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Temperance - Temperance As Ideal And Issue

native society alcohol societies

Most of the world's religions embrace temperance from alcoholic beverages as a virtue. For Hindu Brahmins, Buddhists, Jews, Roman Catholic Christians, and especially for Muslims and Protestant Christians, temperance and, for some, abstinence is valued. Tantra Hinduism, Daoism, and Roman Catholicism incorporate alcohol into ritual, among others, but only a few mystical sects, such as Islamic Sufism, celebrate intoxication. As a result, the worth of temperance itself has rarely been at issue in any society, even when social conflict over drinking has been most bitter. Nearly all drinkers regard their own behavior as temperate. Rather, discord over temperance typically arises when one segment of society attempts to impose restrictions upon another's drinking—that is, when interpretations of the meaning of temperance clash. Temperance can also become involved in a struggle over other issues.

Colonial regimes, for example, have often imposed controls on the drinking of indigenous peoples, even when the introduction of alcohol into native cultures has undermined traditional ways and left native societies vulnerable to imperial domination. The European colonial powers in central Africa sought to compartmentalize the drinking of native laborers in space and time so as to safeguard productivity, and mine owners in South Africa went even further in the same direction when they forced prohibition on their workforces.

As early as the dawn of the nineteenth century, the United States federal government mandated prohibition for Native Americans. But embattled indigenous peoples have also sought to use temperance for their own purposes, as a buttress of anticolonial resistance, as was the case for South African kings, leaders of Native American revitalization movements such as the Seneca Handsome Lake and the Shawnee Tenskwatawa (1775–1836), and the Indian nationalist movement led by M. K. Gandhi (1869–1948). In such cases, the hypocrisy of colonial authorities in preaching temperance while allowing, or even fostering, alcohol consumption has given a weapon to those seeking to overthrow or reject their dominion.

In industrial societies, employers have often found it expedient to support controls on workers' alcohol consumption in the hope of habituating their workforce to the discipline of machine production. But militant workers' movements, such as the English Chartists, the Knights of Labor in the United States and Canada, Austrian Socialists, and Spanish anarchists, have realized the value of temperance in mobilizing sober opposition to capital or to capitalist governments. Furthermore, successful revolutionary movements have sometimes included liquor control among their tools for reshaping society, as was the case for the Mexican government in the 1930s and the early Soviet regime.

Temperance has been a subtler instrument in inter-group struggles when classes or professions have deployed it as a means of self-definition or as a vehicle for claims of expertise. In many industrializing English-speaking societies, middle classes have adopted sobriety as a badge of respectability, distinguishing themselves at least rhetorically from allegedly profligate elites on one hand and from purportedly dissolute workers on the other. Among professionalizing groups, physicians in particular have often taken leadership roles in temperance advocacy in societies as diverse as the United States, Britain, Denmark, France, Australia, Imperial Russia, and the Soviet Union. In such cases, as sociologist Joseph Gusfield shows, temperance serves both as a badge of personal rectitude and as an assertion of the fitness of a class or profession to set society's direction.

Temperance - Temperance Movements [next]

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