News:

The Common Review ceased as a print publication with the Fall/Winter 2011 issue. However, we will be posting a series of ten new articles on this site over the next couple of months, at approximately 1-week intervals. We trust that you will find these articles interesting, provocative, and equal in quality to the high standards set by The Common Review during its ten-year run.

 

 

In this Issue

More

    Connect

    • Share

    Article

    Empire and Alcohol: A Brief Survey

    By  Ian Williams

    Switch to single-page view

    Books mentioned in this essay:

    I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine, by Roger Scruton Continuum, 211 pages, $24.95

    The Prohibition Hangover, by Garrett Peck Rutgers University Press, 309 pages, $26.95

    Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages, by Patrick E. McGovern University of California Press, 348 pages, $29.95

    The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire, by Linda Himelstein HarperCollins, 384 pages, $29.99

    Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba, by Tom Gjelten Viking, 413 pages, $27.95

    The conservative philosopher and wine columnist Roger Scruton writes in I Drink Therefore I Am: “A visitor from another planet, observing Russians under the influence of vodka, Czechs in the grip of slivovitz or American hillbillies blotto on moonshine, would surely favor prohibition”. He then goes on to explain why the same alien would revere and applaud the same people’s relishing of a fine Burgundy.

    Alcohol is a subject that can chill or burn a conversation. As do sex and drugs, it uneasily resides on an index of both pleasure and transgression. From prehistoric times, people have appreciated drink and its effects, so much so that many rulers throughout the ages have suspected the stuff is too good and too dangerous for the lower orders. And alcohol’s potency can be seen in the way it generates rituals. Sometimes this is rather literal, in the case of both the Christian sacraments and the ancient Greeks and Romans who, in taking their libations, liked to splash some wine on the ground for the gods before taking their own sip. Or it can be metaphorical, as in the case of wine lovers like Scruton, a man who sharply distinguishes between his own savoring of fifty-year-old vintages and the redneck glugging of the “guaranteed fresh” beers of the American supermarket.

    Perhaps nowhere outside the Islamic world is there a nation quite so conflicted as the United States about pink-eyed Bacchus’s gift to us mortals, where drinking, as opposed to being drunk and incapable, still carries a stigma. Long before the Bolshevik airbrush reshaped the photographic history of the Russian Revolution, strong American prejudices were at work reshaping the national view of the past—a process culminating with the passing of Prohibition in 1920. The legislation would not be repealed until 1933 under Franklin Roosevelt. As with all great moral panics, it was not just the liquor itself that became spiritually contaminating; all favorable, or even neutral, references to alcohol became a form of thought-crime.

    In this new, filtered version of history, Founding Fathers such as Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and indeed George Washington have been stripped of their actual historical callings as distillers or tavern keepers. Modern-day attention on the underlying causes of the American Revolution has focused almost entirely on the Boston Tea Party. This obscures what was quite possibly a more significant issue: the British Parliament’s insistence on taxing molasses—the substance that New England merchants and distillers like Sam Adams preferred to smuggle in order to make rum.

    American independence cut ties with the Caribbean even as it opened up the West, in particular, the fertile landscape of Kentucky. Not surprisingly, whiskey became the American drink of choice. Rum’s rhetorical assonance with Romanism and rebellion and its imperialist associations led to the elision of its role in the revolution. Temperance supporters carried on campaigning against “demon rum,” even as most of the targets of their solicitude were more likely to be swigging whiskey. But even more damning was the association of liquor with both slavery and overindulgence. The Northern victory in the Civil War saw an evangelical fervor for abolitionism often marching hand in hand with a passion for temperance, paving the way for Prohibition. Tellingly, the Union Navy ended the grog ration. The Confederate fleet didn’t.

    The raging heat of evangelical fervor distilled out from American history the important role of alcohol in its various forms. Currier and Ives, the ubiquitous nineteenth-century printmakers who chronicled nineteenth-century American life, epitomize this Orwellian redrafting of history. Compare their antebellum print Washington’s Farewell to His Officers in Fraunces Tavern in New York with its postwar equivalent. Their original 1848 print has him raising a glass for a toast in front of his chest while a decanter stands on the table behind him. By 1867, the glass had disappeared to leave him with his hand clutched to his bosom in Nelsonian mode, and the decanter on the table behind him was deftly reengraved as an ornately feathered hat.

    Temperance soon mutated into outright prohibitionism. After all, the Puritan heritage of New England had always felt that still-small voice of conscience was all very well, but the bellowed instructions of ordained authority were more reliable.

    << First < Previous Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Next > Last >>

     
    Add comment

    * - required field

    *




    CAPTCHA image for SPAM prevention
    If you can't read the word, click here.
    *
    *
    Kailey, 27-06-11 22:55:
    Finally! This is just what I was looknig for.
    Tamber, 27-06-11 22:55:
    I went to tons of links before this, what was I tnhiknig?
    Judy, 28-06-11 02:12:
    You have shed a ray of ssuhnnie into the forum. Thanks!
    Marylouise, 28-06-11 02:35:
    Stands back from the keyborad in amazement! Thanks!
    Tasmine, 27-10-11 07:17:
    I could read a book about this wtihout finding such real-world approaches!
    Lefty, 27-10-11 12:58:
    AKAIK you've got the anwesr in one!
    Aquas, 29-03-12 10:12:
    hey there and thank you for your information – I’ve eintacrly picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise some technical points using this web site, as I experienced to reload the website a lot of times previous to I could get it to load properly. I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and can damage your high-quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Well I’m adding this RSS to my email and could look out for much more of your respective interesting content. Make sure you update this again very soon..
    Sajid, 29-03-12 17:11:
    nope one glass of wine won't have harmed the baby at all. there are a lot of women who drink while pgnreant before they even know they are. my sister got completely trashed 2 weekends in a row before she found out she was pgnreant but of course after finding out she didn't drink anymore AT ALL until after the baby was born. the little one was 100% fine just had a slightly low birth weight (5lbs 14oz). That apparently isn't a big deal now that we think of it though. She is now a year old can still wear much smaller clothes but according to the doctor she's the correct weight for her age, it's just that she's petite like her mommy was when she was little.Btw, if you smoke I would quit! Do NOT quit cold turkey cause that can actually harm the baby ..just slow down until you quit. A friend of mine smoked quite a bit (menthol too!) during her pregnancy that ended up disasterous. The baby had to stay in the hospital for a little while because she wouldn't stop crying tests had confirmed that she was majorly suffering from nicotine withdrawl. That poor little one
    Nagaraj, 02-08-12 14:25:
    I produce Mijiah wine you may email me At . The procudt container is handmade stoneware with the dents of my palm. The fruits are gathered from the wilds, except for the mango ,by cultural minorities in the Philippines. These mountain dwellers survive by charcoal making. There is one cluster we are helping with 10 communities , each community comprises 71 families who does nothing but chop 6n to 8 year old trees for firewood and charcoal. Since we started buying wild berries from them did they realize the destruction they are doing. This cluster chops 8,520 trees per year. Now they are our forest guardian , realizing the value of protecting the environment.Thanks and email me.Elbert Pigtain
    Khalil, 15-09-12 00:03:
    well I think the guy that maintenances the site is kinda loivng russia why does he need to keep that blog alive then?) or he just speculates for some reasons) but that blog doesnt give him any money for sure, so he is making it for his own fun. I understand that he probably wants to show all the russia. not only templated nice stuff. but i still didnt discover something really cool in blogs he keeps posting except negative\weird\not nice looking stuff