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Is Drinking Like Wife-Beating? Um, No.

A Little Mustard GasThe more one examines the ideas of the American Prohibitionists of a century ago, the more one is driven to conclude that they were arrogant, self-righteous twits  who were horrible at communicating with those who did not share their extreme beliefs.

I found this charming pamphlet while trawling the Anti-Saloon League holdings of the Westerville Library—a public treasure. Consider the title: mustard gas had been used with horrific effects on soldiers during World War I, which had concluded only a few years earlier. Yet, Professor F.E. Mitchell saw no harm in using it in the title of his spoof pamphlet. Bad. Taste.

Then follow the basic logic: liberty, he declares, is not absolute; if it covers drinking then it must also cover wife-beating and horse-stealing. Talk about fallacious! Both the wife-beating and horse-stealing involving an individual attacking the property of another (a woman does have property in her person). Drinking a beer, on the other hand, involves no theft and nor violence toward another. Moreover, the buyer of a drink benefits the producer and the seller of the drink, and the maker of cans, bottles, and kegs. Hence, the comparison is bogus.

Taken fully through, Mitchell’s logic would permit government to abolish liberty in its entirety—in the name of public safety. If you buy peanuts, you might leave them somewhere and a person allergic to them could  happen upon them and go into anaphylactic shock. If you start a company, it might take business from another company, which harms its worker, who might lose their jobs. Etc. The challenge of self-governance is to locate the proper line between liberty and order. Temperance zealots like F.E. Mitchell obliterated the line. You can read the pamphlet at: http://search.westervillelibrary.org/iii/cpro/CollectionViewPage.external?lang=eng&sp=1000139&suite=def

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