Diagnosing the Revolution

  • David FreisEmail author
Part of the Mental Health in Historical Perspective book series (MHHP)


As the First World War ended and revolutions swept away the royal dynasties of Central Europe, German-speaking psychiatrists turned their medical gaze on the mental state of the nation. The defeat of the Central Powers and the German revolution of 1918/1919 became psychopathological symptoms—the recent upheaval was seen as being caused by a collective ‘mental breakdown’ instigated by revolutionary ‘psychopaths’ exploiting the mass psychology of a mentally exhausted nation, and some prominent psychiatrists even diagnosed the revolution as a kind of hysteria of the ‘national soul’ or a ‘disturbance in the mental structure of the world’. Awkwardly situated between psychiatric and political discourse, these psycho-political diagnoses were used to discuss culpability, political leadership, the future of the polity, and the role of psychiatry in society. Forcefully asserting far-reaching socio-medical authority, psychiatrists used their diagnoses to plan the ‘mental reconstruction of the German nation’. The of two main psycho-political programmes of the inter-war period discussed in the following chapters—‘applied psychiatry’ and ‘mental hygiene’—took shape during this period.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Ethics, History and Theory of MedicineUniversity of MünsterMünsterGermany

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