Degeneration, Protestantism, and Social Democracy: The Case of Alcoholism and “Illiberal” Policies and Practices in Denmark 1900–43

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

220 Downloads (Pure)


Through a case study of the emergence of rights-infringing “illiberal” policies and practices in the field of Danish alcohol treatment from 1900 to 1943, this article shows how new scientific ideas on “degeneration” as the cause of alcoholism and the use of force in treatment were adapted and promoted by Protestant revivalist groups and Social Democrats alike. The article analyzes how new scientific ideas resonated with the cultural ideals of Danish Social Democracy and the evangelical temperance organization the Blue Cross. The article challenges the established view in the literature that eugenic and similar illiberal practices were the result of a “high modernist” state ethos and “communitarian-organic” thinking on the left. Building on secondary literature and archival sources, it is shown that illiberal policies and practices as well as theories of heredity in the case of Danish alcohol treatment were adopted as the result of common liberal-conservative ideals regarding the value of family shared by Social Democrats and Protestant activists across the civil society and state spheres.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Science History
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)87-111
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Cite this