Anthony Esolen over at Crisis Magazine looks at an historical disaster and gives great insight. Excerpts:
...So, then, what does Prohibition teach us?
That amendment inserted into the Constitution a law that neither protected fundamental rights nor adjusted the mechanics of governance. It was a radical break from tradition. It is crucial to understand this. It took a juridical break from tradition to obliterate the customs, the lived traditions, of the American people and their forebears.
The need to enforce Prohibition gave rise to two things, both bad. One was a vast network of organized crime, because, although most people obeyed the law, many did not. The other was a vast network of organized police forces to fight the crime. Both have long survived the repeal of Prohibition. All organizations are, in one respect, like natural organisms. Their prime directive is to survive. Here the crime fighters had a big advantage over the criminals. Crime families reproduce; but bureaucracies metastasize. Each new crime family is a rival to the others, but each new federal agency is a tentacle and a feeder of the others. During Prohibition, Al Capone was a match for Eliot Ness, in power and in numbers. Now, a John Gotti is but a flea on the elephant’s hide. The average person suffers far greater encroachment upon his liberty, and far greater extortion of his earnings, from the elephant than from the flea.
So, Prohibition was a bad law because it was just what one of its supporters, Herbert Hoover, said it was: “A noble experiment.” It parted from American tradition. It nullified local customs and ordinances. It cleared a gravel path from the hearth to the Capitol—and began to pave a twelve-lane superhighway from the Capitol to the hearth, for that is the direction of most of the traffic. It was a bad law because of its immediate and dreadful unintended consequences.
And it was a bad law for the most obvious reason of all. It appealed to public welfare to outlaw something that was, in itself, not evil. Why do people miss this? Most people agree that drunkenness is an evil; but wine “gladdens the heart,” says the Psalmist, and Jesus at Cana did not turn wine into water. People would take a drink not to get drunk, but for conviviality and ease. What was so wrong with that?
We have, then, the worst of both worlds. We have a Prohibitionary State that gives license to all kinds of evil, but that regulates and restricts actions that are not evil, to manage the chaos that results from the license. This is done without a glance at the Constitution, which was not a dead letter in the days of the Volstead Act, but is now.
Also, this article is an excellent analysis of the real problems with the Eighteenth Amendment.