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social sciences

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Karsch-Haack, Ferdinand (1853-1936)  
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Karsch-Haack planned an encompassing project, Forschungen über gleichgeschlechtliche Liebe [Investigations of Same-Sex Love], whose main contention would be that same-sex love is neither a "vice" nor a "crime," but a "natural phenomenon" [natürliche Erscheinung] occurring "everywhere and at all times" [überall und allezeit].

The five-volume project would have dealt with (1) primitive peoples, (2) East Asians, (3) Semites and Hamites, and (4 and 5) the Aryans. Because of the death of Karsch-Haack's publisher, however, only two volumes appeared: Die Ostasiaten: Chinesen, Japaner und Koreer [The East Asians: Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans] (1906), and Das Geschlechtliche Leben der Naturvölker [The Sexual Life of Primitive Peoples] (1911).

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In 1923, Karsch-Haack published in Hirschfeld's Jahrbuch "Die Rolle der Homoerotik im Arabertum" [The Role of in the Arabic World], a study based on material that was originally assigned to the third volume of Forschungen.

Although Karsch-Haack's overall project is centered on the distinction between primitive and civilized peoples [Naturvolk / Kulturvolk], this distinction is to a large extent relativized from the standpoint of the "unity of mankind" (Einheit des Menschengeschlechts). Against this universal backdrop, same-sex love appears as an undeniable reality whose roots are in the "physical and psychical natural disposition of animals and human beings" [physisch-psychischen tierischen und menschlichen Naturanlage].

Karsch-Haak's argument foreshadows recent ethnological analyses that have verified his contention that homosexual behavior is widespread in all kinds of societies.

Against the Medicalization of Same-Sex Love

As a zoologist, Karsch-Haack relentlessly targeted the medical view of same-sex love as an illness in need of cure. The medical approach Karsch-Haack rejected was already apparent in the terminology the new sexologists employed. Terms such as "contrary sexual instinct" [konträre Sexualempfindung], "sexual aberration" [geschlechtliche Verirrung / geschlechtliche Irrweg], "sexual inversion" [sexuelle Inversion], or "sexual perversion" [sexuelle Perversion] obviously implied a pathological aspect of the phenomenon they attempted to describe.

Karsch-Haack also rejected the technical coinage "homosexuality" as a hybrid term that combines a Greek and a Latin root, as well as the term "third sex," which was popularized by Magnus Hirschfeld in his non-scientific publications. Instead of these terms, Karsch-Haack mostly used the German terms "homoërotische" or "gleichgeschlechtliche Liebe" that can be translated as "same-sex love."

Like his contemporary John Henry Mackay, the Scottish-born German poet and intellectual leader of the pederastic faction within the sexual emancipation movement, Karsch-Haack saw in the medicalization of same-sex love an attempt to continue with modern instrumentalities a tradition of long ago initiated by priests and legislators.

In response, Karsch-Haack concentrated on the "matter-of-fact materials" [Tatsachenmaterial] that would eventually confirm his basic premise concerning the universality and naturalness of same-sex love. Throughout Karsch-Haack's ethno-historical work, his allegiance to the "sociological school" was enriched and qualified by the biologist's approach to the facts of natural life.

De-Hierarchization of Kinds of Love

One of the main theoretical aims Karsch-Haack pursued was the dismantlement of the hierarchization of love forms, implicit in the traditional opposition between heterosexual and homosexual instincts and patterns of conduct.

Given the universal occurrence of same-sex love, Karsch-Haack insisted on the "recognition of its naturalness" and dismissed the "theoretical discussions and considerations" regarding its etiology. Not without irony, he advanced the argument that no attempts to explain same-sex love should be undertaken as long as the love between men and women is taken "as self-evident" [als bloße Selbstverständlichkeit].

Further, Karsch-Haack contended that what is in need of explanation is not love per se, but the "irritability" [Reizbarkeit] of heterosexuals when confronted with the manifestations of same-sex love. Since this reaction can be observed especially in Christian culture, but not in all cultures and is even absent among primitive people, Karsch-Haack stressed the fact that heterosexual intolerance with regard to "homoeroticism" is culturally determined and not the result of an inborn disposition.

Homosexualities and Discrimination

Karsch-Haack's attempt to show the instability of the opposition between "true homosexuality" (as an irresistible, inborn instinct) and so-called "pseudo-homosexuality" (originating in merely external causes, such as seduction) is a telling instance of his deconstructive strategy. Having accepted in principle the difference between both types of homosexuality, Karsch-Haack went on to underscore that, due to their "correspondence with regard to the external form," it is not possible to distinguish them in their practical consequences. Since there is no way to exclude the possibility that specific homosexual acts are the consequence of an ineradicable disposition, such acts should never be treated as a "vice" liable to punishment.

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