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ERICKSON, Edward James, Jr. "The Anarchist Disorder: The Psychopathology of Terrorism in Late Nineteenth-Century France."
Article published on 5 June 2004
last modification on 30 November 2015
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Ph. D, The University of Iowa, 1998. 238 p. Supervisor: REBECCA E. ROGERS

DAI 1999 60(2): 517-A.

"This dissertation is a cultural history which examines late nineteenth-century French and Italian criminological literature which claimed to have discovered the underlying psychopathological causes of the contemporary outbreak of anarchist terrorism. It not only explores the ideas of the psychiatrists and criminal anthropologists who contributed to this literature, but also investigates the reception and utilization of these criminological theories by French politicians, jurists, journalists, social commentators, and cultural critics

The European criminological discourse on anarchism was framed by the theories of Cesare Lombroso and the “Italian school” of criminology, which categorized anarchists as either atavistic “born criminals” or victims of epilepsy-based mental disorders. French criminologists essentially rejected Lombroso’s diagnoses in favor of the theory of hereditary degeneration. Employing a Pasteurian microbiological approach, French theorists maintained that the defective brains of degenerates provided a particularly receptive “culture”for the spread of infectious anarchist “germs.”

The theories of the psychopathologists of anarchism portrayed anarchism not as a political, but a public health problem, and advocated specific state measures of "social hygiene” against the anarchist peril. The microbiological explanation of anarchism provided government authorities with an expert, scientific rationale for repressive measures against the anarchist "contagion.” French politicians applied this public hygiene perspective in the debates surrounding the passage of the French anti-anarchist laws. The penal proposals of the psychopathologists of anarchism found a less welcome reception among French jurists, who, subject to popular and political pressures to act harshly against the anarchist movement, resisted the criminological recommendation that the terrorists be spared the death penalty on the grounds that the propagandists by the deed had only committed their crimes under the control of irresistible pathological impulses. The influence of the psychopathologists of anarchism extended beyond the nation’s political and judicial elites as several contemporary French journalists and commentators utilized psychiatric and criminological theories in their discussions of the anarchist menace. The commentators employed these theories both as scientific justification for their support of the state’s harsh measures of social defense against the anarchist movement, and as a means of integrating discussions about anarchism into broader discourses about French national or racial degeneration."


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