Reliving a Moment of American Madness

To its true believers, the idea was more than a public policy. It was a civil religion, one encompassing and instructing their entire mistaken sense of moral and intellectual superiority.

The true believers viewed the vast majority of their opponents as wayward children, naïve and ignorant or, perhaps, just unduly influenced. Whatever the case, they intended to supply the masses with sufficient quantities of scolding, reeducation, and medical and mental health treatment to effect the change they believed in. Indeed, one of the true believers’ prime goals was to indoctrinate their beliefs into children, both for the movement’s immediate struggle and for the long-term success of their crusade.

These true believers deemed active opponents willfully ignorant and selfish in the pursuit of their unsavory purposes, regardless of the threat it constituted to themselves and others. It was this obstinate group the true believers branded heretics for deliberately obstructing the science-driven attainment of human perfection. 

Consequently, for their refusal to submit to the salubrious serfdom awaiting them within the confines of expert-driven social sciences, these heretical deniers and destroyers of the “common good” were judged deplorable and irredeemable. They could only be shunned and shuttered away, be it in an asylum or a prison. Of course, the true believers professed to pray for these heretics, though they also embraced coercive measures as part of the price that must be paid, if these self-anointed saviors were to impose their civil religion upon a recalcitrant public.

Still, it took decades in the political wilderness before these true believers could grow their movement (or was it metastasized?) into one capable of attaining their pipe dream. The true believers weaponized both religion and the burgeoning prestige and power of the era’s nascent therapeutic society to burrow deep within and sway a democracy. Ensconced within its corridors of local, state, and federal power, the true believers cajoled and coerced elected officials into ignoring the protests of their constituents and groveling before this vocal special interest group seeking no less than the fundamental transformation of the nation.

And succeed they did, beyond their wildest nightmares.   

Prohibition—specifically, “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes”—was a social experiment that turned the American people into lab rats for the misguided moral indulgence of progressives. 

During the tail end of the Progressive Era, from the 18th Amendment’s ratification through the ratification of the 21st Amendment repealing this mass social experiment in 1933, Prohibition did little more than fuel the expansion of organized crime while sowing a persistent and general disregard of the laws among average citizens. Why? 

Because, as with so much of the elitists’ progressive agenda past and present, Prohibition’s true believers were convinced government coercion could compel the perfection of human nature. In fact, such utopian schemes generally promote a lack of respect for the law because human nature will not so easily bend. And, while some revisionist historians may dispute the extent of the detrimental impact of Prohibition upon Americans, no one can doubt that the public ultimately came to its senses, rejected the true believers, and repealed it.

Today, when the public policy debate centers on how best to decriminalize drug use (and not just marijuana), Prohibition strikes modern sensibilities as nothing less than a moment of American madness. And yet other applications of this lesson seem lost on people. 

When one studies the movement and aims of Prohibition’s true believers, one can see the outlines of every progressive effort to secure governmental coercion to compel the perfection of human nature—in other words, yet another instance of American madness. And, while one is tempted to coin these new true believers the Woke Christian Temperance Union, like their ironically monikered predecessors, little about them is temperate.

After having spread its tentacles in the shadows for decades, these new woke true believers’ aims are now clearly displayed in the public square. As the citizenry’s consciousness of and opposition to this latest attempt to institutionalize and coercively impose the woke’s civil religion grows, it is evident this moment of American madness has waxed and is now waning; and we are on our way back to the sanity and serenity we expect and deserve as a free people.

About Thaddeus G. McCotter

An American Greatness contributor, the Hon. Thaddeus G. McCotter (M.C., Ret.) represented Michigan’s 11th Congressional district from 2003 to 2012 and served as Chair of the Republican House Policy Committee. Not a lobbyist, he is a frequent public speaker and moderator for public policy seminars, and a Monday co-host of the "John Batchelor Show" among sundry media appearances.

Photo: Chicago, circa 1933. Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

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