Speakeasies, rum runners, and backwoods fundamentalists railing about the ills of strong drink are just one small part of the global story of prohibition. The full story of prohibition—one you’ve probably never been told—is perhaps one of the most broad-based and successful transnational social movements of the modern era. The call for temperance motivated and aligned activists within progressive, social justice, labor rights, women’s rights, and indigenous rights movements advocating for communal self-protection against the corrupt and predatory “liquor machine” that had become rich off the misery and addictions of the poor around the world.
From the slums of South Asia, to the beerhalls of Central Europe, to the Native American reservations of the United States, discover 20 key figures from history that you didn’t know were prohibitionists.
Full name: Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
Lived: 9 September 1828-20 November 1910
Occupation: writer, philosopher
World-renowned author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Count Tolstoy developed a moral philosophy of Christian anarchism and nonviolent resistance. Since the state monopolized violence, Tolstoy encouraged moral people to refuse military service, paying taxes, or anything else that strengthened the state… like opposing the imperial vodka monopoly—the largest single source of revenue for the Russian empire. Leading by abstinent example, Tolstoy wrote extensively on the harms of intoxication, organized temperance societies, and encouraged the government to enact a “complete prohibition of the poison which destroys both the physical and spiritual well-being of millions of people.”
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