Virtuous and Vicious DrinkingROGER SCRUTON
Current concerns over "binge drinking" — by which is meant the habit of drinking large quantities of alcohol with the intention of getting drunk without the benefit of improving conversation — have brought into focus the great difference between virtuous and vicious drinking.
However, what Aristotle said about anger applies equally to drinking. It is not right to avoid anger absolutely: we must acquire the right habit — in other words, school ourselves to feel the right amount of anger towards the right person, on the right occasion and for the right length of time. The same goes for drinking. It is not just the right amount that is important, but the right context, the right company, and the right drink.
Properly used, alcohol is a stimulus to conversation, a solvent of awkwardness and a reminder that life is a blessing, and other people, too. There is a thin line between this benevolent and insightful state of mind and the phoney sentimentality to which incautious drinking so easily leads. And the ancient adage in vino veritas is as false of drunkenness as it is true of those first moves towards it. Drunken declarations of passion are infected by a dangerous falsehood, and are the fruit of vicious drinking.
Here then is my recipe for virtuous drinking. First surround yourself with friends. Then serve something that is intrinsically interesting: a wine with roots in a terroir, which reaches out to you from some favoured place, which invites discussion and exploration, and which takes attention away from your own sensations and bestows it instead on the world. Share each memory, each image and each idea with the company; strive for a sincere and relaxed affection; most of all, think of the others and forget yourself.
Alas, such occasions need organising. The urgent question, therefore, is how to drink virtuously while alone. Some advice was given by the great Chinese poet Li Po (701-762):
The moon shines now through my darkened window, and I raise a glass of Mâcon Solutré — which has the starched white simplicity of the moonlight itself — to my shadow on the floor.
Roger Scruton. "Virtuous and Vicious Drinking." New Statesman (April 24, 2006).
This article is reprinted with permission from Roger Scruton. See his web site here.
© 2006 Roger Scruton
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.