WHAT IS A Washington Christmas without receiving a few policy books as stocking stuffers? Still, it might be better to start with America’s historical foundation. Our nation faces more than a few challenges, but it always has come through even the most serious crises. Let us hope that history repeats.
Americans tend to have a rose-colored view of the country’s founding. For instance, patriots rose up against British oppressors and united to create a new nation. But it was a bit more complicated than that. A worthwhile read is An American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781–1783, by William M. Fowler, Jr. (Walker & Company).
Although fighting ended in 1781 and the British government had reluctantly recognized the necessity of granting independence, America’s future by no means looked bright. Negotiations with London were difficult -- especially since the colonies were bankrupt, Continental Army soldiers were mutinous, and nationalists were scheming to use others’ misfortune for their political advantage.
A few decades later the union cobbled together only with great difficulty fell apart. David Goldfield takes a new look at America’s costliest war in America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation (Bloomsbury Press). The conflict thankfully ended slavery, though Goldfield questions whether the country needed a war to do that. The other enduring impact was to dramatically transform the United States, then considered to be a plural. The outcome was a new industrial behemoth that exalted commerce, reason, and science. One of Goldfield’s more interesting contentions is that evangelical Christianity helped bring on the conflict by hampering political compromise -- a theory that so offended an editor at Washington’s long-time conservative newspaper that he killed my review of the book. On this, the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, the results should give pause: extraordinary centralization of power and imperialistic nationalism threaten both liberty and virtue.
This helps explain why long ago I decided that politics was hopeless and we are all doomed. In The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America (PublicAffairs) Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch do their best to prove me wrong. I still think we are doomed, but I hope they are right when they pronounce: “the future will be so bright, we’ll have to wear shades or, preferably, money-back-guaranteed optical implants with complimentary lifetime upgrades.”
Many of the political battles that Gillespie and Welch describe are rooted in a deeper economic and philosophical conflict captured by Nicholas Wapshott in Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics (Norton). These two intellectual giants did much to drive government economic policy starting with the Great Depression. For many years Keynes was victorious, and Western economies suffered disastrously as a result. Intellectually Hayek came to dominate the end of the 20th century, but during the 2008 financial crisis, mostly caused by foolish government interventions, Keynesianism again became the rage. Yet thankfully the public continues to be skeptical of politicians claiming to bear gifts financed by more deficits and debt.
Some of America’s most troublesome issues are international. Many of them grow out of religion, to the consternation of secular-minded Washington policy-makers. The international role of religion is ably detailed by Monica Duffy Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Timothy Samuel Shah in God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics (Norton). In this “enlightened” age reason, science, commerce, and globalization were supposed to have marginalized and largely buried religion, but the latter is alive around the globe. In fact, it is hard to understand many of today’s international conflicts without understanding religion.
For instance, America’s most pressing foreign policy challenge is terrorism, which revolves around Islam. Muslim nations also tend to be isolated economically and authoritarian politically. While worse systems exist—North Korea and Burma come to mind—the vast majority of Muslim nations, even after the “Arab Spring,” suffer under various forms of tyranny. Genuine reform will need to come from within Islam. In Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty (Norton), Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol explores elements within Islamic tradition and history that support freer and more tolerant economic and political systems. Akyol is doing important work that should have an impact well beyond his native Turkey.
Related to terrorism is Pakistan, a semi-failed nuclear state. The mess—and there seems to be no better word to describe that tragic land—is explored by James P. Farwell in The Pakistan Cauldron: Conspiracy, Assassination & Instability (Potomac). He looks at this chaotic nation’s recent history, particularly the roles of former president Pervez Musharraf and the late Benazir Bhutto, and the relationship between Islamabad and Washington. Frankly, one of the best reasons for America to leave Afghanistan is to get as far away from Pakistan as possible.
Likely more difficult over the longer term for Washington will be dealing with a wealthier and more powerful China. What to do? Panda-huggers and China-bashers take radically different perspectives. Henry Kissinger, who helped engineer the dramatic Cold War rapprochement between Washington and Beijing, assesses Chinese history and the future prospects of the U.S.-China relationship in On China (The Penguin Press). Kissinger hopes a Pacific Community might avert the risk of violent confrontation.
In A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia (Norton), Aaron L. Friedberg takes a more pessimistic view. Yet even a more aggressive China would have little ability to threaten America, in contrast to Washington’s dominant position in East Asia. And the U.S. cannot permanently preserve the latter, at least at reasonable cost. Indeed, Americans would not stand idly by if another power, say, China, attempted to maintain military superiority along their coasts. Rather than attempting to defend the undefendable, Washington should back away, encouraging friendly states, starting with Japan, to develop potent deterrent forces of their own.
Finally, one of the most important practitioners of foreign policy—a true giant of international relations—was Germany’s Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Jonathan Steinberg has written an encyclopedic but fascinating biography: Bismarck: A Life (Oxford). Bismarck had much ability and knew how to do good, working to defuse conflicts and maintain peace when he believed doing so was in Wilhelmine Germany’s interest. But he was without moral scruple and did much bad, reinforcing Germany’s unbalanced authoritarian political system. Steinberg explores the complexity of this extraordinary person.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
IT IS A particular pleasure to be able, in full conscience, to recommend the books of three friends for Christmas. For topicality as we enter a presidential election year, I suggest After America: Get Ready for Armageddon (Regnery) by the great Mark Steyn, now a cultural and virtually a folk figure. He is one of America’s greatest bloggers, has a huge following for his ever-moving printed columns, actually raises the ratings of Rush Limbaugh when he sits in for him on his radio program, and After America is a fitting sequel for his best-selling America Alone.
This book adopts the parlance of Belshazzar’s Feast that America “has been weighed in the balance and has been found wanting,” from the Book of Daniel. All of the failings of the West have been trotted out hilariously, but in a relentlessly gloomy sequence, and with startling illustrations. In the year following the $800 billion Obama stimulus plan, unemployment grew by 2.5 million, despite the addition of 416,000 federal employees. The failings of the service economy, the erosion of U.S. influence in the world, the onslaught of the “conformicrats,” the impending bankruptcy of almost the entire public sector, the collapsed birthrate, rampant obesity (only Samoans and Kuwaitis are fatter than Americans), are all familiar subjects but are presented here in a novel way, and even the secession of some of the states is not ruled out. Fortunately, just as many readers approach the end of the book and may consider putting themselves on suicide watch coming up to New Year’s, Mark Steyn has some useful suggestions for catastrophe avoidance. It’s a rattling good read.
For uplifting history, to put the reader in mind of how much can be achieved by a motivated West with inspired leadership, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (Harper) by the eminent, though youngish, British historian Andrew Roberts, is probably the best one-volume history of World War II now available. The strategic genius of Roosevelt and Churchill in encouraging Stalin to take more than 90 percent of the casualties in fighting Hitler, as between the three major allies, while snatching Germany, France, Italy, and Japan, all hostile dictatorships at the end of 1940, back into the West as democratic allies, is rigorously but very readably recounted. The challenge of presenting such an immense drama without lurching syncopatedly between theaters and between command decisions and grinding it out in combat action, is managed very smoothly by this consummately skilled and fluent historian.
For those minded to observe the Christmas season on a more ecclesiastical note, I recommend Edward Short’s Newman and His Contemporaries (T&T Clark Int’l), a familiar subject approached from a new angle. Newman’s relations with his Teractarian allies as an Anglican and after his reception as a Roman Catholic roll quite effortlessly into his relations with what he called “the talent of the day.” The fear that the British Victorian gentry and aristocracy had of the intellectual seduction of Rome, especially when the temptation was limned out by Newman in all his rigor, brilliance, charm, and articulation, is very striking.
Newman’s reflections on 60 years of British prime ministers, from Peel and Melbourne to Disraeli and Salisbury, are also fascinating. Newman found Gladstone “earnest but unamiable,” but thought Disraeli a somewhat down-market novelist and a political conjurer and sharper, but seemed not to warm to his shared qualities of humor, irony, and flamboyant wit, though he did give him great credit for his diplomatic triumph at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.
Finally, from a recently deceased author I did not know, William J. Stuntz of Harvard, I recommend The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (Belknap), a brilliantly scholarly but highly readable account of the evolution of American justice to its present state of extreme uneven and over-persecution, over-sentencing, racial unfairness, and the severe curtailment of the civil rights guarantees of the Bill of Rights. The pattern is traced carefully, statistically, and historically, but without making the narrative disagreeably dry. And it concludes with some very learned and persuasive practical suggestions for reform.
All four of these fine books will generously reward the Christmastime reader.
Conrad Black is most recently the author of A Matter of Principle (McClelland & Stewart). His earlier books include Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, both published by PublicAffairs Books.
SOME BOOKS are conservative, some books are liberal, and some books can break either way. Tristram Shandy, for instance. If you’re a conservative, Laurence Sterne’s classic 18th-century comedy reads like a conservative romp through a morality tale. If you’re a liberal, it reads like a postmodern deconstruction of the whole idea of morality tales.
For that matter, if you happen to be a Venusian—trembling in the watery depths of the second planet as you wait for the apocalyptic return of the Great Old Ones—Tristram Shandy probably seems a comic ride through the social manners of Venus. Some books are mirrors, and we see in them what we bring to them.
Still, there exist genuinely conservative books—monoliths, instead of mirrors—from Donoso Cortés’s 1851 Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism to Richard Weaver’s 1948 Ideas Have Consequences. Most of them are too well known to require recommending. Do you really need somebody to tell you to take a look at Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom? Or Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind? Or Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square? They’re typical Christmas recommendations for young conservatives, books like training wheels for those just starting out in conservative reading.
So here are five lesser-known choices—five books you may not have read, if you’re a conservative, but ought to read, if you’re a conservative. Ought to read if you’re a liberal, as far as that goes, although the odds are that you won’t.
1. Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard (1958). A novel, by a Sicilian prince, about a Sicilian prince. An astonishing story of a womanizing 19th-century nobleman who sees the liberal revolution coming but cannot gather his decadent self enough to do anything about it.
2. Lawrence Edward Watkin, Geese in the Forum (1940). An English professor turned Disney scriptwriter, Watkin produced a god-awful sentimental piece of claptrap in 1937 called On Borrowed Time. It was, naturally, a great success on Broadway and in Hollywood. He also wrote, however, the most ragingly conservative and deeply funny story in the overpopulated genre of academic novels—the almost forgotten but worth reviving Geese in the Forum.
3. Robert Warshow, The Immediate Experience (1962; expanded 2001). We remember such critics as Edmund Wilson and, for our sins, Pauline Kael. But the best of them may have been Robert Warshow, who died in 1955 at the age of 37. A great, funny, profound, and conservative writer about movies, books, plays, and culture for such journals as Commentary and The Partisan Review, his collected essays appear posthumously and need to be reread.
4. James Hilton, Random Harvest (1941). Well, yes, it’s hard to call Hilton unknown. He was an international bestseller, as he would have to have been with such crowd-pleasing stories as Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Skip the movies, however, to read the books, and you’ll find that Hilton was an author who saw both the light and the dark in human beings—which made him a man of conservative impulses, as it makes everyone who sees clearly into fallen nature. Random Harvest is a first-rate potboiler and a glimpse into a world of Tory virtue.
5. Joseph Bottum, The Second Spring: Words into Music, Music into Words (2011). An exploration of the poetry of lyrics and a claim that we can overcome the self-conscious irony that is the bane of our age by surrendering to the internal structures of art and allowing various genres to do the work they want to do. Yes, these are words, musical scores, and critical commentary by a second-rate poet, third-rate arranger, and fourth-rate critic, but the book makes a conservative point that might be worth your time. If you’re not too busy.
Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and author of The Second Spring: Words into Music, Music into Words.
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: With good reason (discounting for their personal relationship), Twain called them the best military memoirs since Julius Caesar’s.
Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner) by Daniel Okrent: Prohibition didn’t last long, but its consequences have, in fascinating ways.
The Time It Never Rained (Forge), by Elmer Kelton: Obstinacy in the assertion of freedom is no vice, but it can be awfully tough. Charlie Flagg, the proud individualist who, even facing disaster, can’t abide accepting money from his fellow taxpayers, is one of the memorable characters of modern literature.
The Mind of St. Paul, by William Barclay: A lost classic of the Christian faith, a helpful translation of the greatest evangelist’s life and letters.
Mitch Daniels is the governor of Indiana.
FIRST, Ann Coulter’s Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America for a jarring book on what’s heading our way. After America: Get Ready for Armageddon by Mark Steyn, for the same reason. Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner’s Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon (Times Books), a very readable book on who and what brought us here. And Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (Back Bay Books), to remind us that there’s nothing really new under the sun.
Lee Hanley is a member of the board of directors of The American Spectator Foundation.
In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, by Dick Cheney (Threshold Editions): An amazing man who led an amazing life, and was just plain born to be the vice president of the United States. This book shows the reasons why.
Decision Points, by George W. Bush (Broadway): Incredible insight of a man who was president during arguably some of the most transformative and lucrative times in history, and gives an uncensored account from inside the White House.
Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America, by Ann Coulter (Crown Forum): What else is there to say? Coulter is irreverent, iconoclastic, hard hitting, witty, and frankly…fun!
Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department, by J. Christian Adams (Regnery): Former attorney for the Voting Rights Section of the Department of Justice, J. Christian Adams is the ultimate whistle-blower. His book gives shocking details of the administration knowingly concealing voter fraud, and how Malik Zulu Shabazz and the New Black Panthers may have played an integral role in getting Obama into the White House.
Rescuing Sprite: A Dog Lover’s Story of Joy and Anguish, by Mark R. Levin (Pocket): As a dog lover, The Great One’s touching personal story brings home the ups and downs, pure joy, love and ecstasy that is the gift of bringing these animals into your home.
Sean Hannity is the host of the Fox News Channel’s Hannity.
TO AVOID endless recommendations of familiar classics, I’ll restrict this list to books published only in the past two years and only those I have read or begun reading this year—and only those that are worthwhile and interesting reads.
Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department, by J. Christian Adams. This is the single most important, “must-read” book of the year. Adams, one of the two whistleblowers who left the Obama-Holder Justice Department rather than endure its lies and lawlessness, details many hair-raising, nearly unbelievable examples of the Holderites’ willful disregard for the laws as written. It’s also a crime that no establishment media organ has bothered following up on Adams’s highly specific, non-hyperbolic allegations.
The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era (B&H Books), by Timothy S. Goeglein. The author, a man with a gift for loyalty and friendship, gives a solid account of why Bush was the most effectively conservative “social issues” president ever, but what’s best here is Goeglein’s erudite and engaging explication of his vision for a conservative renaissance.
This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive (Encounter), by James S. Robbins. Terrific scholarship and highly readable storytelling marks this important book correcting the record on Tet and providing lessons and warnings for future military operations.
Mastermind: The Many Faces of the 9/11 Architect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (Sentinel), by Richard Miniter. Offers important insights into the sources of the clash of the civilized world with the jihadist vermin who attack us.
A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny, by Amy Julia Becker (Bethany House). The author writes about rejecting abortion in order to raise a Down Syndrome child. Moving and inspirational.
Finally, to leave politics and policy behind, two others, whose titles are self-explanatory: Groove Interrupted: Loss, Renewal, and the Music of New Orleans, by Keith Spera (St. Martin’s Press); and Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend, by James S. Hirsch (Scribner). Willie will always be the greatest, and New Orleans music will always be the best.
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom.
The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich von Hayek.
Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, by Jonah Goldberg (Doubleday).
Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, by Mark R. Levin (Threshold).
The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Amendment Is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Government, by Mike Lee (Regnery).
Mike Lee is a Republican U.S. senator from Utah.
ONE OF THE GUYS of reading in a cozy stuffed chair on a cold winter’s night is the delightful reassurance that you’re not out there. Outside. There’s nothing like a good book of outdoors adventure to make one really appreciate central heating and roofs that don’t leak, not to mention that hot cup of tea, the down pillow and comforter just waiting for the first drowse to hit.
Those of us still alive after the passing of a few decades must marvel that this is so—considering the really dumb things we’ve done along the way. As someone who has tried blue water sailing, river rafting, downhill skiing, and back-country hiking, I’ve probably had more than my fair share of close calls. A few more pounds of pressure on that boom that knocked me overboard east of Block Island, a few more seconds held submerged by that hole in the class-4 rapid on the Salmon River, that tree just a few more inches in my path during my barely controlled descent at Mammoth, another 20 minutes without the ability to start that campfire at a distant shore of the Queen Charlotte Islands, a drop or two more of that venom injected into my bloodstream by that black widow spider in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I wouldn’t be enjoying this evening by the fireplace, surrounded by my dogs.
What’s chilling in the recollection of these near-death experiences is that had they gone really bad there would have been no one to blame but myself. Hubris isn’t reserved for all-conquering megalomaniacs. We can all succumb to it, in small ways with potentially lethal results. In each of my close calls a decision had been made, well prior to the event itself, that set an inexorable sequence of events in motion. In other words, I had charted the course and nearly sealed my own fate without knowing it.
Every rag-bagging old salt knows that as soon as you think about lowering sail you should go ahead and do it. To delay is to invite catastrophe. Kayakers know you do everything to avoid getting caught in the hydraulic, because once caught in the vortex no human can escape it with only his own wits or physical strength. Only the river can let you go. You should never ski downhill when overly tired and never faster than your skills can control the descent. You never, ever wade into freezing water without the certainty of being able to dry off and warm up quickly, and only certified fools pick up stones or branches in the wild with their bare hands without looking carefully first, especially at dusk.
Over the years I’ve discovered a handful of books that describe this syndrome of fate in the great outdoors. The stories range across much of the activities done all the time by regular Joes and weekend warriors, but include as well the nearly mind-boggling accounts of seasoned sailors, expert rock face climbers, and that rare breed of super-human that ventures into the Himalayan peaks above 18,000 meters.
My recommendations: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales (Norton), Last Breath: The Limits of Adventure by Peter Stark (Ballantine), Panic Rising: True-Life Survivor Tales from the Great Outdoors by Brett Nunn (Sasquatch) and in a more historical vein, Stellar’s Island: Adventures of a Pioneer Naturalist in Alaska by Dean Littlepage (Mountaineers Books), an account of Vitus Bering’s harrowing journey of discovery across the North Pacific in 1741. Heat up the hot chocolate and go for it!
Ron Maxwell wrote and directed the movies Gettysburg and Gods & Generals.
READING and recommending: In My Time, by Dick Cheney. In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemmings Sex Scandal, by William G. Hyland (Thomas Dunne). Detective novels—in particular any book by Linda Fairstein or Donna Leon’s Venice-based detective.
Veronique Rodman is director of public affairs at the American Enterprise Institute.
Witness, by Whittaker Chambers.
In My Time, by Dick Cheney.
The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny, by Victor Davis Hanson (Anchor).
Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith (Random House).
Memoirs of the Civil War, by Ulysses S. Grant.
Donald Rumsfeld was the secretary of defense under George W. Bush. He is the author of Known and Unknown: A Memoir (Sentinel Books).
WAS THERE MORE to 1920s-era Prohibition than moonshiners, gangsters, flappers, and priggish churchmen, suffused by hypocrisy? According to Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner), by Daniel Okrent, there was indeed. The book also inspired the recent three-part PBS series on Prohibition, which prominently featured interviews with Okrent.
America’s 13-year experiment in banning alcohol sales is rarely remembered except to be spoofed. But the anti-booze 18th Amendment to the Constitution represented the apotheosis of one of America’s most politically successful reform movements. Okrent tells the story better than most, though, like the PBS series, he still leaves a few holes.
Early and 19th-century America was drenched in liquor, the average early citizen assuming shockingly large amounts of alcohol per capita. Partly all the drinking reflected the lack of fully safe other drinks, partly it was a remedy for the ills and aches not yet addressed by modern medicine, and partly it was linked to the hardy masculinity of frontier life. Early 19th-century revivalists inveighed against it. Other reformers joined low-church Protestants to advocate temperance in reaction to drunken abusive husbands, the corruptions of saloons linked to gambling and prostitution, and the hazards of alcoholism in a newly industrialized society. Abraham Lincoln once joined a temperance society and was in fact abstinent most of his adult life, possibly in reaction to an alcoholic father.
Moral reform movements, closely linked to Methodists and Baptists who made abstinence central to church discipline, first enrolled converts to temperance and then stigmatized saloons and their patrons as not fit for polite society. According to the new late-19th-century small-town piety, decent people did not mix with saloon culture. Women, as beacons of the church and frequent victims of drunken husbands who lost the farm gambling at the saloon, became temperance movement leaders. Socially and politically active women also joined the emerging movement for woman’s suffrage. Moral reformers eventually decided that only legislation could protect the vulnerable from the saloon’s temptations. Towns, counties, and states began to ban liquor sales, briefly before the Civil War, and then with more permanence late in the century.
Votes for women were seen as key to getting votes for Prohibition. When state prohibitions failed to work seamlessly, temperance activists decreed that only national Prohibition, enacted into the Constitution, could reform and protect America. To free the government from reliance on liquor sales taxes, an income tax constitutional amendment, enacted in 1913, also became central to the movement. Largely rooted in Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, the temperance movement was partly responding to the rising immigrant population from southern and eastern Europe, many of them Catholics and Jews who were feared to be morally reprobate. Amplified by World War I, beer-drinking Germans, especially their wealthy brewers, were likewise suspect. Business leaders backed Prohibition as the cure for workplace drunkenness. Progressives embraced Prohibition as central to uplifting the working man. Black leaders saw Prohibition as vital to the moral progress of blacks only a few decades out of slavery.
The Anti-Saloon League, backed by thousands of Methodist and Baptist clergy, emerged as one of America’s most successful political machines, realizing that politics could be controlled by one-issue voters even if only a small percentage of the population. Soon it became nearly impossible for Republicans or Democrats outside the large cities to defy the League, which uncompromisingly demanded “bone-dry” laws. Both houses of Congress approved the Prohibition Amendment in 1917 by the requisite two-thirds vote. Senate moderates approved contingent on a seven-year deadline for ratification among the states.
But it flew through state legislatures in barely a year. No major presidential candidate ever enthusiastically supported Prohibition, though President Warren Harding, despite his own personal habits, typically did whatever the Anti-Saloon League asked. Despite the ease of passage, neither Congress nor the states ever voted sufficient funds for enforcement. Most Americans complied with the new law, and total alcohol consumption dropped dramatically, even as a growing minority defied it. Law-abiding imbibers had stocked up on liquor before Prohibition began in 1920, or went on off-shore booze cruises, or quietly produced their own liquor at home. Legal exemption of wine sales for ecclesial purposes enriched many rising vineyards, with the apparent blessing of Catholic and Jewish clerics. Of course, organized crime thrived during Prohibition, and many large cities, especially New York, barely pretended to enforce.
Political parties tried to avoid openly discussing Prohibition. Okrent claims the 1924 Democratic Party’s infamous debate over whether to condemn the resurgent Ku Klux Klan was actually a proxy for debate over Prohibition, which is maybe an exaggeration. The 1928 Democratic nomination of openly “wet” Al Smith created a typhoon of cultural and political warfare. His liquor stance, Catholicism, ties to Tammany Hall, and heavy New York accent, shocking to many Americans in the new radio age, made him a pariah to Protestant Middle America. He lost in a landslide, with even several Southern states voting Republican for the first time since Reconstruction.
The new administration of Herbert Hoover and a solidly Republican Congress superficially made Prohibition seem more secure than ever. Of course, the Depression quickly destroyed that supposed consensus, and FDR in 1933 eagerly presided over the un-precedented, lightning-fast repeal of a constitutional amendment. What Hoover had called a “noble” experiment was dramatically ended as quickly as it began.
Why the sudden shift? Partly America’s wealthy elites, like John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford, lost faith in Prohibition. Pierre du Pont bankrolled the repeal movement. He and other wealthy hoped federal taxes on liquor would reduce the income tax and restore prosperity.
The temperance reformers gradually receded into the subculture and were forgotten. Okrent portrays them a little unfairly, describing Methodist bishop James Cannon, a leader of the Anti-Saloon League, as a virtual crank and bigot. In fact, Cannon, besides his anti-liquor crusade, had championed the Armenians during their genocide by the Turks during World War I. In the late 1930s, though an elderly retiree, Cannon sounded the trumpet against Hitlerism. He denounced the U.S. refusal to accept more Jewish refugees and tirelessly worked in alliance with Jews and Catholics in the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People. He chided his surprising friend, H. L. Mencken, for not denouncing Hitler’s crimes against the Jews.
Many of the Prohibitionists were sincere and effective reformers who didn’t know when to stop. Their success with the 18th Amendment was stunning if short lived. And America’s consumption of alcohol has never quite returned to its pre-Prohibition levels.
Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C., and author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.
CURRENTLY representing Florida’s 22nd District, I proudly served 22 years in the United States Army. Before retiring as a lieutenant colonel, I served as a field artillery officer in the U.S. Army in several combat zones including Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and as a battalion commander for the Army’s 4th Infantry Division. After retirement, I returned to Afghanistan, as a civilian advisor training Afghan officers.
For my reading list, I would choose any book that tells a story of Americans surviving in war during the month of December. As a former soldier, my thoughts are never far from our warrior men and women on distant shores, fighting to protect the freedoms of the people and country they love. The stories of honor, bravery, and devotion to duty from those who serve today, along with those have gone before, should be a profound source of inspiration to all.
Common Sense, by Thomas Paine.
Seven Roads to Hell: A Screaming Eagle at Bastogne, by Donald A. Burgett.
Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, by Stephen E. Ambrose.
Allen West is a Republican U.S. representative from Florida.