The Influence of the Perception of Alcohol’s Harm on the Support of Temperance Movements in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

Ilona Tamutienė


The purpose of this article is to reveal the role of the perception of alcohol’s harm in the outcomes of Temperance Movements (TM) and of the different interest groups that supported them. The tasks to achieve this goal are the following: 1) to describe the interests of alcohol policy; 2) to reveal how the harm of alcohol was seen in the context of classical liberalism; 3) to identify how the harm of alcohol was positioned by TM; 4) to outline the interest groups that supported TM and the political response to it. The article is based on the review and interpretation of literature. Social movements and different interest groups saw the harm of alcohol holistically during the period of Temperance hegemony (19th and 20th centuries): starting with the drinker but emphasizing the community interest. Classical liberalism considered the harm alcohol caused to other people, not the drinker himself, as a reasonable principle to restrict the drinker's freedom. Temperance in the context of moral regulations was a virtue and a feature of higher status with regard to the person’s dignity, value, productivity, health and education. Social movements that promoted and supported temperance allowed to choose between two extremities: i.e., one leading to degradation and the other to prosperity. TM members took a pledge to abstain from alcohol, to encourage others to be sober and to promote sobriety. There were several interest groups alongside TM that supported this movement: the women who sought welfare of the family and country and protection of their own rights; workers who sought their rights; capitalists who needed sober workers; socialists who needed the votes of the workers; the Bolsheviks, who needed sober workers to cultivate proletarian consciousness. Sobriety was a means to develop a national consciousness and create a sovereign state that promoted liberation and health. Temperance was supported by the movements of eugenics, hygiene and race purification. TM showed sober life to be the means of achieving higher goals through individual and collective action. A strict alcohol policy, which ranged from strict licensing to total prohibition, was required to achieve a sobriety-friendly environment.


temperance movements, alcohol’s harm, interest groups, alcohol policy

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"Public Policy and Administration" ISSN online 2029-2872 / ISSN print 1648-2603