The prohibition might have been the best thing to ever happen to America. If you bear with me, I will explain why and by the end of this post hopefully we’ll clink our glasses as we make a toast to Chesterton, America, and moonshine.
A classic movie which not only exhibits the class act Jimmy Stewart but also classic American values, is the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The naive but convicted Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) stands for what is right, good and true against a crooked and corrupt Senate which attempts to pass a bill, swindling land from Smith’s Ranger Boys. The scene in the film which I personally found to be the most thought provoking, takes place when Smith’s Ranger Boys are told to spread the truth about Smith’s courageous stand against the unjust bill and the corrupt senators. The Ranger Boys proceed to hastily print Smith’s story in their small newspaper in printing press style.
What I observed on my television screen was a perfect example of American ingenuity, and the old-fashioned ‘know how’ you hear old men referring to when reminiscing about the past. Not only were children depicted as bearing the noble characteristics of loyalty, friendship, and teamwork, but also of hard work and gumption. Although the film is fiction and an artistic flare is added with such details, the 10 year old Boy Rangers exhibited attributes which reminded the 21st century viewer of the stark contrast between the little boys of yesteryear and the little boys of modern day. Not so long ago little boys would start their day at 5 in the morning to begin their newspaper routes. It seems to me that something is lost, something is lacking in a world where there are more children staring at their iPhone screens than there are children learning how to hammer a nail into wood. I am not attempting to insult or target the youth, for not all of us can be boy scouts or paper boys. I am simply acknowledging a lack of values which were so prominent back when there were less screens to hold our attention and govern our lives.
These thoughts of mine were initially stirred by the essay, “A Plea for Prohibition” by G.K. Chesterton. After a careful study of the American Prohibition, Chesterton came to the conclusion that the American government should prohibit everything. America’s harsh restriction of alcohol sparked the righteous flame of invention that only necessity can foster. What the prohibition promised was not what it performed. Instead of a generation of youth unspoiled by the taste of alcohol, the prohibition gave birth to a generation of ingenious craftsmen bent on restoring to their glasses the fruit of God’s generosity. Chesterton found especially delightful the old human habit of home-brewing.
“The professor of higher metaphysics will be proud of his strong ale; the professor of lower mathematics will allege something more subtle in his milder ale; the professor of moral theology (whose I am sure is the strongest of all) will offer to drink all the other dons under the table without any ill effect on the health” (pg. 212).
Americans during the prohibition shared the same ingenuity of Smith’s Boy Rangers, and all the little boys who woke up early to throw newspapers so as to buy their ice cream and a comic book later that day. Chesterton concluded his essay with the thought that we should let the government prohibit everything; bread, beef, boots, hats, coats, linen, toys, pictures or newspapers so then “all human families will begin vigorously to produce all these things for themselves; and the youth of the world will really return.”
As I digested Chesterton’s blunt and witty remarks, it occurred to me that there is another point to be made about the loss of American craftsmanship in the home, and the small but well earned paycheck of the paper boy. Many wise authors and philosophers of old agree that the spark of the Industrial Revolution led to a domination of technology which then led to a degradation of morality, ethics, and values.
Due to our undisciplined desire for power we have sought to become Lords, Kings, and Masters. However, one can not be a king if he has no subjects to rule over. The thought ‘my lordship over the slave will increase my power’ began our addiction to slavery. We have claimed mastery over an army of machines and flat screens. However, our inanimate objects do not cower below our whip. Instead our hands, our eyes, our minds, and our beliefs have become slaves to the very things we created for our use, resulting in a ‘master and slave’ complex. We have placed our power in technology so as to increase our power. We have become dependent on our slaves. The result being: we have become weak little wimps. Unable to tell time from a clock let alone brew our own beer. Our enslavement has even affected our fears. We tremble before a nationwide electrical blackout or a global computer virus. Only the Amish and Boy Scouts would survive a nuclear war.
Therefore, let us be more cautious of the technological world we now live in. Let us teach our children the meaning of hard work and the values that flow from it. Let the government prohibit alcohol, clothes, toys, maybe even our phones so that we may see an increase in ingenuity, craftsmanship, and if we’re lucky, morality. But don’t let mine and Chesterton’s facetious ideals trouble you, with all the money rolling in off vice taxes another government prohibition seems unlikely.
But, do take heed as we “progress” into the modern material world, we must not be blinded by the illusory world we retreat to every time we check our phones. We must be awakened to reality, to the natural world and all its splendor. Unfortunately, in the name of progress our morals have digressed. But, let us hope that there are a few good men left in the world. And hopefully, there is enough gumption left to save us if our machines self-destruct.
Image 1: source
Image 2: source
Sources: Page 187. Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings
Pages 210-212. In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K.Chesterton (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011)