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Criminal-biological theory, discourse, and practice in Germany, 1918-1945 / by Oliver Liang

Publication | Library Call Number: HV6022.G3 L53 1999

This dissertation examines the development of criminal-biology—a criminological theory which contended that certain criminals were subject to hereditary criminal tendencies—in Germany between 1918 and 1945. The study first discusses the origins of criminal-biological thinking in eighteenth-century phrenology, nineteenth-century criminal-anthropology, and finally in the rise of modern eugenics. It then examines the first applied criminal-biological service in Bavaria in 1923 and the subsequent spread of criminal-biological theory and practice in Saxony, Prussia, and other German states. The study finally turns to the role of criminal-biology in the Third Reich, where it became the dominant criminological theory and exerted an important influence on criminal law and social policy. The success of criminal-biology in Germany between 1918 and 1945 is remarkable because although it was riddled with empirical flaws, the theory became widely accepted in the renowned German criminological community. A number of factors contributed to this development. Faced with an economic and social crisis after World War I, doctors, jurists, and other bourgeois elites were attracted to a criminological theory which empowered state-oriented notions of criminal law and addressed issues of national efficiency. More importantly, the dissertation argues, criminal-biology also addressed pressing cultural concerns of Germany's bourgeoisie between 1918 and 1945. Believing that they were living through a profound cultural and moral crisis, criminologists sought to recast the bourgeois social order—weakened through the decline of religion and the rise of mass politics—on the seemingly unwavering foundations of biology. Criminal-biologists from diverse social and political backgrounds found a consensus in a theory which permitted them to recast a common bourgeois moral identity in the face of perceived cultural degeneration. This vision of a new bourgeois order continued into the Third Reich, where it constituted an significant conservative component in the supposedly revolutionary concept of the “national community.” Criminal-biology therefore did not simply represent an inherent dark side in the modernization of social policy, as a number scholarly works about German eugenics have suggested, but also an attempt to recast traditional notions of a social order in a new language of biological moralism.

Format
Book
Author/Creator
Liang, Oliver, 1966-
Published
1999
Includes bibliographical references (p. 350-373)
Language
English
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Record last modified: 2018-05-22 11:47:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/bib72628