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THE TRUE LINES OF TEMPERANCE
MORE than most causes, that of temperance has been the victim of exaggerated advocacy. So completely, indeed, has the fanatic dominated the movement that fanaticism and temperance reform have become almost synonymous terms. It will be well, therefore, to begin this outline of a policy of temperance reform by an effort to clear away the atmosphere of fanaticism which has made the temperance movement a by-word. Such a clearance was never more necessary than to-day.
At present the very word temperance is misunderstood. I do not minimise the importance of sobriety in the consumption of intoxicating beverages, and still less the evil of insobriety, but I claim, none the less, that the word temperance is too large for the particular purpose to which it is put. And it is unfortunate that a word which means so much more than self-restraint in the drinking of certain classes of beverages should have been adopted without qualification as the name of a movement designed to serve this comparatively narrow end. Temperance itself is only one of the seven capital virtues. And, though occupying this limited portion of the field of right living, it yet comprises much more than sobriety in the use of intoxicants. It is worth noting, for example, that in the list of the seven deadly sins the converse vice which corresponds to the virtue of temperance is not drunkenness at all, but gluttony. The evil of intemperance is excessive indulgence. This article is not a theological treatise, and so I need not pursue the subject into a detailed statement of the reasons why excessive indulgence in any natural good is harmful; but we may usefully remember that over-feeding is hardly less disgusting than overdrinking and, according to the doctors, is responsible for much more illness and death; it denotes, moreover, at least as great a weakening of the powers of self-restraint.
But the error in nomenclature is not concluded by the adoption of too wide a word. In so far as the great bulk of so-called temperance reformers are concerned, temperance is altogether the wrong word. The dictionaries tell us that temperance means moderation; the fanatical temperance' reformers tell us that
it means total abstinence; and, now that drunkenness is a waning evil, these propagandists actually declare, on the platform and in their journals, that 'the fight now is against the moderate drinker.' The name, therefore-never quite happy, because it necessarily narrowed a word of very wide meaning-has become grotesquely inappropriate as the label of a movement which has degenerated into a modern form of the old Manichean heresy, which regarded matter as evil—the hatred of matter among these neo-Manicheans being concentrated upon one particular substance-alcohol.
So topsy-turvy has it all become that one is inclined to abandon the word temperance altogether as applied to sobriety in the use of fermented beverages. But this would be a pity. The wiser course is that which is adopted by that small but useful society of which Lord Halsbury is President, whose members call themselves the True Temperance Association. For it has now become necessary, not only to uphold the virtue of temperance by proclaiming the evil of excessive indulgence in fermented liquors, but to reclaim the word from those fanatics who presume to identify it with the doctrine of total abstinence, a presumption without sanction either in Christianity or in common-sense.
I have said that the temperance movement has degenerated into fanaticism; and the statement is historically true. When it began, about a century ago, arising spontaneously, and with reason, in a state of society in which drunkenness was so widespread and constant as to be regarded merely as an amiable weakness, the propagandists of the movement went no farther than to counsel the temperate use of alcohol. The ravages of excessive gin-drinking among the lower classes, and to some extent of brandy-drinking in the upper classes, certainly led these early reformers to advocate the entire disuse of spirits in which the intoxicating element was so potent; but they did not preach total abstinence from the fermented drinks-wines and beers; and even to this day one may find a curious survival of this old-fashioned temperance in the North of England and in Ireland among persons who will tell you that they are pledged teetotallers, and therefore only drink port wine-in Ireland, I believe, frequently adding stout. But if one is reckless enough when opportunity arises, and one's stomach is strong enough, beers and wines may be drunk to an extent which produces intoxication. In those hard-drinking days of which I am speaking, drunkenness from excessive consumption of beers and wines was prevalent, and, seeing it, the temperance reformers took a new departure, and advocated abstention from all alcoholic beverages. Here I may say parenthetically that they were not scientifically accurate; it is still only a question of degree. Just as wines contain about a third or a fourth of the alcohol to be found in spirits, and beer about a third of the alcohol in wine, so in the beverages favoured by the teetotallers, as they now began to call themselves, the alcoholic proportion was in some cases less only, not absent; ginger beer frequently contains nearly half as much alcohol as beer. So almost omnipresent, indeed, is the vilified substance, that we now know it to exist to the extent of half per cent. in new bread, and that it is owing to its presence that new bread is so peculiarly palatable.
This departure from temperance into teetotalism was the deplorable turning point of the movement. One can understand it; for the reformer is always in a hurry, and the temperance reformer, being only human, forgot that patience is one of the dictionary synonyms of temperance. He soon also forgot all temperance of language; and, as we all know, the temperance movement rapidly degenerated into narrow fanaticism, which has become more violent rather than less violent with that dwindling of drunkenness, the diminution of which was its original object.
Extravagant speeches, and the collection of large numbers of teetotal pledges from reformed drunkards, harmless old ladies, and little children, did not long satisfy the fanatics. In all ages the reformer in a hurry has tended to develop into a persecutor. Impatience prompts recourse to the secular arm. Conversion by precept and example is a slow and uncertain process; the heavy hand of the law is much more inviting. And so the fanatical teetotaller's mind and energies were soon turned from exhortation to compulsion; he availed himself of a group of musty medieval laws which had regulated public drinking at a time when the regulation of men's habits in general was regarded as peculiarly the province of the State; and upon this foundation he sought, and sought with success, to build a modern edifice of restriction of what he called the liquor traffic. Two things made this work more easy : the public disorder which drunkenness sometimes engenders, and the State's practice of using the liquor trade as a means of revenue. So began that long list of laws—there were no fewer than 237 of them on the Statute Book at once, until Parliament codified them a year ago—the complexities of which have been the by-word of lawyers and publicans, as their teeming absurdities have been the despair of lovers of liberty and common-sense.
But, though the fanatic may be regarded as the mainspring of this legislation, as he was of the Licensing Bill of 1908, and is of the proposal for the resuscitation of that unfortunate measure, it is not wholly due to him ; he would not have met with such success had he not been aided-first, by Statecraft,
for reasons I have just given ; secondly, by the sentimentalists, who count for so much in modern legislation; and, thirdly, by the class of legislator who regards restriction as the proper environment for the working man.
These various influences have built up what is generically known as the licensing system. The legislative feat is not one of which the nation can be very proud. In spite of the happy change in drinking habits of late years, it still leaves Britain à more drunken country than are Continental nations, where the public consumption of fermented beverages is left untrammelled by the law. And it has, under the plea-not a good plea at the best-of 'reducing the facilities for drinking,' turned our comfortable old inns and what should be our commodious modern refreshment houses into ugly drinking shops, whose every appointment and regulation impress upon the visitor that he enters for the disreputable purpose of gulping down the maximum amount of intoxicating liquor in the minimum time. It has produced the tied-house system, which the promoters of licensing legislation themselves denounce so vigorously; for that system has arisen solely out of the policy of restriction in the number of public-houses which began about 1869. Public-houses are the chief outlet for the products of the brewery. Relations of a more or less exclusive kind tend naturally to grow up between particular breweries and particular public-houses. It became, therefore, a matter of importance to brewers, when they saw the outlets for their productions being checked in number, to cement the most intimate relations possible with as many of such outlets as possible.
I have not space here, nor is it necessary, to analyse the various enactments for enforcing sobriety by Act of Parliament, or to show in detail how they have failed, and why they were almost bound to fail, of their intended effect; but I may just find room to remind the reader that the closing of public-houses all day on Sundays in some parts of these islands, and for most of the day in other parts, and the earlier closing on week days, inevitably tend to foster home drinking of the more dangerous kind (one bottle of spirits being more portable than half-a-dozen bottles of beer); secret drinking; rapid drinking during the final closing hours, if they are too early for the habits of the neighbourhood; and the growth of clubs, where members and friends can drink when and as long as they choose and without the surveillance of the police. I would point out, too, that the rigid discountenancing of games and ample accommodation in publichouses, which has been the stupid and insolent policy of the law and its administrators, has degraded the public-house, and therewith those who frequent it, making the house merely a
place to drink in. Again, the restriction in the number of public-houses has not only produced the tied-house system, and such evils as may be attributed thereto, but it has encouraged drunkenness in two ways : (1) By crowding the bars (their space already restricted by magistrates) of such public-houses as remain, the landlord's supervision of his customers becomes more difficult; no landlord is such a brute or such a fool as wittingly to serve with intoxicating liquor an already drunken man, but he cannot so easily distinguish such an one when wedged in a crowd. (2) The fewer public-houses there are in the town the more likely is a convivial customer to meet & considerable number of his friends in the particular house which he enters, and be subjected by a larger number, therefore, to the dangers of treating.
And, again, let me point out that the State's fiscal policy has been almost as deplorable as it is extraordinary. It is a fair estimate to say that a quarter of the price of beer is tax in one form or another, while in the case of spirits the price is almost all tax. In selecting this one class of merchandise for such amazingly heavy imposts the hand of fanaticism is easily detected. It is not all Statecraft, or even Statecraft degenerated into greed; and it is not all a puritanical penalty upon luxury, for other luxuries (save the cognate stimulant of tobacco) go untaxed, or are but lightly taxed. The adequate explanation can only be found in the assumption that heavy taxation will reduce heavy drinking—though it is a curious doctrine of public finance so to arrange your taxes that they shall defeat their proper object, which is the collection of revenue.
But no more absurd or futile effort to make people sober by Act of Parliament has ever been conceived than this of piling heavy imposts upon intoxicating liquors. Such imposts may and do restrict the consumption of a moderate man of small means, but such restriction is difficult to justify; and they may, and probably do, force the man who is not wealthy or extravagant to drink liquors of inferior quality (and here again the result of State interference is scarcely happy); but it may be doubted whether the real drunkard drinks any less. We all know that he is so weak in his will and so strong in his passions, or is so deeply afflicted with a craving arising out of mental or physical disease, that he is ready, in order to obtain drink, to make the deplorable sacrifices which the teetotal propagandists depict in such lurid colours. He is going to have his drink, whatever it costs; and the more it costs the less money will be available for the necessities of his home. When teetotal orators draw harrowing pictures of ruined homes and starving children through drink, they forget to put some of the blame upon the shoulders of