Thursday, October 02, 2008

Tales from Prohibition

This was just left as a comment on an old post, from 2006:

You don't sound like a supporter of prohibition but if anyone proposes it for the UK, just tell them to study the results of the US prohibition. It lead to an incrase in the alcohol levels of booze, lead to the consolidation of little gangs into massive criminal gangs and a general disregard for law. One of my grandfathers made bathtub gin (he was trying to support his family) and my other grandfather rowed from Detriot Michigan to Canada and back with a case or two of canadian whiskey on foggy nights. He quit this when the criminals made it too dangerous (he was trying to support his family also). Who benefits from a prohibition? Those who chase and catch smugglers and lawyers on both sides of the issue!
Here's the eText of a book called What Prohibition Has Done to America, written by Fabian Franklin and published in 1922. I've read a bit of it, and it seems spot on. Interesting chapter on prohibition and socialism.
The danger to individual liberty in a democracy is of the same nature as the danger to individual liberty in a monarchy or an oligarchy; whether power be held by one man, or by a thousand, or by a majority out of a hundred million, it is equally possible for the governing power on the one hand to respect, or on the other hand to ignore, the right of individuals to the free play of their individual powers, the exercise of their individual predilections, the leading of their individual lives according to their own notions of what is right or desirable. A monarch of enlightened and liberal mind will respect that right, and limit his encroachments upon it to the minimum required for the essential objects of reasonable government; so, too, will a democracy if it is of like temper and intelligence. But it is not so with Socialism. Numerous as are the varieties of Socialism, they all agree in being inherently antagonistic to individualism. It may be pleaded, in criticism of this assertion, that all government is opposed to individualism; that the difference in this respect between Socialism and other forms of civil organization is only one of degree; that we make a surrender of individuality, as well as of liberty, when we consent to live in any organized form of society. It is not worth while to dispute the point; the difference may, if one chooses, be regarded as only a difference of degree. But when a difference of degree goes to such a point that what is minor, incidental, exceptional in the one case, is paramount, essential, pervasive in the other, the difference is, for all the purposes of thinking, equivalent to a difference of kind.


Peter Horne said...

Very interesting.
Prohibition is surely an excellent example of the problem with democracy, of which socialism is simply an advanced form,in that power tends to be hijacked by a political elite who justify any infringement of personal freedom on the grounds that it's for your own good, whilst ensuring that power is concentrated in their own hands and the hands of people who share their prejudices.

The problem is the conflation of democracy with freedom.It is the rule of law which guarantees individual freedom and not democracy. In his speech from the scaffold King Charles said

"For the people. And truly I desire their Liberty and Freedom as much as any Body whomsoever. But I must tell you, That their Liberty and Freedom, consists in having of Government; those Laws, by which their Life and their Gods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government (Sir) that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a soveraign are clean different things, and therefore until they do that, I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves."

I think he was right. Monarchy tempered by an entrenched aristocracy is certainly better for individual freedom than democracy, though personally I'd prefer a nightwatchman state as existed in Cowperthwaite's Hong Kong.

When the Queen's speech runs along the following lines:
"Lords, ladies and Gentleman, other than actions necessary for the proper maintenance of the rule of law, my government will be taking no action whatsoever during this session of parliament. Ehrrm... that's it. Drinks anyone? My round."
then we'll know we're free.

Anonymous said...

H.L. Mencken summed it up succinctly:
“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”