The late works of Emil Kraepelin

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Octavian Buda

7th May 2009; Goethe Institute Riga, Latvia.

Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926) is identified as the founder of contemporary scientific psychiatry, as well as of psychopharmacology and psychiatric genetics. Kraepelin believed that psychiatric diseases stemmed  from biological and genetic malfunctions. His theories dominated the field of psychiatry at the start of the twentieth century, despite the later psychodynamic incursions of Sigmund Freud and his followers.

In 1882 he was appointed to a professorship at the University of Tartu (Dorpat) in Estonia and became the director of an eighty-bed University Clinic. Later, in Heidelberg around 1900, Kraepelin concluded that mental illnesses were above all social disorders, and set out his views on the body politic (Volkskörper) in his early paper on “Crime as a social disease.” In this text, Kraepelin argues that his clinical experience showed that criminal behavior correlated with what he called a 'congenitally inferior predisposition'.
At the outbreak of the First World War, he launched an unsuccessful personal campaign to establish a venereal disease national screening programme for the German army. He later joined the ‘People's Committee for the Rapid Subjugation of England’, a body dominated by right-wing academics. Like many whose whose outlook had been formed in the heyday of Bismarck's era, Kraepelin interpreted the disastrous political and military consequences of pan-Germanic nationalism as the result of an unfortunate disease of the body politic which called for prompt treatment and rehabilitation. He was, in effect, assuming the role of a psycho-hygienic Führer, applying his own brand of biologically-based medical expertise to the political and social problems of the day.

Working Group in the History of Race and Eugenics



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