The American Drug War – a Conflict Theory Perspective

Topics: Illegal drug trade, Prohibition, Drug Pages: 8 (2686 words) Published: November 16, 2005
In the mid to late 20th Century, the United States has experienced several states of Cultural Revolution. The Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, the anti-War Movement during the Vietnam era, and the increasing presence of a widespread, politically active and highly vocalized youth counterculture led the United States government to feel that maybe, they were losing control of their population. The white, upper class men, who for centuries had dominated the political realm, began to feel their grip on power falter. By targeting drug use, the government would be free to "deal" with minorities especially African Americans, Hispanics, the free-love generation, and left-wing "radicals," all while claiming that they were protecting our country and our borders from the international drug trade, as well as ridding our streets of drugs and related violence. In addition, many government worried that if drug use became widespread, they would no longer be able to control a newer, "freer thinking" society. With the launch of the War on Drugs by President Richard M. Nixon in 1972, the United States government and unsuspecting citizens alike were embarking on a journey of discreet, institutionalized racial and class discrimination in order to ensure that the majority of governmental power stayed where it has since long before the adoption of capitalism: among the elite white males. Subsequent policy has included Reagan's militarization of the War on Drugs, the 1998 "Souder" Amendment to the Higher Education Act, and the prosecution the citizens of states such as California, where marijuana has been legalized, with federal crimes. These policies have had an increasingly negative effect on society, including overcrowding of jails and prisons, denial of federal higher education financial aid, life prison sentences for nonviolent repeat offenders, and other social atrocities. All the while, most law enforcement officials feel that they are "losing" the War on Drugs, and most drugs are even more widely available and affordable now than in 1972, when "war" was declared. This paper will seek to explain the War on Drugs from a conflict theory perspective, including its effects on both the poor and the elite, and how the War on Drugs may be one of the most important tools of the bourgeoisie in perpetuating the unequal distribution of power in our society.

Karl Marx (1818-1883), is known as a member of the sociological "holy trinity," along with Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. Marx authored the original idea of conflict theory, which has been adapted into many other theories that have developed since his death. Central to conflict theory is the idea of the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie, who control the modes of production in a capitalist society, control the proletariat through the exploitation of the proletariat's labor resource. According to Marx, those who are the ruling material force of society are also the ruling intellectual force. Thus, the bourgeoisie can maintain their status within the society, because as the ruling class, they create the laws through which society operates. In addition to systematic oppression through the control of labor and wages, the bourgeoisie also manipulates the proletarian masses by creating competition between them. By emphasizing racial, ethnic, religious, and other differences, as well as the obviously competition for jobs and barely living wages, the bourgeoisie foster a sentiment of hostility between the proletariats, which makes it much more difficult for them to unite against the ruling class in an attempt to better their position in society. The labor situation within capitalism, Marx claimed, made it impossible for workers to recognize their species-being, or their full potential to perform. As the Industrial Revolution took hold, crafts disappeared, replaced by highly repetitive, unskilled positions within the...

Bibliography: Fellner, Jamie and Marc Mauer, "Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States" (Washington, DC: Human Rights Watch & The Sentencing Project, 1998), p. 8
Haney, Craig, Ph.D., and Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., "The Past and Future of U.S. Prison Policy: Twenty-five Years After the Stanford Prison Experiment," American Psychologist, Vol. 53, No. 7 (July 1998), p. 718
Harrison, Paige M., & Jennifer Karberg, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2002 (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice, April 2003), p. 11, Tables 13 & 14
Office of National Drug Control Policy, "National Drug Control Strategy: FY 2003 Budget Summary" (Washington, DC: Office of the President, February 2002), Table 2, p. 6
US Census Bureau, Department of Commerce, Census 2000 Redistricting Data (P.L. 94-171) Summary File for states, Population by Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin for the United States: 2000 (PHC-T-a) Table 1, from the web at
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