Online Encyclopedia

LIQUOR LAWS

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V16, Page 760 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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LIQUOR LAWS. In most Western countries the sale of alcoholic liquor is regulated by law. The original and principal object is to check the evils arising from the immoderate use of such liquor, in the interest of public order, morality and health; a secondary object is to raise revenue from the traffic. The form and the stringency of the laws passed for these purposes vary very widely in different countries according to the habits of the people and the state of public opinion. The evils which it is desired to check are much greater in some countries than in others. Generally speaking they are greater in northern countries and cold and damp climates than in southern and more sunny ones. Climate has a marked influence on diet for physiological reasons over which we have no control. The fact is attested by universal experience and is perfectly natural and inevitable, though usually ignored in those international comparisons of economic conditions and popular customs which have become so common. It holds good both of food and drink. The inhabitants of south Europe are much less given to alcoholic excess than those of central Europe, who again are more temperate than those of the north. There is even a difference between localities so near together as the east and west of Scotland. The chairman of the Prison Commissioners pointed out before a British royal commission in the year 1897 the greater prevalence of drunkenness in the western half, and attributed it in part to the dampness of the climate on the western coast. But race also has an influence. The British carry the habit of drinking wherever they go, and their colonial descendants retain it even in hot and dry climates. The Slav peoples and the Magyars in central Europe are much more intemperate than the Teutonic and Latin peoples living under similar climatic conditions. These natural differences lead, in accordance with the principle discerned and enunciated by Montesquieu, to the adoption of different laws, which vary with the local conditions. But social laws of this character also vary with the state of public opinion, not only in different countries but in the same country at different times. The result is that the subject is in a state of incessant flux. There are not only many varieties of liquor laws, but also frequent changes in them, and new experiments are constantly being tried. The general tendency is towards increased stringency, not so much because the evils increase, though that happens in particular places at particular times, as because public opinion moves broadly to-wards increasing condemnation of excess and increasing reliance on legislative interference. The first is due partly to a general process of refining manners, partly to medical influence and the growing attention paid to health; the second to a universal tendency which seems inherent in democracy. Liquor laws may be classified in several ways, but the most useful way for the present purpose will be to take the principal methods of conducting the traffic as they exist, under four main headings, and after a brief explanation give some account of the laws in the principal countries which have adopted them. The four methods are: (I) licensing or commercial sale for private profit under a legal permit; (2) sale by authorized bodies not for private profit, commonly known as the Scandinavian or company system; (3) state monopoly; (4) prohibition. It is not a scientific classification, because the company system is a form of licensing and prohibition is no sale at all; but it follows the lines of popular discussion and is more intelligible than one of a more technical character would be. All forms of liquor legislation deal mainly with retail sale, and particularly with the sale for immediate consumption on the spot. I. Licensing.—This is by far the oldest and the most widely adopted method; it is the one which first suggests itself in the natural course, of things. Men begin by making and selling a thing without let or hindrance to please themselves. Then objections are raised, and when they are strong or general enough the law interferes in the public interest, at first mildly; it says in effect—This must not go on in this way or to this extent; there must be some control, and permission will only be given to duly authorized persons. Such persons are licensed or permitted to carry on the traffic under conditions, and there is obviously room for infinite gradations of strictness in granting permission and infinite variety in the conditions imposed. The procedure may vary from mere notification of the intention to open an establishment up to a rigid and minutely detailed system of annual licensing laid down by the law. But in all cases, even when mere notification is required, the governing authority has the right to refuse permission or to withdraw it for reasons given, and so it retains the power of control. At the same time holders of the permission may be compelled to pay for the privilege and so contribute to the public revenue. The great merit of the licensing system is its perfect elasticity, which permits adjustment to all sorts of conditions and to the varying demands of public opinion. It is in force in the United Kingdom, which first adopted it, in most European countries, in the greater part of North America, including both the United States and Canada, in the other British dominions and elsewhere. 2. The Scandinavian or Company System.—The principle of this method is the elimination of private profit on the ground that it removes an incentive to the encouragement of excessive drinking. A monopoly of the sale of liquor is entrusted to a body of citizens who have, or are supposed to have, no personal interest in it, and the profits are applied to public purposes. The system, which is also called " disinterested management," is adopted in Sweden and Norway; and the principle has been applied in a modified form in England and Finland by the operation of philanthropic societies which, however, have no monopoly but are on the same legal footing as ordinary traders. 3. State Monopoly.—As the name implies, this system consists in retaining the liquor trade in the hands of the state, which thus secures all the profit and is at the same time able to exercise complete control. It is adopted in Russia, in certain parts of the United States and, in regard to the wholesale trade, in Switzer-land. 4. Prohibition.—This may be general or local; in the latter case it is called " local option " or " local veto." The sale of liquor is made illegal in the hope of preventing drinking altogether or of diminishing it by making it more difficult. General prohibition has been tried in some American states, and is still in force in a few; it is also applied to native races, under civilized rule, both in Africa and North America. Local prohibition is widely in force in the United States, Canada and Australasia, Sweden and Norway. In certain areas in other countries, including the United Kingdom, the sale of liquor is in a sense prohibited, not by the law, but by the owners of the property who refuse to allow any public-houses. Such cases have nothing to do with the law, but they are mentioned here because reference is often made to them by advocates of legal prohibition.
End of Article: LIQUOR LAWS
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