I was given a reference to a press article saying that an Austrian medical historian by the name of Herwig Czech has published Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and “race hygiene” in Nazi-era Vienna. This directly contradicts my earlier posting Hans Asperger mentioning articles suggesting he was almost a kind of “Scarlet Pimpernel”. Czech’s article seems to be based on documents previously believed to have been destroyed at the end of the war, but which were found. It looks like a highly credible piece of work, but destroys Asperger as a humanitarian medical practitioner.
This new study says that Asperger referred “profoundly disabled” children to the Am Spiegelgrund clinic in Vienna, despite knowing what took place there, namely euthanasia by starvation or lethal drugs. Asperger claimed to have been pursued by the Gestapo for refusing to hand over children for euthanasia, but it now turns out that there is no evidence for this claim. He knowingly and willingly served the Nazi machine which brought him advantages for his career.
What does this mean for those who have been diagnosed with “high-functioning autism”, as is my case? The term Asperger Syndrome disappeared from the American psychiatric manuals in 2013, and the same set of characteristics in a human person is diagnosed under Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The spectrum goes from “high functioning” without any intellectual or developmental retard to children who need to be institutionalised for life or given special help and support in the community.
I was told by my own psychiatrist at the autism centre attached to the hospital of Rouen that I was hard to diagnose because I had learned to “play the game”, to apply the right kind of behaviour in social contexts of different kinds. For me, what lay at the base of it all was my profound feeling of alienation, the feelings that led me to philosophical Romanticism, something that plagued my childhood and prevented me from doing the “right thing”. It followed me everywhere I went, through the years and up to the present. It would seem that the real difference between Asperger Syndrome and high-functioning autism is in the diagnostic method of analysing the patients traits and behaviour. Some have complained that some who would have been diagnosed as being “aspies” would not fit the criteria applied in a diagnosis for autism anywhere on the spectrum. Those who are not diagnosed with autism get “Social Communication Disorder”, or are simply “unruly brats” on whom the top-quality rattan cane that built the British Empire should not be spared! By way of anecdote, flogging was abolished in the British forces by the Army Act of 1881, in response to strong public opinion. It was said that flogging “made a bad man worse, and broke a good man’s heart”. I am not one of those conservatives who advocate corporal punishment in schools or dismisses psychological or mental disorders as behavioural problems to be corrected by punishment. Human life is sacred, otherwise we should go right back to Nazism and apply the “survival of the fittest” and to hell with the weak.
It is indeed a tough job for the professionals who interview patients, run tests and make the most accurate diagnosis possible. Psychiatry is an inexact science, unlike physical medicine where the laws of physics, chemistry and biology apply. All a psychiatrist can do is to study and analyse a set of characteristics shown by the patient, his present behaviour and evidence of his past behaviour, and then apply a label. It may seem very approximate, but it allows the patient a level of self understanding and asks others to make allowances for the difficulties or annoying traits of that person.
Asperger’s work from 1944 is actually very dated and uses quaint language like “autistic psychopathy”, whilst psychopathy nowadays means a set of characteristics used by pioneers like Dr Hare. Clearly, the term psychopathy describes a completely different personality than one diagnosed with autism. I have heard lectures by the brilliant Canadian psychiatrist Dr Laurent Motron, in which he refuses the dividing line between is and is not, and concentrates on an examination of the traits and characteristics. The title of one of his books L’autisme: une autre intelligence (no translation needed) indicates a whole new attitude. Autists have a different experience of life and have no need to be compared with so-called “normal” people. I would hope to gain more scientific knowledge of autism so that I can begin to work on a comparative approach in philosophical terms. This was a part of my motivation behind The Blue Flower.
Diagnosis for autism at any place on the spectrum is a two-edged sword. It gives us a break from being called an “arsehole” or a “jerk”, but subjects us to being treated as people suffering from an abnormality. What is normality? In my studies of Romanticism, I find the notion of foundational truth, the “Imperial Science” as someone in a film coined it, to be losing its validity. Truth is above us, escapes our understanding and is transcendent. This is the case with the human soul and spirit as well as with God.
I am profoundly disappointed to learn that Asperger went along with that evil and inhuman system rather than emigrate to America and pursue his research in the free world. He became a cog in the machine. He knowingly sent children to a place where they were to be killed as “unworthy of life”. It seems that he was really into the ideology rather than just paying lip service to get by. For a doctor who seemed to care for his patients, how could he be a Nazi? We should read the paper, and we should be thankful for the efforts of scientists and philosophers in our human world in building up knowledge and better understanding.