If History Rhymes

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/04/01/if-history-rhymes/

Within weeks, the Coronavirus shutdown will draw to its inevitable conclusion. Life will settle into a new normal. In the long run, very likely our lives will change modestly. Perhaps we’ll maintain a modified “social distance,” becoming more like the Victorians and less like modern “huggers.” Maybe we’ll shake hands less frequently, even in Church pews where Catholics may avoid the post-Vatican II “Sign of Peace” and recapture a traditional sense of Stoic piety. It’s possible that we’ll think the better of blowing a few hundred bucks on some concert or sporting event that traps us in an enclosed box for several hours amidst the screams and spittle of rabid fans.

One can only hope.

At least one societal change resulting from the quarantine could do wonders to reinvigorate our national sense of family, faith, and community. Let’s give serious thought to reinstating at least some of the time-honored Sunday closure laws, sort of a one-day-per-week modified stay-at-home request. Such action would rededicate our society to a regular day of rest, family meals, civic associations, and religious observance.

By rededicating each Sunday as “a common day of rest,” we would say that the life of America is much more than never-pausing commerce and ever-grinding bureaucracy. We would proclaim that the heart of the nation transcends consumerism and looms larger than even the biggest government. We would emphasize that the real value in a country comes not from its GNP or tax collections, but from families, faith, communities, that it comes from “We the people.”

Many obvious benefits to faith, family, and community are certain to accrue from Sunday closings. Less obvious will be an economic uplift for the mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar shops that traditionally were permitted to open on Sundays, long before being squashed by malls, warehouse stores, and supermarkets which dominate seven-day commerce. Additionally, locally owned restaurants regularly served neighborhoods in the “blue law” era, further encouraging small businesses. For old-school sports fans, Sundays-at-rest may encourage a relaxed weekly afternoon watching or listening to nine innings of baseball, reinvigorating our once-dominant national pastime.

Of course, there will be plenty of entrenched opposition to a renewed Sunday for rest, reflection, family, faith, and community. Libertarians and classical laissez faire economists oppose any such restrictions on commerce, blissfully unaware that most states protected the Lord’s Day from big business encroachment for nearly two centuries, while encouraging free enterprise on the six other days. Even those who claimed “the business of America is business” were willing to concede one day a week for faith, family, rest.

More opposition to a restoration of Sundays will emanate from secular leftists, who on most issues vehemently denounce greedy billionaire capitalists. But on this matter their fear that more Americans “will keep holy the Lord’s Day” far outweighs their fear of unbridled capitalism. Better, many secularists suppose, that people go to supermarkets and malls than to prayer services. Better still that Americans become addicted to consumerism than fall for “the opiate of the masses.” Better, they conclude, an undifferentiated mass of Sunday consumers than Masses and services filled with Sunday worshipers.

Finally, politicians and bureaucrats will fight to preserve the shopping status quo. After all, unending consumer activity churns out enormous sales tax and income tax revenue for politicians and bureaucrats to spend. Any threat to that revenue stream will stimulate fierce political opposition.

A wise man once said there’s no going back in history. That’s perhaps the truest of all truisms.

But who ever imagined that commerce and bureaucracy would grind to a halt for so many days and weeks and perhaps months as the result of a deadly virus? There’s no one alive who concretely remembers the flu epidemic of a century ago; every breathing baby boomer easily recalls limitations to commercial activity on Sundays.

One might suggest that with today’s coronavirus, we are, in a tragic and certain sense, reliving or “going back in history.” 

Another venerable aphorism often misattributed to Mark Twain says:  “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

We are witnesses to history rhyming through a medical contagion and many days of quarantine. After that quarantine passes, why cannot we also envision higher priorities for 52 Sundays of family dinners, neighborhood gatherings, and church bell chimes? Yes, that could be the sweetest sound, if history rhymes.


Joseph Tortelli is a freelance writer. Read other columns by Mr. Tortelli here.