Degeneration theory

Social degeneration was a widely influential concept at the interface of the social and biological sciences in the 19th century.[1][2][3][4] Degenerationists feared that civilization might be in decline and that the causes of decline lay in biological change. These ideas derived from pre-scientific concepts of heredity ("hereditary taint") with Lamarckian emphasis on biological development through purpose and habit. Degeneration concepts were often associated with authoritarian political attitudes, including militarism and racist science, as well as with fears of national decline. The theory originated in racial concepts of ethnicity, recorded in the writings of such medical scientists as Johann Blumenbach and Robert Knox. From the 1850s, it became influential in psychiatry through the writings of Bénédict Morel, and in criminology with Cesare Lombroso.[5]It also fed into the ideology of Ethnic nationalism, attracting, among others, Maurice Barrès, Charles Maurras and the Action Française. By the 1890s, in the work of Max Nordau and others, degeneration became a more general concept in social commentary.

The meaning of degeneration was poorly defined, but can be described as an organism's change from a more complex to a simpler, less differentiated form, and is associated with 19th century conceptions of biological devolution. Although rejected by Charles Darwin, the theory's application to the social sciences was supported by some evolutionary biologists, most notably Ernst Haeckel and Ray Lankester. As the 19th century wore on, the increasing emphasis on degeneration reflected an anxious pessimism about the resilience of European civilization and its possible decline and collapse.


The concept of degeneration arose during the European enlightenment and the industrial revolution - a period of profound social change and a rapidly shifting sense of personal identity. Several influences were involved.

The first related to the extreme demographic upheavals, including urbanization, in the early years of the 19th century. The disturbing experience of social change and urban crowds, largely unknown in the agrarian 18th century, was recorded in the journalism of William Cobbett, the novels of Charles Dickens and in the paintings of J M W Turner. These changes were also explored by early writers on social psychology, including Gustav Le Bon and Georg Simmel. The psychological impact of industrialisation is comprehensively described in Humphrey Jennings' masterly anthology Pandaemonium 1660 - 1886. Victorian social reformers including Edwin Chadwick, Henry Mayhew and Charles Booth voiced realistic concerns about the decline of public health in the urban life of the British working class (urban squalor), arguing for improved housing and sanitation, access to parks and recreational facilities, an improved diet and a reduction in alcohol intake. These contributions from the public health perspective were discussed by the Scottish physician Sir James Cantlie in his 1885 lectures Degeneration Amongst Londoners. The novel experience of everyday contact with the urban working classes gave rise to a kind of horrified fascination with their perceived reproductive energies which appeared to threaten middle-class culture.

Secondly, the proto-evolutionary biology and transformatist speculations of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and other natural historians—taken together with the Baron von Cuvier's theory of extinctions—played an important part in establishing a sense of the unsettled aspects of the natural world. The polygenic theories of multiple human origins, supported by Robert Knox in his book The Races of Men (1850),[6] were firmly rejected by Charles Darwin who, following James Cowles Prichard,[7] generally agreed a single African origin for the entire human species.

Thirdly, the development of world trade and colonialism, the early European experience of globalization, resulted in an awareness of the vulnerabilities of western civilization.

Finally, the growth of historical scholarship in the 18th century, exemplified by Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire (1776–1789), excited a renewed interest in the narratives of historical decline. This resonated uncomfortably with the difficulties of French political life in the post-revolutionary nineteenth century.

Degeneration theory achieved a detailed articulation in Bénédict Morel's Treatise on Degeneration of the Human Species (1857), a complicated work of clinical commentary from an asylum in Normandy (Saint Yon in Rouen) which, in the popular imagination at least, coalesced with de Gobineau's Essay on The Inequality of the Human Races (1855). Morel's concept of mental degeneration - in which he believed that intoxication and addiction in one generation of a family would lead to hysteria, epilepsy, sexual perversions, insanity, learning disability and sterility in subsequent generations - is an example of Lamarckian biological thinking and Morel's medical discussions are reminiscent of the clinical literature surrounding syphilitic infection (syphilography). Morel's psychiatric theories were taken up and advocated by his friend Philippe Buchez, and through his political influence became an official doctrine in French legal and administrative medicine.

Arthur de Gobineau came from an impoverished family (with a domineering and adulterous mother) which claimed an aristocratic ancestry; he was a failed author of historical romances and his wife was widely rumored to be a Créole from Martinique. de Gobineau nevertheless argued that the course of history and civilization was largely determined by ethnic factors, and that interracial marriage ("miscegenation") resulted in social chaos. de Gobineau built a successful career in the French diplomatic service, living for extended periods in Iran and Brazil, and spent his later years travelling through Europe, lamenting his mistreatment at the hands of his wife and daughters. He died of a heart attack in 1882 while boarding a train in Turin. His work was well received in German translation—not least by the composer Richard Wagner—and the leading German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin later wrote extensively on the dangers posed by degeneration to the German people. de Gobineau's writings exerted an enormous influence on the thinkers antecedent to the Third Reich - although they are curiously free of anti-Semitic prejudice. Quite different historical factors inspired the Italian Cesare Lombroso in his work on criminal anthropology and the notion of atavistic retrogression, probably shaped by his experiences as a young army doctor in Calabria during the risorgimento.

In England, degeneration received a scientific formulation from Ray Lankester whose detailed discussions of the biology of parasitism were hugely influential; and the poor physical condition of many recruits for the second South African war (1899-1902) caused alarm in British government circles. The psychiatrist Henry Maudsley initially argued that degenerate family lines would die out with little social consequence, but later became more pessimistic about the effects of degeneration on the British population.[8]

In the fin-de-siècle period, Max Nordau scored an unexpected success with his bestselling Degeneration (1892). Sigmund Freud met Nordau in 1885 while he was studying in Paris and was notably unimpressed by him and hostile to the degeneration concept. Degeneration fell from popular and fashionable favor around the time of the First World War, although some of its preoccupations persisted in the writings of the eugenicists and social Darwinists (for example, R. Austin Freeman). Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West (1919) captured something of the degenerationist spirit in the aftermath of the war.

Selected quotes

"The word degenerate, when applied to a people, means that the people no longer has the same intrinsic value as it had before, because it has no longer the same blood in its veins, continual adulterations having gradually affected the quality of that fact, the man of a decadent time, the degenerate man properly so-called, is a different being from the racial point of view, from the heroes of the great ages....I think I am right in concluding that the human race in all its branches has a secret repulsion from the crossing of blood...." Arthur de Gobineau (1855) Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races.

"When under any kind of noxious influence an organism becomes debilitated, its successors will not resemble the healthy, normal type of the species, with capacities for development, but will form a new sub-species, which, like all others, possesses the capacity of transmitting to its offspring, in a continuously increasing degree, its peculiarities, these being morbid deviations from the normal form - gaps in development, malformations and infirmities..." Bénédict Morel (1857) Treatise on Degeneration.

"...Any new set of conditions which renders a species' food and safety very easily obtained, seems to lead to degeneration...." Ray Lankester (1880) Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwinism.

"We stand now in the midst of a severe mental epidemic; of a sort of black death of degeneration and hysteria, and it is natural that we should ask anxiously on all sides: 'What is to come next ?' " Max Nordau (1892) Degeneration.

"It has become the fashion to regard any symptom which is not obviously due to trauma or infection as a sign of degeneracy....this being so, it may well be asked whether an attribution of "degeneracy" is of any value, or adds anything to our knowledge..." Sigmund Freud (1905) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.

Development of the degeneration concept

The earliest uses of the term degeneration can be found in the writings of Blumenbach and Buffon at the end of the 18th century, when these early writers on natural history considered scientific approaches to the human species. With the taxonomic mind-set of natural historians, they drew attention to the different ethnic groupings of mankind, and raised general enquiries about their relationships, with the idea that racial groupings could be explained by environmental effects on a common ancestral stock. This pre-Darwinian belief in the heritability of acquired characteristics does not accord with modern genetics. An alternative view of the multiple origins of different racial groups, called "polygenic theories", was also rejected by Charles Darwin, who favored explanations in terms of differential geographic migrations from a single, probably African, population.

The theory of degeneration found its first detailed presentation in the writings of Bénédict Morel (1809–1873), especially in his Traité des dégénérescences physiques, intellectuelles et morales de l'espèce humaine (Treatise on Degeneration of the Human Species) (1857). This book was published two years before Darwin's Origin of Species. Morel was a highly regarded psychiatrist, the very successful superintendent of the Rouen asylum for almost twenty years and a fastidious recorder of the family histories of his variously disabled patients. Through the details of these family histories, Morel discerned an hereditary line of defective parents infected by pollutants and stimulants; a second generation liable to epilepsy, neurasthenia, sexual deviations and hysteria; a third generation prone to insanity; and a final generation doomed to congenital idiocy and sterility. In 1857, Morel proposed a theory of hereditary degeneracy, bringing together environmental and hereditary elements in an uncompromisingly pre-Darwinian mix. Morel's contribution was further developed by Valentin Magnan (1835–1916), who stressed the role of alcohol—particularly absinthe—in the generation of psychiatric disorders.

Morel's ideas were greatly extended by the Italian medical scientist Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909) whose work was defended and translated into English by Havelock Ellis. In his L'uomo delinquente (1876), Lombroso outlined a comprehensive natural history of the socially deviant person and detailed the stigmata of the person who was born to be criminally insane. These included a low, sloping forehead, hard and shifty eyes, large, handle-shaped ears, a flattened or upturned nose, a forward projection of the jaw, irregular teeth, prehensile toes and feet, long simian arms and a scanty beard and baldness. Lombroso also listed the features of the degenerate mentality, supposedly released by the disinhibition of the primitive neurological centres. These included apathy, the loss of moral sense, a tendency to impulsiveness or self-doubt, an unevenness of mental qualities such as unusual memory or aesthetic abilities, a tendency to mutism or to verbosity, excessive originality, preoccupation with the self, mystical interpretations placed on simple facts or perceptions, the abuse of symbolic meanings and the magical use of words, or mantras. Lombroso, with his concept of atavistic retrogression, suggested an evolutionary reversion, complementing hereditary degeneracy, and his work in the medical examination of criminals in Turin resulted in his theory of criminal anthropology—a constitutional notion of abnormal personality that was not actually supported by his own scientific investigations. In his later life, Lombroso developed an obsession with spiritualism, engaging with the spirit of his long dead mother.

In 1892, Max Nordau, an expatriate Hungarian living in Paris, published his extraordinary bestseller Degeneration, which greatly extended the concepts of Bénédict Morel and Cesare Lombroso (to whom he dedicated the book) to the entire civilization of western Europe, and transformed the medical connotations of degeneration into a generalized cultural criticism. Adopting some of Charcot's neurological vocabulary, Nordau identified a number of weaknesses in contemporary Western culture which he characterized in terms of ego-mania, i.e., narcissism and hysteria. He also emphasized the importance of fatigue, enervation and ennui. Nordau, horrified by the anti-Semitism surrounding the Dreyfus affair, devoted his later years to Zionist politics. Degeneration theory fell from favour around the time of the First World War because of an improved understanding of the mechanisms of genetics as well as the increasing vogue for psychoanalytic thinking. However, some of its preoccupations lived on in the world of eugenics and social Darwinism. It is notable that the Nazi attack on western liberal society was largely couched in terms of degenerate art with its associations of racial miscegenation and fantasies of racial purity—and included as its target almost all modernist cultural experiment.

Degenerationist devices

Towards the close of the 19th century, in the fin-de-siècle period, something of an obsession with decline, descent and degeneration invaded the European creative imagination, partly fuelled by widespread misconceptions of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Among the main examples are the symbolist literary work of Charles Baudelaire, the Rougon-Macquart novels of Émile Zola, Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde—published in the same year (1886) as Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis—and, subsequently, Oscar Wilde's only novel (containing his aesthetic manifesto) The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). In Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), Thomas Hardy explores the destructive consequences of a family myth of noble ancestry. Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen showed a sensitivity to degenerationist thinking in his theatrical presentations of Scandinavian domestic crises. Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan (1890/1894), with its emphasis on the horrors of psychosurgery, is frequently cited as an essay on degeneration. A scientific twist was added by H.G. Wells in The Time Machine (1895) in which Wells prophesied the splitting of the human race into differently degenerate forms, and again, a little later, in his The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896). Joseph Conrad alludes to degeneration theory in his treatment of political radicalism in the 1907 novel The Secret Agent.

In her influential study The Gothic Body,[9] Kelly Hurley draws attention to the literary device of the abhuman as a representation of damaged personal identity, and to lesser-known authors in the field, including Richard Marsh (1857-1915), author of The Beetle (1897), and William Hope Hodgson (1877–1918), author of The Boats of the Glen Carrig, The House on the Borderland and The Night Land. In 1897, Bram Stoker published Dracula, an enormously influential Gothic novel featuring the parasitic vampire Count Dracula in an extended exercise of reversed imperialism. Unusually, Stoker makes explicit reference to the writings of Lombroso and Nordau in the course of the novel. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories include a host of degenerationist tropes, perhaps best illustrated (drawing on the ideas of Serge Voronoff) in The Adventure of the Creeping Man.

See also


  1. ^ Herman, Arthur (1997) The Idea of Decline in Western History New York, London etc.: The Free Press. In Chapters 2 and 4, Herman provides a detailed description of the cultural context of degeneration.
  2. ^ Pick, Daniel (1989) Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c.1848 - c.1918 Cambridge University Press. The definitive account of degeneration theory.
  3. ^ Dowbiggin, Ian (1985) Degeneration and hereditarianism in French mental medicine 1840-1890: psychiatric theory as ideological adaptation (in) The Anatomy of Madness, Vol. One: People and Ideas edited by Bynum William F., Porter, Roy and Shepherd, Michael, London and New York: Tavistock Publications, pp 188-232. Scholarly overview of the psychiatric aspects of degeneration.
  4. ^ Oppenheim, Janet (1991) "Shattered Nerves": Doctors, Patients and Depression in Victorian England New York, Oxford: OUP, see especially Chapter 8, pp 265-292, "Nervous Degeneration".
  5. ^ Horn, David G. (2003) The Criminal Body: Lombroso and the Anatomy of Deviance London and New York: Routledge
  6. ^ Knox, Robert (1850) The Races of Men: A Fragment London: Renshaw.
  7. ^ Prichard, J.C. (1813) Researches into the Physical History of Man London: John and Arthur Arch. On page 238, Prichard writes: "...the primitive stock of men were probably Negroes, and I know of no argument to be set on the other side."
  8. ^ Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 1880-1940 Pg 81
  9. ^ Hurley, Kelly (1996) The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism and Degeneration at the Fin-de-siècle Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press

External links

  • Lawrence, Christopher (2010). "Degeneration". The Lancet. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  • Degeneration, Nordau and Nietzsche
Bénédict Morel

Bénédict Augustin Morel (22 November 1809 – 30 March 1873) was a French psychiatrist born in Vienna, Austria. He was an influential figure in the field of degeneration theory during the mid-19th century.

Cesare Lombroso

Cesare Lombroso (, Italian: [ˈtʃeːzare lomˈbroːzo; ˈtʃɛː-; -oːso]; born Ezechia Marco Lombroso; 6 November 1835 – 19 October 1909), was an Italian criminologist, scientific racist, physician, and founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology. Lombroso rejected the established classical school, which held that crime was a characteristic trait of human nature. Instead, using concepts drawn from physiognomy, degeneration theory, psychiatry and Social Darwinism, Lombroso's theory of anthropological criminology essentially stated that criminality was inherited, and that someone "born criminal" could be identified by physical (congenital) defects, which confirmed a criminal as savage or atavistic. These theories do not have widespread support by scientists in Western countries.

Cultural Bolshevism

Cultural Bolshevism (German: Kulturbolschewismus), sometimes referred to specifically as "art Bolshevism" or "music Bolshevism", was a term widely used by critics in Nazi Germany to denounce modernist movements in the arts, particularly when seeking to discredit more nihilistic forms of expression. This first became an issue during the 1920s in Weimar Germany. German artists such as Max Ernst and Max Beckmann were denounced by Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Party and other right-wing nationalists as "cultural Bolsheviks".


Declinism is the belief that a society or institution is tending towards decline. Particularly, it is the predisposition, possibly due to cognitive bias, such as rosy retrospection, to view the past more favourably and future negatively. “The great summit of declinism,” according to Adam Gopnick, "was established in 1918, in the book that gave decline its good name in publishing: the German historian Oswald Spengler’s best-selling, thousand-page work The Decline of the West."

Dementia praecox

Dementia praecox (a "premature dementia" or "precocious madness") is a disused psychiatric diagnosis that originally designated a chronic, deteriorating psychotic disorder characterized by rapid cognitive disintegration, usually beginning in the late teens or early adulthood. Over the years, the term "dementia praecox" was gradually replaced by "schizophrenia", which remains in current diagnostic use.

The term "dementia praecox" was first used in 1891 by Arnold Pick (1851–1924), a professor of psychiatry at Charles University in Prague. His brief clinical report described the case of a person with a psychotic disorder resembling hebephrenia. German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin (1856–1926) popularised it in his first detailed textbook descriptions of a condition that eventually became a different disease concept and relabeled as schizophrenia. Kraepelin reduced the complex psychiatric taxonomies of the nineteenth century by dividing them into two classes: manic-depressive psychosis and dementia praecox. This division, commonly referred to as the Kraepelinian dichotomy, had a fundamental impact on twentieth-century psychiatry, though it has also been questioned.The primary disturbance in dementia praecox was seen to be a disruption in cognitive or mental functioning in attention, memory, and goal-directed behaviour. Kraepelin contrasted this with manic-depressive psychosis, now termed bipolar disorder, and also with other forms of mood disorder, including major depressive disorder. He eventually concluded that it was not possible to distinguish his categories on the basis of cross-sectional symptoms.

Kraepelin viewed dementia praecox as a progressively deteriorating disease from which no one recovered. However, by 1913, and more explicitly by 1920, Kraepelin admitted that while there may be a residual cognitive defect in most cases, the prognosis was not as uniformly dire as he had stated in the 1890s. Still, he regarded it as a specific disease concept that implied incurable, inexplicable madness.

Die transitorischen Störungen des Selbstbewusstseins

Die transitorischen Störungen des Selbstbewusstseins - Ein Beitrag zur Lehre vom Transitorischen Irresein in klinisch-forensischer Hinsicht für Aerzte, Richter, Staatsanwälte und Vertheidiger (English: Transitory Disorders of Consciousness) is an 1868 book by the Austro-German psychiatrist and author Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902). The book comprises seven chapters, each dealing with a different kind of transient disturbance of consciousness, and it is meant to be a handbook for physicians, judges, prosecutors and defenders. At the beginning of each chapter, Krafft-Ebing introduces the general theme and discusses its relevance in a clinical-forensic context. He then precedes with the illustration of several case histories for each subsection. The book was reprinted and published by Hansebooks in January 2017.

Eraclie Sterian

Eraclie Sterian (also known as Eracle or Eracli Sterian; November 23, 1872 – 1948) was a Romanian physician, writer, and political activist, known for introducing sexology and sex education in his country. Trained as a pathologist, he established his reputation as a popularizer of conventional and alternative medicine (primarily hydrotherapy), putting out the influential magazine Medicul Poporului. His early work also dealt with life extension practices and warnings about the effects of pollution. Sterian was additionally a publisher of textbooks and literary works, and author of dramas—including the pro-natalist propaganda play, Tout pour l'enfant, performed at the Théâtre Antoine in 1913.

As a doctor and a social critic, Sterian held unconventional views on eugenics, human evolution, and the social role of sexual experiences. These caused a lasting scandal for their challenging of ancestral taboos—although, overall, Sterian remained a conservative and an avowed Christian, who claimed to have found a cure for compulsive masturbation. His sex manuals, aimed at a young audience, enjoyed success nationwide, and went through several editions in the 1910s.

A Colonel in the Romanian Land Forces, Sterian was also an expert of typhus, having taken part in the World War I campaign against epidemics. In old age, Sterian focused on defending his status as a property owner in Bucharest, founding an Association of Mortgaged Owners and Debtors, and then joining the nation-wide League Against Usury. He was survived by his son, the writer-politician Paul Sterian, and by his daughter in law, painter Margareta Sterian.

Ethnic nationalism

Ethnic nationalism, also known as ethno-nationalism, is a form of nationalism wherein the nation is defined in terms of ethnicity.The central theme of ethnic nationalists is that "nations are defined by a shared heritage, which usually includes a common language, a common faith, and a common ethnic ancestry". It also includes ideas of a culture shared between members of the group, and with their ancestors.

While some types of ethnic nationalism are firmly rooted in the idea of ethnicity (or race) as an immutable inherited characteristic (for example white nationalism), often ethnic nationalism also manifests in the assimilation of minority ethnic groups into the dominant group (for example as with Italianisation). This assimilation may or may not be predicated on a belief in some common ancestry with assimilated groups (for example with Germanisation in the Second World war).

While in some cases the division between ethnic and civic nationalism is clear (France being the archetypal example of a national identity rooted in civic and linguistic nationalism), in other cases the division is less clear, for example with Turkish nationalism.

Fin de siècle

Fin de siècle (French pronunciation: ​[fɛ̃ də sjɛkl]) is a French term meaning end of century, a term which typically encompasses both the meaning of the similar English idiom turn of the century and also makes reference to the closing of one era and onset of another. The term is typically used to refer to the end of the 19th century. This period was widely thought to be a period of degeneration, but at the same time a period of hope for a new beginning. The "spirit" of fin de siècle often refers to the cultural hallmarks that were recognized as prominent in the 1880s and 1890s, including ennui, cynicism, pessimism, and "...a widespread belief that civilization leads to decadence."The term "fin de siècle" is commonly applied to French art and artists, as the traits of the culture first appeared there, but the movement affected many European countries. The term becomes applicable to the sentiments and traits associated with the culture, as opposed to focusing solely on the movement's initial recognition in France. The ideas and concerns developed by fin de siècle artists provided the impetus for movements such as symbolism and modernism.The themes of fin de siècle political culture were very controversial and have been cited as a major influence on fascism and as a generator of the science of geopolitics, including the theory of lebensraum. Professor of Historical Geography at the University of Nottingham, Michael Heffernan, and Mackubin Thomas Owens wrote about the origins of geopolitics: "The idea that this project required a new name in 1899 reflected a widespread belief that the changes taking place in the global economic and political system were seismically important." The "new world of the Twentieth century would need to be understood in its entirety, as an integrated global whole." Technology and global communication made the world "smaller" and turned into a single system; the time was characterized by pan-ideas and a utopian "one-worldism", proceeding further than pan-ideas.

What we now think of geopolitics had its origins in fin de siècle Europe in response to technological change ... and the creation of a "closed political system" as European imperialist competition extinguished the world's "frontiers."

The major political theme of the era was that of revolt against materialism, rationalism, positivism, bourgeois society, and liberal democracy. The fin-de-siècle generation supported emotionalism, irrationalism, subjectivism, and vitalism, while the mindset of the age saw civilization as being in a crisis that required a massive and total solution.

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (French pronunciation: ​[ʒɔʁʒ lwi ləklɛʁ kɔ̃t də byfɔ̃]; 7 September 1707 – 16 April 1788) was a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste.

His works influenced the next two generations of naturalists, including Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Georges Cuvier. Buffon published thirty-six quarto volumes of his Histoire Naturelle during his lifetime; with additional volumes based on his notes and further research being published in the two decades following his death.Ernst Mayr wrote that "Truly, Buffon was the father of all thought in natural history in the second half of the 18th century".Buffon held the position of intendant (director) at the Jardin du Roi, now called the Jardin des Plantes.

Henry Maudsley

Henry Maudsley FRCP (5 February 1835 – 23 January 1918) was a pioneering British psychiatrist, commemorated in the Maudsley Hospital in London and in the annual Maudsley Lecture of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

History of psychopathy

Psychopathy, from psych (soul or mind) and pathy (suffering or disease), was coined by German psychiatrists in the 19th century and originally just meant what would today be called mental disorder, the study of which is still known as psychopathology. By the turn of the century 'psychopathic inferiority' referred to the type of mental disorder that might now be termed personality disorder, along with a wide variety of other conditions now otherwise classified. Through the early 20th century this and other terms such as 'constitutional (inborn) psychopaths' or 'psychopathic personalities', were used very broadly to cover anyone who violated legal or moral expectations or was considered inherently socially undesirable in some way.

The term sociopathy was popularized from 1929/30 by an American psychologist, originally intended as an alternative term to indicate that the defining feature was a pervasive failure to adhere to societal norms in a way that could harm others. The term psychopathy also gradually narrowed to the latter sense, based on interpretations of the work of a Scottish psychiatrist and especially checklists popularized by an American psychiatrist and later a Canadian psychologist. Psychopathy became defined in these quarters as a constellation of personality traits allegedly associated with immorality, criminality, or in some cases socioeconomic success.

Official psychiatric diagnostic manuals adopted a mixture of approaches, eventually going by the term antisocial or dissocial personality disorder. In the meantime concepts of psychopaths/sociopaths had become notorious among the general public and as characters in fiction.

James Cantlie

Sir James Cantlie (17 January 1851 – 28 May 1926) was a Scottish physician. He was a pioneer of first aid, which in 1875 was unknown: even the police had no knowledge of basic techniques such as how to stop serious bleeding and applying splints. He was also influential in the study of tropical diseases and in the debates concerning degeneration theory.

Cantlie was born in Banffshire and took his first degree at Aberdeen University, carrying out his clinical training at Charing Cross Hospital, London.

In 1877, Cantlie became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and Assistant Surgeon to Charing Cross Hospital; in 1886 he became Surgeon at Charing Cross. In 1888 he resigned to take up a position in Hong Kong. While in the colony, he co-founded the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, which later grew into the University of Hong Kong. One of his first pupils at the College was the future Chinese leader Sun Yat-sen. Cantlie's work in Hong Kong included investigations into leprosy and into various tropical diseases; in 1894 he encountered an outbreak of plague.

In 1896, poor health – related to his unstinting work as a researcher and practicing physician – forced Cantlie to return to London. Later that year, Dr. Sun visited him, and was kidnapped by the Imperial Chinese secret service. Sun was imprisoned in the Chinese Legation, and might well have been shipped back to China and executed had it not been for Cantlie, who led a media campaign which not only succeeded in releasing Dr. Sun, but also made him a hero in Britain.Cantlie was involved in the setting up of the Journal of Tropical Medicine in 1898, and the founding of London School of Tropical Medicine in 1899. He was a founder in 1907 of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. During the early years of the twentieth century, and particularly during the First World War (1914–1919), Cantlie's work centred on the provision and training of ambulance services.

On his death he was buried in St John the Baptist church, Cottered, Herts.

He is the father of Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Cantlie, as well as great grandfather of John Cantlie.

Julius Ludwig August Koch

Julius Ludwig August Koch (; German: [ˈkɔχ]; 4 December 1841, Laichingen, Württemberg – 25 June 1908, Zwiefalten) was a German psychiatrist whose work influenced later concepts of personality disorders.Koch was born in the town of Laichingen in the state of Württemberg. His father was a general practitioner physician who headed his own private insane asylum.

Koch worked as a chemist for several years and then studied medicine in Tübingen from 1863 to 1867. He subsequently worked as a physician, later joining a psychiatric hospital. In 1874 he became director of the state mental hospital in Zwiefalten (Württemberg).Described as deeply rooted in a Christian faith, Koch's first works were philosophically-minded. In 1882 he published "Epistomological Investigations" (Erkenntnistheoretische Untersuchungen), and in 1885 "Outline of Philosophy" (Grundriss der Philosophie). In 1886 his "Reality and its Knowledge" (Die Wirklichkeit und ihre Erkenntnis) was an attempt to join the philosophy of Immanuel Kant with Christian theories.

Koch argued that the body and soul are part of the natural material world, while the mind (geist) is the way through which freedom, but also a moral claim by God, are exercised. He felt that philosophical trends against the Christianity of a nation would lead to afflictions and dangers. Overall his philosophy has been described as homespun and quite dogmatic, especially with regard to the religious elements.

Oswald Bumke

Oswald Bumke (25 September 1877 – 5 January 1950) was a noted German psychiatrist and neurologist.

Scientific racism

Scientific racism (sometimes referred to as race biology), is the pseudoscientific belief that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism (racial discrimination), racial inferiority, or racial superiority. Historically, scientific racist ideas received credence in the scientific community but are no longer considered scientific.Scientific racism employs anthropology (notably physical anthropology), anthropometry, craniometry, and other disciplines or pseudo-disciplines, in proposing anthropological typologies supporting the classification of human populations into physically discrete human races, that might be asserted to be superior or inferior. Scientific racism was common during the period from 1600s to the end of World War I. Since the second half of the 20th century, scientific racism has been criticized as obsolete and discredited, yet historically has persistently been used to support or validate racist world-views, based upon belief in the existence and significance of racial categories and a hierarchy of superior and inferior races.After the end of World War II, scientific racism in theory and action was formally denounced, especially in UNESCO's early antiracist statement "The Race Question" (1950): "The biological fact of race and the myth of 'race' should be distinguished. For all practical social purposes 'race' is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. The myth of 'race' has created an enormous amount of human and social damage. In recent years, it has taken a heavy toll in human lives, and caused untold suffering". Such "biological fact" has not reached a consensus as developments in human evolutionary genetics showed that human genetic differences are often gradual.The term "scientific racism" is generally used pejoratively as applied to more modern theories, as in The Bell Curve (1994). Critics argue that such works postulate racist conclusions unsupported by available evidence such as a connection between race and intelligence. Publications such as the Mankind Quarterly, founded explicitly as a "race-conscious" journal, are generally regarded as platforms of scientific racism for publishing articles on fringe interpretations of human evolution, intelligence, ethnography, language, mythology, archaeology, and race subjects.

Social death

Social death is the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society. It is used by sociologists such as Zygmunt Bauman and historians of slavery and the Holocaust to describe the part played by governmental and social segregation in that process. Examples of social death are:

Racial and gender exclusion, persecution, slavery, and apartheid.

Governments can exclude individuals or groups from society. Examples: Protestant minority groups in early modern Europe; ostracism in Ancient Athens; criminals; prostitutes, outlaws

Institutionalization and segregation of those labeled with a mental illness.

Change in the identity of an individual. This was a major theme during the Renaissance.It could be said that the degeneration theory and theories similar to this theory are the most extreme examples of social death. The idea of degeneration has been popular in both right-wing and left-wing politics. Both left-wing and right-wing politics have used the word decadence to describe social groups whose social, moral, religious, aesthetic, or political commitments tend towards the inhibition of any or all forms of progress (as used by some critics on the left to describe their opponents on the right) or towards the undermining of fundamental forms of order (as used by some critics on the right to describe their opponents on the left). In either political optic, the forces of decadence may be internal or external; internally, the members of political opposition may represent those who have allowed essential ideals to lapse from their view of the world; externally, members of another society may be considered as cherishing ideals which introduce forces of collapse into the worlds wherein they are immigrants.

The Kallikak Family

The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness was a 1912 book by the American psychologist and eugenicist Henry H. Goddard. The work was an extended case study of Goddard's for the inheritance of "feeble-mindedness," a general category referring to a variety of mental disabilities including intellectual disability, learning disabilities, and mental illness. Goddard concluded that a variety of mental traits were hereditary and that society should limit reproduction by people possessing these traits.

The name Kallikak is a pseudonym used as a family name throughout the book. Goddard coined the name from the Greek words καλός (kallos) meaning good and κακός (kakos) meaning bad.


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