On the way back from McAllen, TX last week, my family and I stopped at the Prasek Smokehouse in Hillje, TX. Wonderful European-type salami, sausages, and many other delicacies, and very low prices. It’s double fun for our family given the fact that Prasek means “piglet” in most Slavic languages (the name of the store is of Czech origin but the word is the same in our native Bulgarian); we find it funny that a smokehouse would have such a name, it just fits perfectly.
While driving back to Houston, I was looking at the countryside between Hillje and Houston and thinking, “Who in their right mind back in the 1800s would leave their beautiful Czech valleys and villages to settle in this God-forsaken place at the edge of the civilized world?”
Central and southeast Texas – west of Houston – is German, Czech, and Polish country. Fredericksburg, of course, is the center of the German culture here; the country side – judging from the names of the businesses advertized on billboards along the road – is full with descendants of those who left their homes back in the Austrian Empire and South Germany and settled in the “big sky” wilderness, far away from any civilization, any transport infrastructure, any general stores, or any industry. Even today, with our highways and freeways, the driving distance from Houston to Hillje is about two hours. In the 1800s, Houston didn’t even exist as the big city it is today. The closest hint of civilization was a week away in those days.
For anyone who has ever visited the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, and has seen the beautiful valleys, the fields, the villages and the cities with their communities and festivals, the fertile black soil of Central Europe (for those who farm), leaving that beauty of civilized life for Indian raids, an open wilderness of clay soils, constant storms and brutal heat in the summer is inexplicable. Why would anyone want to leave Europe for the sake of the Texan wilderness? Americans today pay lots of money to visit those beautiful places; no European pays to visit our open spaces and prairies. If given the chance, why not just stay there and live in Europe? But they spent everything they could, left behind homes and security and communities and fun and friends just to move to Texas?
And not that these people were adventurers in their hearts. In fact, they were deeply conservative. Once they moved to Texas, they re-created their little communities they had back home. Some of them moved here as communities, sometimes even taking their village priest or pastor with them. Once established, they did not stray from the customs and the culture they had inherited from their old country. Come to central Texas, you’ll see much of that Central European culture has remained (even in the salami they make). Sexual promiscuity, sodomy, drunkenness, theft, were unheard of among these people. Children stayed with their families on the farms and worked, and orphans were taken care of by relatives. Just like the Scotch-Irish culture defined the healthy moral climate of the American Frontier in the 18th and the first half of the 19th century, Central Europeans and Scandinavians defined the healthy moral climate of the Frontier in the second half of the 19th century, as far south as Texas and north as Minnesota.
But why did they leave their places? In the 19th century, the governments of Germany, and the Austrian Empire were thoroughly conservative. Germany under Bismarck was officially Protestant, Bavaria was Roman Catholic, Austria was Roman Catholic too. After the Napoleonic Wars, the Central European governments abandoned the policies of religious persecution and discrimination so there was freedom of worship. The governments enforced many Christian laws: sodomy, abortion, promiscuity, and others, were crimes. Prostitution was against the law. The Austrian Empire prosecuted pornographers, writers and photographers (after the discovery of photography). The schools in Austria and Germany were top-rate in their training and teaching. (For the relative technological and economic backwardness compared to Britain, the Austrian Empire – and specifically Moravia – had an astounding number of universities and world-class scientists.) Germany and Austria were the dream of a modern social conservative come true: the very central governments suppressed all forms of immorality that could harm the souls of the young people in their societies.
Then why did these God-fearing, conservative, industrious families leave their homelands and took so many risks to move to the wilderness? What did they dislike back home?
A central government. No matter how moral, virtuous, religious, conservative their governments were, they were central governments who imposed their will on the local populations. The local communities – conservative and God-fearing themselves – could regulate their own affairs and local morals, if they were allowed to. But they weren’t. Having a conservative central government was good but it exacted a heavy price: no liberty. At the end, even a perfectly conservative and officially Christian central government, if it denied the liberty of the people and the counties, became oppressive. For the people living under such government, it mattered nil whether it was conservative or socialist. What mattered was that it was oppressive.
They wanted to live righteous lives; but a righteous life without liberty is not life at all. So whole villages left their ancestral lands and moved to the American Frontier, as far away as possible from central government which would impose on them its own morality, even if it was a good morality. They preferred to live in danger, poverty, insecurity, but be free. And thus Texas was born and it grew to become the unique culture it is today.
Our modern conservatives can learn from these people in the past. Our modern conservatism has forgotten its roots and ideology. The conservatism of old was not a conservatism of a central government imposing moral dictates on states, counties, and the people. The conservatism of old was first and foremost a return to a decentralized system of competing governments and localities. Some of them would remain God-fearing and loyal to the traditional values. Others would go liberal and accommodate criminals, sodomites, and prostitutes. The two types of communities would compete then on a local level, in industry, economic growth, cleanliness and health, and eventually in population growth. At the end, in this local competition, conservatism won.
Liberty always favors the righteous.
But modern conservatives believe that that competition should be moved to the level of Washington DC. They have accepted the liberal lie that whatever problems our society has today must be solved at a Federal level. So most modern conservatives expect and vote to achieve conservative social goals through a liberal agenda: through Washington DC. The Tenth Amendment which limits the Federal government is not an acceptable standard for conservatives anymore. Politicians who promise to take over Washington DC and make it impose a conservative agenda on the whole nation are the popular politicians. And when a politician wants to shrink the Federal government and return the power to the states, modern conservatives cry foul that he is trying to legalize sin and immorality.
But centralized power is always oppressive. And eventually, no matter how “conservative” a politician claims to be, when they want centralized power, it is always used to liberal goals. No matter how “Christian” or “conservative” a centralized power is, eventually it gives way to either Lenin or Hitler. And when that happens, only power remains, and righteousness is gone. Only liberty can protect righteousness, better than any centralized Federal laws. Those settlers who defied the hardships and the dangers of the wilderness, knew it very well. We better learn from them. Our local communities can take care of themselves, better than any politician or bureaucrat in Washington DC. Without liberty, righteousness can not prosper.