Updated: Dec 23, 2017
Many people know that beer is the world’s third-most popular drink, after water and tea. Fewer are aware, however, of the remarkable correlation between a preference for beer, and a preference for democratic institutions. A coincidence? We are not so sure.
A priori, there are strong cognitive associations between the brown brew and rule by the people. After all, more than any other drink, beer is the quintessential beverage of the common man. While wine and cocktails may be instinctively elitist; beer, by nature, is egalitarian. So perhaps it is not so surprising that across the world, beer-drinking countries have granted universal suffrage. In the words of the franchise-expanding US President, Abraham Lincoln, for democracy to work all ‘the people’ need are ‘the real facts, and beer’.
There is another, more nuanced theory for this association, which is that, more than any other commodity, beer reflects the influence of northern Europe – which has fermented both hops and democratic fervour in equal measure. More precisely, in the countries that northern Europeans have conquered, colonised, and settled, they have brought their beery habits with them (or left behind, as in the case of Africa or South Asia). And as a recent academic paper argues, whether countries ended up with democracy or not, depends on whether they were able to resist European influence. If colonised, they were granted democratic constitutions by settlers or departing rulers, but if not, were left to develop non-democratic alternatives.
John Rawls, the American political philosopher, once waxed about ‘property-owning democracy’. Yet ‘beer-drinking democracy,’ it seems, would have been more empirically valid.