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Related: atavism - degenerate art - degenerate music - eugenics - Cesare Lombroso - Bénedict Morel - Max Nordau - decadence (cultural movement)

Treatise on the Physical, Intellectual and Moral Degeneration of the Human Race (1857) - Bénedicte Augustin Morel
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--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degenerate [Jul 2004]


Corrupt, vulgar, vicious behavior, especially sexual perversion. --American Heritage Dictionary


The idea of degeneration had a huge influence or science, art and politics from the 1850s to the 1950s.

In the 1850s French doctor Benedict Morel argued that certain groups of people were degenerating, going backwards in terms of evolution so each generation became weaker and weaker. This was based on pre-Darwinian ideas of evolution, especially those of Lamarck, who argued that acquired characteristics (drug habits, perversions, etc.) could be inherited. This is not true, as a matter of genetics.

A whole biological explanation for social problems was developed. Max Nordau's 1890s bestseller Degeneration attempted to explain all modern art, music and literature by pointing out the degenerate characteristics of the artists involved.

In the twentieth century the Nazis adopted the concept, using it to justify the sterilization and extermination of those who would otherwise corrupt future generations. They also used the concept in art, banning "degenerate" (entartete) art and music: see degenerate art.

For further information, see Daniel Pick's book Degeneration, or the work of Sander Gilman. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degeneration [Feb 2005]

Degeneration (1892) - Max Simon Nordau

Degeneration (1892) - Max Simon Nordau [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Faces of Degeneration : A European Disorder, c. 1848-1918 (1993) - Daniel Pick

Faces of Degeneration : A European Disorder, c. 1848-1918 (1993) - Daniel Pick [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
This book investigates the specific conception and descent of a language of "degeneration" from 1848 to 1918, with particular reference to France, Italy, and England. The author shows how in the refraction and wake of evolution and naturalism, new images and theories of atavism, "dégénérescence" and socio-biological decline emerged in European culture and politics. He indicates the wide cultural and political importance of the idea of degeneration, while showing that the notion could mean different things at different times in different places. Exploring the distinctive historical and discursive contexts in France, Italy, and England within which the idea was developed, the book traces the profound complex of political issues to which the concept of degeneration gave rise during the period from the revolutions of 1848 to the First World War and beyond.

See also: degeneration - Europe - fin de siècle

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