The Inflammable Alcohol Issue: Alcohol Policy Argumentation in the Programs of Political Parties in Finland, Norway and Sweden from the 1960s to the 1990s

Article excerpt

In Finland, Norway and Sweden the alcohol policy positions of political parties have been related to party ideologies in complex ways. Until the 1950s, Nordic parties had brought up temperance argumentation. The consensus was enhanced by the radicalism of the 1960s. Improved alcohol availability was argued for across the political map; the dividing factor was generation. Regional, cultural and religious differences, but not political ideology, were important. Because the liberal arguments in the political arena were aimed at civilizing drinking patterns, they belonged to the tradition of political rather than market liberalism. It was only at the outset of the "backlash" period, around 1974, that the alcohol issue was "politicized" according to party ideologies. The parties shifted from the traditional temperance argument toward a more goal-oriented attention to the consequences of drinking, rather than drinking itself. Nowadays the difference in attitudes toward market liberalism has had an increasing impact on the Nordic parties' alcohol policies.

KEY WORDS: Alcohol policy, Nordic countries, political parties, argumentation, liberalization, market liberalism.

Alcohol policy has been an exceptionally political issue in the Nordic countries ever since the temperance ideology came to Northern Europe from England and North America in the mid-19th century. In Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, where societal responses to the "alcohol question" have traditionally involved state interference with the alcoholic beverage market, alcohol policy has been prominently a legal matter. Political action in the national parliaments has played a key role in determining, sometimes in very great detail, how alcohol has been available and in what way its use is regulated.

One could expect, therefore, that the alcohol policy positions of political parties would follow closely their overall ideological lines at least in three respects. First, the very relationship between the market and the state has been one of the most important divisions in political ideology. A second, related issue has been the borderline between citizens' rights and equality before the law on the one hand and, on the other hand, the state's responsibility to maintain law and order and to safeguard individuals and families against risks, especially those privately taken such as drinking problems. Third, attitudes toward moral issues such as alcohol and sexuality, often related to religion, have been important, too, in the ideological images of political parties. However, political parties have acted in the alcohol arena in ways that are not unambiguously related to their general party ideologies. The history of the temperance movement, the role of nationalism, and the political role of the socialist labor movement, among other things, have influenced the ways in which alcohol issues have been handled in the political process-sometimes in quite unpredictable ways.

This article analyzes the actions and views of the political parties as regards the social issue of alcohol, in order to shed historical and comparative light on policy-making in the alcohol policy arena in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Our analysis aims particularly at gaining a deeper understanding of the current wave of alcohol policy liberalism. It has been argued that "politics is dead," at least from the party ideological point of view. Our view, however, is that the relationship between overall party ideology and alcohol policy attitudes in the political process has become, if not stronger, at least simpler and more straightforward than it was before the onset of the current wave of liberalization in the 1980s.

The main research material used in this article is composed of the programs* of Nordic parties. Programs can be analyzed basically in two ways (Aarnio, 1998). On one hand, they are the basic documents that direct the politics of the political party. On another hand, they can be read as an independent action, in which case they form their own literary genre. …