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Budd, S. (1992). Faces of Degeneration—A European Disorder, C. 1848–C. 1918: By Daniel Pick. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1989.. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 19:105-107.

(1992). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 19:105-107

Faces of Degeneration—A European Disorder, C. 1848–C. 1918: By Daniel Pick. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1989.

Review by:
Susan Budd

This is a book about, amongst other things, the influence of psychiatry on social thought, and the other way round. It centres on the idea of degeneration—moral, intellectual, social, racial and biological—as it was conceived of in France, Italy and Britain between the mid nineteenth century and the Great War.

We think of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as characterized by a belief in science, progress, and above all by the conception of man as an individual, possessed of abilities and energy, who would, if he could use them freely, bring about his own and society's well-being. But each current of thought, as it separates out and becomes stronger, creates its own specific eddies and counter-currents. The French revolution and the disturbances of 1848; the growth of cities and with them a visible class of the dispossessed, and the increased power of the state, which came to take responsibility for the identification, isolation and treatment of the insane, the imbecile, the criminal and the pauper, all contributed to a very different perspective.

In it, progress might be seen as excluding certain groups, who were morally or intellectually inadequate to its demands. Or these groups might seem increasingly threatening, in need of being identified and controlled, or social changes, such as an increasingly complex division of labour, might be seen as too demanding for much of the population; or such changes might themselves be called in question, as leading to a dangerously thin veneer of civilization, or leading not necessarily to progress, but to various kinds of relapse and decay.

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