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NOT ALL THE good things go together—pluralists from Machiavelli to William James to Isaiah Berlin have insisted on this corollary of their creed. If the ends of life are many, if values are truly and irreconcilably plural, then it follows not only that values will clash—liberty with equality, say—but also that tragedy is rooted in the very fabric of being. The human situation, therefore, often comes down to choosing not only between good and evil but also between irreconcilable goods.

In the national crucible of Los Angeles, to bring philosophy down to a particularly troubled piece of earth, Jack Miles offers a case in point: the clash between America’s quest for racial justice, on the one hand, and its historic openness to the tired and the poor from other lands, on the other.

Miles’s cover article in this issue applies a classically pluralist outlook to the Los Angeles riot, but it also looks beyond that event to explore questions raised by the riot which well-meaning people usually avoid as inflammatory: Can the country continue to allow illegal immigrants to displace native-born African-Americans in the tightening labor markets of our big cities? And if it cannot stop the influx, then what is the answer to this terrible complication of the American dilemma?
Miles, who writes for the Los Angeles Times, has thought deeply about such moral tangles for years: as he put it in a recent conversation, he “spent the 1960s almost to the day” as an aspiring member of the Society of Jesus. In the end he was not ordained, but in the course of the “intellectual athleticism” of his Jesuit education he did receive a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages from Harvard. His specialty there was the Old ‘Testament, but his biblical interests have since broadened. He is now at work on a book called The Lord God: A Literary Biography (to be published by Alfred A. Knopf), which will seek to portray the personality of God as revealed in both the Old and New Testaments.
Those volumes convey a world view fundamentally different from the picture Miles limns here of the causes and meanings of the most destructive domestic riot in our history. The Bible, after all, is the epic of good versus evil. For the interpretive precedents of Los Angeles one must turn to the Greeks, and specifically to the conflict of good versus good presented by the tragedians, the haunting moralists of secular civilization. —THE EDITORS