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The Politics of AlcoholA History of the Drink Question in England$
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James Nicholls

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780719077050

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719077050.001.0001

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A monstrous theory: the politics of prohibition

A monstrous theory: the politics of prohibition

(p.109) 9 A monstrous theory: the politics of prohibition
The Politics of Alcohol

James Nicholls

Manchester University Press

The 1830 Beer Act triggered the most intense period of public debate on alcohol since the 1750s and radicalised the temperance movement in Britain. The appearance of prohibitionism would split the temperance movement, but it would also bring to a head the questions of liberty and State regulation. For all its fiery rhetoric, British teetotalism made little impact on actual levels of alcohol consumption. Moderate drinking threatened to undermine the whole temperance project by showing that alcohol was not inherently destructive. The Maine Law of 1851 sidestepped the limitations of moral suasionism by identifying the source of the problem not in drinkers, but in the drinks trade itself. There was the optimistic notion that, freed from the undue influence of the State, individuals will automatically choose to indulge their ‘higher’ faculties — something which, in the context of the debates over prohibition, presupposed a reasonable level of sobriety. However, what was left out of the equation on all sides was the possibility that drunkenness might sometimes be — to put it simply — a good thing.

Keywords:   temperance movement, Britain, prohibition, liberty, teetotalism, alcohol consumption, Maine Law, sobriety, drunkenness, moderate drinking

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