For the twelfth installment of the Points Interview we revisit alcohol (one of the psychoactive “Big Three”, to use David Courtwright’s term), and a marvelous account of England’s long public debate over the place of drinking in the social order. James Nicholls‘ The Politics of Alcohol: A History of the Drink Question in England (Manchester University Press, 2009) is a well-reviewed and ambitious study set to appear this August in a paperback edition, and we’re grateful to James for taking a moment to answer a few questions.
Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.
The Politics of Alcohol is my attempt at a long history of public debates around drinking in England. It’s about how drinking has been talked about, policed, worried over and legislated for. The first proper Licensing Act was passed in England in 1552, and the most recent was 2003 – so that seemed like a good way of bookending the study. At least, it seemed like a good idea at the start: five hundred years turned out to be a long time.
What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
For me, what is most interesting is the way that debates on how to regulate alcohol have always been thinly veiled debates over the nature of freedom. I try to show how changing ideas about social rights, markets freedoms, personal responsibility and state intervention have underpinned concerns about both the nature of the risks associated with alcohol and the best way to regulate its use.