Andrew MonteithOct 8, 2023
Christian Nationalism and the Birth of the War on Drugs
NYU Press 2023
Many people view the War on Drugs as a contemporary phenomenon invented by the Nixon administration. But as Dr. Andrew Monteith shows in Christian Nationalism and the Birth of the War on Drugs (NYU Press, 2023), the conflict actually began more than a century before, when American Protestants began the temperance movement and linked drug use with immorality.
Dr. Monteith argues that this early drug war was deeply rooted in Christian impulses. While many scholars understand Prohibition to have been a Protestant undertaking, it is considerably less common to consider the War on Drugs this way, in part because racism has understandably been the focal point of discussions of the drug war. Antidrug activists expressed—and still do express--blatant white supremacist and nativist motives. Yet this book argues that racism was intertwined with religious impulses. Reformers pursued the “civilising mission,” a wide-ranging project that sought to protect “child races” from harmful influences while remodelling their cultures to look like Europe and the United States. Most reformers saw Christianity as essential to civilization and missionaries felt that banning drugs would encourage religious conversion and progress.
This compelling work of scholarship radically reshapes our understanding of one of the longest and most damaging conflicts in modern American history, making the case that we cannot understand the War on Drugs unless we understand its religious origins.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.