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Slavery from within: The invention

of alcoholism and the question of
free will
Mariana Valverde
University of Toronto
Version of record first published: 30 May 2008.

To cite this article: Mariana Valverde (1997): Slavery from within: The invention of alcoholism
and the question of free will , Social History, 22:3, 251-268

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Mariana Valverde

'Slavery from within': the invention of

alcoholism and the question of free
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The will is at the root of human conduct. It is the basis of moral action. It is the foun-
dation of wisdom. It is the controller of impulse. Without it duty cannot be done. . . . It
is the regulator of passion and desire. Without it in some strength no civilized, moral and
permanent form of human society could exist. If it be true that this most authoritative
faculty of man is in any way lessened by alcohol, that substance would seem to need no
other condemnation.
(Sir Thomas Clouston, MD, 1914)1

In his influential work on insane asylums in nineteenth-century France, Robert Castel argued
that post-1789 psychiatry managed to recuperate the old and highly illiberal institution of the
general hospital by claiming that only institutionalization could provide the treatment lunatics
needed in order eventually to exercise some semblance of liberal freedom.2 Liberal regimes of
governance,3 as many scholars have pointed out, make the exercise of liberal autonomy con-
tingent on the possession of'rationality'. Hence, those whose rationality is non-existent, imma-
ture, or defective have only one right: the right to be despotically treated in such a way as to
build up the capacity to reason that is the precondition of self-governance. Social and political
exclusions based on ascriptions of rationality have received much attention from historians of
colonialism, of slavery, and of gender relations, as well as historians of medicine and madness.
This article turns the discussion in a different direction by exploring a historically specific prob-
lematic of liberal freedom that revolved not around supposed defects of intellect but rather on
defects in a key moral faculty: 'the will'.
* Many thanks to all the people who helped me (Berkeley, CA, 1988), Introduction.
to navigate in new areas of research and gave me For a theoretical elaboration, from a Fou-
ideas and suggestions, especially Alan Collins, Pat cauldian perspective, of liberal governance and its
O'Malley and Nikolas Rose. paradoxes, see A. Barry, T. Osborne and N. Rose
T. Clouston, 'Some of the psychological and (eds), Foucault and Political Reason (London, 1996),
clinical aspects of alcohol', British Journal of Inebri- and the special issue of the journal Economy and
ety, xi, 3 (1914), 114. Society on 'Conflicts and contradictions in govern-
Robert Castel, The Regulation of Madness ance', xxv, 3 (1996).
Social History Vol. 22 No. 3 October 1997
0307-1022 Routledge 1997
252 Social History VOL. 22 : NO. 3
Alcoholism came to be regarded, in the late nineteenth century, as one of several 'diseases of
the will'.4 At the level of high theory (that is, in the writings of philosophers and scientists),
there was little agreement about the ontological and for that matter the physiological status of
the 'will',5 but at the level of clinical practice everyone acknowledged that whatever the onto-
logical status of the will, alcoholism treatment would only succeed if the patient was fully
involved in the process. Alcoholism recovery was (and still is) fundamentally paradoxical: the
alcoholic's own willpower is the key element in recovery, even though the very essence of alco-
holism is thought to be a defect in the will. This paradox is not, I will argue, a curiosity of
medical discourse. It is a profoundly political paradox that pervades liberal governance in general.
As Barry Hindess has pointed out,6 the central contradiction of liberalism is that people are,
on the one hand, regarded as 'born free' (as Locke said) but, on the other hand, they have to be
made free through training for autonomy. This training often relies on despotic means that stand
in an uneasy tension with the ostensible ends of self-governance and freedom.
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Within the context of the late nineteenth century's strongly paternalistic if not despotic
model of medical treatment, alcoholism was unique in that the will of the individual was
regarded as the central ingredient in treatment. Recovering alcoholics were also granted the -
for the time unusual privilege of writing about their own struggles against a disease in the
pages of medical journals.7
Nevertheless, the temptation to treat alcoholism in the same manner as other illnesses that
is, as curable largely through the physicians' autonomous exertions was always present. In the
US, the Journal of the American Medical Association published ordinary physicians' treatment notes
on alcoholism in virtually every issue between 1895 and 1905. Gold cures, strychnine, opium,
cold water baths and hypnosis were discussed and evaluated. But even physicians who used
drugs often pointed out that alcoholism could not be treated, much less cured, if the patient
did not actively co-operate. One physician writing to report partial success in treating 'dipso-
mania' (alcoholism) through hypnosis cautioned that the hypnosis would only work 'if the
patient is willing to be cured. . . . The object of the treatment is not only to cure the craze, but
to strengthen the will.'8 A typical article in the physician-dominated British Journal of Inebriety
formulated the paradox of medical treatment of alcoholism by stating that although alcoholism
is indeed a disease, 'the medical treatment can assist men in carrying out their intention to
become sober, but it cannot create that intention. At the outset, what must take place is a change
in the alcoholic's character.'9
Many of the people diagnosed as inebriates/alcoholics belonged to social groups believed to
have quite small amounts of self-control and willpower to begin with: the 'vicious' poor, of
course, but also ladies of the middle and upper classes. Ladies were thought to be especially sus-
ceptible to the other diseases of the will (e.g. kleptomania). Gentlemen, by contrast, were
regarded as having much greater innate capacity for self-control, and so the treatments used for
4 7
See the treatise by the influential French scien- See, for instance,' An ex-patient', 'The psycho-
tist Theodule Ribot, The Diseases of the Will analysis of an inebriate: a record of experiences and
(Chicago, 1915; 4th enlarged edn). reflections', British Journal of Inebriety, xii, 1 (1914),
See Roger Smith, Inhibition: History and Meaning22-7.
in the Sciences of Mind and Brain (London, 1992). Anonymous, 'Dipsomania and its treatment by
Barry Hindess, 'Liberalism, socialism and suggestion' Journal of the American MedicalAssociation
democracy: variations on a governmental theme', (henceforth JAMA), xxxv (1900), 456.
Economy and Society, xxii, 3 (1993); reprinted in A. T. Shearman, 'The effect of alcohol on
Barry, Osborne and Rose (eds), op. cit., 65-80. feeling', British Journal of Inebriety, III, 4 (1906), 34.
October lggy Alcoholism and free will 253

them tended to be individualized and pastoral10 in nature. As we shall see in the last section of
this paper, alcoholism treatment strategies both effected and reflected a social stratification of
diseases of the will, and indeed of the will itself.
If alcoholism did not quite materialize as a coherent diagnosis, neither did 'the alcoholic
identity' achieve the solidity that one might expect. As we shall see, working-class alcpholics
were for a time absorbed into the 'feeble-minded' category, while ladies and gentlemen with
'drinking problems' were in turn subsumed under existing categories ranging from the alienist's
'mania' to the everyday, common sense category of'bad habits'.
The choice of treatment/cure methods as a central object of our enquiry is important. One
of the curious facts about the history of alcoholism is that a substantial number of physicians
have insisted, for many generations now, that alcoholism is a disease, but this insistence has
seldom managed to produce a full network of well-funded specific institutions. In the field of
alcohol and alcoholism, intellectual history is thus quite limited, since one can find physicians
arguing that alcohol is 'addictive' as far back as the seventeenth century.11 The 'real' history of
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alcohol, the evidence of qualitative change over time, lies not in the theory but in the tech-
nologies of treatment and cure. The illiberal technique of hypnotism; the psycho-medical
talking cures; the evangelical methods of Salvation Army 'Homes for Drunkards'; the totali-
tarian technique of complete Prohibition; the risk-management strategies deployed in liquor
control and pub-hour laws - these and other equally complex regulatory strategies demonstrate
that alcohol consumption and its regulation offer the historian of social, moral and legal regu-
lation a very fruitful and largely unstudied field of research.


Why did the project to create a new medicalized identity not succeed? Or, more accurately,
why did it simultaneously succeed and fail, given that the turn of the century was a time when
medico-legal and medico-moral specialists were scoring so many other successes?12
The first medical establishment for 'the treatment and cure of alcoholism' was, it seems, set
up in New York state, after a petition signed by over 1000 physicians was presented to the state
legislature.13 But the patients' families apparently rebelled against the physicians' treatment of
alcoholics as if they were insane, and lobbied the legislators until they deemed the experiment
to have failed. The institution was then turned into a regular insane asylum. In a 1906 evalu-
ation of medical treatment facilities, the leading US inebriety expert, Dr T. D. Crothers, stated:
'In America the bitterest critics and most unrelenting opponents of asylums have been the

I am using the term 'pastoral' in Foucault's stories is found in David Garland, Punishment and
sense: see the lecture 'Omnes et singulatim: towards Welfare (London, 1985).
a criticism of political reason', reprinted in L. Kritz- Anonymous note, Medical Record, LVII (1900),
man (ed.), Michel Foucault: Politics, Philosophy, Culture 410-11. See also Joseph Collins,'The law and the
(New York, 1988). inebriate', New York Medical Journal, LXXIII, (4 May
Jessica Warner,' "Resolv'd to drink no more": 1901), 765-8. Collins falsely believed that Canada
addiction as a pre-industrial construct', Journal of had the legislative machinery to coerce alcoholics
Studies on Alcohol (November 1994), 685-91. into state asylums, incidentally. This misinformation
Warner's article is a refutation of the classic study by is typical: in general, the medical literature often
Harry Levine.'The discovery of addiction',Journal lauds actual or supposed successes in medicalization
of Studies on Alcohol, xxxix, 1 (1978), 143-74. of alcoholism treatment, but has little information
A good account of many of these success on the failures and reversals.
254 Social History VOL. 22 : NO. 3
inmates of such institutions and their friends.'14 Whether due to patient resistance or to other
reasons, other fledgling state asylums for inebriates in the US all failed to prosper.15
Part of the problem was that the US temperance movement had set up its own non-medical
'Homes', to which alcoholics could voluntarily repair for treatment based on moral exhortation
and self-help support.16 Given the great influence of evangelical temperance activity and the
hostility between temperance people and medical science, it is not surprising that, although the
hostility diminished at the end of the century, by the first decade of the twentieth century there
were still very few medically run treatment facilities for alcoholics in the US.
In Britain, where the Habitual Drunkards (later Habitual Inebriates) Acts had set up an
underfunded but significant network of treatment homes and reformatories which were uni-
versally subject to medical inspection, even if run by temperance societies, the medicalization
of alcoholism seemed more successful for a few brief years (from 1900 to 1908, roughly). But
these inebriate institutions were dealt a severe blow by the withdrawal of local government
funding that began in 1908, and by the repeal of the legislative provisions for state medical
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inspection that took place in 1914.17

If the institutional network of medicalized alcoholism treatment was small, fragmented and
in constant crisis, the discursive network was equally unstable. From the invention of the un-
successful term 'oinomania' in the 1850s18 through to the First World War, no one term was
ever adopted even within specialist medical circles. Oinomania, dipsomania, narcomania, alco-
holism, inebriety, habitual drunkenness . . . the terms kept proliferating. As late as 1914, the
British Inspector of Inebriates felt compelled to state that the term 'inebriate' was for him
(though not for other experts) synonymous with 'habitual drunkard, chronic alcoholic, or dipso-
It would be insufficient, however, simply to conclude that alcoholism 'failed' as a project. No
clearly defined population with a widely accepted diagnosis ever emerged; but that does not
mean that nothing was being accomplished. The invention of alcoholism is perhaps best
regarded not as a self-contained narrative characterized either by 'success' or by 'failure', but
rather as a facet of a wider, quite complex process through which certain social groups that did
not fall within the medical definition of insanity20 came to be subjected to more or less despotic
T. D. Crothers, 'The Norman Kerr memorial McLaughline, 'Inebriate reformatories in Scotland:
lecture', British Journal of Inebriety, in, 3 (1906), 123. an institutional history' in S. Barrows and R . R o o m
See, for instance, a report on an inebriate insti- (eds), Drinking: Behaviour and Belief in Modern History
tution in Boston JAMA, xxxiv (1900), 1572-3; and (Berkeley, CA, 1991); and G. Hunt, J. Mellor and J.
an anonymous report in JAMA, xxxv (1900), 1655. Turner, 'Wretched, hatless and miserably clad:
In 1862, the legislature of the United Province of women and the inebriate reformatories from
Canada (which included most of present-day 1900-1913', British Journal of Sociology, XL, 2 (1989),
Ontario and Quebec) was presented with a lengthy 244-70.
and erudite report/recommendation, which as far Anonymous, 'Oinomania; or the mental
as I have been able to determine fell on deaf ears pathology of intemperance', The Journal of Patho-
(James Bovell, A Plea for Inebriate Asylums . . . logical Medicine and Mental Pathology, viii (1 April
(Toronto, 1862). 1855), 175-207.
16 19
James A. Baumohl, Dashaways and Doctors:The BPP, Report of the Inspector . . .for 1912, 1914,
Treatment of Habitual Drunkards in San Francisco from xxxvi, 255 .
the Gold Rush to Prohibition (DSW dissertation, U n i - T h e first clause o f the British Habitual Inebri-
versity of California at Berkeley, 1986). ates Acts declares that inebriates are, first of all, 'not
Gerry Johnstone, 'From vice to disease? T h e amenable t o jurisdiction in lunacy' (61 and 62 Vict.,
concepts of dipsomania and inebriety, 18601908', 1898).
Social and Legal Studies, v, 1 (1996), 37-56; Patrick
October iggj Alcoholism and free will 255

regimes, ranging from custodial and punitive institutions to therapeutic programmes empha-
sizing training for and in freedom.
The logic of governing through alcoholism can perhaps be best discerned through a com-
parison with other, better documented, disciplinary projects of the same time period. The
'feeble-minded', for instance, those dreaded spectres of social Darwinism, were by and large
presumed to be incapable of being trained for freedom. Regarded as evolutionary waste prod-
ucts, they were confined to institutions, experimented on, sterilized and subjected to other
despotic forms of governance.21
Alcoholics, by contrast, were often praised for their valiant battles against their own heredi-
tary or acquired tendencies. At a time when medicine often emphasized the relentless deter-
minism of degeneration, it is indeed striking to hear Britain's most famous inebriety expert, Dr
Norman Kerr, sing the praises of the individual will of the deviant:

The continuous and victorious struggle of such heroic souls with their hereditary enemy
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- an enemy the more powerful because ever leading its treacherous life within their breasts,
presents to my mind such a glorious conflict, such an august spectacle, as should evoke the
highest efforts of the painter and the sculptor. Before so protracted and so lofty a combat,
the immortal group of Laocoon contending with the serpents, grand though that great
work of art is, must pale its ineffectual fires.22

Kerr later pays homage to the recovering alcoholic by deploying the considerable power of the
'freeborn Briton' discourse against the prevailing discourses on degeneration:

The depths of misery and despair into which the relentless tyranny of alcohol has, by
inheritance, plunged its victims, seem to have permeated their whole being with hatred
of their enslaver, and to have inspired them with the determination to strike a blow for
freedom, and casting off forever the yoke of the oppressor: 'To burst the chains which
drink for ever flings/ On the entangled soul's aspiring wings.'23

An ex-patient writing in the British Journal of Inebriety added his voice to Kerr's, stating that
recovering alcoholics are 'no fit objects for cowardly repression or endless, petty slights', but
should instead be considered as representatives of'the moral courage of inebriety'.24 This lan-
guage is noteworthy because one cannot imagine a person labelled 'insane' or 'feeble-minded'
writing (in this time period) about the moral courage of their deviant group, much less being
given space in a medical journal to sing its praises.
The contradictions involved in inventing a disease that could only be cured by the patient's
own will are particularly apparent in the first of the British Inebriate Acts, passed in 1879. This
act owed its existence in large part to the efforts of the physician operating a famous private

21 22
See, among others, Daniel Pick, Faces of Degen- N o r m a n Kerr, Inebriety or Narcomania: Its Etiol-
eration (Cambridge, 1989); Nikolas Rose, The ogy, Pathology, Treatment and Jurisprudence (London,
Psychological Complex (London, 1985); Angus 1894; 3rd e d n ) , 17.
McLaren, Our Own Master Race:The Eugenic Crusade ibid., 197.
in Canada (Toronto, 1991); and Nancy Leys Stepan, ' A n ex-patient', ' T h e psychoanalysis o f a n
'The Hour of Eugenics': Race, Gender and Nation in inebriate: a record o f experiences a n d reflections',
Latin America (Ithaca a n d L o n d o n , 1991). British Journal of Inebriety, xii, 1 (1914), 23.
256 Social History VOL. 22 : NO. 3
home for inebriates in the country, Donald Dalrymple, elected to parliament in the late 1860s.25
Dalrymple wanted to regulate the private inebriate home business by establishing licensing; in
addition, he wanted the state compulsorily to commit certain individuals to these homes.
Dalrymple's original vision was not carried out, since his proposed bill was watered down to
the point of ineffectiveness. But the 1879 act, however impotent in practice, was important dis-
cursively. It set out a legal definition of 'habitual drunkards' and established complicated legal
machinery for reconciling state coercion with the view that the patient needed to choose freely
to stop drinking. A habitual drunkard was
a person who, not being amenable to any jurisdiction in lunacy, is notwithstanding, by
reason of habitual intemperate drinking of intoxicating liquors, at times dangerous to
himself or herself or to others, or incapable of managing himself or herself and his or her
Although the terminology was later changed from 'drunkard' to 'inebriate', the definition
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stayed the same throughout the life of the Inebriate Acts. Much could be said about this defi-
nition; but for our purposes it is sufficient to note that the criterion of ability to manage one's
affairs was not a specifically medical one. No provision was ever made for expert medical testi-
mony to certify inebriates.
The legal machinery adopted by parliament against the wishes of the inebriety experts
allowed but did not compel individuals to make a declaration in front of not one but two Jus-
tices of the Peace, declaring themselves to be inebriates and agreeing voluntarily to a certain
period of confinement. As the inebriety expert Dr Peddie exclaimed, 'No wonder that few
have been found willing to make a voluntary surrender of liberty on such terms.'27 This ineffec-
tive legal machinery, although undoubtedly designed precisely to render the act useless, was in
keeping with the peculiar logic of alcoholism. Rather than having medical experts certify
inebriates in the same manner as lunatics, inebriates were awarded the liberal privilege of certi-
fying themselves.28 Their free will was thus safeguarded even as they were subjected to the JPs'
That the focus on the free will threatened the whole medicalization project was clear to
many people outside inebriety circles. An American Lunacy Commissioner typically argued in
1874 that alcoholism was (unlike insanity) not a true disease, precisely because the only sure
cure lay in the exercise of the patient's own will:
The problem of self-abasement or self-redemption is entirely within his control, provided
he exercise a continuous determination of his will not to partake. The key to the riddle
of this alleged disease lies in man's own will, and without this will effort, no physician can
cure or even relieve him.29

25 27
See Johnstone, op. tit., 41. For the 1879 act, see P e d d i e , op. cit., 7 .
Dr Kerr's presidential address to the British Society T h e self-certification process later achieved
for the Scientific Study of Inebriety, Proceedings tremendous success with the founding of Alco-
(1886), 2-8, and A. Peddie,'The Habitual Drunk- holics Anonymous in the 1930s, an extremely
ards Act, 1879', also in the Proceedings of the society popular organization based precisely on the practice
(1886), 4-9. of naming oneself as an alcoholic.
26 29
D e f i n i t i o n q u o t e d i n B P P , Report of the Depart- John Ordronaux, 'Is habitual drunkenness a
mental Committee on the Law Relating to Inebriates, disease?', American Journal of Insanity (April 1874),
1908, xii, 3 . 439.
October lggj Alcoholism and free will 257

But the medicalization project was endangered in other ways as well. One of the main debates
at the turn of the century in regard to the practices later called 'addiction'30 concerned the extent
to which drinking alcoholic beverages was qualitatively different from the consumption of other
problematic substances. Dr Norman Kerr's huge tome Inebriety or Narcomania, the most impor-
tant relevant British work of its time, makes it clear that although alcohol is the primary site of
inebriety, it is not the only one. While endorsing the existing term 'inebriety', whose penum-
bra of meaning included opium and morphine use, Kerr also attempted to market a term of his
own invention, 'narcomania', encompassing much of what would now be called 'addiction'.
Although Dr Kerr was the president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Inebriety, his
effort to focus medical attention on the broader category of inebriety/narcomania (as opposed
to alcoholism) was by no means universally accepted even in inebriety circles. Other physicians
stressed the dangers of alcohol itself, perhaps out of a political interest in the vexed debates
about the role of the state in liquor regulation. In the UK, as in the US, the long-standing
byzantine regulations of pub hours, pub licences, off-licence wine sales, liquor taxes and so forth
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developed quite separately from the more strictly medical debates about regulating the sale of
drugs such as opiates and morphine.31
This combination of factors meant that no consensus ever emerged, in the years before the
First World War, on the question of whether to focus medical and legal enquiries on a single
substance ('the demon rum'), on a group of substances (Dr Kerr's 'narcomania' strategy), a moral
process (the evangelical interest in sin), the physical effects of evolutionary degeneration,32 or
as in the post-Second World War definition a personality type, the alcoholic or addict. The
absence of one generally agreed-upon term is quite significant, for without a single term it is
difficult if not impossible to create a new identity, medicalized or otherwise. The discourse of
the medical specialists was constantly undermining itself by falling into the older language of
'vice' and 'habit',33 but even the medicalizing project was not internally consistent, for the mul-
tiplicity of strictly medical terms remained unresolved.
Gerry Johnstone's recent article on the inebriety diagnosis has noted that the expected'medi-
calization' process did not in fact take place in the UK at this time, but he simply notes the
absence of medicalization, and does not go on to note what there was instead.34 The history
of alcohol control is indeed full of notorious failures, from the unsuccessful medicalization
documented in this article to the crashing failure of North American Prohibition. But as
Foucault said about the prison,35 perpetually failing regulatory projects ought not to be simply
dismissed as 'failures': they can be analysed in order to illuminate the structural dilemmas
involved in disciplining 'deviants' in a liberal society of'free' individuals.

T h e OED's entries o n 'addiction' and People (London and N e w York, 1981).
'addicted' suggest that the current-day meaning of T h e most important British advocate of the
'addiction' dates back only t o the 1920s. Although theory that alcoholism was n o t a cause b u t a result
a full study of the history of addiction has n o t yet of evolutionary degeneration was H e n r y Maudsley.
been produced, my research provisionally confirms See H . Maudsley, Body and Will ( N e w York, 1884).
the OED's dating, since although the terms 'addic- F o r a development o f this argument, see M .
tion' and 'addict' were used, especially in the context Valverde, Dreams of the Will: Alcoholism, Alcohol Regu-
of opium and other drugs, at the turn of the lation and the Dilemmas of Freedom, (forthcoming,
century, the meaning then was m u c h wider. Addic- N e w York, C a m b r i d g e University Press).
tion was then n o t much if at all different from J o h n s t o n e , op. cit., 37-57.
'habit'. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The
See V. Berridge and G. Edwards, Opium and the Birth of the Prison (New York, 1979).
258 Social History VOL. 22 : NO. 3
As stated earlier, alcoholism was in the 1880s defined as a defect in liberal subjectivity, a defect
that, unlike insanity, affected not so much the rational but the moral faculties, specifically the
will. Some people stressed that drinking caused an erosion of willpower, whereas others stressed
that previously existing character defects led to excess drinking. But whatever the cause-effect
relationship, there was general agreement that inebriety could be defined as 'the loss of will
function'.36 A very early work, written before the terms 'inebriety' and 'dipsomania' gained cur-
rency, argued that drinking too much alcohol was a disease allied to the manias. The anony-
mous medical author baptized this disease as 'oinomania', describing it as follows:

The most general excitant of the appetite is that condition of the mind in which there is
simply a desire for pleasurable excitement and little power of the will to resist the tempta-
tion to gratify the desire.37
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Willpower is what distinguished the 'ordinary' drunk, who drank because he or she wanted to,
from the dipsomaniac or alcoholic, who drank because he or she felt compelled to do so. The
former fell within the domain of law, since he/she was responsible for the drinking and its con-
sequences; only the latter fell within the domain of medicine. An inebriety specialist explained
this common wisdom as follows:
The man who deliberately drinks to excess is without apology a vicious and criminal
drunkard. He has complete power of will over his actions; and it is from deliberate choice
that he thus renders himself brutish and dangerous. . . . Between such a man and the hope-
less dipsomaniac there are many grades of drunkard, each possessing less willpower than
the former.38
Some years later, the British parliamentary inquiry into the workings of the Inebriates Acts
expressed the same idea but added a sophisticated mathematical twist, describing inebriety not
as an absolute lack of willpower but rather as an inadequate ratio between desire and will. People
with small desires did not need a strong will in order to be temperate; but those born with a
great love of life's pleasures needed a correspondingly large amount of willpower. The only
solution to inebriety, the committee concluded, was to 'alter the ratio between self-control and
desire, and restore it to normal, either by diminishing desire, or by increasing self-control, or
The close connection between drinking and the will was important not only for moralists
but also for scientists. In the time period under study, the will played a central role in scientific
theories about human progress, as exemplified in the passage by Sir Thomas Clouston quoted
at the beginning of this article. The great English scientist Henry Maudsley had argued in an
1884 work entitled Body and Will that 'the function of the will in the highest moral sphere' was
the last and therefore the highest product of human evolution. Precisely because it is evolution's

D r James Stewart,'The treatment o f inebriety Proceedings, V (1885), 5.
in t h e higher and educated classes', Proceedings of the BPP, Report of the Committee as to the Operation
British Society for the Scientific Study of Inebriety of the Law Relating to Inebriates, 1908, xii, 6. For an
(henceforth Proceedings), IX (1889), 3. excellent discussion of the scientific context of the
A n o n y m o u s , ' O i n o m a n i a . . .', op.c i t . ,178. committee's deliberations on free will, see Smith,
J. Muir Howe, 'The treatment of inebriety', Inhibition, op. c i t .
October igg7 Alcoholism and free will 259

latest innovation, it is also 'the least stable', and is therefore 'the first to undergo dissolution'.40
Excessive and/or uncontrolled drinking was thus for Maudsley, and for most scientists, both a
symptom and a cause of degeneration, and a particularly important one since it attacked the
'highest' faculties.
Maudsley's strictly Darwinian, strongly anti-spiritualist discussion of the will very much influ-
enced the work of the French scientist Theodule Ribot. In Ribot's work, alcoholism and other
forms of'inebriety', such as the 'opium habit', were to be understood as key members of the
family of'diseases of the will'.41 Attempting to provide a fully somatic theory of the will as an
ability that grows organically out of simple cellular reactions (thus trying to subordinate the
will to the body), Ribot provided a classification of'diseases of the will' whose moral and social
content is clearly apparent despite his efforts at using strictly somatic scientific language. Some
diseases of the will, he argues, consist of'defect of impulse' or 'irresolution'. Artists, writers and
upper-class women seem peculiarly prone to this type of disease of the will, including melan-
cholia.42 But while some people do not have enough will, others have too much: Ribot lists a
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whole array of diseases marked by an excess of activity, with 'dipsomania' as the first of these.
(The others are kleptomania, pyromania, erotomania, homicidal and suicidal mania, epilepsy
and hysteria.) While most of these manias are effects of an excess of will, of a surplus of desire,
alcoholism is distinct in that it acts as cause as well as effect, since alcohol (as Maudsley and
Clouston both stated) directly weakens the will. Thus alcohol has a special role in speeding up
the process of racial degeneration. Ribot outdoes Maudsley, incidentally, in arguing that alcohol
not only affects the higher (moral) faculties first, but even affects the physically higher parts of
the body before the lower - thus the arms become unco-ordinated before the legs.43
The use of moral criteria to single out the disease of inebriety also characterized Dr Kerr's
Inebriety or Narcomania. After a long enquiry into the nature and effects of over a dozen prob-
lematic substances, from opium and morphine to coffee and tea, Dr Kerr comes to the con-
clusion that true 'narcomania' is characterized not by the intensity of the compulsion to
consume a substance as much as by the degree of impairment of 'the will', specifically of the
ability to make moral decisions. Tobacco, for instance, does create a habit, but

No husbands are charged with killing their wives or assaulting their children through its
excessive use. . . . Nor does it seem to give rise to mental and moral perversion as does
alcohol. . . . There is therefore no true tobacco Inebriety or Mania.44

While coffee consumption could cause a number of serious physical deteriorations, such as
sleeplessness and 'shattered nerves', Dr Kerr argued that coffee drinkers were not true maniacs
because 'I have not yet seen an uncontrollable crave or impulse [for coffee] to which all natural
affections and duties are subordinated'.45 Moral abilities rather than physiological states

Maudsley, op. cit., 2 4 3 . See also t h e c h a p t e r o n the will, see the perceptive commentary by Anson
'Volition' i n H . Maudsley, The Physiology of Mind Rabinach, The Human Motor (New York, 1990),
( L o n d o n , 1876), chap. 7. 163-6.
41 44
R i b o t , op. cit. Kerr, Inebriety, op. cit., 1 4 7 - 8 .
42 45
ibid., 2 6 - 3 1 . ibid., 150.
ibid., 119-20. O n R i b o t ' s analysis o f diseases o f
260 Social History VOL. 22 : NO. 3
therefore determined the boundary between ordinary 'bad habits' such as excess coffee drink-
ing and the specifically moral disease of'inebriety'.46
Defining inebriety in moral terms as a disease of the will, physicians were hard pressed to
give specifically medical advice on how to rebuild the will.47 In a very early meeting of the
British Society for the Scientific Study of Inebriety, a participant formulated what one could
call 'the paradox of liberal freedom' as follows:
And suppose the inebriety has absolutely destroyed all power of will to abstain. How can
you build up a new character on the foundation of a will that does not exist? . . . It would
be an endeavour to build up a new character by means of a will which is to all intents
The evangelical temperance reformers had a clear and consistent answer to this question,
namely 'the grace of God'. The physicians, however, never really developed a satisfactory answer.
One medical authority, Sir William Collins, tried to dissolve the paradox by making a distinc-
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tion between two kinds of will, the (bad) 'self-will', involved in deciding to drink, and the
(good) 'free-will' that in rational creatures, especially if British, operated to suppress and control
the passionate 'self-will'. In a speech significantly subtitled 'Slavery of the will', Collins outlined
this theory of the dual will as follows: 'It [sobriety] is the limitation of self-will in the interests
of free-will and self-control. . . . The suppression of slavery from within as well as from
without'.49 This formulation only repeats, and does not in any way resolve, the paradox of alco-
holism recovery, for it is not at all clear how a person who is self-enslaved could ever succeed
in overcoming the state of inner slavery.50
As well as playing a central role in defining the political capacities of the 'free' subject, alcohol
was regarded as a central feature of the process of racial degeneration and generational deterior-
ation. A typical statement, found in a large placard pasted in public places by the Borough of
Hampstead in 1905, put it succinctly:

In the 1996 American debates about the role of Madness ( N e w York, 1979)). His research suggests
of government in curtailing smoking, R o b e r t Dole, that the medical men's takeover o f ' m o r a l ' treatment
whose presidential campaign was r u m o u r e d to b e was complete by the late nineteenth century in the
heavily funded by tobacco interests, has declared field of insanity, b u t as seen here, in t h e alcohol field
that for h i m smoking is n o t 'an addiction' b u t moral treatment was n o t successfully appropriated
merely 'a habit'. H o w the line between 'habit' and by physicians. Today moral is most c o m m o n l y prac-
'addiction' has been drawn at various points in tised in lay A A groups.
history is a question w h i c h cannot b e directly M u i r H o w i e , op. cit., 6.
addressed in this article, b u t it will b e addressed in Sir William Collins, Sixth Annual N o r m a n
further research. Kerr M e m o r i a l Lecture, British Journal of Inebriety,
A n d r e w Scull has d o c u m e n t e d the ways in XIII, 3 (January 1916), 146.
w h i c h medical specialists o n insanity co-opted and T h e paradox persists in today's A A groups,
eventually m o n o p o l i z e d t h e administrative a n d w h i c h veer uneasily between stressing personal
therapeutic practices k n o w n as 'moral treatment', a u t o n o m y and demanding subservience to a 'higher
practices originally pioneered by lay persons, most power' located outside the self. See Klaus Makela et
notably at t h e York Retreat, as an alternative t o al., Alcoholics Anonymous as a Mutual Self-help Move-
'medical'physical treatment (Andrew Scull, Museum ment: A Study in Eight Societies, (Madison, 1996).
October igg7 Alcoholism and free will 261


Physical Deterioration and

The report of the Committee, presented l o
Parliament by command of His Majesty,
emphasises the following facts:
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The abuse of alcoholic stimulants is a most potent and

deadly agent of physical deterioration.
If the mother as well as 1he father is given "to drink the
future of the race is imperilled.
Abstinence from alcohol is conducive to full physical
strength and activity.
Alcoholic persons are specially liable to consumption and
all inflammatory diseases.
Alcohol is really a narcotic, and often its first effect is to
weaken a man's self-control while his passions are
excited; hence the number of crimes which occur
under its influence, as well as the spreading of vice
and disease.
Lunacy figures show a large and increasing number of
men and women admitted to asylums through drink.
Alcoholism perverts the moral nature, affects the judg-
ment, and weakens the memory; it creates an
enormous loss to the community through destroying
the productiveness ofihe worker.

This placard is issued by order of the Borough Council.

G E O R G E B A R H A M , Mayor.
G. F. McCLEAEY, M.D., Medical Officer of Health.
Komnber, 1MB.
Figure 1. Placard from Borough of Hampstead
262 Social History VOL. 22 : NO. 3
The abuse of alcoholic stimulants is a most potent and deadly agent of physical deterioration.
If the mother as well as the father is given to drink the future of the race is imperilled.51
But alcoholism was unusual among the symptoms/causes of'degeneration' in that it was not
thought to be confined to criminals, to the racially other, to the poor, or to neurasthenic upper-
class women. The upper classes were thought to be born with more willpower (the good kind
of will, 'free' will, of course) than the poor, and men were similarly thought to have more
willpower than women of the same class and race; but alcoholism and other addictions cer-
tainly affected the highest strata, as many physicians noted from their own clinical experience.
Innate willpower, just like inherited capital, could not be taken for granted: it could and
indeed often was squandered and lost. Turn of the century physicians were as concerned with
restoring the willpower of the gentleman inebriate (and, to a lesser extent, of the lady with
addictions) as they were with the better known process by which working-class inebriates,
especially women, were confined to state reformatories. The differential treatment programmes
provided for different classes and genders in the UK both reflected and reproduced certain
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highly political assumptions about the unequal distribution of the preconditions of liberal sub-
jectivity among the population.


After the 1898 act, officially recognized inebriates were divided into two groups: those con-
fined to private retreats (either voluntarily and privately, or else through the legal machinery of
naming oneself as an inebriate in front of a JP) and, on the other hand, those confined to state
reformatories. The two kinds of institutions were so different that it could be argued that there
was no such thing as an inebriate in general. Most of the Inspector's annual reports begin by
clarifying the sharp differences between the two kinds of institutions and referring these back
to the alleged essential differences between naturalized populations.52 The average patient in a
retreat, Inspector Branthwaite states, is
apart from his drink mania, intellectual, gifted, and the best of companions. The average
reformatory case, on the other hand, as we have learned to know him (or more often her)
is an entirely different being. Long neglect, years of unrestrained drunkenness, immoral-
ity, and filth, have between them, created a class of person who is often on the borderland
of insanity, generally degraded morally and physically, full of criminal tendencies, a curse
to law and order, and a continual expense and charge upon the state.53
Branthwaite's move here could be described as 'administrative ontology'. Needing to justify
the facilities and the relative freedom offered in retreats, the Inspector constructs an ontology
of human difference that, not coincidental^, happens to fit with the regime of governance
Borough of Hampstead, 'Physical Deterior- remarkably large n u m b e r of articles devoted t o the
ation and Alcohol', placard reprinted on back page, question of maternal alcohol intake.
British Journal of Inebriety [1904]. The 1904 Interde- See Ian H a c k i n g , ' T h e looping effects of
partmental Committee on Physical Deterioration h u m a n kinds' in D. Sperber, D. Premack and A. J.
did much to emphasize the link between alcohol Premack (eds), Causal Cognition (Oxford, 1994),
and 'the race'; in 1904, and for a couple of years chap. 12.
afterwards, the British Journal of Inebriety had a BPP, Report of the Inspectorfor 1901, 1902, xii, 47.
October igg7 Alcoholism and free will 263

applied in those institutions. Although gender is specifically mentioned in the quote above, it
was a class-specific gender, since ladies were never sent to reformatories, however weak their
self-control. Branthwaite makes the transition in one of his reports between the section on
retreats and the section on reformatories as follows: 'On leaving the former (retreats) we com-
pletely turn our backs on the principle of voluntary admission, and with it what may justly be
called the 'drawing room' aspect of all efforts toward inebriate reform'.54
The gentlemen's retreats, full of jovial gentlemen whose 'drink mania' could be regarded as
a mere blemish, often offered ample facilities for billiards, hunting, fishing and other gentle-
manly pastimes. The most important of these homes, Dr Dalrymple s 32-bed home, reported
in 1902 that during its lifetime it had been inhabited by 37 army or navy officers, 44 doctors,
32 solicitors, 11 stockbrokers, 31 manufacturers, 22 brewers and distillers, 152 gentlemen of'no
occupation' and 59 clerks.55 Another gentlemen's home, Plasy-Yn-Dinas in Wales, advertised
itself in the following terms:
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The Home is devoted to the care of Gentlemen of the Upper Classes only, suffering from
Inebriety, Neuritis, Nervous Debility, Neurasthenia, and the Abuse of Drugs. The Plas is
a handsomely furnished modern residence, replete with every convenience, containing fine
reception-rooms, hall and billiard rooms, twenty four large and airy bedrooms, and seven
bathrooms. . . .Well-preserved Shooting over 22,000 acres, containing large grouse moors,
pheasant coverts, and enclosed rabbit warren. . . . Private golf links, lawn tennis,
croquet. . . . Terms from six Guineas a week.56

The treatment applied to these gentlemen consisted partly in the harm-reduction measure
of removing them from their usual sources of alcohol, but it also involved an important element
of individualized pastoral care. Dr Branthwaite, who had directly treated alcoholics before
becoming Inspector, stated that the propaganda of temperance societies was not useful because
it was too general, and that something 'more capable of individual application is wanted':

Every inebriate possesses more self-control than he appears to possess, or believes that he
possesses. . . . It is the possibility of awakening dormant self-control, or stimulating, by
exercise, weakened self-control, that gives the man who is treating drunkards his best
chance of success. . . . Self-control needs as much care and nursing as a delicate plant. . . .
The secret lies in personal influence, that power of support exercisable by a stronger over
a weaker will . . . in the search for additional measures the individuality of the inebriate
must be taken into account.57

Branthwaite clearly had in mind the gentleman inebriate of the Dalrymple home when he
wrote these lines, not the working-class reformatory women earlier labelled as 'morally and
physically degraded'.
Less information is available on the operation of the retreats for ladies, since the operators
of these homes did not send elaborate reports to the Inspector. Their advertisements, too,
seemed less eloquent, perhaps because ladies did not expect 22,000 acres of good shooting. A
typical advertisement published in the British Journal of Inebriety sang the praises of a private
ibid. (1900), ii. (Most issues carried the same advertise-
Extract from the annual report of the Dalrym- ment.)
pole Home in ibid., 38. BPP, Report of the Inspector for igog, 1911, xxix,
A d v e r t i s e m e n t in British Journal of Inebriety part 1, 18-19.
264 Social History VOL. 22 : NO. 3



Island Estate nearly four miles round. No public houses. Full liberty. Bracing
air. Boating. Billiards. Badminton. Fishing. Golf. Gardening. Sea Bathing, etc,
Resident Physician: DR. REED. Ladies and Gentlemen taken as Private Patients,
or under the Act. Terms, 3 to 5 guineas inclusive. Apply :
tiiuttntte Gun, T. N. CHAKRIHGTOH, Esq., Osa Island, Heybridge, Essex.
uat It laquinri i i o


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Avenue Road, Leicester.

Excellent Medical References.
Medical Attendant . . A. V. CLARKE, M.A., M.D. Cantab.
For terms and particulars apply to Mrs. MILLS.
TEIX0 A1 :
Manchester: 5213 Central.
If] 111 F I I I I M i l T a l
T ? f.
'Tactear. London.'
m,.n./9CnarlngX(Nat.) Ill H l a b H U l l U b U Tactear, Mancaejtsr.1
Glasgow.^4?7 centra?(p.o.) Mia^H^HMi.^^^MMaMMa, Surgical, Glasgow.'
Superior trained Male Nurses for Medical, Surgical, A A n n m i T I A U
Mental Dipsomania, Travelling and all cases. Nurses | ! l | a | | H r K A I I I I M
reside on the premises and are always ready for U U U l l a l l H I I U I l l
urgent calls,
urgent calls, day
day or
o night.
ng Skilledd Masseurs
Maseu and mm^^^^^mmm^mmm^mmmmmmm
goodd Valet
V l t Attendants
A t d t supplied.
lid . ^,
Th(JN u r s e s a r e l y Ir;sured
T e r m s f r o m 1 16s. 6d. M. D. GOLD, Secretary- against accident.

The Alcohol and Drug Habits, Neurasthenia and Neuritis.

Colinsburgh, Fife, Scot/and*
I Licenced under the Iricbriitcs Acts.)

FO O3sxJ
HE bouse is situated in a dry. bracing clim:ite. ^5o feet above sva-lcve!, commanding extensive sea.
T view^, and contains six Public Kounts, Uilliard Ruom (with two lull-autrd tables), Concert Hall,
and .js Uedrottins.
The ground-, are nearly JOO acres in extent, tu which (here .ire walled-m C.irdvn (two ucrt-ij, TcnnU
Lawn, Croqucl bwn, and Coll Course (g holes. i\ miles rouuUj, Lake and Stream. Kabbtt->hoottn.
These grounds arc not enclosed by phystc:il b;irnen*.
For ueatntent uod pariicuUrs apply to
JOHN Q. DONALD, L.R.C.P., L.R.C.S. (Edin.),.
TtUtrafikic AiUrtt*.; "Salubrious. Upper Uigu." Proprietor and Resident Physician.
Ttttfh*nt: No. 8, Upper LOJ^I) (I'.O. System) Nearest Railway StationKilcunquhar.
Figure 2. Advertisements
October 1997 Alcoholism and free will 265

home ('Established in 1864') for the'treatment and cure of ladies of the upper and higher middle
classes' suffering from 'inebriety, the morphia habit, and the abuse of drugs'.58
The little information available on ladies' retreats suggests that ladies who abused the bottle
or became overly fond of the opiate-based patent medicines common at this time were given
less individualized care than were their male counterparts. One ladies' home had its treatment
regime described by the Inspector in the following terms:

The treatment at The Grove may be summed up in a few words: rigid abstinence; no
drugs; healthy exercise and cheerful employment; punctuality, cleanliness, religious influ-

The scant available evidence suggests that lady patients were likely to receive a treatment
effected through the impersonal architectural and temporal controls favoured in lunatic asylums,
rather than the heroic dark-night-of-the soul individual pastoral care sometimes provided by
male physicians for their peers. Ladies would never end up with as much willpower as gentle-
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men, then; but despite the gender differences, the retreats all had the same purpose, namely the
'restoration' of weakened 'willpower'.60
By contrast, the regime of the reformatories was neither pastoral nor liberal, and little 'moral
treatment' was provided. The 1898 act instituted compulsory commitment procedures for some
habitual inebriates who had run foul of the law, and allowed for the building of special state
semi-penal institutions known as inebriate reformatories. The mechanism of the 1898 act
allowed the courts to sentence certain offenders to three-year terms in inebriate reformatories:
these offenders were either the police court recidivists repeatedly convicted of drinking
offences, or those convicted of major offences that were arguably attributed to inebriety. As
Lucia Zedner has shown, the latter group ended up, in practice, being composed almost exclu-
sively of working-class mothers who, in the opinion of the NSPCC, neglected their children.
About 450 mothers convicted of child neglect were sent to inebriate reformatories for a three-
year term (and denied access to their children while imprisoned), in contrast to a handful of
male inebriates convicted of theft, assault or manslaughter. The former group, composed mostly
of people arrested in the street for public order offences, was not quite as gender-biased, but
women still predominated, and most of the women appear to have been prostitutes.61
The skewed reformatory figures, in particular the near-complete absence from the compul-
sorily committed population of the hard-drinking violence-prone working-class man that one
might have expected to find in such institutions, certainly suggests that the inebriate
A d v e r t i s e m e n t , British Journal of Inebriety HAVE TAKEN PLACE . . .'. BPP, Report of the
(1900), ii (various issues). Other medical journals, Inspectorfor 1904, 1905, xi, 122.
including the very widely distributed Journal of the Lucia Zedner, Women, Crime and Custody in
American Medical Association, also ran such ads; this Victorian England (Oxford, 1991), chap. 6. The evi-
suggests that physicians often referred their patients dence for the prevalence of prostitutes among the
to these homes. reformatory population is found in an interview-
BPP, Report of the Inspector for 1903, 1904, x , 806. based survey carried out by the Inspector of
' T h e r e is often a difficulty in persuading m e n Reformatories in 1910. This survey revealed among
to remain in the Home a sufficiently long time to other things that 52 per cent of the women com-
derive the benefit they would by staying on after mitted under section 2 (that is, as police court
they begin to feel their nerves are restored. Gener- recidivists) had been previously convicted of prosti-
ally, at that stage, they think they are quite equal to tution-related offences. BPP, Report of the Inspector of
resist temptation, which is quite a mistake, as NO Inebriate Reformatories, 1911, xxix, part 1, 32.
266 Social History VOL. 22 : NO. 3
reformatories in Britain were involved in the policing of women's sexual and reproductive
conduct as much as or more than in the regulation of alcohol. Class was (in the UK, though
not in the US)52 as important as gender in the differentiation of treatment regimes: the separ-
ation between retreats and reformatories, while originally intended to reflect the fact that some
inebriates could indeed cure themselves through their own will, aided only by pastoral care,
whereas other inebriates were beyond reform, ended up being administered simply on a class
basis. Thus in 1903 the Inspector admitted that gentlemen and ladies, even if they broke the
law, were never sent to reformatories:

Some day, when the numbers are sufficiently large to warrant the expenditure, it will be
necessary to add accommodation for good class persons who happen to be committed
under this act. Three persons were sent to reformatories during the year under review,
who were well educated, and obviously not suited for detention under arrangements
which at present are chiefly adapted for dealing with the lower classes.63
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These three individuals were quietly transferred to those havens of free will, the private retreats.
(The Inspector does not specify whether they, like other patients at retreats, paid for their own
The reformatory population was viewed in a new, even more sinister light, during the moral
panic of the early 1900s about physical deterioration and 'mental defect'. From about 1904 on,
both the reports of the Inebriate Inspector and the proceedings of the Society for the Study of
Inebriety show the alcoholism of the poorer urban classes tending to disappear under the now
more capacious 'feeble-minded' label. Dr Mary Gordon, named Assistant Inspector of Inebriates
and put in charge of the women in reformatories, was firmly convinced that many of the women
subject to her inspection were 'imbecile' or 'insane', and that, more importantly, even those who
showed no 'outward signs of degeneration or imbecility' are nevertheless 'feeble-minded'.64
Photographs taken of the women in reformatories were used by other experts as 'evidence' for
the claim that most inebriates were 'feeble-minded'.65 Inspector Branthwaite carried out his own
extensive primary research in 1905 and concluded that upwards of 62 per cent of the persons
committed to reformatories under the Inebriates Acts were either insane or 'defective'.66
James Baumohl's w o r k suggests that although anticipated the end of the life of the Inebriate Acts,
there w e r e s o m e class differences b e t w e e n t h e Dr Gordon was hopeful that she could use an
working-class 'dashaways' a n d t h e m o r e m i d d l e - alternative legal strategy to institutionalize the
class members of the American Temperance problem women: 'The new Mental Deficiency Act,
Union, nevertheless temperance was a cross-class 1913, provides new powers for dealing with this class
movement, and its techniques were not sharply dif- of inebriates' (100). It would be interesting to see
ferentiated by class (Baumohl, op. cit.). At the turn how many former 'inebriates' were put away in
of the century, the American temperance move- institutions for the feeble-minded after the Inebri-
ment, which had a much stronger feminist influ- ate Acts ceased to have effect.
ence than either religious or medical sobriety F. W M o t t , 'Alcohol a n d insanity', British
movements in the UK, had succeeded in identify- Journal of Inebriety, i x , 1, 19. Interestingly, t h e p h o -
ing the working-class man, especially the working- tography o f inebriety was an exclusively feminized
class immigrant man, as the paradigm of 'the endeavour. Male inebriates were represented in the
alcoholic', but it is notable that in the UK system annual Reports of the Inspector with line drawings, not
the typical working-class alcoholic was female, as w i t h photographs.
Zedner has demonstrated (Zedner, op. cit.). 66
BPP, Report of the Inspector for 1905, 1906, xvi,
BPP, Report of the Inspector for 1903, 1905, xi, 136. 593ff. This report includes several pages of photo-
D r M a r y G o r d o n , speech i n British Journal of graphs of women inebriates.
Inebriety, x n , 2 (1914), 99- Probably because she
October 1997 Alcoholism and free will 267

It can be concluded, therefore, that the reformatories failed to focus on alcohol itself. They
worked largely to institutionalize working-class women who were failing to perform as mothers
or who were guilty of sexual infractions. After the 1904 panic about physical deterioration and
the related moral panic about, feeble-mindedness, both males and females convicted under the
Habitual Inebriates Act were likely to be regarded as evolutionary waste products, not as valiant
alcoholics possessing 'the moral courage of inebriety'.
The story of the acts' peculiar obsession with femininity rather than with drinking has already
been told by Lucia Zedner;67 but what neither she nor subsequent scholars have noticed is that
this process by which a medical law relating to alcoholics was used for purposes of gender-
specific and class-specific moral regulation is but an aspect of a more general failure of the acts
to constitute a distinct kind of person the alcoholic.
The internal contradictions of the Inebriates Acts, including the contradictions within the
medical definitions of alcoholism, are apparent in the deliberations of the 1908 Departmental
Committee on the Operation of the Acts.68 Despite being composed largely of physicians and
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other social-legal experts, the 1908 committee was reluctant to label all or even most excessive
drinking as a medical condition. There are many people who can control their drinking, the
committee concluded, but they simply choose not to. These 'occasional drunkards, weekend
drunkards, bank-holiday drunkards'69 have no defects in their faculties: they simply choose to
act in an immoral manner. They are therefore garden-variety drunkards. Inebriates, by contrast,
have a quasi-diagnosis: they are characterized by a 'constitutional peculiarity' that makes them
unable to exercise self-control.
Now the 'inebriate' defined in this manner seems to parallel Foucault's 'the homosexual', dis-
tinguished by an inner identity that persists whether or not the person is drinking/having sex.70
But the committee proceeded to undermine and fragment the very identity they were attempt-
ing to create. The inebriate does not really exist, they go on to conclude, for there are really
three distinct classes of inebriates.
The first class of inebriates consists of people who are often 'superior and intelligent', and
who do not really lack self-control. Their problem is not absence of control but rather an excess
of desire: they are 'persons born with an excessive degree of the common capacity of deriving
pleasure from the use of alcohol'. These are, of course, the 'gendemen inebriates', social peers of
the committee's members. The committee does not name class or gender, but the referent is
clear, particularly in the light of the Inspector's practice of transferring gentlemen inebriates who
did fall into the clutches of the law out of reformatories and into 'voluntary' retreats.
The second class of inebriates distinguished by the 1908 committee is barely distinguishable from
the feeble-minded. It consists of'persons deficient in self-control', persons of'low intelligence' or
low self-respect, who are furthermore often prone to violence. For them, even small amounts of
alcohol can result in 'outbreaks of temper, of violence', and many of their family members show
signs of other mental disorders.71 The class subtext of this discourse on mental defect is obvious.
Finally, the third class of inebriates consists of 'persons' who are obviously the 'ladies of the
upper and middle classes' who populated the retreats whose advertisements were cited above.

67 69
Z e d n e r , op. tit., chap. 6. 1908 Committee Report, 820.
68 70
BPP, Report of the Departmental Committee as to M i c h e l Foucault, The History of Sexuality: vol. 1
the Operation of the Law Relating to Inebriates, 1908, (New York, 1982).
xii, 817ft". (Cd. 4438). This will b e referred t o subse- 1908 Committee Report, 822.
quently as t h e '1908 C o m m i t t e e R e p o r t ' .
268 Social History VOL. 22 : NO. 3
The committee noted that there exists in nature a peculiar class, 'inebriates by artificial culture
rather than by nature'. These are the 'ladies of the upper and higher middle classes' interpel-
lated in the advertisements cited above; the committee notes that they often take alcohol for
pain relief or during an illness, and slowly find that they depend on it. Gradually and without
any real wickedness on their part, their 'self-control is weakened'.
The alcoholic is thus effectively erased, replaced by three quite distinct social/medical types.
The upper-class gentleman with the strong desires is simply a little too virile, but he is funda-
mentally sound. He is the prototype of the Empire-building enterprising gendeman for whom
drinking too much is an incidental and contingent characteristic. On their part, the mentally
deficient and violence-prone inebriates of the second class are characterized in terms of class-
related mental qualities; drinking again tends to disappear from view. Finally, the ladies who un-
wittingly fall into inebriety because they follow a doctor's prescription for alcohol-based
medicines do not have a drinking problem as much as a gender problem. They gullibly buy
alcohol-remedies for female maladies or follow a physician's bad advice: their problem is really
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one of excess femininity. Thus they too are not really alcoholics. The three categories having ex-
hausted the content of the 'inebriate' designation, it seems clear that there are no alcoholics left
just overly virile gentlemen, degenerate proletarians and weak-willed ladies. And to put the
final nail in the coffin of the medicalization strategy, the 1908 committee concluded that while
inebriety was in some ways a disease, it did not attack inebriates 'as influenza might'; it wasn't
really a disease, then, but rather a 'constitutive peculiarity', or even more modestly, 'a habit'.72

We have seen that the project to construct a new medicalized identity the alcoholic was
undermined at every turn. Sometimes those labelled alcoholics rebelled against the medicaliza-
tion of drinking, as appears to have been the case in the first inebriate asylum in the US; but,
more often, the proj ect of medicalization was undermined from within. Physicians, legislators and
other writers agreed that even if alcoholism was a disease (a point not necessarily granted), it was
a unique disease whose cure was more likely to be effected by the willpower of the patient than
by either scientific knowledge or clinical practice. It was, one might say, the liberal disease par
excellence: treatment therefore involved a strenuous exercise of the very liberal subjectivity or free
will thought to be impaired through too much drinking. And even those people caught within
the medical definition of 'inebriety' did not, at least in the UK, constitute a single population.
Class and gender regulation worked together to fragment 'the alcoholic' into distinct groups.
This study therefore suggests that it may prove useful to question the by now standard Fou-
cauldian thesis regarding the increasing power of governance through identity categories pro-
duced by experts. Detailed historical studies may thus help us to overcome and go beyond the
current tendency of historical sociology to overvalue the effectivity and the internal coherence
of expert discourses. Whatever the fortunes of the alcoholic in later periods, in the period
immediately preceding the First World War the alcoholic, although certainly invented, was a
perpetually failing identity This study thus seeks to highlight the importance of contradiction
and failure in the history of social, legal and moral regulation.
University of Toronto

1908 Committee Report, 822-3.