Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

Question for Discussion: What can we learn
from the failure of Prohibition in the 1920s
and the ongoing failure of the War on
Drugs since the 1970s?

Reading: Cooper "Prohibition is a Success" (web);
Stayton "Prohibition is a Failure" (web); A Yale
Student Testifies against Prohibition (web)

Video: The CIA: Secret Warriors

Daily Class Web Links

Prohibition in the 1920s

The Modern War on Drugs: 1970s to ---

The Klu Klux Klan in the 1920s

Daily Class Outline

1. The Causes of Prohibition

2. The Failure of Prohibition

3. The War on Drugs: 1970 to the present

4. United States Government involvement in

5. The Failure of the War on Drugs and Prohibition

Daily Class Questions

1. What are H.L.Mencken's major criticisms of
Americans and American society?

2. Do you think Mencken really spends most
of hist time laughing at what he calls "the
buffoonery" of Americans and American

3. How does Catherine Ely defend Americans
and American society against Mencken's

4. Do you think Mencken is too harsh a critic of

5. What are John Cooper's major arguments
that Prohibition is working?

6. Why does Cooper think Prohibition is necessary?

7. According to William Stayton, why is Prohibition
not being enforced in America?

8.  Do you think Stayton could be right that Prohibition,
far from reducing drinking, is actually leading
Americans to increase their consumption of alcohol?

9. If drinking is illegal, why did so many
American drinks during Prohibition?

10. Do you think the government is really serious about limiting American's consumption of alchohol in the

11. What does the popular appeal of the Ku Klux Klan
in the West and Midwest tell us about American society
in the 1920s?

12. According to the Klansman's Manual, what does
the Ku Klux Klan stand for?

13. What broader lessons can we learn from the failure
of Prohibition that might help us understand the
ongoing failure of the War on Drugs?

14. Why do Americans insist on drinking and using
illegal drugs despite the fact that drinking and using
drugs is often illegal?

15. Why do young American under twenty-one insist
on drinking even though it is illegal for them to do so?

Daily Class Notes

If you ask: In the process of fighting a
war against the Sandinistas, did people
connected with the US government
open channels which allowed drug
traffickers to move drugs to the United
States, did they know the drug
traffickers were doing it, and did they
protect them from law enforcement?
The answer to all those questions is

Jack Blum, chief investigator for the Kerry
Senate subcommittee, after ...........years of
investigation and access to classified information

"There is no doubt that they [agents
from the U.S. government were running
large quantities of cocaine into the U.S.
to support the contras. We saw the
cocaine and we saw the boxes full of
money. We're talking about very large
quantities of cocaine and millions of
.....Celerino Castillio, DEA agent in Central America

"Some of the people I indentified
as being involved in drug smuggling
are present or past agents of the
 Central Intelligence Agency."
.....Wanda Palacio, undercover FBI operative

"WE ARE speaking of a plague that
consumes an estimated $75 billion per
year of public money,exacts an
estimated $70 billion a year from consumers, is responsible for
nearly 50 per cent of the million
Americans who are today in jail,
occupies an estimated 50 per cent
of the trial time of our judiciary, and
takes the time of 400,000 policemen
-- yet a plague for which no cure is
at hand, nor in prospect."

 Conservative Republican, William F. Buckley, Jr.

In the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan went from a small, mostly Southern organization to a national organization and a political movement of between 4 and 6 million Americans. What caused the tremendous growth of what many Americans would consider a violent, racist, extremist organization in the 1920s? Why did so many Americans join the Klan, when many, if not most, surely knew about their violent, racist past? My larger argument is that in the 1920s many Americans looked to the Klan as a cultural and political movement that would try to restore traditional values and Christian culture to a increasingly urban, industrial American society. American joined the Klan because it promised to be the most effective vehicle for cultural and political reform. Of course, the larger question still needs to be answered: Why did some American see the Klan as the most effective effective means to restore traditional American values and Protestant Christian cultural and political dominance?

Bennett argues that the Klan in the 1920s was an extremist group, made up of fundamentalist Protestants who wanted to impose their values and traditions on what they saw as an increasingly alien urban industrial society. Bennett compares the 1920s Klan with the anti-immigrant political movement between 1830 and 1850. Americans during these years feared that Irish and German immigrants with their Catholic religion and alien culture threatened to overwhelm American culture and society. He argues that concerned Americans used these Irish and German immigrants as scapegoats for the larger problems facing American society. If we just shut the door to further immigration, they believed, then American society would work and there would be no major problems. After the Civil War between 1870 and 1920, there was also growing anti-immigrant sentiments. Like the Klan of the 1920s, these earlier extremists groups blamed scapegoats, in this case immigrants, for America's problems. Though their attitudes towards immigrants might be extreme, Bennett has not demonstrated that these three groups were extremist groups.

The larger issue in the debate between Bennett and Coben over whether the 1920s Klan was an extremist movement hinges on how you define extremist. Is a group extreme because of its violent, racist, anti-immigrant views, or is it extreme because of the individuals it attracts, who are out of the mainstream and represent extreme elements in American society. If one out of four Protestant males by the mid-1920s was a member of the Klan, can we call the Klan an extremist movement? We can if we mean by extremist the views and perspectives it holds, but we can't if we mean by extremist out of the mainstream of American society and thought. Can parts of mainstream American society be extremist? I tend to agree with Coben that the Klan was not an extremist group in the 1920s because it attracted the support of mainstream, white Protestant Americans, even though its view on the surface appear to be extreme.

In order to understand the attraction of the Klan in the 1920s, we need to understand the cultural and political changes that were occurring in the early 1900s, and especially after World War I. Between the 1890s and the 1920s, America was increasingly becoming an urban, industrial society, with millions of people moving to growing industrial cities. Instead of being a culture and society dominated by small towns and communities, controlled by the strict authority of churches, families, and tradition, and shaped and controlled by white Protestant Americans, American culture and society by the 1920s was increasingly urban, industrial, multicultural and multiracial, shaped and controlled by diverse peoples and traditions. This dramatic transformation from a rural, traditional culture and society to an urban, modern culture and society worried White Protestant, mostly rural, fundamentalist Americans.What was it about this new urban industrial culture that would cause conservative, fundamentalist, white Americans to join the Klan, which too many was a radical, extremist organization?

By the early 1920s, the national leaders of the Klan hired public relations people to help expand the Klan's appeal throughout the country. Instead of emphasizing the Klan's traditional racist, anti-black message, the leaders of the Klan portrayed the Klan as representing 100 percent Americanism. The Klan they said was struggling to restore American values and traditions. The Klan focused on protecting American womanhood, the family, the home, and White Protestant rule in America. Like earlier anti-immigrant movements, the Klan in the 1920s focused its hatred and concern on immigrants. The Klan rallied concerned Americans around traditional family values, the Protestant religion, and WASP cultural and political dominance. They charged that Catholic and Jewish immigrants, modern women and popular culture such as movies, records, and radio, and the corrupting influence of growing industrial cities were undermining traditional American values. By focusing the concern of rural, fundamentalist, middle-class whites against immigrants and urban culture, Klan membership and support exploded throughout the country in the early 1920s.

The most interesting thing about the growth of the Klan in the 1920s is that its support wasn't centered in the South, but in the Midwest and the Southwest. The Klan was most popular in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. By the mid-1920s, Klan members had won city, country, state, and even federal offices. The Klan had elected governors in Indiana, Colorado, and other states. Contrary to Bennett, the political strength and success of the Klan throughout the country by the mid-1920s demonstrates that they were not just an extremist movement. The Klan by the mid-1920s had managed to grow into a national movement and escape its regional association with violence Southern anti-black racism.

But just as the Klan experienced a meteoric rise, it also suffered a meteoric collapse by the late 1920s. For a brief moment, the Klan managed to reach out to mainstream, rural, white Protestant fundamentalist Americans in the 1920s before collapsing back into the Southern-dominated racist anti-black Klan that grew up after World War II to challenge the Black civil rights movement. What caused the collapse of the Klan by the late 1920s?

The failure of the Klan and its supporters to challenge and reform the growing dominance of urban, industrial culture in the 1920s tells us a lot about the divisions within American society throughout the twentieth century. Because the Klan represented rural, small-town, white fundamentalist Americans, it quickly came into conflict with those groups who represented the growing Catholic, Jewish, immigrant, and supporters of modern culture presence in American society and culture. When the Klan tried to recruit or rally in these growing industrial cities, they faced ethnic opposition and violence. In addition, the American corporate and economic elite opposed the Klan. Because the Klan wanted to restrict immigration and was anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and anti-Black, the factor owners and investors who profited off of immigrant and Black labor rallied to support their workers. Thus, with the growth of the Klan in the 1920s we see a growing political rifts between the growing industrial cities and rural America, between economic and political elites and white, Protestant middle-class Americans, and between fundamentalists and supporters of traditional American culture and values and supporters of a multicultural, multiracial, diverse American culture and society. Just as the Klan mobilized to restore traditional middle-class Protestant dominance over American culture, so too did the American economic elites and American workers mobilize to maintain their growing dominance over a modern urban industrial culture.

By the mid-1920s, the growing power of the groups organized to oppose the Klan became evident. An increasing number of Klan politicians were defeated or recalled from office. Business and economic elites helped expose the moral corruption and outrageous behavior of Klan leaders, particularly in Indiana. By 1926, the leader of the Indiana Klan, D.C.Stephenson, was in jail, convicted of brutally raping a woman and causing her later suicide. Opponents of the Klan used these revelations about the moral corruption of Klan leaders to help erode support for the Klan. Many white Americans who had joined to Klan believing that it was a political movement to restore traditional values, protect women and the family, and promote Christian culture were disillusioned by the immoral behavior of Klan leaders. In addition to revelations about moral corruption within the Klan, many supporters of the Klan soon became disillusioned by the Klan's inability to restore traditional values and Christian culture. By the mid-1920s, many rural, fundamentalist white supporters of the Klan were forced to realize that they were now in the minority; they did not have the cultural and political power to defeat the growing dominance of modern urban industrial culture and society.

By the late-1920s, the Klan had lost a large portion of its membership gains it had made in the early 1920s. But those Americans who had supported the Klan in the 1920s never gave up their larger goal of restoring rural, fundamentalist, traditional cultural values and Christian cultural dominance in American society. In fact, after World War, Southern fundamentalist Protestants began organizing to challenge what they saw as an increasingly secular, humanist, immoral American culture. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, these fundamentalists had created a growing political movement called the Moral Majority, which they claimed represented 40 to 60 million Americans. The leaders of the Moral Majority even claimed that their members were the swing vote that had allowed the conservative Republican Ronald Reagan to become elected President in 1980. Like the Klan in the 1920s, the Moral Majority in the 1980s increasingly tried to impose its cultural and political values on the larger American society. But, like the Klan in the 1920s, they failed, because even though they called themselves the Moral Majority they were still a minority and did not have the culture and political power to impose their values and religious culture on the the larger American society and culture.

Like the Klan in the 1920s, the Moral Majority increasingly faced political opposition. By the late 1980s, the Moral Majority had rapidly declined as a political movement as a result of growing revelations of moral corruption among some of its leaders, such as Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell. But, in addition to the these revelations about moral corruption, the Moral Majority declined as a political movement in the late 1980s because many of its supporters realized that it could not mobilize enough support to truly become a "Moral Majority" and impose its Christian values and traditions on a reluctant modern American culture and society. In some ways, the political movement's very name, the Moral Majority, represents the ironic contradiction that its supporters faced: They weren't in the majority, and weren't likely to be. Like the Klan in the 1920s, the Moral Majority could not mobilize enough support to impose its traditional values and fundamentalist Christian culture on the larger American society.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, another political movement, calling itself "the Christian coalition," emerged to try to take the place of the Moral Majority. Just as the Klan in the 1920s and the Moral Majority in the 1980s, the Christian Coalition tried to mobilize cultural and political power to restore traditional values and Christian culture as the dominant culture in American society. In 1992, Pat Buchanan even declared a "culture war" in America, declaring that were was a war between supporters of traditional Christian culture and modern, secular, humanist, liberal culture. Like the Klan and the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition has run into the same problem: It cannot create a cultural and political majority large enough to restore the dominance of traditional, Christian values in American culture and society.

Clearly, this struggle between supporters of rural, fundamentalist Protestant, traditional culture and supporters of modern, urban, secular culture can't be seen as a struggle between extremist groups. The Klan was a violence, anti-racist, extremist group before its meteoric rise in the 1920s and after its meteoric fall by the late 1920s. But, for a brief moment in the 1920s, traditional, fundamentalist white Protestants saw the Klan as a political movement to challenge the growing cultural and political dominance of what they saw as an immoral, multicultural, multiracial, urban American culture and society. Because it attracted such large numbers and won the support of traditional, fundamentalist white Americans Bennett is wrong to call the 1920s Klan as an extremist group. Coben is right when he raises the still-puzzling enigma of a 1920s Klan that represents Americanism and traditional values. If the 1920s Klan is an extremist movement, then white, middle-class Protestant America in the 1920s were extremists. The 1920s Klan, the Moral Majority, and the Christian Coalition are not extremist movements, but neither are they the "real American majority." This is the cultural and political contradiction conservative, traditional, fundamentalists white Americans have had to face throughout the twentieth century. And it is a contradiction that supporters of the Christian coalition still refuse to accept.


© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 13 Oct. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/drugs1.htm
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