Prohibition, Liberty, and Accountability




When Regulation & Liberty invited me to jot down about Prohibition on the one-hundredth anniversary of the Eighteenth Modification and the Volstead Act, I snatched on the alternative. I used to be honored to have been requested, and now I’m doubly honored to acknowledge three wonderful responses to my essay which might be much more coherent than my unique contribution to this dialogue. William Atto, Sean Beienburg, and Scott Yenor have broadened and deepened my information of Prohibition in truth and idea, and so they have given me extra avenues for investigation.

My curiosity in warfare, faith, and reform goes again a few years. In 2003, I revealed The Struggle for Righteousness, an try to grasp and clarify how the liberal Protestant clergy in the US both reconciled themselves to American intervention within the Nice Struggle in 1917 or, in lots of instances, embraced and even ratcheted-up the extravagant Wilsonian guarantees concerning the prospects of a warfare of redemption. An evidence was needed, I argued, as a result of so many of those clergy had for many years previous to the warfare promoted worldwide peace and brotherhood. How did skilled peace advocates grow to be hardcore interventionists after which uncompromising advocates of complete warfare towards Imperial Germany keen to pay nearly any worth for complete victory? The quick reply was that their social gospel theology, broadly construed, had predisposed them to mobilize their church buildings for the best campaign ever, seizing the chance the warfare handed them to proceed their transformation of historic Christianity and apply the social gospel of their concerted effort to remake America and the world. In hindsight, their optimism strikes us as delusional, however they had been in earnest and thought they stood for the time being of success for his or her grandest aspirations. The liberal clergy weren’t “co-opted” by the federal government for the warfare effort. They had been “self-mobilized” and enlisted themselves for the length and past for seemingly countless home and worldwide wars for righteousness.

The push for nationwide Prohibition that culminated in 1919 opens one other window into this similar second of American historical past, and my essay for Regulation & Liberty gave me a chance to revise my earlier argument, though I didn’t accomplish that explicitly. I used to be initially requested to jot down concerning the warfare and prohibition and the way warfare metaphors have grow to be a behavior that has confirmed laborious to shake. Since I examine largely faith and warfare and faith and politics, it was pure that my ideas turned first to faith’s position in pushing prohibition to its sweeping victory. Faith’s position in launching temperance after which prohibition crusades within the early nineteenth century is well-known. What’s much less well-known is faith’s position in securing victory in 1919 and faith’s position in sustaining enforcement and in lobbying Congress to not modify the Volstead Act within the 1920s. Whereas Jewish and Catholic leaders participated within the marketing campaign for prohibition, what I imply right here by “faith” is a specific model of Protestant activism. And I don’t imply faith as an summary drive. The mixture of warfare, faith, and reform was the product of the exercise of hundreds of flesh-and-blood human beings. Opposite to the impression I left in The Struggle for Righteousness, such activism was not confined to the liberal clergy however characterised a broad evangelicalism that united modernists and fundamentalists in a typical trigger.

Amongst all the opposite issues Prohibitionists allied themselves with—anti-immigration, anti-Catholicism, social management, industrial and labor reform, scientific effectivity, and Progressive reform generally—additionally they drew energy from an activist Protestantism that promoted Christianity largely by way of cultural transformation quite than preparation for the life to return. In different phrases, the best way reformers judged whether or not or not the church was fulfilling its job on the planet was the diploma to which it succeeded in shaping American politics, economics, regulation, warfare, and overseas relations.

Proof for this abounds in non secular periodicals, within the minutes of denominational committees and nationwide assemblies, within the work of the Anti-Saloon League, in testimony earlier than the Home and Senate, in sermons and particular worship companies dedicated to Prohibition, and within the “secular” speeches of politicians. The fusion of warfare, faith, and reform couldn’t be clearer in these sources. Whether or not all this enthusiasm proved essential to the difficult and drawn-out means of ratification of the Eighteenth Modification and passage and enforcement of the Volstead Act is tough to say. What’s unmistakable, nevertheless, is that a lot of leaders believed it was so or a minimum of wished their constituents to imagine it was so. Prohibition’s victory appeared to vindicate Christianity’s calling and capability to remake America and the world. For numerous People, Prohibition was a non secular triumph achieved by means of politics, warfare, ethical strain, and progressive theology.

It’s equally vital to grasp that Prohibition divided American Christianity—because it had achieved for the reason that starting of the motion within the 1820s. Previous to that point, drunkenness had been denounced as a sin condemned by each the Previous and New Testaments. Wayward clergy and parishioners confronted church self-discipline for abuse of alcohol. However wine was welcomed as a blessing from God, affirmed by Jesus, central to the sacrament of Holy Communion, praised by John Calvin and plenty of different theologians influential in American Protestantism, and an honored a part of conviviality, together with celebrations accompanying the ordination of pastors. Prohibition marked a revolution in American Christianity. Alcohol in and of itself grew to become evil to the purpose of even being faraway from the sacrament. The trouble to nationalize complete abstinence culminated throughout the First World Struggle, as I sketched out in my essay. And the trouble mobilized a Christian opposition that for theological, ecclesiological, ethical, and political causes fought to maintain the older custom of biblical exegesis, to protect the apolitical character of their pulpits and the separation of Church and State, to withstand the social gospel, and to protect private liberty and restricted authorities.

The non secular historical past of the prohibition motion from starting to finish must be written, and Regulation & Liberty has impressed me to undertake that job. As I discover faith’s ongoing position within the motion (and towards the motion), I have to keep away from isolating non secular arguments from every part else at play. William Atto’s reminder is properly taken that the prohibition motion was embedded in an internet of nationalism, nativism, and campaigns for social justice extra usually, and in mild of his final level I might want to present that it was the reinvention of Calvinism quite than Calvinism itself that energized the campaign for a dry America. On the entire, it was the New College Calvinists within the 1830s–those that liberalized doctrine, embraced revivalism and different “new measures,” and mobilized the trustworthy for organized benevolence–who agitated for complete abstinence. Certainly, a few of the most cussed anti-Prohibitionists got here from the ranks of orthodox Calvinists.

Sean Beienburg’s provocative “one cheer” for the Eighteenth Modification gives an vital reminder that the constitutional tradition of 1919 isn’t the constitutional tradition of 2019. It’s certainly putting how the promoters of the modification and people charged with its implementation upheld the necessity to really undergo the modification course of, purchase the consent of the states, and cling to their oaths of workplace. The query will probably be whether or not the non secular prohibitionists confirmed the identical scruples about regulation and process. The statements of the PCUSA, the Federal Council of Church buildings, Methodist bishops, and others—particularly of their open contempt for federalism and blithe dismissal of non-public liberty, recommend they retained few such scruples. A lot of them had been nationalists who commemorated the fashionable State.

Scott Yenor’s “one cheer” for Prohibition, although coming from a special nook of the pub from Beienburg’s, provides an vital warning towards a doctrinaire libertarian reply to the issue of alcohol abuse and affirms regulation’s capability to form public morality. Whereas it’s true, nevertheless, that Prohibitionists “fought towards intemperance within the title of reaching larger self-control,” additionally it is true that they fought for way more. They fought for social management, first of their church buildings, then by means of native restrictions and shutting down saloons, after which by means of state and nationwide motion to ban the manufacture, distribution, importation, and sale of alcohol.

The query in 1919, and earlier than and since, was whether or not such sweeping makes an attempt at social management promoted accountable citizenship or really undermined the older ethic of self-control and private character and thereby weakened the reason for private liberty and accountability.

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