With that line, I ended my senior essay, the cap-stone of the Program of Liberal Studies, “‘Third Way’ Distributive Economics: Catholicism, Democracy, and the Good Life.” Properly to understand the connection, one must read the two quotations that precede it, which I present now:
Finally, I present my last defense of Distributism.
Better beer and a greater choice would result from penalizing the large brewery and with the revenue subsidizing the small one, down to the cottage brewer. –Hilaire Belloc, An Essay on the Restoration of Property, page seventy.
Do we want an America where, on the highways and byways, all we have is catalog houses? Do we want an America where the economic market place is filled with a few Frankensteins and giants? Or do we want an America where there are thousands upon thousands of small entrepreneurs, independent businessmen, and landholders who can stand on their own feet and talk back to their Government or to anyone else?101 — U.S. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN), in a 1954 speech on the Senate floor.
I know in which America I want to live, and good beer is plentiful there.
I refer to this passage because I believe in the intrinsic virtue of good beer, or, at least, in the virtue thereof when drunk well and respectably. A cluster of related articles posted in the Friday, 1 August, Arts & Letters Daily, thus truly saddens me. The articles’ writers elegizing the seeming down-fall of the English pub, I cite, here, an article from the Telegraph. Writes Andrew O’Hagan,
I’ve gone from being someone who stopped in at a pub several times a week when I was younger – and practically living there when I was a student – to hating pubs.
Many of the establishments are so pressed for custom that they will do anything to fill their bar – mainly selling toxic drinks in devastating quantities to kids who consider a good night out to be one that ends in copious vomiting.
I grew up knowing very well the dangers of excessive drinking, but most of that was done in private, at home or in the street, while social drinking was a matter for the pub. On Coronation Street, the Rovers Return seemed a perfectly typical hub of community life, where – believe it or not – conversations took place and business was done and views were exchanged.
Young and old used to meet in the pub, as did the differently educated (in Corrie, Ken Barlow would be at one end of the bar reading the London Review of Books while his rival, Mike Baldwin, would be at the other end chatting up the barmaid).
These days, it’s considered more typical for the social element to be bypassed, and for people to drag home a case of cheap booze from Tesco’s and demolish it in front of America’s Got Talent.
It would be hard to convince anyone that the pub was once the premiere venue for literary and journalistic life in this country, for intelligent argument and amorous adventure, for meeting with the unknown.
Not one person under 40 that I know met their partner in a pub, or got their present job via a pub assignation. Though quite a number of them could say that the last time they were exposed to violence was in a pub during “happy hour”.
In truth, this entire excerpt indicts my generation, English, American, and, I presume, of virtually every other “first-world” nationality, quite justly. Were I to go out to-night, I should, I shamefully confess, probably find my-self at the The Thirsty Turtle, quaffing twenty-five-cent whiskey-and-Diets with reckless abandon, the sheer uncultured nature of such debauchery a mere after-thought. My peers, mayhap, briefly, interested in debating the presidential campaign, soon would degenerate into a staggering, stumbling, slurring swarm seeking sexual success, whereby, of course, I mean a night of meaningless intercourse with the prettiest girl desperate, lonely, or crapulous enough to have lost all sense of right and wrong and all capacity to make sagacious decisions four vodka-and-cranberry juice cocktails ago.
Contrast this all too real, all too frequent scenario with what, having some time to spare, prior to helping a friend to move, I encountered at Hank Dietle’s, a deliciously dive-ish public house in Rockville, during a week-day happy hour: Five or six middle-aged gentlemen, one in a sport-coat, the others clearly of a more blue-collared persuasion, discussing, continuing on conversation from a previous evening at their watering hole, Constitutional arrangements vis-à-vis presidential succession; which presidents, for how-ever long, due to what-ever circumstances, served without a vice-president; and matters appurtenant to the current contest for commander-in-chief. (Unsurprising, most of my company supported, at least tepidly, Senator Obama.) I couldn’t help remarking to the one in nearest propinquity, who wore the sport-coat, that I found my-self slightly amazed that I found more intellectually stimulating conversation at Hank’s than I should have had I spent happy hour, imbibing as many still-over-priced Bud Light’s as I could before the discounts had met their end, amongst my own cohort, who, it, some-times, is alleged, represent the leaders of to-morrow.
I wonder what life was like when this particular line from O’Hagan held true: “It would be hard to convince anyone that the pub was once the premiere venue for literary and journalistic life in this country, for intelligent argument and amorous adventure, for meeting with the unknown.” I bet it was nice. Really nice.