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July 23rd 2003

Goteborg, Sweden



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Licensing and Temperance

THERE are two classes in Great Britain to whom the subject of licensing in Scandinavia has specially appealed : the 'Disinterested Management' party, who have thought they saw in an adaptation of the Gothenburg ' Company' System an effective method of controlling the consumption of intoxicants ; and the Municipal-Socialist party, who, without any idea of' suppressing the liquor traffic,' would fain have the exploiting of it, with the view either of securing the profits, in order to apply them to municipal purposes or enterprises (especially when it is felt that the British ratepayer will not tolerate a much further increase of his local burdens), or, alternatively, as part of the Socialistic propaganda for ousting private enterprise in general, and obtaining public control over every trade or undertaking that deals with the supply of public requirements. Indications have not been wanting that the combined influence of these two parties—acting though they are from diametrically opposed motives—may result at some not far distant date in an attempt to bring the Gothenburg System, or a modification thereof, within the range of practical politics hi the United Kingdom; and it is, therefore, a matter of much importance that the position should be well understood by that great body of British public opinion — represented, on the one hand, by moderate drinkers, and, on the other, by people who are not Municipal-Socialists—by which the deciding vote on the questions at issue will have to be given.
So much was written concerning the Gothenburg System some ten or fifteen years ago that it might seem almost necessary to apologize for offering still another book on the subject. But, apart from the considerations just presented, and apart from the fact that various new developments have been brought about, I may say that, although I had prepared for a tour of inquiry in Scandinavia by a diligent study of Gothenburg System literature, this previous reading in no way prepared me for what I found, on making my own inquiries, to be the real facts of the case. It is only natural that those who are officially concerned in the system in the countries where it has been adopted should seek to present matters in the most favourable light; but there has been too much tendency on the part of inquirers from England or America—and especially on the part of compilers of books on the subject who have
not visited Scandinavia at all—to accept blindly the official statistics, to draw absolutely erroneous conclusions therefrom, and to make little or no attempt to get to the ' bed-rock ' of actual facts. One authority in Gothenburg informed me that out of fifty visitors from England — writers, politicians, and others—who had called upon him to make inquiries into the system, many had spent only a few hours in the city, and others had stopped a full day, or even two, while the fact that one ' investigator' had remained a week constituted a record. That record, I may say, I took the liberty of breaking, in regard alike to Gothenburg and Christiania. In the latter city I not only obtained all the official information I could, but I visited the artisan and slum districts, under the escort of a capable and trustworthy interpreter, well acquainted therewith, and ascertained for myself what effect the restrictions enforced are actually having upon the people.
On completing my inquiries in Norway and Sweden, I went on to Denmark, and I would call the special attention of my readers to the account I give of the conditions in that country, and, more particularly, to the remarkable work which is being carried on by the Danish temperance societies on the basis of allowing their members to regard beer of low alcoholic strength as a temperance beverage. With the policy thus adopted I have complete sympathy, because, although, individually, I am entitled to rank as a lifelong abstainer, I hold that the cause of sobriety—that is to say, of ' temperance' in the truest sense of the word—is greater far than the cause of extreme teetotalism, and may well be advanced, on practical common-sense lines, and to the distinct benefit of the nation, without that interference with individual freedom, that shelving of personal responsibility, and that injustice to particular classes of traders, which so much of the coercive legislation now being advocated in various quarters would assuredly involve.
FARNBOROUGH, KENT, November, 1906.

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