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Prohibitionism is a legal philosophy and political theory often used in lobbying which holds that citizens will abstain from actions if the actions are typed as unlawful (i.e. prohibited) and the prohibitions are enforced by law enforcement. This philosophy has been the basis for many acts of statutory law throughout history, most notably when a large group of a given population disapproves of and/or feels threatened by an activity in which a smaller group of that population engages, and seeks to render that activity legally prohibited.


Acts of prohibition have included prohibitions on types of clothing, prohibitions on gambling and exotic dancing, drug prohibition, the prohibition of alcohol (notably prohibition in the United States between 1919 and 1934 due to the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act), and prohibitions on tobacco smoking.


The success of a measure of prohibitionism has been criticized as often depending too much upon effective enforcement of the relevant legislation. This is said to be problematic, because the majority of the targets of prohibitionism are in the category of victimless crime, where the harm that comes from the crime is non-existent, questionable, or only to the person who performs the act and even then the magnitude of the harm being relatively small. Enforcement becomes a conflict between violation of statue and violation of free will. Since the acts prohibited often are enjoyable, enforcement is often the most harmful choice to the individual. This sometimes results in laws which rarely are enforced by anybody who does not have a financial or personal motivation to do so.

The difficulty of enforcing prohibitionist laws also criticized as resulting in selective enforcement, wherein the enforcers select the people they wish to prosecute based on other criteria, resulting in discrimination based on races, culture, nationality, or financial status. For example, Americanmarker philosopher Noam Chomsky has criticized drug prohibition as being a technique of social control of the "so-called dangerous classes."

Prohibitionism based laws have the added problem of calling attention to the behavior that they are attempting to prohibit. This can make the behavior interesting and exciting, and cause its popularity to increase.

See also


  1. C Canty, A Sutton. Strategies for community-based drug law enforcement: From prohibition to harm reduction; in T Stockwell, PJ Gruenewald, JW Toumbourou, WLoxley W, eds. Preventing Harmful Substance Use: The Evidence Base for Policy and Practice. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2005. pp. 225-236.
  2. Noam Chomsky, "On the War on Drugs", Week Online, DRCNet, February 8, 2002

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