Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Benedict Friedlaender’s split with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee underscored philosophical differences, strategic disagreements, and diversity of opinion in the early German movement for gay and lesbian emancipation. Some in the movement believed sexuality was inborn, and others believed sexuality to be shaped by society.

Summary of Event

Benedict Friedlaender was an activist, anarchist, and writer who participated in the pre-Nazi homosexual rights movement in Germany. Along with Adolf Brand and philosopher Max Stirner—publisher of Der Eigene, the first-known homosexual journal—Friedlaender was a founding patron of the movement. He also cofounded in 1902, with Brand and Wilhelm Janzen, the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen, Gemeinschaft der Eigenen variously translated as the “community of self-owners” or “community of the elite.” [kw]Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (1906) [kw]Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, Friedlaender Breaks with the (1906) Scientific-Humanitarian Committee[Scientific Humanitarian Committee] Nature versus nurture debate Homosexuality;early theories of [c]Organizations and institutions;1906: Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee[0190] [c]Civil rights;1906: Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee[0190] [c]Cultural and intellectual history;1906: Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee[0190] [c]Science;1906: Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee[0190] [c]Government and politics;1906: Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee[0190] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;1906: Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee[0190] Friedlaender, Benedict Brand, Adolf Janzen, Wilhelm Hirschfeld, Magnus Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich William II (German kaiser) Harden, Maximilian

Friedlaender and members of the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen opposed the third-sex Third sex;theory of hypothesis developed by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and later advocated by Magnus Hirschfeld, who believed homosexuals made up a third sex. The third-sex theory conceived homosexuality as an intermediate sex (or, to use the more modern term, “gender”) Gender identity;early theories of[theories of] that existed between men and women and envisioned a gay or lesbian individual as an inversion: a man trapped in a woman’s body (a gay man), or a woman trapped in a man’s body (a lesbian). The comparison of sexual inversion to physical disability, implying biological “defectiveness,” repulsed the elites, who considered the masculine homosexual as the ideal of German perfection and that homosexuality was a fundamental masculinity: superior to effete homosexuals, heterosexual men, and females. The elitists believed that the third-sex theory promoted a picture of gay men as campy, eccentric, effeminate, and middle class.

The elitists extolled ancient Hellenic virtues and recast them into early twentieth century gay life. The Spartan values of control, discipline, and militarism, and, most significantly, the Spartan soldier’s habit of bonding and fostering esprit de corps through homosexual relationships with his fellow warriors, suited the elitists well while emphasizing the superior masculine traits they found so attractive. Greek Greece, ancient;and masculinity[masculinity] masculinity, Masculinity;gay men and the idealization of classical beauty, the adoption of man-boy love, Man-boy love, early advocates of[man boy love] and other Hellenic practices and customs, combined with a Teutonic heritage of chivalry, kinship, obedience to the tribal chieftain, loyalty to clan, and the resolving of conflicts through violence resulted in an attitude that homosexual men were superior, privileged, and had sexual license.

The egotism of such elitist perspectives, which were elevated and generalized to a national level, had political consequences for an immature, insecure, untested modern nation-state where unification was within the memory of the living generation. Some German pederasts justified their sexual activity with young boys as beneficial to the social good. They argued that by encouraging man-boy love, society was relieved of irresponsible sexual behavior that could result in unintended, negative social consequences, such as teenage pregnancy. By having sex with older, experienced men, young males were initiated into responsible sexual conduct and were given a sense of heightened masculinity that would aid them as future national leaders.

Friedlaender and many of the intellectuals whose theories of human sexuality lent support to homosexual elitism believed in expectations of privacy, natural rights, and acceptance for homosexuals. They called for direct action to remove criminal and societal constraints on homosexuality. Hirschfeld and other third-sex theorists understood homosexuality through a medical, rational, and scientific model and sought tolerance. They, too, desired social change and the removal of certain limits, but they advocated assimilation, acculturation, and absorption into the mainstream, not confrontation and conflict with the majority.

In 1897, when Hirschfeld founded the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, or SHC) to repeal Legal reform;Germany Paragraph 175 Paragraph 175, German criminal code of the German criminal code, which outlawed sexual acts between men, the staff of Der Eigene joined with Hirschfeld to support German legal reform. Common ground soon gave way to tension between Hirschfeld and supporters of Ulrichs’s third-sex theory, and Brand and his followers, who, like Friedlaender, scorned Hirschfeld’s conception of an intermediate sex. Brand and Friedlaender thought Hirschfeld was selling out the German movement for homosexual liberation because he was advocating tolerance alone, rather than social equality through cultural acceptance.

Events separated Friedlaender from Hirschfeld and the SHC as much as did ideological considerations. Friedlaender’s cofounding of the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen, Hirschfeld’s publication of Berlins drittes Geschlecht Berlins drittes Geschlecht (Hirschfeld) (1905; Berlin’s third sex), the Eulenburg affair Eulenburg affair of 1906-1909, and the subsequent stalling of repeal of Paragraph 175 in the Reichstag were all factors in Friedlaender’s decision to dissociate from Hirschfeld and leave the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.

When Hirschfeld published Berlins drittes Geschlecht, Friedlaender’s suspicions were confirmed: Hirschfeld considered homosexuality a form of sexual inversion, even implying biological degeneration. Although qualified, inquiring, and methodical in tone, and aiming toward a scientific narrative, Hirschfeld’s book alluded to an abstract system of sexual categorization that many—including Friedlaender—regarded as the biological fictionalization and medicalization of homosexuality. Elitists decried the pathologizing of sexual orientation.

Finally, the impact of the Eulenburg scandal and its accompanying trial on the movement to repeal Paragraph 175, a trial in which Hirschfeld participated as an expert witness, irrevocably split Friedlaender and the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. In 1906, several trusted advisers and intimates to Kaiser William II, William II (German kaiser) including Count Kuno von Moltke, Moltke, Kuno von the military commandant of Berlin, and Philipp, prince of Eulenburg-Hertefeld, Eulenburg-Hertefeld, Philipp, prince of were named by a conservative newspaper reporter, Maximilian Harden, Harden, Maximilian as homosexual. Moltke brought a libel suit against Harden, who in turn produced testimony, including a statement by the plaintiff’s former wife, that Eulenburg and Moltke had indeed engaged in homosexual activities. Hirschfeld also testified as an expert witness at trial claiming Moltke exhibited homosexual personality attributes.

Although Harden was acquitted of the libel charge at the first trial, Hirschfeld’s expertise was called into question and subject to public ridicule when Moltke’s former wife retracted her statements and Harden renounced his initial accusation and was convicted of libel during a subsequent lawsuit.

Because of the sensationalism and public fascination with the Eulenburg affair, and, more important, because of its proximity to the imperial court, Kaiser William II, in reaction to the scandal and in an effort to distance himself from the German homosexual emancipation movement, pulled from the floor of the Reichstag the bill to repeal Paragraph 175. Hirschfeld’s expertise did little to improve the matter. The public outcry against Hirschfeld in the aftermath of the affair ranged from the comic to outright denunciations of his theories and scientific work as fraudulent propaganda and mad science. No doubt the kaiser’s judgment to squash the proposed repeal was influenced also by Hirschfeld’s involvement in the scandal.


The failure to achieve reform of the German criminal code by repeal of Paragraph 175 had adverse consequences for the German homosexual rights movement. The diverse Berlin gay and lesbian community’s inability to persuade the German parliament to repeal the law exposed divisions within the gay and lesbian rights movement.

Those divisions were already fomenting at the fin de siècle, but they became more pronounced and less reconcilable in the aftermath of the Eulenburg scandal and the resultant defeat of the effort to repeal Paragraph 175 in the Reichstag.

The split revealed ideological differences over the nature of homosexuality between essentialists—or those, like Hirschfeld, who believed in a biological basis for homosexuality—and nominalists, or those, like Friedlaender, who believed sexual orientation is conditioned by society.

In addition to causes, the philosophical rift also emphasized disagreements over the methods and outcome of homosexual activism. That is, does activism need to embrace direct action or would activism be better served by a conciliatory approach emphasizing compromise and reform? Is the objective of activism acceptance, equality, and inclusion, or is it acculturation and assimilation? These questions remain relevant into the twenty-first century, and they are still debated. Scientific-Humanitarian Committee[Scientific Humanitarian Committee] Nature versus nurture debate Homosexuality;early theories of

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hirschfeld, Magnus. The Homosexuality of Men and Women. 1920. Reprint. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, James W. “We of the Third Sex”: Literary Representations of Homosexuality in Wilhelmine Germany. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oosterhuis, Harry, ed. Homosexuality and Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany: The Youth Movement, the Gay Movement, and Male Bonding Before Hitler’s Rise, Original Transcripts from “Der Eigene,” the First Gay Journal in the World. Translated by Hubert Kennedy. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1991.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Porter, Jack Nusan. Sexual Politics in Nazi Germany, the Persecution of the Homosexuals During the Holocaust: Essays, Biographical Sketches, Biographies, Bibliographies, Photos, and Charts on Sexology, Homosexuality, Nazism, and Magnus Hirschfeld. 3d ed. Newton, Mass.: Spencer Press, 2003.

May 6, 1868: Kertbeny Coins the Terms “Homosexual” and “Heterosexual”

1869: Westphal Advocates Medical Treatment for Sexual Inversion

1896: Der Eigene Is Published as First Journal on Homosexuality

1897: Ellis Publishes Sexual Inversion

1905: Freud Rejects Third-Sex Theory

1929: Davis’s Research Identifies Lesbian Sexuality as Common and Normal

1953-1957: Evelyn Hooker Debunks Beliefs That Homosexuality is a “Sickness”

December 15, 1973: Homosexuality Is Delisted by the APA

1991: LeVay Postulates the “Gay Brain”

Categories: History