Friday, February 22, 2013

The Temperance Movement Was A Progressive Movement

Good to see that crusaders looked
the same then as they do today.
If you ask the American progressive what exactly do they mean when they call themselves a progressive you will get a variety of answers.  The truth is, that the label progressive is wonderfully opaque in it's actual meaning, though at the same time appears to be narrow in it's definition.  Suffice it to say that most progressives don't know what progressivism is outside of what they wish it to be, and the most concrete answer you will get if you press is that progressives are about 'progess'.

The reason why they will focus on progress is because, naturally, progress is the root word of progressivism after all. The only pitfall is when a person correctly observes that  'progress' is a very nebulous definition. After all, the ethnic cleansing of National Socialists, the murdering of landowners by the Bolshevik, or even eugenics were all considered 'progress' at one point.  One man's progress is another man's shallow grave. But I wager that far too few individuals who identifity as progressive have ruminated on that paticular fact.

If you press a progressive long enough on what they mean by progress you will get an definition along the lines of world with more income/gender/racial/class equality, with a little enviromentalism thrown in if they are enviromentally minded, in a nutshell a more perfect and just society. Now this society is going to require government coercion, but if you illustrate that fact, you will probably be meet with some resistance or rationalization. Many progressives don't like to think that their vaunted policies are being forced on individuals that might not want the same things they want. These individuals are lower level progerssives as in that they allegiance to progressivism is out of an emotional attachment to the concept of bettering society, and the warm and fuzzies that result, rather than out of intellectual agreement with their policies. Others, the ones who are intellectually/ego invested in their ideology will justify government coercion as being forced on individuals who are backwards. In a sense it's the 21st century version of the white man's burden concept without the outright overtones of race.

Now how does prohibition or the temperance movement factor into all this? The temperance movement is indeed a progerssive movement according to the metrics that make a movement progressive. Given the hostility of many progressives to real religion, by real I mean a religion that hasn't been water down into nothingness, you will see an outright rejection of anything that even remotely hints of 'religion' as something that could possibly be progressive. But the temperance movement, and the 18th amendment, was very much a progerssive brainchild.

While progressivism today is a very secular movement, this wasn't always the case, and the definition I outlined before will help illustrate why the temperance movement is indeed progressive.  The temperance movement was a collection of groups, many of them religious, that wanted to deter alcohol comsumption. It was their belief that the consumption of alcohol was the root of many of our societal ills.  One of the justifications of prohibition was that excess consumption of alcohol was the reason for instances of spousal abuse and that banning the consumption of alcohol would protect the unfortunate women married top brutish men. It is here that we see the common strains of 'minority' protection laws that we see passed today. It's the same justification with just more protected groups and more activities that need to be 'regulated'.

The fact that most progressives will be unaware of this 'inconvenient truth', to borrow a phrase, is not surprising. Like I said area, while not all progessives are going to be hostile towards religion, a large contingent of progessivism is for the simple fact that many of the standards and mores of religion run counter to their desired goals and ends. If you want to live in a hedonistic consequence free world, well, the person warning you of the ill consequences, and who expects you to adhere to real standards, isn't going to be persona non grata. Many a-religious progressives have a kneejerk reaction too anything that can be remotely considered religious, and the fact that a very deservedly maligned law was both progressive and religious in nature, will be almost too much for them to handle.

Pointing out the temperance movement is a wonderful way to expose, not only, the utter absurdity about the concept of progress in the progessive sense, but also, the reality of unintended consequences. Few today would think that the prohibition of spirits would be progress, we like alcohol, and the idea of telling someone 'don't drink' seems excessively puritanical, yet at one point, temperance was very much invogue with progressives. There are a lot of reaons for this ranging from, misguided but well intentioned individuals who think they are actually going to help someone, to those who simply want to use force to enforce their worldview and dictate how others should live their lives. Seperate out acohol for any one of the prohibitory movementss of progressivism today, smoking or fire arm ownership being the most prominent in my mind, and take out the religiocity that surrounded the temperance movement, and you see that little has really changed with progressivism.

And this begs the question, if the temperance movements efforts to curb societal violence by ending consumption of acohol resulted in the exact opposite of their intenions; prohibition was a very bloody period in American history. Then how can we expect this next go around to be any different today?

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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.