Will and the Lester Maddox Question
Will recently appeared on C-SPAN’s "In-Depth" series to
discuss his writings. The Washington Post columnist commented
while discussing his 1968 dissertation at Princeton, Beyond the
Reach of Majorities: Closed Questions in the Open Society:
you [Brian Lamb] and I were young people in college, it was an
open question whether states had a right to force public accommodations
Lester Maddox’s Pickrick restaurant in Georgia to
take all comers…Well, 50 years later, that’s a stone, cold, dead,
closed question, and aren’t we glad? That’s progress. In that
sense, we’re less tolerant, but who cares?
an historical overview. Atlanta-native Lester Maddox was born in
1915 and opened a grill in 1944. He opened another restaurant, the
Pickrick, in 1947. The Pickrick became popular and underwent several
expansions, seating 400 people at its peak.
whites could eat at the Pickrick, though. This led to a conflict
when Lyndon Johnson signed 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title II of which
forces "public accommodations" to admit patrons regardless
of race, religion, etc.
ejected blacks who attempted to eat at the Pickrick after Title
II’s enactment. Rather than comply with Title II, Maddox closed
responded when asked in 2000 if he regretted his position, "No,
sir, I've never had a second thought about it. I still believe that
constitutionally, without the right to private property, we can't
be a free republic…Private property ought to belong to the people
who own it." (Maddox also served as Georgia’s governor from
1967 to 1971.)
remarks about Maddox reiterate what he wrote in Statecraft
as Soulcraft (1983):
of the most defensible, indeed most unmixedly good, deeds of modern
government was in taking away one of the rights Maddox valued
most…The right he was exercising was a real right an enforceable
entitlement, and an old one: the right of a proprietor to restrict
his custom. In many times and places the right was, and is, acceptable.
But in the United States it had too often been exercised in a
way that affronted an entire class of citizens. And in the United
States in 1964 the right had become intolerably divisive. So Congress
undertook a small but significant rearrangement of American rights.
It diminished the rights of proprietors of public accommodations,
and expanded those of potential users of those accommodations.
In explaining why this rearrangement was necessary, Lyndon Johnson
said it was because "a man has a right not to be insulted
in front of his children"…Congress was coming to the conclusion
that a right exercised meanly, with ugly consequences, should
yield to another, better right.
that Maddox "affronted an entire class of citizens," as
opposed to "aggressed against an entire class of citizens."
Since when is a free society supposed to criminalize affronting
people? (Shall Burger King now be indicted for affronting an entire
class of citizens, i.e., vegetarians?)
"better right" Wills mentions is a fiction. When people
enter a restaurant or residence without the owner’s consent, it’s
doesn’t mean every exercise of proprietary discretion is admirable.
Owners can exclude obnoxiously, and that’s why boycotts exist.
obnoxious isn’t synonymous with criminal, and tyranny begins when
this differentiation dissolves.
often cites Thomas Jefferson in Statecraft as Soulcraft and
elsewhere. Here’s what Jefferson had to say about political authority:
"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only
as are injurious to others." Not acts that affront others or
are mean to others.
even if one believes in coercing owners, the federal government
wasn’t empowered to nationalize this policy, just as it isn’t empowered
to nationalize policy on burglary or prostitution. As Jefferson
consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this
ground: That "all powers not delegated to the United States
by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are
reserved to the States or to the people." [10th
Amendment] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus
specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take
possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible
of any definition.
Will cites Lyndon Johnson in defense of Title II, he implicitly
recognizes Title II’s polarity from Jefferson’s vision. Indeed,
to endorse Title II necessitates the coarsening of the historical
sense (to use a Will-esque phrase).
Maddox’s policy may have been lousy, but his premise remains indispensable:
Private property is the oxygen of freedom, and with its diminishment
so diminishes freedom.
Kantor [send him mail]
is a columnist for FrontPageMagazine.com and president of the
Center for Free Emigration,
which agrees with Frederick Douglass that "It is a fundamental truth
that every man is the rightful owner of his own body."
© 2002 LewRockwell.com