decorated initial 'T' he idea that people suffering from habituations could help themselves was a mainstay of two influential early nineteenth-century movements, the temperance movement and the teetotal movement. The temperance movement advocated the use of alcohol in moderation, whereas the more radical teetotal movement favored "total" abstention from alcohol. The temperance movement was led by middle-class social reformers and philanthropists who wanted to manage an unruly working class. They tried to convince working men to spend their wages on clothes, food, and middle-class comforts such as furniture and watches, rather than on beer or spirits. Temperance rhetoric and narratives argued that spending money on alcohol would only lead to one's own ruin and the ruin of one's family. A related discourse of "rational recreation" suggested more productive leisure and social activities, and sought to provide libraries and lectures to fill working men's free time. The teetotal movement began as a reaction against what it viewed as the hypocrisy of arguments for moderation and middle-class patronage; its leadership was more working class, and it had more ties to political movements such as Chartism. Teetotalism was most popular in the 1830s and 1840s, but temperance continued well into the twentieth century. They both targeted alcohol because drug use was not yet a problem. Opium eating, for example, partly due to Thomas DeQuincey's often-cited Confessions of An English Opium-Eater (1821), was construed as an eccentric pastime of a few middle- and upper-class dilettantes, whereas the drinking of the working and lower classes was an urgent public health problem. Neither temperance nor teetotalism contained a concept of "addiction" as a disease; both viewed it more as a moral failing that the individual could correct if surrounded with better influences, such as alternative venues to pubs, community meetings at which members told their personal stories, propagandistic literature, and rituals such as the pledge. Part of the teetotal ritual was the platform speech - a public, first-person confessional narrative of the drunkard's past, combined with a pledge to abstain henceforth. Temperance novels such as Mrs. Henry Wood's Danesbury House (1860) dramatized the evils of drink; the less conventional Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) by Anne Bronte approached some of the religious, pedagogical, and gender issues surrounding what was known as "the drink problem."

The class dimension of drunkenness was produced by a fundamental distinction between public and private. Drunkenness was only visible when it took place in public; and only certain classes of people drank in pubs or went about drunk. Drunkenness itself was not a crime, but public drunkenness could become a petty crime or nuisance when supplemented by bad behavior: working people and the poor were often jailed for "drunkenness and disorderliness" or "drunkenness and riotousness." Since the middle class tended to drink privately, it developed the idea that drunkenness was visible only in social celebration - hence the poor seemed to be having too much fun. The temperance campaigns against drunkenness were a symptom of larger middle class ideals, such as a distaste for mobs and their entertainments, the taking of recreation with one's family, participation in religion, and the ideology of thrift with its stress on individual self-respect, personal moral and physical effort, and prudence.

Liberalism also had much to do with middle-class definitions of habitual drunkards. John Stuart Mill defined the liberal subject as the individual, who could best look after his or her own affairs. Habitual drunkards were an obvious exception to this theory, because they could not look after their own best interests or promote their best self. Yet legislative efforts to make the state look after habitual drunkards, for example, by incarcerating them to effect a cure, foundered on the counterargument defending their liberty: the state could not coerce habitual drunkards into treatment against their will. Habitual drunkenness, not fully defined as a disease, was still considered a free choice of life style, such as what to eat or what to wear. Earlier in the century, Jeremy Bentham had warned against attempts to legislate against "vices" such as drunkenness and fornication. John Stuart Mill echoed this idea in On Liberty, making exception only for that unusual drunkenness which harmed others. Just as temperance construed the cessation of drunkenness as a step toward self-improvement, so liberal theory considered indulgence in it a self-regarding crime. However, this did not stop physicians from agitating for legislation to control the sale of drugs; eventually, liberals had to make exceptions for these dangerous substances.

The temperance movement died out in the early part of the twentieth century, under the force of a socialist critique. As early as 1844, Friedrich Engels had pointed out, in Condition of the Working Class in England, that the introduction of machinery into working people's lives crowded them into cities, made them feel like animals, and led to their widespread drunkenness. From a Marxist point of view, the temperance movement failed to take such conditions into account when it appealed to individuals' morals and will power. Through its stress on self-help and thrift to improve one's own situation, temperance movements attempted to instill bourgeois values in the working class, delaying the emergence of class consciousness. The Labour Party had close links to temperance until about 1914, when this critique, the demise of nineteenth-century ideals of "respectability," and the observation that if temperance succeeded, wages would go down, fatally injured temperance's political viability.

Temperance, teetotal, and liberal discourses formed important contexts for the development of an idea of addiction. The idea of personal responsibility and agency still inheres in the notion that although diseased, addicts can cure themselves through the reassertion of willpower. Aspects of temperance and teetotalism, like their twentieth-century, Twelve-Step descendants, promote this view, particularly the emphasis on personal choice supported by a community of like-minded fellows, ritual pledging, and submission to God or a higher power. The proliferation of public confessions is similar, too. But perhaps the major new innovation of temperance and teetotalism was the mass politicization of personal habits. Hitherto, habits, customs and manners might have distinguished elites, but they had never before mobilized ordinary people to view everyday acts such as drinking within the context of a mass movement.

Related Material


Last modified 7 September 2002