Editor’s note: In today’s post, we highlight a few recent dissertations on drug control and politics from national, international, and transnational perspectives. These entries are part of an ongoing drug-related dissertation bibliography being compiled by Jonathon Erlen, which was formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but is now periodically featured on the Points blog. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.
Martin Behrman and the Regulars: Beer, War, Sex, and the Roots of Modern American Politics
Author: Criss, Ralph Eric
Abstract: The proper role of government at all levels—local, state and federal—has been debated since the birth of the Republic. This project explores that debate by illustrating how a variety of social and political issues manifested themselves in the real life of New Orleans’ longest serving mayor, Martin Behrman, and the lives of millions of other Americans, in the early twentieth century. Integral to the story of Martin Behrman’s life is the tale of Storyville—the infamous red-light district—the growth of the beer industry, and World War I. These matters were bound together in a ball of confusion surrounding the act of congress authorizing the war and its funding. Specifically, questions poured in from across the nation, asking which parts of American cities sailors could visit, whether or not sailors and soldiers were to be treated equally under the law, and even whether or not a civilian could buy a soldier a cold beer to say “thank you” for his service. In this way, the politics of beer, sex, and reform exploded across the United States. In Louisiana, these issues contributed to the defeat of Martin Behrman in the mayoral election of 1920, the weakening of the “Regular” political machine, and the ascent Huey Long, the “Kingfish.” Many of the same legal and moral questions that were asked in 1915 are now asked in 2015 as presidential candidates jockey for position in the presidential primaries of both major parties. How much federal government intrusion into the private lives of citizens is appropriate, given the urgent need to protect the nation from terrorism? Which civil liberties may be encroached upon and to what extent? What is government’s role in promoting public health, fair wages, and morality? What is the appropriate role of the federal government versus states and localities, especially during wartime? How do we handle the large numbers of immigrants flocking to our shores—from both a policy and rhetorical perspective? Answers to such questions constituted the political fault lines of the early twentieth century, as they do today. This study does not attempt to answer the policy questions above. Rather, it seeks to add context to debates surrounding them and to demonstrate their durability. The challenge is how to discuss these complex issues in a concise and cohesive manner. The author chose the political career of the longest serving mayor in the history of New Orleans to act as the glue that holds the narrative together.