Is it time to repeal the federal drinking laws?

In a column on Lew Rockwell’s site last week, Jeff Tucker argued for the repeal of federal drinking laws. Such things, he says, are better handled by the individual states (as they were until 1984).

[I]t is only because we are somehow used to it that we accept the complete absurdity of a national law that prohibits the sale of beer, wine, and liquor to anyone under the age of 21. Every day, the police are busting up parties, shutting down bars, hectoring restaurants, fining convenience stores, and otherwise bullying people into clean living…

And yet every day, young people are finding ways around these preposterous restrictions that are hardly ever questioned, imbibing with their booze a disdain for the law and a creative spirit of criminality, along with a disposition to binge drink when their legal workarounds succeed.

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Despite the unintended consequences, federal drinking age advocates are unwavering.

[I]t is impossible to silence the screams of the prohibition advocates, who trace every car accident among teen drivers to alcohol. I find this all fascinating to read because it bears so much in common with the Prohibition literature from the 1910s and 1920s. Their propaganda blamed alcohol for the destruction of the family, the persistence of poverty, the high rate of crime, the problem of illiteracy, and the ubiquity of sin generally. Clearly, their arguments were widely accepted even though it is all a big and fallacious mix up of cause and effect. It’s not that liquor caused all these terrible things; it’s that the people who engage in terrible behaviors tend to also be drinkers. Abolishing the drink won’t fix the problems of the human heart.

So it is with teenage drinking. With the two-thirds and more of people under the age of 21 reporting that they have consumed alcohol in the last year, it should be obvious that the law is doing nothing but providing a gigantic excuse for arbitrary police-state impositions on human liberty, and also socializing young people in a habit of hypocrisy and law breaking. It’s like the old Soviet-style joke: they pretend to regulate us and we pretend to be regulated.

Obviously, I agree with Jeff that drinking laws should be left to the states, but am curious what you think.


  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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