[OWEpitz] was for 37 years one of the senior staff members at the
Foundation for Economic Education. He died on February 13, four
days before his colleague at FEE, Paul
Poirot, also died. Opitz was 92. Poirot was 90.
Opitz was FEE’s
resident theologian. He was an ordained Congregational minister.
Earlier, he had been a Unitarian minister, but as he grew older,
he grew more conservative. He no longer fit in Unitarian circles.
He was the author of a book that FEE sold for years, Religion
and Capitalism: Allies, Not Enemies (1970). He wrote several
others with the same theme: The
Powers That Be, The Kingdom Without God, and Religion:
Foundation of a Free Society. His final book was The
Libertarian Theology of Freedom.
In the early
1950s, he had been part of Spiritual Mobilization, an organization
that published a magazine, Faith and Freedom. Murray Rothbard
and Henry Hazlitt often wrote for it. It was sent to over 20,000
ministers. The guiding light of the organization was James Fifield,
pastor of the huge First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. He
was opposed to the social gospel. Attendees at the Spiritual Mobilization
meetings were often ministers and were advocates of the free market.
R. J. Rushdoony was influenced by the magazine.
hired Opitz in 1955, the year that The Freeman began publication
under FEE. Opitz read constantly in many areas. He had a large personal
library. Basically, Read paid him to read, give one speech at every
FEE seminar — a speech on majoritarianism — and offer
a nondenominational lecture on the Sunday morning of any weekend
FEE seminar. As far as I could tell in my time at FEE (1971—73),
he got paid to read and write book reviews. It was a great job!
Most of the
senior staff had their offices upstairs. Opitz’s office was downstairs,
closer to the library. That was fitting and proper.
While at FEE,
he started a small organization called the Remnant, using the main
theme of a reprinted essay that FEE published, written by Albert
Jay Nock in 1937, “Isaiah’s Job.” The organization would sponsor
a lecture by a prominent conservative or libertarian speaker who
might be in New York City briefly on a speaking tour or personal
visit. The size of the meeting was small. Opitz allowed me to use
that name for my newsletter, Remnant Review, which I started
His other organization
was the Nockian Society. It was a way to keep Nock’s writings in
He had an amazing
recall of everyone in the conservative movement. If you asked him
about almost anyone, he could provide stories about the person.
He seemed to have known most of them personally. There were fewer
of them back then, and his connections institutionally had brought
him into contact with many of them.
He was a gracious
man. He was always smiling. He never seemed to have a bad word for
anyone, although his verbal summary of some person’s many accomplishments
might persuade the listener that there may have been a problem or
two with the person’s judgment on occasion. But he was always prepared
to be critical of bad ideas. He could also tell you when and where
someone had gone into print with some bonehead idea or recommendation.
He was in better
physical shape than any man his age I have ever known. He was a
bicycling enthusiast, a member of the League of American Wheelmen.
After lunch, he used to ride his one-gear (high) bicycle down to
the bottom of the ten-block hill on Main Street in Irvington, and
ride back up. He said the challenge was to sit down the whole way.
Anyone could do it standing up, he insisted. (I could barely walk
up that hill at age 30; I never tried it twice in a row.) He would
sometimes turn around and do it again. Then he would go back to
He also played
the French horn in local bands.
at FEE was one way that Leonard Read affirmed his own highly mystical
faith in God. Read was anything but the village atheist. His affirmation
of libertarianism was grounded in his belief that God undergirds
all reality. So, Opitz’s variety of theism appealed to him.
of modern libertarianism have not been studied with the same attention
to detail that the origins of American conservatism have been studied.
Libertarianism has been far less involved in politics, and far less
involved with the Republican Party. So, in an era of political religion,
it has attracted less attention.
essence of libertarianism is its antipathy to the State, but especially
the messianic State: the State as a savior. Those theologians who
have recognized the deeply religious roots of the messianic State
have sometimes drifted into the ranks of libertarianism, at least
on its fringes. Edmund Opitz was not on the fringes of modern American
libertarianism. He was present at the creation.