Healing the Nation’s Mind: The fight against alcoholism in the public discourse in late 19th and early 20th Century Germany

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 Jasmin Brötz, History, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany

“Healing the Nation’s Mind: The fight against alcoholism in the public discourse on rationalisation in late nineteenth and early twentieth- century Germany”


Presented to the conference:

Alcohol, Psychiatry and Society

St Anne’s College, Oxford, 29-30 June 2017

See: All ‘Alcohol, Psychiatry and Society’ conference podcasts

Abstract: Around 1900, alcoholism became a main topic in public debates in Germany. After the first fights against hard liquor throughout the nineteenth century, the call not only for temperance, but also for complete abstinence arose. Famous psychiatrists like Auguste Forel and Emil Kraepelin provided expert knowledge that was widely distributed and discussed in popular scientific literature. The present paper argues that this increased interest was based on an idea of rationalisation as a society-changing process. On the one hand, this anticipated realisation of reason was regarded as an unavoidable, almost natural process. On the other hand, it became a potential for human action. Besides eugenic ideals of forming the nation by birth control or raising the efficiency of production by means of rationally planned and regulated working processes, the interest in healing the nation from alcoholism fit right into the self-description of a rationalised society at the turn of the century. In this discourse, inheritable degeneration of alcoholism was feared, economic losses due to alcoholism were accurately calculated, and especially before the First World War, alcohol was considered an obstacle in the competition of nations. The healing of the individual should lead to the healing of the collective. My paper focusses on the different discourses around 1900 which supported the concept of alcoholism becoming recognized as a disease category. In particular, I would like to discuss popular scientific concepts of alcoholism seen as an inheritable mental illness.



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