AA History

Nationally-distributed criticism of AA first appeared in a 1963 Harpers Magazine article.

Posted by Love and Service

In January, 1963, Harpers Magazine published an article by Dr. Arthur H. Cain which was harshly critical of Alcoholics Anonymous. Entitled “Alcoholics Can be Cured–Despite A.A.,” the article was soon followed by other nationally distributed publications which echoed the same criticism–including this one in the Saturday Evening Post of September 19, 1964.

Despite the fact that the Cain’s articles warped many half-truths into generalities, the 1963 General Service Conference shifted its theme to “AA Takes Its Inventory.” A feature of that Conference was the special presentation by three of the non-alcoholics trustees: Dr. Harry Tiebault, Prof. Harrison M. Trice, and Austin MacCormick. They had taken a hard look at the Fellowship to try to separate valid criticism from spurious accusations.

MacCormick remarked “It is a good thing, I am sure, for Alcoholics Anonymous as a Fellowship to stand off and look at itself with honest and wide-open eyes from time to time, just as AA members look at themselves in Step Four and Step Ten.” He quoted several passages from the article which he termed “rather less than sincerely thoughtful,” and also noted “good things one can find in the article.” Dr. Tiebault added that some individuals often seem to need “…something like this article to jar them loose from their rigid ways. They may not welcome the kind of medicine, but they need it…. In the meantime the rest of AA can continue on as before. They are the ones who have moved beyond blind loyalty to a state where they are able to look at the contents of the article objectively and thus profit from the insignts contained therein.”

Bill W. then addressed the Conference noting, “It may be a mark of a certain degree of maturity on our part that members of the Fellowship seem to have been less disturbed by the critical article than our nonalcoholic friends have been.”

Continuing, Bill added, “The subjects for a movement inventory are legion. The important thing is that the process has begun. I hope that every considerable gathering of A.A.’s will give thought to sessions on taking inventory of A.A. and to inviting critics, even hostile ones, to participate because you sometimes find that people animated by what may appear to be the worst possible motives speak truth in large portions.”

The adoption of the Responsibility Pledge at the 1965 International Convention in Toronto was almost certainly a direct result of the criticism in these articles.

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