Skip to main content Accesibility Help
×
×
Home

ALCOHOL AND POLITICS IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY BRITAIN

  • RYOSUKE YOKOE (a1)
Abstract

This review surveys recent developments in the historiography of the politics of alcohol in twentieth-century Britain. The ‘drink question’ has undergone a set of tumultuous shifts, beginning with the decline of the temperance movement after the First World War, diminished conflict in the interwar and post-1945 periods, and the revived concerns over consumption and harm in the late twentieth century. Historians have traditionally presented the drink question as a binary conflict between advocates and opponents of the liberal distribution of drink. Newer narratives question the assumed ‘rationality’ of modern approaches to alcohol, especially concerning the post-1970s public health model which has been increasingly understood as an indirect manifestation of the temperance movement. The concept of ‘moral panics’ has been frequently employed to frame the formation of public attitudes towards drink. The article argues that these multifarious developments illustrate how alcohol offers a unique vantage point into various social developments in modern Britain, including that of the changing role of the state, the contested nature of scientific knowledge, and the formation of public opinion. It also suggests that the historiography should overcome its narrow focus on alcohol in modern Britain by juxtaposing it with other substances, regions, and periods.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Department of History, Jessop West, 1 Upper Hanover Street, Sheffield, s3 7raryokoe1@sheffield.ac.uk
Footnotes
Hide All

The author thanks Medical Humanities Sheffield and the Department of History at the University of Sheffield for providing financial assistance for the completion of this review. The author is additionally grateful to Adrian Bingham, Sarah Kenny, Miklós Kürthy, Alex Taylor, Mary Vincent, and Phil Withington for comments and feedback.

Footnotes
References
Hide All

1 The standard texts on the Victorian temperance movement include Harrison, Brian, Drink and the Victorians: the temperance question in England, 1815–1872 (London, 1971); and Shiman, Lilian Lewis, Crusade against drink in Victorian England (London, 1988).

2 Duncan, Robert, Pubs and patriots: the drink crisis in Britain during World War One (Liverpool, 2013), p. 3.

3 Anti-alcohol temperance movements were politically influential in most countries in North America and northern Europe. Among them, Britain, Ireland, and Sweden did not undergo total prohibition.

4 Baggott, Rob, Alcohol, politics and social policy (Aldershot, 1990); Thom, Betsy, Dealing with drink: alcohol and social policy from treatment to management (London, 1999); Greenaway, John, Drink and British politics since 1830: a study in policy-making (Basingstoke, 2003).

5 Nicholls, James, The politics of alcohol: a history of the drink question in England (Manchester, 2009), p. 132.

6 Gutzke, David W., Pubs and progressives: reinventing the public house in England, 1896–1960 (DeKalb, IL, 2005); Yeomans, Henry, Alcohol and moral regulation: public attitudes, spirited measures and Victorian hangovers (Bristol, 2014).

7 Woiak, Joanne, ‘“A medical Cromwell to depose King Alcohol”: medical scientists, temperance reformers, and the alcohol problem in Britain’, Social History/Historie Sociale, 27.54 (1994), pp. 337–65; Kneale, James and French, Shaun, ‘Moderate drinking before the unit: medicine and life assurance in Britain and the US, c. 1860–1930’, Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 22 (2015), pp. 111–17.

8 Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, pp. 107, 116–17, 257–9.

9 Ibid., p. 116.

10 Ibid., pp. 116–20.

11 Joyce, Patrick, The state of freedom: a social history of the British state since 1800 (Cambridge, 2013), p. 6.

12 Ibid., p. 39.

13 Schrad, Mark Lawrence, Vodka politics: alcohol, autocracy, and the secret history of the Russian state (Oxford, 2014), p. xiii.

14 Courtwright, David T., Forces of habit: drugs and the making of the modern world (Cambridge, MA, 2002), p. 5.

15 Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation.

16 Gourvish, T. R. and Wilson, R. G., The British brewing industry, 1830–1980 (Cambridge, 1994); Weir, Ronald B., The history of the Distillers Company, 1877–1939: diversification and growth in whisky and chemicals (Oxford, 1995); Mutch, Alistair, Strategic and organizational change from production to retailing in UK brewing, 1950–1990 (Abingdon, 2006).

17 Jennings, Paul, The local: a history of the English pub (2nd edn, Brimscombe, 2011).

18 Gutzke, Pubs and progressives. Gutzke describes ‘progressivism’ as a transatlantic phenomenon. The term, generally unfamiliar in the British political context, is associated with the progressive era (1890s–1920s) of the United States where the government implemented sweeping social reforms to mitigate the problems of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and political corruption.

19 Ibid., p. 5.

20 Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, pp. 181–3.

21 Gutzke, David W., Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century (Manchester, 2014).

22 Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, pp. 158–9.

23 Woiak, ‘“A medical Cromwell”’, pp. 360–4. The term ‘moderationist’ was first used in the nineteenth century by prohibitionists and teetotallers as a pejorative for more moderate temperance campaigners who went only as far as to oppose drunkenness and the consumption of spirits while tolerating ‘moderate’ drinking.

24 The argument derives from Anon., Alcohol: its action on the human organism (New York, NY, 1918), pp. 125–32.

25 Woiak, ‘“A medical Cromwell”’, p. 362.

26 Green, S. J. D., The passing of Protestant England: secularisation and social change, c. 1920–1960 (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 142–6.

27 Kneale and French, ‘Moderate drinking before the unit’, p. 111.

28 Ibid., pp. 111–17

29 Ibid., pp. 113–14.

30 Nicholls dedicates only a chapter for the entire period between 1918 to the 1970s, in The politics of alcohol, pp. 180–98. While Yeomans highlights the emergence of new campaigns against drunk driving and underage drinking in Alcohol and moral regulation, p. 158, he was also inclined to admit that these efforts were relatively tame compared to that of other periods.

31 Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, p. 188; Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, p. 139.

32 Glover, Brian, Brewing for victory: brewers, beer and pubs in World War II (Cambridge, 1995); Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, p. 190.

33 Malleck, Dan, Try to control yourself: the regulation of public drinking in post-prohibition Ontario, 1927–1944 (Vancouver, BC, 2013).

34 The possible exception to this is Burnett's, John Liquid pleasures: a social history of drink in modern Britain (London, 1999), exploring a myriad of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, though the account on beer, wine, and spirits in the twentieth century is still predominantly driven by a top-down narrative.

35 Quoted in Gutzke, Women drinking, p. 1.

36 Marshall, Mac, ed., Beliefs, behaviors, and alcoholic beverages: a cross-cultural survey (Ann Arbor, MI, 1979); Douglas, Mary, ed., Constructive drinking: perspectives on drink from anthropology (Cambridge, 1987).

37 Criblez, Adam [review], ‘David W. Gutzke, Pubs and progressives: reinventing the public house in England, 1896–1960 (DeKalb, IL, 2005)’, History: Reviews of New Books, 34 (2006), p. 51; Fenton, Laura [review], ‘David W. Gutzke, Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century (Manchester, 2014)’, Women's History Review, 26 (2016), pp. 308–10.

38 Brennan, Thomas, Public drinking and popular culture in eighteenth-century France (Princeton, NJ, 1988); Tlusty, B. Ann, Bacchus and civic order: the culture of drink in early modern Germany (Charlottesville, VA, 2001); Withington, Phil, ‘Intoxication and the early modern city’, in Hindle, Steve, Shepard, Alexandra, and Walter, John, eds., Remaking English society (Woodbridge, 2013), pp. 135–65; Hailwood, Mark, Alehouses and good fellowship in early modern England (Woodbridge, 2014).

39 Jones, Colin and Porter, Roy, ‘Introduction’, in Jones, Colin and Porter, Roy, eds., Reassessing Foucault: power, medicine and the body (London, 1994), pp. 13.

40 Greenaway, Drink and British politics, p. 112; Marwick, Arthur, The deluge: British society and the First World War (London, 1965), pp. 62–8.

41 Duncan, Pubs and patriots; Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, pp. 97–127.

42 Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation.

43 Jordanova, Ludmilla, ‘The social construction of medical knowledge’, Social History of Medicine, 8 (1995), pp. 361–81.

44 Jennings, The local, p. 183.

45 Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, pp. 155–8.

46 French, David, ‘The rise and fall of business as usual’, in Burk, Kathleen, ed., War and state: the transformation of British government, 1914–1918 (London, 1982), pp. 731.

47 Duncan, Pubs and patriots.

48 Greenaway, Drink and British politics, p. 112.

49 Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, pp. 150–9.

50 Duncan, Pubs and patriots, p. 101.

51 Ibid., p. 133.

52 Greenaway, Drink and British politics, p. 141.

53 Duncan, Pubs and patriots, p. 121.

54 Older accounts have disputed whether state purchase should be deemed a genuine ‘temperance’ solution. See Turner, John, ‘State purchase of the liquor trade in the First World War’, Historical Journal, 23 (1980), p. 614.

55 Duncan, Pubs and patriots, pp. 185–6.

56 Gutzke, Pubs and progressives, p. 67.

57 Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, p. 121. Older accounts framed the significance of the wartime controls within the hindsight of the eventual demise of the temperance movement and the failure to implement prohibition in interwar Britain, allegedly caused by the demonstrated effectiveness of the CCB's alcohol controls.

58 Jennings, Paul, A history of drink and the English, 1500–2000 (Abingdon, 2016), p. 24.

59 Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, p. 196.

60 Jennings, A history of drink, pp. 169–70.

61 An account of this intellectual shift can be found in Valverde, Mariana, Diseases of the will: alcohol and the dilemmas of freedom (Cambridge, 1998).

62 Foucault, Michel, Security, territory, population: lectures at the Collège de France, 1977–1978, trans. Macey, David (London, 2003), pp. 253–63.

63 Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, pp. 226–31.

64 Virginia Berridge discusses how the field of alcohol and drugs history has expanded considerably since the 1980s, in ‘History and its contribution to understanding addiction and society’, Addiction, 110 (2015), pp. 23–6.

65 Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, pp. 1–4; Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, pp. 1–3.

66 Kneale and French are geographers, Greenaway is a political scientist, Yeomans is a criminologist, and Nicholls is a prominent researcher in alcohol and public health policy. Rob Baggott and Betsy Thom are also experts in health policy.

67 Baggott, Alcohol, politics and social policy.

68 Ibid., p. 13.

69 Thom, Dealing with drink.

70 Ibid., p. 15.

71 Beck, Ulrich, Risk society: towards a new modernity (New Delhi, 1992); Giddens, Anthony, ‘Risk and responsibility’, Modern Law Review, 62 (1999), pp. 110.

72 Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, p. 228.

73 Ibid., p. 229.

74 Greenaway, Drink and British politics, pp. 178, 182; Courtwright, Forces of habit, p. 205; Berridge, Virginia, Demons: our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco, & drugs (Oxford, 2013), p. 226.

75 Room, Robin, ‘Alcohol control and public health’, Annual Review of Public Health, 5 (1984), p. 295.

76 Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, p. 226.

77 Bruun, Kettil, Edwards, Griffith, Lumio, Martti, Mäkelä, Klaus, Pan, Lynn, Popham, Robert E., Room, Robin, Schmidt, Wolfgang, Skog, Ole-Jørgen, Sulkunen, Pekka, and Österberg, Esa, Alcohol control policies in public health perspective (Helsinki, 1975).

78 Ibid., pp. 12–13.

79 Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, p. 219.

80 Ibid., pp. 137, 222.

81 Ibid., p. 233.

82 Nicholls, The politics of alcohol, p. 206.

83 Ibid., pp. 206–7.

84 Jennings, A history of drink, p. 170.

85 One of the earliest scholars to explore the impact of social and cultural factors in the construction of scientific knowledge was Fleck, Ludwik in Entstehung und entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen tatsache (Basel, 1935). Ludmilla Jordanova places social constructionism within the context of the history of medicine, in ‘The social construction of medical knowledge’, pp. 361–81.

86 Jones and Porter, ‘Introduction’, pp. 1–3.

87 Berridge, Virginia and Edwards, Griffith, Opium and the people: opiate use in nineteenth-century England (London, 1981), pp. 150–72.

88 Pancaldi, Giuliano, ‘Rational/irrational’, in Heilbron, J. L., Bartholomew, James, Bennett, Jim, Holmes, Frederic L., Laudan, Rachel, and Pancaldi, Giuliano, eds., The Oxford companion to the history of modern science (Oxford, 2003), p. 709.

89 Baggott, Alcohol, politics and social policy, p. 13.

90 Beckingham, David, ‘Gender, space, and drunkenness: Liverpool's licensed premises, 1860–1914’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 102 (2012), pp. 647–66.

91 Berridge, Demons, p. 226.

92 Woiak, ‘“A medical Cromwell”’, p. 360.

93 Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, pp. 13–16.

94 Cohen, Stanley, Folk devils and moral panics: the creation of Mods and Rockers (3rd edn, London, 2011), p. 9.

95 Ibid., pp. 150–65.

96 Moss, Stella, ‘“An abnormal habit”: alcohol policy and the control of methylated spirit drinking in England in the 1920s and 1930s’, Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 22 (2015), pp. 118–24.

97 Bentley, Michael, Modern historiography: an introduction (Abingdon, 2005), pp. 129–38.

98 Cohen, Folk devils, p. vii.

99 Yeomans, Alcohol and moral regulation, p. 16.

100 Ibid., p. 16.

101 Duncan, Pubs and patriots, p. 13.

102 Rowe, David, ‘The concept of the moral panic: a historico-sociological positioning’, in Lemmings, David and Walker, Claire, eds., Moral panics, the media and the law in early modern England (Basingstoke, 2009), pp. 31, 34.

103 Berridge, Demons, p. 5.

104 Ibid., p. 5.

105 Gusfield, Joseph R., Contested meanings: the construction of alcohol problems (Madison, WI, 1996), p. 12.

106 Edwards, Griffith, Matters of substance: drugs, and why everyone's a user (New York, NY, 2004), p. xxxvii.

107 Dingle, A. E., The campaign for prohibition in Victorian England: the United Kingdom Alliance, 1872–1895 (London, 1980); Harrison, Drink and the Victorians; Shiman, Crusade against drink.

108 Nutt, David J., King, Leslie A., and Phillips, Lawrence D., ‘Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis’, The Lancet, 376.9752 (2010), pp. 1558–65.

109 Sherratt, Andrew, ‘Introduction: peculiar substances’, in Goodman, Jordan, Lovejoy, Paul E., and Sherratt, Andrew, eds., Consuming habits: global and historical perspectives in how cultures define drugs (London, 2007), p. 34; Withington, Phil, ‘Introduction: cultures of intoxication’, Past and Present, 222 (2014), pp. 933.

110 Malleck, Try to control yourself; Schrad, Vodka politics; McGirr, Lisa, The war on alcohol: prohibition and the rise of the American state (New York, NY, 2015).

The author thanks Medical Humanities Sheffield and the Department of History at the University of Sheffield for providing financial assistance for the completion of this review. The author is additionally grateful to Adrian Bingham, Sarah Kenny, Miklós Kürthy, Alex Taylor, Mary Vincent, and Phil Withington for comments and feedback.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed