In 1933, the country’s Prohibitionists had to grapple with a political fate worse than failure: oblivion. Their solution had been tried and rejected, which meant that it could never be tried again. McGirr gleefully reproduces Elizabeth Tilton’s pronouncement, from her diary: “Civilization is undone.” Some of the old warriors kept the faith. (The Prohibition Party never disbanded, and held its most recent convention in July, by conference call; Gerrit Smith doubtless would have been more impressed by the technology than by the turnout, which was eleven.) Others found new outlets for their old passions. McGirr tells the story of Richmond Hobson, an anti-saloon activist who reinvented himself, during the Prohibition years, as an anti-drug activist. In 1922, Congress passed a law that banned various narcotics, a prohibition that endured when the other one ended. For McGirr, the war on drugs is Prohibition’s true legacy. Its toll and its continuing persistence help explain the urgency of her tone: she wants to make us see not just what we once did but what we are doing still, in a misguided effort to prohibit substances no more eradicable—and not necessarily more harmful—than alcohol. Even now, rethinking the war on drugs typically means rethinking marijuana, rather than rethinking the general concept of banning mood-altering substances.
Kelefa Sanneh, “Drunk With Power” The New Yorker (21 & 28 December 2015), 110.