October 29, 2013
EFFECTIVE, BUT FLAWED:
The Real Lessons of Prohibition (Anthony Esolen, 10/29/13, Crisis)
[I]f Prohibition was intended to curtail hard drinking, it did work. It's always easier to look at something that happened than to imagine what would have happened but didn't. Most people obeyed the law. Of course there were speakeasies and bootleggers. The Kennedy family made their fortune on illegal whiskey. But there wasn't a speakeasy on every street or a still in every backyard. Actuarial tables show that, shortly after Prohibition began, deaths from cirrhosis of the liver dropped considerably, and continued to drop through the twenties, leveling off by the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933. After all, Prohibition did enjoy some wide support. Billy Sunday, baseball player and itinerant preacher, campaigned for it. Even Irish Catholics were not uniformly in opposition. I recall a photograph of a parade held in my coal-mining town in 1918, to celebrate the armistice. Prominent were the Knights of Father Mathew, an Irish temperance society.So, then, what does Prohibition teach us?That amendment inserted into the Constitution a law that neither protected fundamental rights nor adjusted the mechanics of governance. It was a radical break from tradition. It is crucial to understand this. It took a juridical break from tradition to obliterate the customs, the lived traditions, of the American people and their forebears.Granted, Prohibition addressed problems that certainly needed solving. Prohibition was sold, in large part, as a measure to protect women and children from alcoholic husbands and fathers. An evil-tempered workingman, coming home drunk after a day underground with a pickax or on the railroad with a sledgehammer, might beat his wife and children, or he might already have drunk half his money away.But the avenue chosen was too problematic.
Posted by Orrin Judd at October 29, 2013 4:30 AM