James Nicholls / “A Monstrous Theory: The Politics of Prohibition” / The Politics of Alcohol / 2009Posted: May 11, 2012
MP James Silk of Buckingham, 1834, established Select Committee of Inquiry into Drunkenness, insisted state had central role in the control of drunkenness. His proposals contributed to Victorian “rational recreation” movement: public parks, municipal libraries, museums, reading rooms, abolition of stamp duty on newspapers. The Public Museums Act, 1845. The Public Library Act, 1850. “Counter attractions.” 1851, “Maine Law” in America. Quaker governor Neal Dow outlawed sale and manufacture of alcohol. Change in thinking from suasion to legal compulsion. Prohibitionists said sobriety was not individual moral regeneration issue, but object of practical politics. 1853, Manchester prohibition organization, United Kingdom Alliance for the Suppression of the Trade in Alcohol. Formalized division between suasionists and those favoring legislative action. Prohibitionists believed a temporary infringement of liberty in the long run meant greater freedom for the individual who, realizing or no, practiced an activity that reduced rationality and prosperity. Drunk was bondage disguised as freedom. Frederic Lees, 1856, the right of the publican to sell alcohol was not a natural right but “the privilege, and the licensed liberty, of contributing to degrade his country. […] The best conception of government includes the right and the duty of repressing socially injurious trades, whenever such trades materially interfere with the social and moral advancement of the community.” Lees appealed to Jeremy Bentham as moral guide, though some heirs of Bentham including John Stuart Mill were anti-prohibition. Disagreement over the role of the State in guiding moral choices of individuals lay at the heart of liberal debates over alcohol in the second half of the 19th century. Isaiah Berlin would later call this “negative” and “positive” conceptions of liberty. 1869, Wine and Beerhouse Act, repealed 1830 free trade experiment, required all licenses be approved by magistrates. Free trade had not flushed out bad traders, but simply produced more traders. 1871 Licensing Bill introduced very complicated licensing system.