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July 23rd 2003

Goteborg, Sweden



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Licensing and Temperance


BETWEEN the temperance party in Scandinavia and the teetotal party in the United Kingdom and the United States there are differences that go to the very base of the temperance movement as a whole, and are likely to have an important bearing on the future of the liquor question in North-West Europe.
As already stated in Chapter I., the first temperance society in Norway, established in 1836, was one against brandy-drinking only, beer being regarded as a temperance drink. The movement succeeded so well that by the end of 1844 no fewer than 118 societies, with 14,000 members, had been established on the lines stated, these societies being then formed into a ' Norwegian Union against Brtendevin-Drinking.' In 1859 a new movement, for the formation of societies whose members would be pledged to ' total abstinence from the use of alcoholic drinks of all kinds,' was started at Stavanger by a certain Quaker, Asbjorn Kloster, who was inspired thereto by English example. The State readily supported the former movement, and voted substantial sums to it from time to time for the purpose of propaganda against the widespread brandy-drinking, then regarded as a national evil; but when, in 1875, State aid was asked for on behalf of the ' total abstinence' societies, the Storthing at first refused, on the ground that it was the abuse, and not the use, of alcoholic drinks that was to be opposed. Later on, however, a compromise was effected, under which the teetotal as well as the other societies received Government support in their ' work for sobriety.'
The idea of ' total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages,' thus originally introduced from England, underwent further development later on as various English societies established national branches in Scandinavia ; but although a vigorous attempt was made to enforce the general observance of the principle in question, it became more and more evident as time went on that, alike in Norway and Sweden, the majority of people joining the temperance movement were disposed to follow the example of the Norwegian Storthing in making a distinction between the 'use' and the ' abuse' of alcoholic beverages. In other words, while they were prepared to abstain from spirituous liquors which might readily produce intoxication, they saw no reason why they should abstain, also, from malt liquors which were of so light a character that they could not hurt anyone. They refrained from regarding alcohol as a sort of bogey ; they said, rather: ' We must have beverages of some sort other than water, lemonade, or coffee; and if we can depend on getting wholesome malt liquors, containing only such proportion of alcohol as will not be likely to produce inebriety or be otherwise harmful, we
are quite prepared to take them and consider ourselves practical supporters of "temperance" all the same.'
It is on these lines that the temperance movement in Scandinavia has made its chief advance of late years. Opinion is certainly not unanimous on the subject, and there are still many individual members who adhere rigidly to' total abstinence '; but the tendency is more and more for light malt liquors to be regarded as permissible temperance drinks, however pronounced the continued hostility to spirits and wines in any shape or form. The subject has been repeatedly discussed by the societies, and, although the local representatives of English teetotalism have struggled to maintain their prejudices intact, the Scandinavian idea has generally carried the day. Some of the societies still require that the formal consent of their Executive shall be obtained before the members of any particular branch are allowed to turn from absolute teetotalism to a temperate consumption of light beers ; but the principle is now so widely recognised that, as a rule, no difficulty in obtaining official approval is likely to be experienced.
The one point upon which difference of opinion may and does arise in Norway is the precise amount of alcohol which beers regarded as suitable for consumption by ' temperance' people may properly contain. So far as I could gather from my inquiries in Christiania, the Norwegian temperance societies are divided mainly into two parties on this question : one group allow their members to drink beer which does not contain more than 2 per cent, of alcohol, while a smaller group will not go beyond certain beers which contain only six-tenths of 1 per cent, of alcohol.
But the six-tenths party, it seems, has not arbitrarily fixed upon that limit for all time. It is prepared to go further, under certain conditions. I had the opportunity of meeting a prominent member of this party, and he put the matter to me very clearly—from his point of view. He said, in effect:
' So long as there is a spirituous liquor like brsendevin readily obtainable, we must be on our guard against allowing people to acquire any such taste for alcoholic beverages as might lead them on to the consumption of spirits. But if we should succeed, by means of local option, in driving braendevin and other such spirituous liquors off the field, we should at once look with a more favourable eye on light malt beverages, because the danger in question would then be non-existent. There would no longer be the same necessity to keep to the six-tenths limit.'
Another ardent advocate of sobriety said to me in Christiania:
' When I am on the public platform I certainly proclaim the doctrine of abstinence, but it is perfectly well understood that I do not include therein the light beers of the country, which are practically not regarded as intoxicating drinks at all. If I attend a temperance social function I call for those beers quite openly, and everyone regards it as a matter of course that I should drink them.'
Considering that the 'temperance cause' in Norway, mainly based on the principles here described, claims to have about 180,000 adherents (exclusive of children), or 12 per cent, of the entire population over fifteen years of age
(though not all actually members of temperance societies), there is here a substantial body of public opinion in a comparatively small country. To meet the views thus entertained in regard to the consumption of light beers, the brewery firms in Norway have specially applied themselves to the production of beers possessing a low alcoholic strength, and suitable for consumption by temperance people, under the limits stated. On inquiry among the leading brewers in Christiania, I found they were making quite a number of palatable beers, having a low percentage of alcohol, and I was also shown some that was 'alcohol free'; but this represented a somewhat ' dead' drink, not likely to prove so acceptable as the others. The output of these temperance beers is steadily growing, and one of the absurdities of the situation is that, when the figures relating to them are added to the national statistics, the Samlag party should profess alarm at the ' increased consumption of beer,' should attribute thereto any increase in drunkenness, and should, as dealers in braendevin, seek, in the interests of sobriety, to be allowed to take charge also of the sale of beer !
As regards beers which are beyond the ' temperance ' limit, I could obtain no confirmation of a statement I had read, that beers were being brewed in Norway of extra strength to suit the taste of people who were discarding brasndevin in favour of such liquors. On the contrary, I found an almost general tendency towards the brewing of lighter beers than before. One firm, for instance, showred me a beer which, a few years ago, they produced with from 8 to 10 per cent, of alcohol, whereas it now contained only 4 per cent.
In Sweden, Peter Wieselgren, Dean of Gotheriburg, and original founder of the Gothen-burg System, started his propaganda in his younger days by establishing a ' total abstinence' society, and even when his ' system' began to assume shape and form he continued to preach total abstinence from both beer and spirits, although it was only the latter that the system undertook to control. As in Norway, the Swedish temperance reformers who were inspired by English ideas conducted their campaign against both types of beverages ; but, again as in Norway, cold-water principles were found to be altogether impracticable in regard to the great body of the working classes, and the formal recognition of light beers as temperance drinks gained wide acceptance among the Swedish temperance societies, the ideas of the teetotal extremists falling more and more into the background.
The practical wisdom of the policy thus adopted is undeniable. Swedish workers regard svagdricka (sold to them by women who have special stalls for the purpose in the factories) as really indispensable in their daily toil, and not only have the temperance societies formally sanctioned the drinking thereof by their members, but they have recently combined to secure from the Swedish Parliament greater facilities for the sale of this ' temperance,' though still alcoholic, drink.
Svagdricka, however, is only one of a number of malt liquors which are recognised as suitable for consumption by abstainers from spirits, and there are now about ten varieties of such malt beverages on the Swedish liquor market. In Gothenburg alone the temperance societies, operating on this basis, have a membership of between 11,000 and 12,000; but one may be absolutely certain that no such numbers would have been secured if the societies had sought to enforce a pledge of total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages, however small and harmless the amount of alcohol they contained. It may be a ' half-measure,' from the point of view of the English and American societies, but it has recognised the actualities of the situation, it has avoided the difficulties (especially great in Scandinavia) of enforcing extreme ideas, and it has, undoubtedly, tended to promote such sobriety as may still be found among the Swedish working classes.

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