PART I. ANTI-DARWINIAN THOUGHT IN AMERICAN LIBERALISM

 

America is a racist country. And this statement applies to not only the social structure, but to the values of the society as well. And as a racist nation, the type of philosophies that appeal to Americans have to be compatible with that basic racism. This also means, of course, that even American liberals are racist in their thinking. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that dominant American ideas are expressions of various forms of idealism. Materialism and naturalism are basically anathema because they are too close to the truth, that the underlying reason for American behaviors and philosophies is the racist social structure of the country. Americans go to elaborate lengths to disguise this basic fact of racism, and one way in which they do this is to adapt idealist philosophies.

This section shows that American thinkers never reconciled themselves to Darwinian thought. Darwinism is still too radical, and is, therefore, anathema to Americans, both conservative and liberal.

Being racists, liberal and conservative thinkers have completely failed to see what really happened in the so-called Darwinian revolution. The truth is that it was no revolution at all. The American concept of evolution was a non-Darwinian idea of evolution, and, therefore, the entire evolutionary debate was largely a sham battle that avoided the real issue of the biological and evolutionary nature of human beings. Americans never accepted Darwinism and still reject it today.

In this part of the book chapter one sets the historical context in America for the onset of Darwin's ideas. At least in the realm of psychiatry, some real progress had been made toward seeing mental illness as a disease. Chapter two discusses the emergence of Darwin's thesis. The next chapter shows how American thinkers rejected the Darwinian conception of evolution for a Lamarckian one. It then discusses the impact of Lamarckianism on American thought. This was a step in the right direction, but with the coming of the anti-Darwinian counterrevolution virtually all biological thought was swept from the social sciences. Chapter four discusses the impact of the anti-Darwinian revolt on psychology and sociology primarily, and, therefore, on all the social sciences. A more materialistic and naturalistic interpretation of human nature was just not acceptable to idealist, racist America. Social scientists justified the rejection of Darwin as applied to man in terms of anti-racism. They pictured themselves as heroes fighting the social Darwinist racists. But what they never saw was their own, more subtle, and sophisticated racism. American social scientists are not anti- racists, but merely anti-conservatives racists for they themselves were liberal racists. Chapter six shows how in rejecting Darwin the social scientists created a second Genesis theory of life, thereby resurrecting Adam and Eve. It was then, and still is today, a big mistake to separate biology, and thereby all the natural sciences, from the social sciences.

CHAPTER 1. PURITANISM TO DISEASE THEORY

This chapter shows how puritanism and idealism dominated the early conceptions of mental illness and deviancy in America (and in many respects, they still do). This puritan conception was both moralistic and mean-spirited. Real progress away from this approach was being made via the adoption of the disease conception of mental illness (at least, that is, until the counterrevolution against Darwinian evolution).

Medievalism among the Puritans

The reason why this chapter starts with the story of the Puritans is that the United States has a puritanical culture adapted from the Puritans of New England. As far as ideas were concerned, the New England Puritans were way behind the times, being more in tune with medievalism than the Age of Reason. For instance, in the area of deviancy the Puritans had a spiritual explanation for crime; that is, the forces of otherworldly powers unduly influenced a person to commit crime. The witchcraft episodes also illustrated the medievalism of the Puritans. In 1792 the Puritan colony on Massachusetts Bay felt so overrun by witches that they executed a few of the accused.

The puritan religion largely determined early theories of deviancy in America (and still does today). An example is the puritan reaction to suicide (Kushner, 1989: 21-22). The Puritans insisted that suicide resulted from individual free choice (and this in spite of their belief in predestination). Therefore, the authorities denied Christian burials to people who committed suicide. Instead, the deceased would be buried along a highway under a cart-load of stones. Suicide remained a crime in Massachusetts until the late nineteenth century, despite the medicalization of suicide under the disease approach which predominated by the 1840s (Kushner, 1989:33-34). In colonial America many of the insane wound up in the almshouse. (Boston established its first almshouse in 1662.)

The Struggle Against Puritanism

Original Puritanism was just too stern of a religion to be attractive for anyone except the devotees of a narrow theocracy as existed in some of the early New England settlements. It had to be modified if it was to become more universally appealing. Overtime Puritanism itself lost influence and its associated moral code became softened somewhat. The first Great Awakening, a religious movement of the 1740s that worked against the overly-restrictive, merchant-dominated religions, such as those of eastern Massachusetts, helped weaken Puritanism and made it more palatable to all three regions of the nation (New England, Mid-Atlantic, and South) as the basis for a common culture.

Part of the progress against puritanism was the growth of the idea of mental illness as the result of disease rather than spiritual weakness. One reason for the rise of the disease concept was the revulsion physicians and others came to feel toward the harsh attitude of the Puritans to deviancy. An example is suicide. Physicians increasingly agreed to say that the person who had committed suicide was really insane, and therefore, could not help committing suicide. This, at least, permitted a person who committed suicide a Christian burial. Kushner (1988:32) writes that by the 1840s the authorities increasingly viewed suicide as resulting from mental illness and, therefore, rarely denounced it.

In 1751 the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia became the first institution founded specifically for the care and treatment of the sick and the mentally ill. The hospital contained a wing for the insane, where restraint was in common use and the treatment consisted of extensive bleeding and blistering, emetics, restricted diets, and warm and cold baths (Grob, 1973: chapter one). This solution was only somewhat superior to being imprisoned, but at least it was a step in the right direction.

Rise of an American Culture

As Puritanism became weakened, new ideas from Europe flowed in with less restriction. At this time these ideas were those of the Enlightenment. One of the key forefathers of the Enlightenment was John Locke (1632-1704). Before Locke philosophy had largely consisted of metaphysical speculation about subject matters that could neither be proved or disproved scientifically. Locke turned philosophy toward the inspection of the mind in the British empiricist tradition. In this tradition he discussed how the mind really works as opposed to how philosophers thought it should ideally work.

One of the reasons Locke appealed to the Americans was his compatibility with religious thought. Locke believed that God had placed in man eternal truths. One of Locke's disciples, however, abandoned this commitment to God. The agnostic David Hume (1711- 1776) built on Lockean traditions, but abandoned the idea that man could look into his own soul for God-given truths. Many of the American leaders of the American Revolution compromised between the two ideas and became Deists. Deists believed in a God who had created the universe and man, but a God who did not intervene in man's daily affairs, but rather left it up to man himself to decide his own fate.

With the softening of Puritanism and the coming of the philosophy of laissez-faire economics, as propounded by Adam Smith of Scotland, Benjamin Franklin was able to codify the emerging American culture in terms of an equality of opportunity doctrine, puritanical moralism, and laissez-faire economics that were completely compatible with racism and, therefore, could appeal to the independent farmers of New England and the slave holders of the South.

Along with various Enlightenment ideas, the Americans believed in what became known as the classical school of philosophy. This asserted that man was free to determine his own fate. In the area of deviancy Americans adopted the "free will" or classical school of criminology, which was really a variant of the belief in laissez-faire capitalism. Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), greatly influenced by the laissez-faire economist Adam Smith, decided that violations of social norms were the result of rational thought. It is this school that still dominates among the American white middle class. It is a highly moralistic philosophy, and therefore highly supportive of a system of strict social control, which is precisely why it is so useful to a racist society.

The Turn to a More Traditional Classicism

Once the American Revolution was over, the Americans abandoned much of their Deism and turned to more conservative interpretations of Hume's philosophy (Leahey, 1980:114-116). They turned to the Common Sense philosophy, best represented by its founder Thomas Reid (1710-1796). Other philosophers in this Scottish school were James Beattie (1735-1803), Dugald Stewart (1753-1828), and Thomas Brown (1778-1820). Reid was a clergyman and committed to reinstating God in Lockean philosophy. Contradicting Hume, Reid maintained that God implanted in humans first principles that were necessarily true because of their divine origin. Therefore, man's innermost pursuit ultimately could not err.

The Common Sense philosophy especially influenced America's earliest college founders, who believed in the Scottish school. Americans especially liked the philosophy of Stewart because his approach was so consistent with Christianity. Scottish philosophy aided early attempts to teach psychology in America, as the earliest psychology was part of the "moral sciences" taught to students (Leahey, 1980:117).

The Age of Jackson and Romanticism

The romantic revolt started in Europe in reaction to the excesses of the French Revolution. The new philosophy stressed emotion and faith and the role of the irrational over the rational. In America the age of Jackson overthrew much of Jefferson's representative democracy wherein the educated elite would represent those people who owned land and, therefore, had a stake in society. Jefferson's classical philosophy was just too formal for the common man in the age of Jackson.

Seeking an idealist philosophy to bless the new social order of the white middle class, American romantics adopted the idealist philosophy of Immanual Kant (1724-1804). Kant was particularly influential on the transcendental movement among New England writers and other intellectuals in what became known as the flowering of New England (Van Dorn). Transcendentalism was in part a further revolt against American puritanism, but it was still a revolt within an idealistic tradition.

Temporary Triumph of the Disease Concept

The appeal to mental illness was one way of exempting a large segment of unpleasant human behavior from the punitiveness of the philosophy of free will. The concept of mental illness allowed for some progress to be made to help the mentally ill. And until the anti-Darwinian reaction, those treating the mentally ill could apply the concept of disease to this area and, thereby, produce a somewhat modern view of behavior (at least seen from today's science of the brain).

The terrible conditions for the insane started to change with the philosophy of Philippe Pinel, born in 1745 in southern France. He became closely associated with a group of Lockean thinkers known as the Ideologues. Pinel studied medicine and created a better classification of the mental illnesses (Alexander and Selesnick, 1966:112-115). He broke down psychotic illnesses into melancholia, manias without delirium, manias with delirium, and dementia. He described symptoms systematically and wrote that mental derangement probably resulted from lesions in the central nervous system. He had a progressive outlook, seeing mental illness as a result of heredity and life experience.

Pinel took special interest in the conditions of the mentally ill. He spread the idea that mental illness was a disease, similar to those associated with the better-known bodily ills. This was a real sign of progress because it helped move the treatment of the mentally ill away from strict moralism to a more scientific approach. Pinel developed a system of patient care, based on crude physiological theories, that became known as "moral treatment." Moral treatment involved handling the mentally ill with kindness and helpful care to improve the patient's psychology (Grob, 1973:41-42). Pinel's greatest contribution came from his work to change society's attitude toward the insane. He helped the public see the insane as sick, rather than evil, people. Pinel literally released the mentally ill from their chains and let light into their rooms by opening the windows. He also fed them nourishing food and treated them decently.

In America Pinel's ideas influenced Dr. Benjamin Rush, long associated with Pennsylvania Hospital. Rush had signed the Declaration of Independence and was one of the chief medical surgeons in the continental army. After the war he joined the staff of Pennsylvania Hospital. Rush was primarily a traditionalist in medicine, but he did emphasize some of Pinel's ideas, among them the more humane treatment of the insane. His 1812 Diseases of the Mind was the first American textbook on mental diseases. In it he had shown a complete familiarity with Pinel's ideas. He believed that mental illness was due to disturbances within the individual, and not to mysterious outside forces. Rush, thereby, helped spread the disease concept in America (Grob, 1973:43). He hedged his bets on the disease concept, however, because he believed that while the brain could be diseased, the mind (equated with the soul) was immortal. This qualification attested to the continuing strength of religious, moralistic conceptions in American thought.

Supplementing the impact of the philosophy of moral treatment, from Europe came another important influence for the establishment of the disease concept. Working independently, but thinking similarly to Pinel, William Tuke, an English Quaker and merchant, founded the York Retreat in England in 1792. This became a model for more progressive mental hospitals. Another influence strengthening the disease concept was the further weakening of puritanism. The Second Great Awakening, a movement beginning about 1800 that attempted to make religion more relevant to the larger society, further weakened the Puritan conception of the innate depravity of man. This was supported by the flowering of New England literature where many Yankee writers helped undermine puritanism. In addition, there were many reformers in the area of mental illness: educational reformer Horace Mann (1796-1859) was directly responsible for the passage of legislation in 1830 that established the first state hospital in Massachusetts, thereby helping put an end to the policy of confining mentally ill persons in jails; Samuel B. Woodward (1787-1850) helped promote the founding of public hospitals in the 1830s and 1840s; and Dorothea L. Dix (1802-1887) became the leading psychiatric reformer.

A new science also served to weaken puritanism. The European anatomist Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) developed the doctrine that later became known as phrenology. In 1791 he started publishing the idea of a relationship between head conformations and the personal characteristics of the individuals. Gall assumed that the skull overlying the brain would reveal the secrets within the brain. He believed that one could read a person's character by basically counting the bumps on the subject's head. The new approach was named phrenology by his disciple Johann Casper Spurzheim (1776-1832). Spurzheim came to American in 1832 to teach the new techniques and was well received. He died after a few months stay and received a hero's burial. George Combe, a student of Spurzheim's, then arrived in America and received an enthusiastic reception. Phrenology gained a rapid foothold in Jacksonian America.

Sociologists love to make fun of phrenology because they laugh at the idea that scientists once actually counted the number of bumps on the head of a patient. But the new science actually provided American thinkers with a means of connecting mind and matter. Moreover, the phrenologists argued that environment and behavior could affect specific locations in the brain, which themselves could be identified as disease centers. Phrenology thereby helped spread the disease concept of mental illness and deviancy (Kushner, 1988:40-41; Grob, 1973:152).

In America early psychiatry was primarily in the hands of the heads of the mental institutions. In the 1840s the emphasis was on how organic, social, and psychological factors together worked to produce mental illness and how the moral treatment provided the most efficacious form of intervention. The heads of asylums organized themselves in 1844 into their own organization. These men were liberals, not radicals, and in America the disease concept was not a radical, but merely a liberal idea (Grob, 1973:156-160). For instance, superintendents were most interested in the moral (or intellectual) causes of insanity. Being strongly religious men they believed in moral causes of mental disease including drunkenness, overwork, domestic difficulties, excessive ambitions, poor education, marital problems, jealously and many others including the pressures of an industrializing and urbanizing civilization. Many of the superintendents were also racist seeing mental illness in terms of racial attributes. One of the most influential spokesmen for the moralistic approach was Dr. Edward Jarvis, who saw disease as a consequence of ignorance and sin. Nevertheless, the disease concept was still superior to the later Freudian concept of mental illness. For instance, the alienists believed in using many tonics and laxatives in treating mental illness, an approach more in line with present-day psychopharmacology (Grob, 1973:166).

The next chapter shows how at least the initial reaction to Darwin's ideas both further weakened puritanism and strengthened the disease concept. However, the social scientific reaction against evolution as applied to human beings would sweep out not only the disease concept, but the entire science of biology from the social sciences. The disease concept may have been somewhat moralistic, but it certainly is closer to reality than an equally moralistic social science that excludes a role for human biology.

 

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