Saturday, June 18, 2005

Column on a tiny bit of progress

Tiny Progress, But Some

Tibor R. Machan

Nearly ten years ago I left Auburn, Alabama, to move to Southern
California and take up a new and more exciting line of work?actually
several lines. During the ten years I lived in Auburn and taught at the
university there?with some short visiting stints elsewhere?there had been
some unique little tyrannies I used to fume about, if only to make the
point that despite being minor, they should be stopped. One of these petty
tyrannies was that stores were prohibited from selling any alcohol on
Sundays, even wine and beer.

I kept forgetting this ban routinely and sometimes loaded up my cart with
a bit of booze only to be turned away at the cash register and ordered to
get rid of the stuff. Which then gave me the opportunity to deliver an
eloquent speech about fascism, both petty and massive, to the annoyance of
all the other people attempting to get through their Sunday shopping and
the staff who had no interest in any of this. They all, like so many
millions of people, were perfectly willing to put up with this minor but
true police state policy, even if now and then they too were annoyed with
the pushy authorities and the coercive policies they imposed on us all.
But, well, it wasn?t Auschwitz, nor the Soviet gulags, not even South
Africa, so why make a fuss!?

Not me. I figured one value of having been raised under Hungarian
communism, even of the more or less ?Goulash? variety, as well as by a
Nazi father, is never to accept that it?s OK for other people, especially
governments, to limit one?s liberty, never. So, I made my impassioned and
eloquent protest each time I got the chance.

I visited back in Auburn a while ago and, lo and behold, massive progress
became evident to me. Now the government forbids you to buy alcohol only
until about Sunday noon in Alabama, not throughout the entire day. Wow.
Talk about gains in human liberty! No, not massive gains, perhaps, nor all
that significant ones but even this minor progress should be welcome, I
believe. Of course, it is interesting to consider why there was liberation
for human beings only for Sunday afternoons, not the whole day. And even
the health center has to be closed until the afternoon, so it isn?t just
alcohol purchase that suffers from restraint of trade.

The reason, of course, is that people must be ?encouraged? to attend
church in Alabama, via the forces of the state. The fear among the
faithful political class is that if they were to be able to purchase some
liquor on Sunday mornings, sure enough no one would show up in church.
Thousands would be standing in line for alcohol and the churches would be
empty. And this is not to be tolerated. Not only that, but health
conscious citizens, who may not be hell bent on an early alcohol buying
spree, would, however, be out there exercising to their hearts? content
and miss church that way, so the health club must also be kept out of
reach. Such temptations must simply be eliminated or the good people of
the state of Alabama would all fall prey to temptation?or that is what the
thinking appears to be down there in Montgomery.

It is sad, a kind of confession of desperation, all this prohibition, if
you ask me. If Alabamians aren?t sufficiently devoted to forego alcohol
purchase and physical workout on Sunday mornings so they can attend
service, what does their faith amount to anyway? If they must be coerced
into church attendance it bodes rather ill for the state of religion in
this Bible belt community. What kind of commitment does all this evidence?

Or perhaps the politicians and minister who decided on this policy, in
the famous blue law tradition that has been with America from way back,
maybe drastically underestimating the strength of faith of Alabamians.
Perhaps the good religious folks down there would not only have no trouble
resisting any temptations to miss church for the sake of booze and
exercise but they very likely aren?t even tempted to do any such thing.
No one can be sure, of course, since they aren?t being trusted with the
matter by those politicians and others who support all this.

Still, we should probably celebrate the tiny progress made in Alabama
whereby adult men and women are now free to make their own decisions as to
whether to buy liquor or work out most of the time and, now, even on
Sunday afternoons. In the past, after all, they were cruelly deprived of
this liberty for all of Sunday. That, at least, is no longer so.

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