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French Workers and the Temperance Movement*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2008

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In 1852, when the medical discoverer of alcoholism, Magnus Huss, was being honoured by the Académie française, a spokesman for the Académie wrote that “France has many drunkards, but happily, no alcoholics.” Sixty years later, on the eve of World War I, if one is to believe the reports of parliamentary commissions, economists, hygienists and social reformers, France had few drunks but a plethora of alcoholics, from the Breton peasant who fed calvados to his children to the worker of Paris and the Midi who had abandoned wine, that “natural and hygienic drink”, for the evils of mass-produced industrial alcohol, especially absinthe. By 1914, alcoholism was considered one of the three grands fléaux, or great plagues, that had struck France in the late nineteenth century, and it was blamed for all the ills of society, from a rising rate of criminality, suicide and mental illness to depopulation, revolutionary worker movements and even feminism. Alcoholism was, therefore, not just an individual misfortune, but a national tragedy. It had become, in the words of Clemenceau, “the whole social problem” and as such required the mobilized forces of the country to conquer it.

Research Article
Copyright © Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis 1980


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