In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in France and Germany, there was a popular genre of opera now known as rescue opera. These operas portray a main character being rescued from grave danger; they end with a dramatic and happy resolution.
Beethoven's sole opera, Fidelio, is an example of this kind of opera. This has been a common plot in numerous plays and movies. Decades ago television was showing the Lone Ranger, Lassie, or Perry Mason rescuing someone.
Today, many libertarians and Tea Partiers depict themselves as rescuing the Constitution and market capitalism from evil liberals. Libertarians -- who want to maximize individual choice of those with money -- have employed this tactic since the late 1970s. In 1979, the staunch libertarian Robert Ringer promoted libertarian views with a book entitled Restoring the America Dream.
By using the term "restoring" he conveys the erroneous implication that the U.S. was once libertarian. But this narrative runs afoul of elementary facts. This country never was libertarian primarily because of the power of churches.
Ironically, when the country was founded, it was much more totalitarian. The late Cleon Skousen, who Glenn Beck promotes, stated: "In 1620 when the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth, (Massachusetts) they had already determined to establish a Communist colony ... The pilgrims launched their Communist community with the most hopeful expectations." Massachusetts later limited voting and holding office to church members in good standing. Church attendance was compulsory. If a minister demonstrated independence from the top leadership, the state government would stop his pay and discharge him.
By 1632, some of the religious groups viewed amusements as the Taliban does. They outlawed ninepins (bowling) and limited theater going. Virginia, which was settled and even had slaves before the Pilgrims arrived, used public taxation to support the established church. In 1632, the legislature required every man to give his minister a bushel of corn and 10 pounds of tobacco plus every twentieth animal. In 1649, Maryland became another place that made the denial that Jesus was the son of God a capital offense.
Thus, theocracy (government controlled by those claiming divine authority) existed in several colonies. Both the American history of the 1600s and modern Iran ( which the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency regards as a "theocratic republic" ) illustrates that theocracies are antithetical to liberty and tend to become totalitarian.
Commerce between the colonies weakened the hold of religion since people were induced to compare religions and become more broadminded and less parochial. Thus religion in the 1700s was not as fanatical and totalitarian as it had been in the 1600s. Nevertheless, religion continued to attempt to limit choices in a way that libertarians find repugnant. Even in the 1800s, long after the Bill of Rights was adopted, there were blasphemy convictions, and states continued to bar minority religions from holding office. As late as 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Idaho's laws barring Mormons from voting or holding public office. Until 1962, in the school prayer case (Engel versus Vitale), governmental bodies could dictate forms of public devotion for school children. Of course the First Amendment prevented the national government from imposing religious practices, but states and localities were not limited by the First Amendment.
Exodus 20:10 commands that not only shall a man not work, but that he shall not have his children or animals or strangers work. In sum, everyone and everything is forbidden to work except for ... the man's wife! Sabbath breaking, a capital offense in the Old Testament times, was heavily regulated with states limiting sports, theaters, hunting and fishing and commercial activity. In 1961, the libertarian-leaning Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas voted to strike down Sunday closing laws in McGowan versus Maryland, but the majority upheld the laws. Thus, the Methodist township of Ocean Grove, N.J., banned cars from its streets every Sunday until a court decision in 1979 declared the ban unconstitutional. This case illustrates why libertarians have often opposed states rights: states frequently use their rights to limit individual rights.
Sunday closing laws, whether imposed for religious reasons or secular reasons, violate every tenant of libertarianism, for they deny people the right to use their very own property in a way that they choose. Moreover, churches have supported Prohibition, and criminalizing gambling and other vices that libertarians would tolerate.
Thus, churches once viewed libertarianism as a flawed and dangerous philosophy espoused only by anti- religious people. Churches correctly foresaw that as the atheistic libertarian ideologue Ayn Rand's views gained widespread popularity, their prerogatives to control individual behavior with state power diminished.
To summarize, since churches were once a major factor in restraining libertarianism, the libertarian past that the Tea Party seeks to rescue is largely imaginary.
Jones lives in West Haven.