America's Most Persecuted Minority

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Quick:
which is America’s Most Persecuted Minority? No, you’re wrong. (And
it’s not Big Business either: one of Ayn Rand’s more ludicrous pronouncements.)

All
right, consider this: Which group has been increasingly illegalized,
shamed and denigrated first by the Establishment, and then, following
its lead, by society at large? Which group, far from coming out
of the “closet,” has been literally forced back into
the closet after centuries of walking proudly in the public square?
And which group has tragically internalized the value-system of
its oppressors, so that they are deeply ashamed and guilty about
practicing their rites and customs? Which group is so brow-beaten
that it never thinks of defending itself, any attempt at which is
publicly condemned and ridiculed? Which group is considered such
sinners that the use of doctored statistics against them is considered
legitimate means in a worthy cause?

I
refer, of course, to that once proud race, tobacco-smokers, a group
once revered and envied, but now there are none so poor as to do
them reverence.

So
low has this group sunk in the public esteem that, in rushing to
their defense, I am obliged to point out that I myself am not and
never have been a smoker. Can you imagine having to put in such
a disclaimer against special pleading in behalf of the rights of
blacks, Jews, or gays against oppression?

The
crusade against smoking is only the currently most virulent example
of one of the most malignant forces in American life: left neo-Puritanism.
Puritanism was famously defined by my favorite writer, H.L. Mencken,
as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” The
major problem with the Puritans is not so much that they were a
dour lot, but that they were believers in the dangerous Christian
heresy of “post-millennialism” that is, that it is man’s responsibility
to establish a thousand-year (give or take a few centuries) Kingdom
of God on Earth as a precondition of the Second Advent of Jesus
Christ. Since the Kingdom is by definition a perfect society free
of sin, this means that it is the theological duty of believers
to establish a sin-free society. But establishing a sin-free society,
of course, means taking stern measures to get rid of sinners, which
is where the rub comes in.

Now
I recognize that in being obliged to depict the crusaders as neo-Puritans,
I am in a deep sense not doing justice to the original Puritans.
The original seventeenth-century New England Puritans were not so
much crusaders as people who wanted to establish their own sin-free
Kingdom in their own new settlements, their own “city on a hill.”
The original Puritans, too, were Calvinists, who believed in Christianity
and a Christian commonwealth as a strict code of Biblical and God-determined
law. But over the years, the original Puritanism was replaced, especially
by a wave of pietist revivalism in the late 1820s, by a far more
crusading and hence menacing version of Protestant Christianity:
what is technically known as “post-millennial evangelical pietism”
(PMEP). This PMEP took particular root among the ethno-cultural
descendants of the old Puritans, people who became known as “Yankees,”
and who had migrated from New England to populate such areas as
upstate New York, northern and eastern Ohio, northern Indiana, and
northern Illinois. (No, “Yankees,” as in "damn Yankees,” did
not mean simply “Northerners.”)

This
new, and malignant, form of PMEP, of neo-Puritanism, which literally
dominated all the mainstream Protestant churches in the North for
literally one hundred years, had the following traits: (1) Creed,
or liturgy, is formalistic and unimportant. So long as you are a
Protestant, it doesn’t matter what church you belong to. Churches
don’t matter; the only thing that matters is the individual’s salvation.
(2) To achieve salvation, the individual must believe and must be
free from sin. (3) “Sin,” however, is very broadly defined as virtually
any practice that is enjoyable, in particular, anything which might
“cloud your mind” so that you might not achieve salvation: in particular,
liquor (Demon Rum); any activity on the Sabbath except praying,
reading the Bible, and going to church (and not the Roman Catholic
Church, the instrument of the Antichrist in the Vatican); (4) Since
each individual is weak and subject to temptation, his salvation
must be aided by the government, whose theological duty it is to
stamp out such occasions for sin as liquor, activity of any secular
sort on the Sabbath, and the Catholic Church. As one historian aptly
summed up the PMEP attitude toward the State: “Government is God’s
major instrument of salvation.” After all, how are liquor or Catholics
to be stamped out by persuasion alone? (5) (the crucial icing on
the cake): You will not be saved unless you try your darndest
to maximize everyone else’s salvation (i.e., get the government
to stamp out sin).

Armed
with this five-point world-outlook, the neo-Puritan PMEP hurled
himself (and herself, and how!) into a devilishly energetic,
hopped-up, unrelenting crusade to stamp out these evils, and to
set up paternalistic Big Government on the local, state, and national
levels to crush sin and to usher in a perfect sin-less Kingdom.
In politics, this meant a full century of crusading against liquor,
and to keep the Sabbath Holy. (Do you know that in libertarian,
anti-neo-Puritan Jacksonian America, the Post Office used to deliver
the mail on Sundays?) But since it would be clearly unconstitutional
to outlaw the Catholic Church, the PMEP substitute was to try to
force all children into a network of public schools, the object
of which was to inculcate obedience to the State and, in
the popular slogan of the day, to “Christianize the Catholic” kids,
since Catholic adults were clearly doomed.

It
took archetypical neo-Puritan Woodrow Wilson not only to bring Prohibition
to America, and thereby fulfill the PMEP’s most cherished dreams,
but also to take PMEP crusading on to a world scale. For after the
Kingdom was established in America, the next holy step was to bring
about a worldwide Kingdom. (The Prohibitionist crusaders, however,
soon found their dreams of a liquor-free Europe dashed beyond repair.)

The
ethno-religious group that felt the most severe oppression from
the fanatical harridans of the PMEP (for yes, the most fanatic crusaders
were Yankee women, especially spinsters) were the German-American
Catholics and High-Church Lutherans. Both of these groups imported
into America the charming and admirable custom of going to church
on Sundays with their family in their best finery, and then repairing
to a beer garden in the afternoon, where they could drink beer and
listen to their beloved oom-pah-pah bands. You can imagine the reaction
when hordes of PMEP harridans descended upon them crying “Sin! Evil!
Smash!” for committing what to the Germans was harmless, but what
to the PMEPs was the grave double sin of drinking beer, and
on Sundays! And, furthermore, both the Catholics and the German
Lutherans wanted to bring up their kids in their own parochial schools,
and not in the secularist (or rather, PMEP) public school system!

The
high-water mark of PMEP crusading was, of course, the outlawing
of all liquor (and by constitutional amendment, no less!). The result
used to be common knowledge in America; absolute disaster: tyranny,
corruption, black markets and more alcoholism as people went
underground to get more intense “fixes” such as hard liquor rather
than beer before the cops could close in. And, of course, organized
crime, which was almost non-existent before Prohibition. But now,
only groups willing to be criminals were available to supply a much
desired and demanded product.

This
grim lesson used to be known to all Americans, but it has been lost
in the enthusiasm for recent neo-Puritan crusades; against drugs,
and now against smoking. What is little realized is that the current
reason for the crusade was also present during the old PMEP war
against liquor. As the decades wore on, the neo-Puritans used both
theological and medicinal arguments; liquor will not only send you
to Hell, but would also ruin your temporal body, your liver, your
body-as-a-temple. Liquor would cause you to beat your wives, have
more accidents, and, a little later, injure yourself and others
on the road. Increasingly, over the years, the PMEPs married theology
and Science in their crusade.

So
what happened to the aggressively Christian features of neo-Puritanism,
to the emphasis on salvation and on the Kingdom? Interestingly,
over the decades, the Christian aspect gradually disappeared. After
all, if as a Christian activist, your major focus is not
on creed or liturgy but on using the government to shape everyone
up and stamp out sin, eventually Christ fades out of the picture
and government remains. The picture of the Kingdom of God on Earth
becomes secularized or atheized, and, in the Marxist version, the
secular sin-free Kingdom is brought about by the terrible swift
sword of the “saints” of the Communist Party. We have arrived at
the grisly land of Left Puritanism, of a Left Kingdom which proposes
to bring about a perfect world free of tobacco, inequality, greed,
and hate-thoughts. We have arrived, in short, in the land of The
Enemy.

And
so, smokers! Are you mice or are you men? Smokers, rise up, be proud,
throw off the guilt imposed on you by your oppressors! Stand tall,
and smoke! Defend your rights! Do you really think that someone
can get instant lung cancer by imbibing a bit of smoke from someone
sitting twenty feet away in an outdoor arena? How do you explain
the fact that millions of people have smoked all their lives without
ill effect?

And
remember, if today they come for the smoker, tomorrow they will
come for you. If today they grab your cigarette, tomorrow they will
seize your junk food, your carbohydrates, your yummy but “empty”
calories. And don’t think that your liquor is safe either; neo-Prohibitionism
has been long on the march, what with “sin taxes” (revealing term,
isn’t it?), outlawing of advertising, higher drinking ages, and
the neo-Puritan harpies of MADD. Are you ready for the Left Nutritional
Kingdom, with everyone forced to confine his food to yogurt and
tofu and bean sprouts? Are you ready to be confined in a cage, to
make sure that your diet is perfect, and that you get the prescribed
Compulsory Exercise? All to be governed by a Hillary Clinton National
Health Board?

Smokers,
if you have the guts to form a Smokers Defense League, I will be
happy to join a Non-Smokers Auxiliary! How about smokers as one
important mass base for a right-wing populist counterrevolution?

Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He was
also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
.

Murray
Rothbard Archives

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