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Spiegel, R. (1986). Freud's Refutation of Degenerationism: A Contribution to Humanism. Contemp. Psychoanal., 22:4-24.

(1986). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 22:4-24

Freud's Refutation of Degenerationism: A Contribution to Humanism

Rose Spiegel, M.D.


FREUD MADE A PROFOUND CONTRIBUTION that has been overlooked—namely, his ongoing attack on the theory of Degeneration as the essential cause of ailments in medicine, including psychiatry, and of countless disturbances between individuals and society. Freud's challenge throughout his professional life was a powerful force toward the phasing out of this quasi-scientific belief-system in Europe—with the tragic exception of the Hitler/Nazi period.

What was Degenerationism? This concept flourished from the mid-19th century in France, Germany, Great Britain, in the Scandinavian countries, and to some extent in the United States. For the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, this theory, not always openly so designated, was the basis for laws of sterilization in Great Britain and the United States, among other countries, and entered into the founding of eugenics and into the promulgation of euthanasia.


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