The Alcoholic Empire:
Vodka & Politics in Late Imperial Russia
Distinguished professor, historian and author Patricia Herlihy specialized in Russia and the Ukraine. The Alcoholic Empire: Vodka & Politics in Late Imperial Russia is a masterpiece that focuses on the stress between an empire that received significant funds - up to a third of its total budget - from the sale of alcohol to a population suffering from significant alcoholism and fired up by various temperance movements. Herlihy fascinates with her description of how deep alcohol and alcoholism had penetrated Russian life and culture. She lays bare the fissures slowly ripping apart per-revolutionary Russian Society as the Empire uses government dollars to steer temperance movements into admonishing binge drinking while promoting moderate daily consumption. Various factions within the regime used temperance in their jockeying for political power while outside the regime, temperance focused distaste for the status quo. Herlihy explains how the Czarist regime ended up with both a monopoly on alcohol sales and a monopoly on temperance. Government dollars corrupted and took over groups advocating reform and funded education, libraries, theater, art and other functions to divert attention from alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Government money - raised by increased alcohol sales - promoted medical and moral causes and solutions to alcoholism while discouraging focus on social causes. While leading the temperance movements, the Czarist regime made it illegal to advocate absolute alcohol abstinence. The Czarist regime also funded monumental public buildings to demonstrate their commitment while at the same time promoting volumes of research justifying state inaction. More than a gripping study of temperance movements and alcoholism, this book is a profound case study on how governments make it look like they are doing a lot while doing nothing to solve the problems they are addressing due to their own vested interests in the status quo. In her epilogue, Herlihy notes that: "A sad and ironic footnote is that with all the efforts of the state to generate profits from the sale of Vodka, it has been estimated that during the seventy-year rule of the Soviets, they lost four times as much wealth in wasted man-hours from alcohol as they took in as revenue." This is a profound, fascinating and important book.