to obscure the differences between Jewish religionists and secularists. So united was the Jewish front that only occasionally would a mainstream rabbi be bold enough to advise his confreres that they would do well, if only for the sake of public relations, to phrase their separationist statements in rather more religious-sounding language.
In Isaac Mayer Wise's Midwest, the Christian environment was Protestant. For most Jews today, who live in and near the great cities, the Christian environment is apt to be mainly Catholic. Wise's separationism was a defense against what he saw as a Protestant threat; ours is mostly against what we see as a Catholic threat, and especially what we see as the threat of the parochial school.
Traditions die hard, even the traditions of the untraditional. A man will say that the United States must rethink its foreign policy from beginning to end because the world has changed. Ask him to rethink his own policy because the world has changed and he will tell you he is no trimmer or opportunist; let the weaklings and conformists veer with the winds of popularity, he will remain loyal to his principles. Everyone thinks he is a dissenter and nonconformist-in good faith, because there are always communities of opinion and fashion in opposition to which he can honestly see himself as one. What he prefers to overlook is that there are also communities of opinion and fashion-or, more honorifically, of thought and style-to which he relates positively, and in that relation his nonconformity can be quite conformist. In our own community, the informal and private one or the organized and public one, separationism is not a bit nonconformist. (It is curious that dissent/dissenter, nonconformity/nonconformist should come to us from the language of English ecclesiastical history.)
As things are today, religionists and moderate secularists have one interest and radical separationists another, and our separationism now serves the radical interest. (Radical is generally not an O.K. word, but I cannot think of anything better. Extreme is even less O.K., consistent is not what I mean, and fanatical is insulting.) Whether a secularist is moderate or radical depends on whether his secularism is one of several more or less equal goods or whether it is his chief good; whether it is a means as well as an end, to be judged in part by its usefulness in furthering other ends, or whether it is more like an ultimate end. For the moderate, separationism is a strategy more than a philosophy, and if new conditions call for a change in strategy he will be ready to make the change. For the radical, the strategy goes so closely with the philosophy that change can only be betrayal. As integralist Catholics are convinced (notwithstanding Vatican II) that the marriage of Throne and Altar is God's will, so radical secularists are convinced that root-and-branch separationism is Reason's dictate.
What are the considerations that should induce a moderate secularist, and all the more a religionist, to question his inherited separationism? The first of these may by itself not be strictly probative, at least about America, but it points to something. For secularists the example of the Soviet Union should teach skepticism about the secularist faith itself. The Soviet Union is the most secularist society in what used to be Christendom (or Islam, Judaism never having controlled any territory to speak of). In that most secularist society, separationism has gone so far as to become persecution of religion; and in that most secularist society, secularism is not the companion or handmaiden of freedom, intelligence, and all the other good things of man's mind and spirit, as secularists once thought it must be. Rather it is the companion or handmaiden of the jailer of art and literature, science and scholarship and philosophy, honest thought and honest feeling. Not church-state England or Sweden vilifies and imprisons Brodsky, Sinyavsky, and Daniel, but the Soviet Union, which calls itself the guardian of enlightenment and the scourge of obscurantism. For a Jew it should also matter that nowhere else in what used to be Christendom are Jews and Judaism persecuted-alone among the Soviet nationalities, including the Germans, and more than the other Soviet religions.
In America a state church on the English or Swedish model is out of the question, and that is all the more reason why the separation decreed by the Constitution should be defended against mutation into separationism. For separationism can be tyrannical even here. No citizens of this country are more peaceful and inoffensive than the Amish, yet a few months ago agents of the Iowa public schools were photographed pursuing Amish children through the fields to drag them into schools that the parents had rejected for religious reasons. Not long after, in New York, it took a decision by the superintendent of schools himself to allow a high-school boy to cover his head in class. A Board of Education lawyer had ruled that if the boy wore a kippah he would be breaching the wall of separation between church and state! (The superintendent's name is Donovan.)
Almost as alarming is the growing isolation of Jewish separationism from the social liberalism of which it used to be part. On every side, President Johnson's aid-to-education and anti-poverty legislation is recognized as a major advance, and if liberals have a complaint, it is that the legislation does not go far enough. Liberal Protestants, accustomed to suspicion of Catholic designs on the public treasury and critical of Johnson on foreign policy, marvel at his achievement in bypassing the kinds of church-state objections-or rationalizations-that invariably killed similar bills in the past. The congressional opponents of Johnson's legislation, who went down continuing to profess indignation over the breach in the wall, were mostly reactionaries and racists.
Together with these stand the radical separationists, although theirs is a true and not a feigned indignation. They are unreconciled to educational benefits being extended to children in non-public (mostly Catholic parochial) schools, and to churches being included among appropriate neighborhood institutions for conducting anti-poverty programs. As the separationists see it, the child-benefit theory is a mere device for benefiting parochial schools by the back door while evading the (presumed) constitutional prohibition of benefits by the front door, and churches and church-related institutions have no business in anti-poverty programs or anything else that gets public money.
What if the benefits cannot readily be extended to children outside their non-public school? What if excluding a church or a church-related institution in this or that neighborhood weakens the effort to help the poor raise themselves out of poverty? Your singleminded separationist, after first trying to deny that your questions are real questions, can say nothing. Creditably, American liberalism in general does not accept this kind of hard-heartedness. The separationists make the usual defense in such cases: it is not really we who are hard-hearted but the other fellow, to whom we refuse to pay blackmail and who has maneuvered us into a false position. They may believe this, but whenever I hear or read Jewish separationists weighing the claim of the poor against the claim of separationism, their emotion goes to separationism. Yet we are still fond of thinking ouselves rahamanim bene rahamanim, the compassionate sons of compassionate fathers.
If not even regard for the poor moves the separationist to condone back-door dealings and aid, it is easy to imagine what he thinks about the front door. But here, too, his singlemindedness is beginning to isolate him. He cannot bring himself to look upon his favorite doctrine as one of many good things, not necessarily compatible in its fullness with the other good things in their fullness, and subject, like all of them, to compromise and give-and-take.
Of late some remarkable voices have been heard for governmental aid to the non-public school: the New Republic and Walter Lippmann, among others. Their purpose is not to help the Catholic schools but to help American education; or better, to help bring about the conditions in which all Americans can have the best possible education. Since the quality of the nation's life will depend so greatly on education, Lippmann and the others say, education has a more urgent claim on the nation than separation-ism. This means helping the Catholic schools, because so many children are educated there-about one in every seven. The Catholic schools need money, in quantities that can come only from government, to hire more teachers so that classes will be smaller, to get good teachers by paying good salaries, to improve classrooms, to build up libraries.
The First Amendment does not command, “Thou shalt not give governmental aid to parochial schools,” it commands that there shall be no establishment of religion and no curtailment of the free exercise of religion. The rabbis said that the gates of interpretation of the Torah are not closed, and the Supreme Court has shown that neither are the gates of interpretation of the Constitution closed. If the justices think the nation needs education more than separationism, they can easily decide that the Constitution permits aid to non-public education. If they think otherwise, then it is the turn of the gates of amendment not to be closed. Having had an amendment prohibiting liquor and another annulling the prohibition, the Constitution can have an amendment allowing aid to religious or church-related schools.
This kind of talk is hardly daring any more, but to most separationists it is novel and perverse wickedness. That is not liberal open-mindedness. It is more like the outrage of a 19th-century, Herbert Spencer liberal confronted with the immoral proposal that the government should take taxes from him to support a school for educating his neighbor's children. There are still such liberals, only for many years now they have been called, by general agreement, reactionaries.
To Jews, Jewish separationists like to say that separationism is necessary for our safety and well-being. I think this argument is a second thought, invoked to justify a decision already taken on another ground. Those who invoke it remind me of a businessman who wants to contribute corporation money to a university or a community chest or the symphony orchestra. Possibly he wants to do it because he is a decent, generous man, but he has to justify his decency, to himself as well as to the other officers and the stockholders, by giving businesslike reasons for the contribution: it will be good for public relations, or it will help to make the environment so healthy that the corporation will be able to thrive.
There would be nothing wrong about consulting our interest when we are making up our minds whether to support governmental aid to church schools in the name of better education or to oppose it in the name of separation. If we consulted interest, we would estimate advantages and disadvantages by applying the appropriate calculus. That is how a man runs his business, or he is soon out of business. It is how Mr. McNamara chooses between missiles and manned bombers, submarines and aircraft carriers. But though I follow the Jewish discussions, I recall little that resembles a true weighing of alternatives. We prefer incantatory repetition of the dogma that separationism is our interest.
It is time we actually weighed the utility and cost of education against the utility and cost of separationism. All the evidence in America points to education, more than anything else, influencing adherence to democracy and egalitarian-ism. All the evidence points to Catholic parochial education having the same influence. (And all the evidence points to Catholic anti-Semitism as no greater than Protestant, and possibly less.) Something that nurtures a humane, liberal democracy is rather more important to Jews than 24-karat separationism.
There is another thing related to the Catholic parochial schools that we ought to weigh in the balance of Jewish interest. Consensus has become a dirty word on the Left and among intellectuals. In parts of the world suffering either from despotism or from chaos, they must envy America for this additional sign of affluence, that here people can afford to depreciate consensus. Outside the American consensus stand the far Right and the anti-Semites. (There is anti-Semitism on the outside Left, too, and among some of the young Jews in it.) It is good to broaden the consensus, to bring inside those who are outside. They change when they come inside.
Why are some people outside? Usually because they have a grievance. They feel they are disregarded and treated unfairly. The sociologists call this feeling ressentiment; let us call it sullenness. When statesmanship becomes aware that a social group is sullen, it tries to remove the causes, if that can be done without unacceptable cost to the other participants in the competitive cooperation of political society. In part it is because the Negroes have finally been seen to be sullen, in this sense, that the government is trying to make room for them in the game and bring them into the consensus. Sometimes, of course, a group's price for giving up its sullenness is too high for everybody else, and it has to be left outside-like the Birchers, who just for a start want the political and social game to return to the rules of the 1920's or the 1890's. But it must be conceded that some people, disoriented and bewildered by the passing of the America they were comfortable in, are needlessly being driven into the Radical Right. Some good libertarians are saying that such symbolic victories for separationism as making Bible reading in the schools illegal have been won at too high a real cost-the sullenness of the defeated and the departure of some of them from the consensus.
Many Catholics are sullen. For a non-Catholic it should not be unreasonably arduous to pretend for a moment that he has children in a parochial school. Call it role-playing. For the average Catholic, affluence is either a figure of speech or what someone else has: he is less affluent than the average Episcopalian, Congregationalist, or Jew. The taxes he pays to the public schools keep rising. So do his parochial-school costs, but the parochial school continues to fall behind the public school—in the size of classes, in salaries to attract good teachers, in equipment and amenities. He can hardly afford to pay once, but he has to pay twice; and in return his children get an education that he fears may not be good enough. This, when the diploma society is already here and meritocracy is on the horizon, and when his children's chances of making it depend more than ever on the education he can give them.
He asks for aid, and a coalition of Protestants and Jews, far from respecting him for having done the hard thing so long, answer coldly that private education must be paid for privately; if he can't afford it, let him not complain, let him use the public schools. At the same time he sees that in the cities many in the coalition, whether pants manufacturers or intellectuals, do indeed pay to send their children to private schools. Apparently they believe non-public education is like a Cadillac: just as it would be ridiculous to subsidize a poor man's purchase of a Cadillac, so it would be to subsidize his purchase of non-public education. He suspects that this uncharacteristic enthusiasm of theirs for the principles of Ayn Rand is due rather to their distaste for Catholic education specifically than for non-public education generally.
Then, in self-defense, or out of resentment, or as a means of exerting pressure, the Catholic votes against higher taxes for the public schools, and the coalition is confirmed in its opinion of him. He is narrow-minded. But, tolerant and understanding, and proud of it, they tell each other that it isn't really his fault. It is the priests who make him send his children to the parochial school, the priests who make him sullen about the inevitable, unalterable consequences. We do not need a priest to make us prefer a non-public school, only he does. Tell them of the evidence that the average Catholic parent prefers the parochial school of his own accord; they answer: never heard of it, propaganda. If I were that Catholic parent, I could be pretty sullen.
Catholics, therefore, have a real grievance. To remove the grievance would be just. It would also be statesmanlike, and would help to improve the education of a significant part of the American population. People are coming to see that. In the past few years the public-opinion polls have shown a steady rise in the proportion of respondents favoring governmental aid, until now there are more for it than against it.
What then will happen to the public schools? Probably not much more than has already happened. Whoever asks this question must come into court with clean hands. Are his own children in a public school? Are the tax-supported schools of Scarsdale or Highland Park as public as the tax-supported schools of New York and Chicago?
Jews have special reason for being grateful to the public school: it helped make the America of opportunities for newcomers, and it trained us to seize the opportunities. It has also helped to make American culture receptive and inclusive, with everything that has meant to us. In return, we are all for the public school. At the same time, we tell each other horror stories about what it has become. If we can, we either send our children to private schools or move to where the public schools are not too public. Meanwhile, out there, some others are less attached than we to the public-school idea and system and are asking rude questions about it, aloud. They are even suggesting that the attachment is a cultural lag, unsuited to the new times.
When this is suggested on behalf of the Catholics, we find it easy to dismiss the suggestion as illiberal. But now it is suggested on behalf of the Negroes, and we cannot so easily dismiss that. Christopher Jencks,1 for instance, argues that the public-school systems of the big cities are so diseased with bureaucracy and inertia that they cannot reasonably be expected to recover and do the job they are supposed to do. In their place, he proposes, the government should give parents the money needed for educating their children; and then the parents, having formed suitable associations, can set up their own schools and hire their own teachers.
Whatever the merits of that particular proposal, Catholics might want to use governmental tuition payments for parochial-school education. What objection could there be then?
To repeat: It is not true that freedom is most secure where church and state are separated; separation and separationism are not the same; even in America, separationism is potentially tyrannical; separationism needlessly repels some from the democratic consensus; it is harsh to those who prefer non-public schools for conscience' sake; and it stands in the way of a more important good (and a more important safeguard of Jewish security), the best possible education for all.
The final reason for rethinking separationism is connected in some ways with what has been said about tyranny. The reverence of right-thinking people for the Supreme Court and the Constitution is at least twenty years old now, but I still find it a bit strange. When I was coming of age, my elders and betters regarded the Supreme Court as the Nine Old Men and the Constitution as the horse-and-buggy document that Charles Beard had debunked-or so it was thought-in his Economic Interpretation. The cause of the change is obvious and to be grateful for: the Court and the Constitution (as the Court reads it) have been more decent and libertarian than government by plebiscite would be, or than a direct democracy of the people at large. But I continue to be put off when modern types speak of the Constitution as a fundamentalist does of Scripture, and when they speak of the Court as Jews once did of the Sanhedrin in Jabneh.
Especially strange is the concentration on (some of) the ipsissima verba of Thomas Jefferson, so that an unofficial metaphor about a wall of separation comes to have the sacred character of the specifications for the Tent of Meeting. Jefferson's more important words tend to be ignored: his enmity to the empire of the dead over the living and his caution against excessive deference to ancestral documents and dicta, including his own. It was Jefferson, after all, who advised posterity to water the tree of liberty every now and then with the blood of revolution-at the very least, a more forceful way of saying what Tennyson was to say in those verses I quoted.
It is a truism that the problems of freedom have changed since Jefferson's time. When we worry now about freedom of the press, we do not have in mind primarily censorship by government or intimidation by a mob. Those restraints have grown fewer and weaker, but we are not at all sure we have more freedom of the press. What bothers us is that not very long ago a man with a few thousand dollars could start a newspaper, and there were many papers. Today it takes millions of dollars, and every year we have fewer papers. Neither censorship nor intimidation has caused the multiplication of one-newspaper cities, but only that everything nowadays is more complicated and expensive. For solving that problem the First Amendment, necessary as it is, is not nearly enough.
In Jefferson's time the press was exactly that—the printing press. Except for earshot speech and handwritten letters, there was no other means of communication. Now we have electronic media, and above all radio and television, which influence opinion probably more than print. In our time unhindered communication of opinion and information depends on a freedom of the press that includes freedom of radio and TV. But the relation of government to radio and TV has to be totally different from its relation to the printing press.
The libertarian's conception of the ideal relation of government to the press is that there shall be no relation at all: government and press have nothing to do with each other, nobody needs a license to publish. In principle there is no limit to the number of newspapers or presses. With radio and TV, on the other hand, the laws of physics impose a limit. Two stations cannot operate on the same wavelength at the same time in the same place, so someone must determine that A shall operate and B shall not. That is, the government; and it is to government that A and B come to plead for a license. A government that respects freedom of the press finds itself having to license the radio-and-TV part of the press. What would Jefferson have thought?
In deciding whether to license A or B, the government has first to decide which of the two will probably better serve the public interest and the needs of society. But these include religion in its many forms. Consequently, when the government examines the record of a radio or TV licensee it must ask, among other things, how he has served his community's religious interests and needs. If it did not ask this question, if it asked everything else but not this, a licensee could exclude religion entirely from his programs; or give his own sect a monopoly of the time he allowed for religion; or set aside all that time for attacking a religion he disliked, or some religions, or religion in general; or sell all of it to the highest bidders. Yet a friend of mine considers that the government's asking about the religious programming of licensees breaches the wall of separation:2
While the U.S. Supreme Court has been gradually strengthening Jefferson's “wall of separation between church and state,” the Federal Communications Commission has been doing its best to persuade people to go to church. . . . The commission has held . . . that the proposed religious programming of one applicant for a television station . . . was superior to another because it afforded “a more positive proposal for providing time to diverse religious faiths.” In another case, it gave a comparative-although not a disqualifying-demerit to . . . [a] proposed program schedule [because it] failed to include “any strictly religious programs” and thus left a “void in . . . over-all program structure.”
Radio and TV are not the instruments of the state, they are the instruments of society. The state is there, has to be there, only because a technology Jefferson could not dream of has made rationing the airwaves necessary. If Cohn's principle were followed, the FCC would not be protecting the separation of church and state, as he thinks. It would be promoting the separation of religion and society-something else again.
The late Theodore Leskes, a lamented colleague and an authority on First Amendment questions, was rather more convinced than I of the need for a wall. Nevertheless, when I asked him whether he objected to military chaplains, he answered that he could not object in principle. The army, he said, is a surrogate society. When the army drafts a man it is obligated to make available to him, insofar as possible, what he has had in the civilian life from which it cuts him off—including the opportunity for religious worship and guidance. Otherwise the government's maintenance of a conscript army would mean the government's exclusion of religion from the lives of some millions of young men.
And so with education. As late as the end of the 19th century President Garfield could say that a college education was a log with Mark Hopkins at one end and a student at the other. If no longer entirely true when he said it, it still had a certain verisimilitude. Now it would be absurd-not only about our colleges, but also about our high, junior-high, and even elementary schools. These demand ever more costly laboratories, closed-circuit TV, equipment for teaching languages, psychological testing, vocational guidance.
When logs were cheap, it was rather widely possible to maintain non-public schools of the same quality as the public schools, even without governmental aid. Not any more. No violation of the First Amendment is needed to reduce freedom of the press substantively, by the disappearance of one paper after another; the only thing needed is for economic law to be allowed free play. Allowed free play, economic law would have the same effect on the non-public schools, but with an even worse effect on society. The space once occupied by non-public education would not be left empty. It would be filled by something we might call uniformitarianism, to coin an ugly word for describing an ugly condition.
In the political and social thought that has least to apologize for, despotism is understood to prevail when state and society are all but identical, when the map of the state can almost be superimposed on the map of society. In contrast, freedom depends on society's having loci of interest, affection, and influence besides the state. It depends on more or less autonomous institutions mediating between the naked, atomized individual and the state-or rather, keeping the individual from nakedness and atomization in the first place. In short, pluralism is necessary.
Given that a shriveling of the non-public must fatally enfeeble pluralism, especially in education; and given that the agent of that enfeeblement is the unchecked operation of economic law, the remedy is simple: check it. Let the government see that money finds its way to the nonpublic schools, so that they may continue to exist side by side with the public schools. That will strengthen pluralism, and so, freedom.
Arguments for non-governmental pluralism have to overcome the obstacle of their popularity with conservative immobilists. From Social Security to Medicare, an unfeeling Right has been quick to warn that the omnicompetent state is upon us. Nobody listens any more, the boy has cried wolf too often. But in the fable a real wolf finally appeared, and for us the state coextensive with society may yet appear. Technology encourages it. The simple fact that there are now so many people encourages it. The time when the state took little of the room of a man's life is gone. Happily, a man can favor the welfare state and still oppose the omnicompetent state.
Can government be expected to subsidize the non-public sector, to pay for keeping vigorously alive centers of influence and power whose very existence will limit its own influence and power? If government is democratic, the expectation is altogether realistic. American governments routinely subsidize the non-public sector: the deductibility provision in the federal and state income taxes is nothing but an indirect subsidy to nonpublic institutions-community chests, universities, theological seminaries, churches and synagogues. And a most reassuring thing about the poverty program is that government actually calls into being and finances civic groupings of the poor in order that they may make trouble for government-reassuring, because it shows democratic government understands that democracy requires government to have cooperators-rivals.
Historically, establishment has gone with monarchy: throne and altar, crown and mitre. Separation has gone with a republic: no king, no bishop. And in fact England, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have established churches and are monarchies. Republicanism was once even more of a fighting creed than separation, but who in Great Britain or Scandinavia is excited by republicanism any longer? It has become an irrelevance, an anachronism. While monarchies have shown that they can be decent and democratic, republics have shown that they can be neither. In America separationism may soon be just as anachronistic, if only because our establishmentarians are not much more numerous than our monarchists.
Even the rhetoric is coming down with mustiness. “Wall of separation” may have sounded good once, but if you say it to a young man now he is as likely as not to think you mean the wall that separates Berlin. Leave it to a poet: “Something there is that doesn't love a wall.”
1 “Are the Public Schools Obsolete?”, The Public Interest, Winter 1966.
2 Marcus Cohn, “Religion and the FCC,” Reporter, January 14, 1965.