Many universities award prizes for outstanding PhD-theses, but only the University of Bern does so in the name of Moritz Lazarus. Even in Bern, however, only a small minority will know anything about the person behind that name. The laureates of the Lazarus-prize should at least know who Lazarus was, and why their prize is named after him. Thus, in a short memorandum distributed over the university homepage, some background information is provided. Lazarus, it is explained, cofounded Völkerpsychologie (translated as psychology of nations hereafter) together with Heyman Steinthal. From 1860 to 1866, the memorandum continues, Lazarus was a full professor at the University of Bern, a time during which he also served as dean of the humanities department, and even as the university's president. Special emphasis is laid on the fact that Lazarus' lectures were attended by an extremely wide audience, attracting even the non-academic public of the city to the university halls. In contrast to these remarks on Lazarus' public success, the comments on the content of Lazarus' teaching are much more restrained in tone, to say the least. Even though the memorandum acknowledges Lazarus' efforts to introduce a historical perspective in social psychology, it is stated that his intellectual venture, his psychology of nations, simply “has to be considered a failure”.1
This is a harsh statement indeed, especially considering the fact that it was Lazarus himself who donated this price. So what is so bad about his psychology of nations that not even the University of Bern, with the best of reasons to do so, can find more positive words? What is the reason for this thoroughly negative view?