Journal Article

A Reinvented Public: ‘Lunatics' Rights’ and Bourgeois Populism in the Kaiserreich

Ann Goldberg

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 21, issue 2, pages 159-182
Published in print April 2003 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online April 2003 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
A Reinvented Public: ‘Lunatics' Rights’ and Bourgeois Populism in the Kaiserreich

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Roughly between 1890 and 1914, stories of psychiatric abuse and false incarcerations became the stuff of scandal, parliamentary debate and an organized lunatics' rights movement in Germany. A grassroots movement of the ‘mad’, lunatics' rights, this article argues, suggests both the possibilities and the limits, the emancipatory and repressive features, of bourgeois populism in the Kaiserreich. On the one hand, in constructing the figure of psychiatric abuse, lunatics' rights made possible a new populist civil rights movement that utilized and extended the democratic functions of the public sphere. In their self-revelatory pamphlets, the ‘mad’ invented new literary hybrids that commodified private experience while politicizing madness. They did so by recasting personal traumas within the language of law and the nation-state, i.e., by nationalizing and juridifying it, as well as by using the tools of mass democracy (lobbying, pressure groups, etc.). On the other hand, lunatics' rights was compatible with völkisch, antisemitic thought, and its critique of psychiatry was limited both by its legalism and by its class and gender biases.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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