Prohibition mainstreamed hypocrisy and criminality
The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
by Daniel Okrent
$30.00 List Price
In an age when the US Senate was plunged into near paralysis over an anemic simulacrum of health-care reform, it seems unthinkable that Congress could have ever rushed headlong into the folly of amending the Constitution to outlaw drinking. But as Daniel Okrent reminds us in Last Call, his richly detailed reconstruction of Prohibition’s thirteen-year reign, what seems in retrospect like a foolishly giddy union of Protestant moralism and the federal state was actually the culmination of generations’ worth of reformist zeal.
Unlike the many chroniclers who affect bemusement in revisiting the Prohibition fiasco, Okrent—the former public editor of the New York Times—highlights the numerous ways that prohibitionism entwined with the early twentieth century’s irrepressible climate of reform. The temperance movement shared the evangelical heritage that spurred such moral crusades as abolitionism and woman suffrage. Indeed, abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass were earnest temperance supporters, and first-wave feminists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton initially yoked their careers to the temperance cause. The temperance enthusiasts’ incorrigible appetite for public betterment was best summed up in the famed slogan of Frances Willard, the revered nineteenth-century founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union: “Do everything.”
Still, it’s one thing to buzz around the Chautauqua circuit dramatizing the horrors of demon rum—including, but scarcely limited to, worker penury, papal conspiracy, urban political corruption, white slavery,