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The Sober Revolution: The Political and Moral Economy of Alcohol in Modern France, 1954-1976

  • Author(s): Bohling, Joseph Estle
  • Advisor(s): Laqueur, Thomas
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation examines how, after World War Two, the French state and powerful interest groups shifted the debate over drink from an issue of personal morality into a battle of political economy. Contrary to the widely held Tocquevillian assumption that France has had weak and fragmented interest groups with little capacity to influence state policy, this dissertation argues that a relatively weak public health movement became influential when it struck alliances with powerful state and economic interests. Working together, the different and sometimes antagonistic interests of doctors, French and European technocrats, luxury winegrowers, and automobile and insurance groups combined to issue alarms about France's allegedly rising alcoholism and mobilize public opinion against the country's alcohol producers and industrial, mono-cropping winegrowers. This movement was abetted by important structural transformations: the fall of the Fourth Republic (1946-1958) and the foundation of the Fifth (1958-), where a strong executive branch circumvented the industrial wine lobby and Parliament; the end of empire, which meant the eventual termination of cheap Algerian wine imports; and the creation of the European Community, which adopted France's luxury Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) labeling system and discouraged industrial wine production and consumption. In short, I maintain that this anti-alcohol campaign helped prepare appellation wine producers and the state for competition in the world economy.

This dissertation uses drink as a prism through which to understand France's dramatic economic modernization after World War Two. It contributes to our understanding of France and Europe's so-called "Economic Miracle," particularly the role of the state and the wine industry in shaping European market integration. Against the common view that the wine industry has been a conservative force in French society, this dissertation argues that it played an active role in its own modernization in order to compete internationally in the context of European integration and, by the 1970s, globalization.

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