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Phil Dutton. See object record. Related Content. In the autumn of , Germany and its allies were exhausted.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Their armies were defeated and their hungry citizens were beginning to rebel. I will use two examples, from France and Italy respectively, to illustrate the principal arguments of the debate. The current emperor Wilhelm II appeared late in the book, after more than pages. The Italian psychiatrist Ernesto Lugaro — was more sceptical about the political implications that came with diagnosing Wilhelm II. He found the German Kaiser to be physically, mentally and morally defective, and held the same to be true for his Austro-Hungarian counterpart Franz Josef.

That Lugaro included the Habsburg emperor in his deliberations is not surprising, as the Italian troops were facing the Austro-Hungarian army along the hard-fought Isonzo front.

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Franz Josef was known for being dull rather than impulsive, and his old age allowed for speculations about dementia. Like many psychiatrists of his time he firmly believed in the possibility of collective neurosis, transmitted from a charismatic individual to a larger group of people through a somewhat opaque process of suggestion.

And like a mental patient who was a threat to society, Germany had become a dangerous nation and a threat to its neighbours. The moment the Kaiser left Germany, the questions about his mental state returned. The weeks and months after the armistice saw the publication of numerous treatises discussing the sanity of the exiled emperor. The idea that Wilhelm II suffered from a mental disorder was discussed in party newspapers, professional journals, widely circulated books and obscure brochures, and it occupied well-established psychiatrists and laypeople alike.

As I intend to show, the reason that the mental state of Wilhelm continued to haunt the German public after his flight to the Netherlands was that the topic offered a way to discuss the key questions of the post-war period: Who was to blame for the war, who was to blame for the German defeat and how should the victors treat the vanquished?

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The first post-war diagnosis of the exiled Kaiser to be published in Germany had in fact been written in neutral Switzerland. During the war, its newspaper had swayed between the majority and the left wing of the party, and in January , the publishing building would become the site of violent clashes between Spartacist revolutionaries and right-wing Freikorps militias supporting the government.

Forel was an avowed socialist who had joined the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland in He also was a devout believer in scientific progress and a resolute internationalist and pacifist, who soon after the outbreak of the First World War had published his programme for an Esperanto-speaking, teetotal, post-religious and demilitarised world society with radical eugenics. The political thrust of the argument became more visible in the second part of the article. By sweepingly blaming elites and interest groups, Forel exculpated the German nation.

An entire people, especially one as conscientious and devoted to duty as the Germans, Forel claimed, could not have recognised the pathology of Wilhelm II. Thus, the German nation could not be held accountable for the war and its ramifications. As Forel saw it, his psychiatric diagnosis of Wilhelm had direct political consequences for the post-war order. The French, British and Americans would have to give up their desire for revenge on the vanquished but blameless Germans and instead work to prevent a future repetition of the catastrophe by creating a truly democratic, global league of nations.

Among the many books, articles and pamphlets printed in quick succession, one slim booklet stood out. Die Krankheit Wilhelms II. Apart from the wish to render his argument accessible for a lay audience, establishing his role as a psychiatric expert was probably the reason why he spent more than a dozen pages on a lengthy discussion of the general concept of mental illness. Paul Tesdorpf clearly had another audience in mind than Auguste Forel, and, although similar in many aspects, his diagnosis of the Kaiser had very different political implications.

A psychiatric diagnosis of Wilhelm II, with its potential to divert the responsibility for the war away from the German nation and the responsibility for the defeat away from the army and the generals, could fit well in this agenda. Auguste Forel had used the diagnosis of Wilhelm II to attack the monarchy and the Wilhelmine elites; Paul Tesdorpf used it to defend the emperor. Wilhelm was to blame for the war, but his moral and political guilt was mitigated by his mental illness.

By personalising the political responsibility for the war and the German defeat, one could avoid talking about the shortcomings of the pre political system. Anyway, Lehmann was convinced that democracy offered no alternative. Diagnosing the Kaiser could be used to mitigate and to reallocate political and moral responsibility. At the time, putting Wilhelm II on trial seemed a real possibility.

The Kaiser stood accused not only in the court of public opinion, but also by the victorious powers. Nevertheless, Article of the treaty marked a momentous shift in international law. For the first time, a head of state was to be held personally responsible for war crimes in front of an international court. To some extent, the psychiatric diagnoses of the Kaiser, although commissioned neither by the tribunal nor the defendant, followed a similar understanding of personal war guilt.

However, this kind of psychiatric exculpation was ambiguous. As the example of the journal Irrenrechts-Reform [Reform of lunacy law] illustrates, critics of psychiatry were particularly sensitive to this double-edged function of psychiatric diagnoses.


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The ambivalence of the psychiatric diagnosis, oscillating between stigmatisation and exculpation, mirrored the conflicting emotions of the German public. One the one hand, many who had rejected the Hohenzollern monarchy before, or had grown disillusioned during war and defeat, saw Wilhelm II as the main symbol of an outdated political order that had to be overcome. The psychiatric diagnoses of Wilhelm could not neutralise this tension, but they offered a conceptual frame that could contain both the need to symbolically exorcise the Hohenzollern monarchy and to morally defend the German nation.

Diagnosing Wilhelm would be first step in a longer, international process of exposing the institutions and individuals responsible for the war in every country. During the long nineteenth century, two notions of heredity coexisted. The older one was aristocratic, with centuries-old bloodlines establishing the identity and legitimacy of noble dynasties.

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  • For modern medicine, however, bloodlines carried not legitimacy, but hereditary traits that could often be pathological. Instead of charts of high-born ancestors, physicians and early geneticists drew genealogical trees to trace the transmission of pathologies from one generation to another. The alleged mental illness of Wilhelm II raised questions about the heredity of dynastic legitimacy and pathological degeneration at a time when the nation was torn between monarchist, liberal, socialist and right-wing authoritarian notions of governance. As the anonymous writer in the Irrenrechts-Reform pointed out, the diagnoses of the former emperor were a direct result of the revolution.

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    However, not everyone was willing to discard the central figures of centuries of Prussian and German history. One of the epistemological problems of modern medicine is that, whereas different forms of illness can be observed, described and classified, health remains an elusive concept.

    In the diagnoses of Wilhelm II, the idea of a positive definition of health became an argument about political leadership, based on the juxtaposition of the image of the sick emperor and an ideal, healthy leader. As Ernesto Lugaro had recognised, diagnosing the Kaiser implied a counterfactual reading of recent history. Several of the authors who contributed to the debate about the mental state of the former emperor tackled this question.

    Germany after the First World War was in search of a leader, and the diagnoses of Wilhelm II were part of this discourse. Also, as the calls for his extradition to a war crimes tribunal had lapsed into silence, exonerating the Kaiser became less important. Wilhelm had failed, and what Germany needed now was a leader to guide the nation out of its misery. His liberator germaniae , who like Arminius would lead the Germans to glory, was Paul von Hindenburg — , Chief of the General Staff during the war and German President since To prevent the return to power of the old and degenerated aristocracy, a new concept of nobility, defined by biology and eugenics, would have to be introduced.

    Wilhelm II was not the last political figure to be diagnosed for mental defects in public and in absentia. Numerous examples from the last hundred years come to mind, and I will confine myself to mention very briefly some of the more prominent cases.

    However, even the assertive American psychiatrists of the Cold War would decide that this kind of politicisation of their expertise was a threat to the integrity of their profession. In , the magazine Fact polled psychiatrists about their assessment of the mental state of the controversial Republican senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater — As far as the sheer number of diagnoses was concerned, set a record.

    Against the background of the recent resurgence of nativist right-wing populism, however, the genre of psycho-political diagnosis flourishes again. No library descriptions found. Book description. Haiku summary. Add to Your books. Add to wishlist. Quick Links Amazon. Amazon Kindle 0 editions. Audible 0 editions. CD Audiobook 0 editions. Project Gutenberg 0 editions. Google Books — Loading Local Book Search. Swap 1 want.