"If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all." ~ Virginia Woolf
Anarchism and Alcohol
Exclusive to STR
August 24, 2006
To the uninitiated, such a title must conjure images of sloshed-to-the-gills 17th Century swashbucklers duking it out with sword and flintlock on the swaying decks of galleons in a high sea, or loaded punk rockers raving it up in a London nightclub while the Sex Pistols belt out "Anarchy in the U.K. " But in reality, there are many more sober (if you'll pardon the pun) connections between the ages-old practice of imbibing fermented or distilled fruits and grains, and the more high-minded ideal of Negating the State.
It is true that governments have traditionally dug their insidious claws into the production, sale, and even possession of intoxicating beverages since time immemorial. Indeed, here in the U.S. , one of the first excise taxes imposed by the fledgling post-revolutionary federal government was levied on whiskey (which in turn led to the Whiskey Rebellion). Then came Prohibition from 1919 to 1933 (to be followed by the "War On Drugs" [read Prohibition, Round 2] beginning in 1937. Add to this age restrictions, state alcohol taxes, mandatory "bottle bill" deposits which currently exist in 13 of the 50 United States, licensing of booze vendors, etc. ad nauseum, and we start to get a pretty clear picture of government's interest in the procurement of liquor by its subjects. Have a gander at the index to the Internal Revenue Code under "Alcohol Taxes" sometime for an eye-opening primer.
But the various cultures which have surrounded drink itself for centuries, often stood in diametric opposition to controlling factions of every stripe. Indeed, countless revolutions and insurrections have had their seeds sown in such circles: Were not the pubs and taverns of the day robustly instrumental in the plotting and fomenting of the American Revolution, and later, Shay's Rebellion?
Spirits have also closely accompanied more cerebral rejections of authority. In 19th Century France, the romantic poets embraced intoxicants (and not only those from the barrel, still, or vineyard) as a means of attaining the visions they so eloquently infused into their verse, and at great risk of offending the mores and aristocracies of their time. Most famously, Arthur Rimbaud, who vigorously resisted control in any form, advocated "a long, prolonged derangement of the senses in order to attain the unknown." Clearly, such sensibilities do not exactly entreat themselves to any State, past or present.
But in the modern Anarchist movement -- and I speak exclusively of that wing which Strike The Root and other Web and print publications like it advocate; that is, those of hardcore libertarian orientation as opposed to any Marxian construct--what role have alcoholic beverages to play? Indeed, in spite of the brief historical pastiches which have preceded thus far, the idea may seem more than just a tad ludicrous and self-indulgent. Sophomoric, even.
Let's not be so hasty. If one is an Anarchist, and one is going to drink (whether on occasion, or on a consistent basis), one ought to contemplate how to do so in a manner which reduces rather than enhances State power. Here, we come to the meat of the matter. Or, we Strike the Root, if you will.
Homebrewing, home fermentation, and even distillation of hard spirits can all be done without tangling with tax authorities so long as one does not intend to vend the end product for cash, or exceed certain quantities on a per annum basis. While such restrictions are repugnant to say the least, within their parameters the alcohol hobbyist may produce his or her own tax-free supply of liquid intoxicants. And unlike regulated commercial manufacturers and importers, the alcohol percentage or "proof" of any given beverage derived thereof need not adhere to restrictive government standards. There are, of course, exceptions. Straight grain alcohol or "moonshine" is not thusly protected, nor is the production of absinthe (distilled wormwood) within the purview of government sanction. But beyond these considerations, while not for everyone, homemade alcoholic beverages can be a fun and interesting hobby. The resources available on the Internet and elsewhere for getting started are far too numerous to list here, and I don't wish to recommend any one company. There are a lot of fine ones. But try typing something like "Home brewing equipment" into your favorite search engine. And since you likely live in a state where there is a sales tax, by ordering your starter kit and supplies from another state online, you avoid that tax as well.
A book I should make mention of, though it does not deal with the subject immediately aforementioned, is Drink As Much As You Want And Live Longer: The Intelligent Person's Guide To Healthy Drinking by Frederick M. Beyerlein (Loompanics Unlimited, 1999) (Note: Mike Hoy of Loompanics Unlimited decided, sadly, to close up shop earlier this year. You may, at the time of this writing, still be able to obtain copies at a substantial discount via www.loompanics.com, or by searching any good used or rare book resource online, such as www.alibris.com) Beyerlein, a libertarian nutritionist, does a remarkable job of clearing up some of the most commonplace myths about alcohol consumption, and demonstrates how booze can be consumed in a manner least destructive to one's physical well-being, including how to conquer that most dreaded consequence of over-indulgence in spirits, The Hangover. True to libertarian form, Beyerlein is no moralist: His stated purpose from the get-go is not to pass judgment on whether to drink, what you drink, how much, or how often. It is rather, to guide the drinker towards a more healthful way to drink. Whether you have a single glass of wine every New Year's Eve, and not a drop otherwise, or you rock and roll 'til you drop at the local nightclub seven nights a week, this book is definitely worth having in your personal library.
Well, I believe I hear a cold bottle of homebrew calling my name from the fridge. Writing essays like this one sure can induce a powerful thirst. Before I go, I'll just leave you with this: Next time you drink (if you do), don't let government steal your money or spoil your fun. If you homeschool, then homebrew, and vice-versa. All right, ready? A toast! To the rapid and final collapse of the State! Cheers! Salud! Salut!