Weimar Medical Culture: Doctors, Healers, and the Crisis of Medicine in Interwar Germany, 1918-1933

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    In the late 1920s, both the German public and the medical profession were debating over what many had come to see as a ‘crisis of medicine’. Articles in the medical press, in daily newspapers and magazines as well as popular books, discussed the ‘crisis’ extensively. Medical scientists responded to the crisis debate by embracing holistic ideas. Crisis-mongers identified as the main crisis symptoms economic hardship amongst doctors and an increase in the numbers of heterodox practitioners. They argued that orthodox medicine had lost the trust of the patients mainly because modern medicine had become too ‘mechanistic’ and ‘materialistic’. They suggested that modern doctors, restrained by the ‘iron cage’ of sickness insurance bureaucracy and by the need to be ‘scientific’, had lost the charisma of the healer, which in their view made heterodox practitioners successful.The crisis debate started in 1919 with fierce struggles between doctors’ professional organisations and the sickness insurance funds, who provided the lion share of the incomes of the great majority of doctors. These struggles were shaped by what has come to be known as ‘Weimar Culture’: continued economic, social and cultural turmoil and an intellectual climate dominated by a field of tension between on the one hand, anti-modernism and neo-conservative cultural critique, and on the other, a fascination for ideas of rationalisation and modernisation, both technological and social. This study examines how in this context doctors, medical scientists, civil servants, insurance managers, non-licensed healers, parliamentarians and patients re-interpreted a constellation of economic difficulties and professional struggle as a fundamental ‘crisis of medicine’.Drawing on published and unpublished material, the study identifies a group of medical ‘heretics’ as the main crisis-mongers. It examines their motivations and arguments. Did doctors really suffer economic hardship? The evidence suggests that they suffered rather less than other sections of the population. This aspect of the crisis debate was an attempt, I suggest, to secure for the medical profession a larger share of the limited resources available for health care. How charismatic were lay practitioners? Organisations of non-licensed practitioners in fact emulated the professionalisation tactics of the medical profession. Situating the ‘crisis’ in the larger context of ‘Weimar Culture’, this study attempts to reconstruct how, while the ‘heretics’ idealised lay practitioners as charismatic healers and while the doctors’ professional organisations demanded a ban on ‘quackery’, heterodox medicine was undergoing its own rationalisation process
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Manchester
    Place of PublicationManchester
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


    • Social History of Medicine
    • History of Medicine
    • Weimar Germany
    • Crisis of Medicine
    • Alternative Medicine
    • Holism
    • Constitutional Pathology
    • Erwin Liek
    • Madaus
    • Kurpfuscher
    • Quackery
    • Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Bekampfung des Kurpfuschertums DGBK


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