On Modern Moral Crusades

July 26, 2013 10:49 AM ~  
Some years ago, H.L. Mencken wrote these words:
THE LOUD, preposterous moral crusades that so endlessly rock the republic — against the rum demon, against Sunday baseball, against Sunday moving pictures, against dancing, against fornication, against the cigarette, against all things sinful and charming — these astounding Methodist jihads offer fat clinical material to the student of mobocracy. In the long run, nearly all of them must succeed, for the mob is eternally virtuous, and the only thing necessary to get it in favor of some new and superoppressive law is to convince it that that law will be distasteful to the minority that it envies and hates. The poor numskull who is so horribly harrowed by Puritan pulpit thumpers that he can’t go to a ballgame on Sunday afternoon without dreaming of hell and the devil all Sunday night is naturally envious of the fellow who can, and being envious of him, he hates him and is eager to destroy his offensive happiness. The farmer who works eighteen hours a day and never gets a day off is envious of his farmhand who goes to the crossroads and barrels up on Saturday afternoon; hence the virulence of prohibition among the peasantry. The hard-working householder who, on some bitter evening, glances over the Saturday Evening Post for a square and honest look at his wife is envious of those gaudy drummers who go gallivanting about the country with scarlet girls; hence the Mann Act. If these deviltries were equally open to all men, and all men were equally capable of appreciating them, their unpopularity would tend to wither. I often think, indeed, that the prohibitionist tub-thumpers make a tactical mistake in dwelling too much upon the evils and horrors of alcohol, and not enough upon its delights. A few enlarged photographs of first-class barrooms, showing the rows of well-fed, well-dressed bibuli happily moored to the brass rails, their noses in fragrant mint and hops and their hands reaching out for free rations of olives, pretzels, cloves, pumpernickel, Bismarck herring, anchovies, schwartenmagen, wieners, Smithfield ham, and dill pickles — such a gallery of contentment would probably do far more execution among the dismal shudra than all the current portraits of drunkards’ livers. To vote for prohibition in the face of the liver portraits means to vote for the good of the other fellow, for even the oldest bibulomaniac always thinks that he himself will escape. This is an act of altruism almost impossible to the mob man, whose selfishness is but little corrupted by the imagination that shows itself in his betters. His most austere renunciations represent no more than a matching of the joys of indulgence against the pains of hell; religion, to him, is little more than synthesized fear.… I venture that many a vote for prohibition comes from gentlemen who look longingly through swinging doors — and pass on in propitiation of Satan and their alert consorts, the lake of brimstone and the corrective broomstick.…
H.L. Mencken. Three Early Works. Laissez Faire Books.