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be supreme, the authority of the Church of Christ. Hence, if National Prohibition should ever become law in Ireland, it would be our solemn duty to see, not that the use of alcoholic drink may be permitted for sacramental purposes for permission presupposes a right to forbid-but that the right of the Church should be definitely and expressly conceded to absolute control over the conditions of supply of sacramental wine.
What should be our attitude towards National Prohibition considered as an Irish policy?
Our Reverend President, at the last annual meeting of the Father Mathew Union of Priests, read a paper on 'The Ethics of Total Prohibition.' It was afterwards published in the December issue of the I. E. RECORD, and has since been published as a federation booklet. The paper is characterized by largeness of view, and a calm judicial tone and temper well worthy of imitation.
Having sketched the history of the Prohibition movement, and brought forward evidence to disprove the allegation of anti-Catholic bias sometimes levelled at leading prohibitionists, he comes to the consideration of the ethical principles involved, and lays down two main propositions. Dr. Coffey's first thesis is as follows:
It is the function of the State to promote the common good and economic and social well-being of the people. If, in order to accomplish this, the State finds it necessary to deprive the individual citizens of all access to the enjoyment of certain temporal or material goods or conveniences, which are in themselves lawful but not indispensable, the State has the moral power to do so.
He holds this to be an ethical principle beyond dispute, and very few thinking minds will quarrel with that statement. Listen to ex-President Taft bearing telling witness to the same effect, in words quoted by that militant bone-dry publication, the American Issue:
All will admit [he says] that the State may properly pass laws to preserve the (social) morals of the community by punishing murder, rape and such crime.
The more doubtful question is where the line is to be drawn as to acts not intrinsically vicious and immoral, but having a tendency, if not restricted, to lead to demoralization in society. The line is more or less a matter of custom. The attitude of the public in respect to it differs radically in different countries, and at different times in the same country. This shows the absurdity of referring to the use of wine in the New Testament as an argument for the inalienable right to drink. . In no community where there is any neighbourhood relation between
one person and another, or between one family and another, can there be complete freedom of action. . . . Liberty regulated by law is that measure of freedom which can be accorded to each person without injury to the enjoyment of similar liberty by others, or to the general welfare
We may take it as fairly agreed, I think, that if the State considers National Prohibition to be the only possible means of successfully coping with a national drink evil, it is within its right in enacting such a measure of reform. Indeed the opponents of Prohibition in the United States ground their opposition to it chiefly on the plea that less drastic measures than Prohibition would effectively bring the drink evil under control.
Dr. Coffey's second thesis is as follows:
Even if such a measure is not the only possible means of promoting the common good-of remedying grave and widespread economic evils and social miseries-nevertheless, if it is believed by the majority of the community to be the most effective means, and as such is demanded by them, then, too, the State has the moral right to enforce the measure and to impose on the individual citizens the resulting inconvenience of so far restricting personal liberty.
This principle, however, many are unwilling to accept. For example, the December issue of Studies includes a very interesting and rather sympathetic article on 'Prohibition in the United States by Mr. O'Hara, of the Catholic University, Washington, in which the following passage occurs-
In an usually sane article in the June number of the Catholic Charities Review Father Burkett asks the question: Is National Prohibition in accord with sound ethics?' He answers the question in the negative, because he finds that the drink evil is not so deep-rooted and widespread as to seriously jeopardize the temporal prosperity of all, or at least a vast majority of this community (the United S ates); and secondly, because Prohibition is not the only remedy which will keep the evil within narrow limits. From his own assumption his conclusions follow logically enough.
Therefore in the opinion of Father Burkett-and Mr. O'Hara seems to agree--if Prohibition is not the only remedy for the drink evil it is not in accord with sound ethics. My own view of the matter, and of the application of the general principles underlying Prohibition to the present condition of our country, I shall put before you for what it is worth and as briefly as possible.
In the first place let me say that if Prohibition puts a ban on the importation, as well as on the manufacture
and sale of intoxicants, it seems to me almost a truism to state that it is the most effective means of combating the drink evil. It will not, of course, eliminate it; infringements of the law will be inevitable. But the very nature of the enactment, and the experience of its working where it has been in force, leave no reasonable doubt as to its being the most effective remedy.
Secondly, Prohibition being an enactment of a very searching and drastic character, statesmanship would demand, at least for our own country, that a direct vote of the nation be taken on the question as a preliminary. As to the majority required, absolutely speaking, there is no reason in ethics why a bare majority in favour of Prohibition should not suffice. But since there is question of a law which intimately affects the liberty of every individual in the nation, in order that the law may have a well grounded hope of success, and so fully justify itself, I am inclined to think that a two-thirds majority in its favour should be postulated.
Thirdly, before hazarding an answer to the main question at issue, I wish to emphasize the necessity of discriminating between drunkenness and the drink evil. We
out to fight not merely the former, but the latter as well. Now the drink evil has a far wider reach than drunkenness. Drunkenness radiates the drink evil. Every self-made victim of drink is very likely to drag victims in his unsteady train, innocent victims who may never have known the taste of alcohol, but who have been brought within the shadow of its blighting curse. Nay more, the drink evil can exist quite independently of drunkenness. A man, by the use of intoxicants, may notably impair his efficiency, may seriously injure his health, may even gravely endanger his life, and yet pass for a sober man. A father may drink the clothes off the backs of his children, the bread out of their mouths, the fire out of the hearth, and peace and happiness out of the home, and yet not be a drunkard. And a mother who never seriously clouds her brain by the fumes of alcohol may mortgage to the drink demon the future of every babe that she suckles at her breast.
To what extent, then, must the drink evil permeate a nation to justify National Prohibition on this score? Dr. Coffey says it should be widespread, a statement which is incontrovertible, but a little indefinite. Father
Burkett, in the words which I have already quoted, says it should be so deep rooted and widespread as to seriously affect the temporal prosperity of at least a majority of the community. With this statement I respectfully beg to join issue.
The social authority may be called upon to legislate for various evils, varying in character, in gravity, and in malignancy. With regard to most of them I am quite prepared to admit that they should seriously affect the great majority of the community before the social authority is justified in combating them by sweeping and drastic legislation. But the drink evil strikes a peculiarly deep note of social danger. Excluding race suicide, amongst all social evils the drink evil I conceive to be supreme. It out-Herods them all. It is a creeping paralysis, ultimately affecting the whole national organism, a malignant disease eating into the very vitals of the nation. An evil which can empty homes of comfort, sufficiency, happiness and peace; which can fill workhouses, hospitals, jails, and asylums, and people graveyards before their time, such an evil constitutes so deep a menace to a nation's social and economic well-being, that it clamours loudly for speedy repression. If it has got its grip on even a substantial minority-say one-third-of the population, it would seem to be the duty of the social authority to come to the nation's rescue. And, therefore, in such a contingency, if it fails to pass and enforce even such a drastic enactment as National Prohibition-provided at least that Prohibition be considered the only effective remedy for the evil-it is not merely foregoing the exercise of a right, but failing in the discharge of a most solemn duty.
Does the drink evil seriously affect one-third of the population of Ireland? Let us consider. In the year 1875 the Bishops of Ireland, in council assembled, uttered the following fulmination :—
Drunkenness has wrecked more homes, once happy, than ever fell beneath the crowbar in the worst days of eviction; it has filled more graves and made more widows and orphans than did the famine; it has broken more hearts, blighted more hopes, and rent asunder family ties more ruthlessly than the enforced exile to which their misery ha condemned emigrants.
Against an evil so widespread and so pernicious, we implore all who have at heart the honour of God and the salvation of souls to be filled with a holy zeal.
The vulture wings of the monster have been clipped a little since then; but still, it would be hard to prove that at the beginning of the recent world war this terrible indictment had become out of date. During the war, owing to various causes, the demon was kept in fetters. But the fetters are being already loosened; and, as far as one can read the signs and portents, if the same facilities and inducements continue to exist as obtained in pre-war days, there is a very grave danger that, at least for a period-to which, not being a prophet, I cannot assign a limit--the solemn episcopal indictment of 1875 shall be realized again. From which consideration I infer that if Prohibition be considered the only remedy for the drink evil in Ireland, such a condition of servitude to its tyranny is likely to exist amongst our people in the near future as to justify its enforcement.
There remains the further ethical question. Suppose that National Prohibition has not been proved to be the only effective means of bringing the drink evil under fair control, does the fact that it is the most effective means justify the social authority in passing and enforcing such a drastic measure of reform ?
Some laws of the State are mandatory-they say: 'Thou shalt,' others are prohibitory-they say: Thou shalt not.' Mandatory laws, generally speaking, restrict personal liberty of action only at certain intervals, and, sometimes, not at all. The law, for example, which commands a man to pay taxes affects his liberty of action only a few times a year. It may not affect his personal liberty at all: if another man pays the taxes for him the law is quite content. But prohibitory laws are always dogging the citizen's footsteps, and always on the watch to trip him up. A prohibitory law, therefore, is, as such, a much more intimate and abiding restriction of personal liberty than a mandatory law, and, as such, requires a stronger warrant to justify it.
Now National Prohibition of intoxicating liquors is a prohibitory law of a very stringent and aggressive character. For it affects the liberty of every individual in the community who is capable of being bound by law, and this with regard to acts, which are in themselves morally and socially legitimate. This consideration of itself seems to many so decisive that, on the strength of it alone, they hold National Prohibition to be ethically indefensible,