Essay date: April 17, 2023

Even Howard Zinn Reckons without the Drug War

a philosophical review of 'A People's History of the United States'

merican authors are in denial about the Drug War. If anyone doubts this, they should check out the populist classic by historian Howard Zinn entitled "A People's History of the United States." If any book might be expected to pan the war on drugs, it should be this one, since that anti-scientific campaign against psychoactive medicine has militarized police forces around the world, caused civil wars in Latin America, destroyed the rule of law in Mexico, and killed and disenfranchised so many American blacks that racist fascists are now able to win presidential elections in the United States. And yet Howard Zinn, that dauntless unmasker of systemic wrongs, has absolutely nothing to say about the war on drugs. Not a thing. True, he mentions "drugs" a handful of times in his lengthy tome, but only in an off-hand way which implies that the author shares the mendacious prejudices of our times according to which "drugs" are substances which have no valid uses for anyone, anywhere, at any time, for any reason, ever.

He writes of inner-city violence, of course, but only to link it to uncaring politicians who withhold money on social problems while beefing up the military to dangerous and unwieldy proportions. This is all too true, of course, but he misses the main point when it comes to inner-city violence: namely that it was first introduced into the 'hood by substance prohibition which gave massive financial incentives for the poor to start selling desired substances. Of course, the drug gangs thus created soon had to arm themselves to the teeth against both the police and their own inner-city turf rivals. That's why, as Heather Ann Thompson wrote in The Atlantic in 2014:

"Without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist."

And yet the Drug War is off the radar of Howard Zinn. Like Lisa Ling, who produced an hour-long documentary on Chicago gun violence without even mentioning the war on drugs, Howard seems to think that city violence arose ex nihilo as a kind of passive-aggressive response to bad social policy in general, when the real villains of the piece were the huge financial incentives provided by substance prohibition.

I might have expected such blindness from other authors.

Science writers, for instance, have been ignoring the Drug War for many years now, giving us the latest materialist advice on fighting depression, anxiety and PTSD, but never pointing out the inconvenient truth (even via a footnoted disclaimer) that the government has outlawed almost all the psychoactive medicine with which one might have easily triumphed over these conditions in the past, or at least rendered their symptoms far less pernicious. In academia, in fact, it's commonplace to completely ignore the possibility that drugs can have good uses. Nor is the historian in a hurry to tell kids that Benjamin Franklin was a big fan of opium or that Thomas Jefferson grew poppies on his estate - or that he rolled over in his grave the day that the DEA stomped onto Monticello and confiscated those plants in violation of the natural law upon which Jefferson had founded America.

But Howard Zinn has no excuse for ignoring the Drug War. The fact that he does so makes me wonder if he ever bothered to read his own book. His entire thesis, after all, is that rich power brokers will go to great lengths to keep the lower classes fighting amongst themselves for what he calls the "leftovers" of exploitative capitalism. In chapter 23, for instance, he quotes HL Mencken as saying:

The whole aim of popular politics is to keep the public alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

Surely "drugs" is the hobgoblin par excellence of American politics, and Howard, of all writers, should have recognized that fact.

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You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at Brian is the founder of The Drug War Gift Shop, where artists can feature and sell their protest artwork online. He has also written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.

A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.

The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazifies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide.

It bans the substances that inspired William James' ideas about human consciousness and the nature of ultimate reality. In short, it causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America. (Surely, Jefferson was rolling over in his grave when Ronald Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the founding father's poppy plants.)

If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher

PS The drug war has not failed: to the contrary, it has succeeded, insofar as its ultimate goal was to militarize police forces around the world and help authorities to ruthlessly eliminate those who stand in the way of global capitalism. For more, see Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley. Oh, and did I mention that most Drug Warriors these days would never get elected were it not for the Drug War itself, which threw hundreds of thousands of their political opposition in jail? Trump was right for the wrong reasons: elections are being stolen in America, but the number-one example of that fact is his own narrow victory in 2016, which could never have happened without the existence of laws that were specifically written to keep Blacks and minorities from voting. The Drug War, in short, is a cancer on the body politic.

Rather than apologetically decriminalizing selected plants, we should be demanding the immediate restoration of Natural Law, according to which "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." (John Locke)

Selected Bibliography

  • Bandow, Doug "From Fighting The Drug War To Protecting The Right To Use Drugs"2018
  • Barrett, Damon "Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Polices on Young People"2011 IDEBATE Press
  • Bilton, Anton "DMT Entity Encounters: Dialogues on the Spirit Molecule"2021 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Boullosa , Carmen "A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the 'Mexican Drug War'"2016 OR Books
  • Brereton, William "The Truth about Opium / Being a Refutation of the Fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade"2017 Anna Ruggieri
  • Burns, Eric "1920: The year that made the decade roar"2015 Pegasus Books
  • Carpenter, Ted Galen "The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to America"2012 Cato Institute
  • Chesterton, GK "Saint Thomas Acquinas"2014 BookBaby
  • Filan, Kenaz "The Power of the Poppy: Harnessing Nature's Most Dangerous Plant Ally"2011 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Griffiths, William "Psilocybin: A Trip into the World of Magic Mushrooms"2021 William Griffiths
  • Hofmann, Albert "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications"2005 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Irwin-Rogers, Keir "Illicit Drug Markets, Consumer Capitalism and the Rise of Social Media: A Toxic Trap for Young People"2019
  • James, William "The Varieties of Religious Experience"1902 Philosophical Library
  • Mariani, Angelo "Coca and its Therapeutic Application, Third Edition"1896
  • Mortimer MD, W. Golden "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas"2017 Ronin Publishing
  • Partridge, Chiristopher "Alistair Crowley on Drugs"2021 uploaded by Misael Hernandez
  • Rudgley, Richard "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances"2014 Macmillan Publishers
  • Shulgin, Alexander "PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story"1991 Transform Press
  • Shulgin, Alexander "The Nature of Drugs Vol. 1: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact"2021 Transform Press
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief"0
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology"2022
  • St John, Graham "Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT"2021
  • Szasz, Thomas "Interview With Thomas Szasz: by Randall C. Wyatt"0
  • Wedel, Janine "Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom and Politics and Created an Outsider Class"2014 Pegasus Books
  • Weil, Andrew "From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs"2004 Open Road Integrated Media
  • Site and its contents copyright 2023, by Brian B. Quass, the drug war philosopher at For more information, contact Brian at