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What Prohibition Has Done to America


What Prohibition Has Done to America

by Fabian Franklin
Copyright 1922,  Harcourt, Brace & Co., New York. 



In the foregoing chapter I have said that while absorption in the idea of democracy has had a tendency to impair devotion to the idea of liberty, yet that in democracy itself there is no inherent opposition to liberty. 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. Socialism is in its very essence opposed to individualism. It makes the collective welfare not an incidental concern of each man's daily life, but his primary concern. The standard it sets up, the regulations it establishes, are not things that a man must merely take account of as special restraints on his freedom, exceptional limitations on the exercise of his individuality; they constitute the basic conditions of his life. When the Socialist movement was in its infancy in this country--though it had made great headway in several of the leading countries of Europe--the customary way of disposing of it was with a mere wave of the hand. Socialism can never work; it is contrary to human nature--these simple assertions were regarded by nearly all conservatives as sufficient to settle the matter in the minds of all sensible persons That is now no longer so much the fashion; yet I have no doubt that a very large proportion of those who are opposed to Socialism are still content with this way of disposing of it. But Socialism has steadily--though of course with fluctuations --increased in strength, in America as well as in Europe, for many decades; and it would be folly to imagine that mere declarations of its being "impracticable," or "contrary to human nature," will suffice to check it. Millions of men and women, here in America--ranging in intellect all the way from the most cultured to the most ignorant--are filled with an ardent faith that in Socialism, and in nothing else, is to be found the remedy for all the great evils under which mankind suffers; and there is no sign of slackening in the growth of this faith. When the time comes for a real test of its strength--when it shall have gathered such force as to be able to throw down a real challenge to the conservative forces in the political field--it is absurd to suppose that those who are inclined to welcome it as the salvation of the world will be frightened off by prophecies of failure. They will want to make the trial; and they will make the trial, regardless of all prophecies of disaster, if the people shall have come to believe that the object is a desirable one--that Socialism is a form of life which they would like after they got it. The one great bulwark against Socialism is the sentiment of liberty. If we find nothing obnoxious in universal regimentation; if we feel that life would have as much savor when all of us were told off to our tasks, or at least circumscribed and supervised in our activities, by a swarm of officials carrying out the benevolent edicts of a paternal Government; if we hold as of no account the exercise of individual choice and the development of individual potentialities which are the very lifeblood of the existing order of society; if all these things hold no value for us, then we shall gravitate to Socialism as surely as a river will find its way to the sea. Socialism--granted its practicability, and its practicability can never be disproved except by trial, by long and repeated trial--holds out the promise of great blessings to mankind. And some of these blessings it is actually capable of furnishing, even if in the end it should prove to be a failure. Above all it could completely  abolish poverty--that is, anything like abject poverty. The productive power of mankind, thanks to the progress of science and invention, is now so great that, even if Socialism were to bring about a very great decline of productiveness--not, to be sure, such utter blasting of productiveness as has been caused by the Bolshevik insanity--there would yet be amply enough to supply, by equal distribution, the simple needs of all the people. Besides the abolition of poverty, there would be the extinction of many sinister forms of competitive greed and dishonesty. To the eye of the thinking conservative, these things-poverty, greed, dishonesty--while serious evils, are but the blemishes in a great and wholesome scheme of human life; drawbacks which go with the benefits of a system in which each man is free, within certain necessary limits, to do his best or his worst; a price such as, in this imperfect world, we have to pay for anything that is worth having. But to the Socialist the matter presents itself in no such light. He sees a mass of misery which he believes--and in large measure justly believes--Socialism would put an end to; and he has no patience with the conservative who points out--and justly points out-- that the poverty is being steadily, though gradually, overcome in the advance of mankind under the existing order. "Away with it," he says; "we cannot wait a hundred years for that which we have a right to demand today." And "away with it" we ought all to say, if Socialism, while doing away with it, would not be doing away with something else of infinite value and infinite benefit to mankind, both material and spiritual; something with which is bound up the richness and zest of life, not only for what it is the fashion of radicals to call "the privileged few," but for the great mass of mankind. That something is liberty, and the individuality which is inseparably bound up with liberty. The essence of Socialism is the suppression of individuality, the exaltation of the collective will and the collective interest, the submergence of the individual will and the individual interest. The particular form--even the particular degree--of coercion by which this submergence is brought about varies with the different types of Socialism; but they all agree in the essential fact of the submergence. Socialism may possibly be compatible with prosperity, with contentment; it is not compatible with liberty, not compatible with individuality. I am, of course, not undertaking here to discuss the merits of Socialism; my purpose is only to point out that those who are hostile to Socialism must cherish liberty. And it is vain to cherish liberty in the abstract if you are doing your best to dry up the very source of the love of liberty in the concrete workings of every man's daily experience. With the plain man--indeed with men in general, plain or otherwise--love of liberty, or of any elemental concept, is strong only if it is instinctive; and it cannot be instinctive if it is jarred every day by habitual and unresented experience of its opposite. Prohibition is a restraint of liberty so clearly unrelated to any primary need of the state, so palpably bearing on the most personal aspect of a man's own conduct, that it is impossible to acquiesce in it and retain a genuine and lively feeling of abhorrence for any other threatened invasion of the domain of liberty which can claim the justification of being intended for the benefit of the poor or unfortunate. So long as Prohibition was a local measure, so long even as it was a measure of State legislation, this effect did not follow; or, if at all, only in a small degree. People did not regard it as a dominant, and above all as a paramount and inescapable, part of the national life. But decreed for the whole nation, and imbedded permanently in the Constitution, it will have an immeasurable effect in impairing that instinct of liberty which has been the very heart of the American spirit; and with the loss of that spirit will be lost the one great and enduring defense against Socialism. It is not by the argumentation of economists, nor by the calculations of statisticians, that the Socialist advance can be halted. The real struggle will be a struggle not of the mind but of the spirit; it will be Socialism and regimentation against individualism and liberty. The cause of Prohibition has owed its rapid success in no small measure to the support of great capitalists and industrialists bent upon the absorbing object of productive efficiency; but they have paid a price they little realize. For in the attainment of this minor object, they have made a tremendous breach in the greatest defense of the existing order of society against the advancing enemy. To undermine the foundations of Liberty is to open the way to Socialism.