Thomas Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz

Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz

Hungarian-born American Psychiatrist, Social Critic of the Moral and Scientific Foundations of Psychiatry and Professor at the University of New York Health Center

Author Quotes

As Justice Olive Wendell Holmes, Jr. put it, censorship rests on the idea that ?every idea is an incitement.? Perhaps he should have specified ?every interesting idea,? for a dull idea is not. By the same token, every interesting drug is an incitement. And so is everything else that people find interesting.

I have argued that, today, the notion of a person "having a mental illness" is scientifically crippling. It provides professional assent to a popular rationalization ? namely that problems in living experienced and expressed in terms of so-called psychiatric symptoms are basically similar to bodily diseases. Moreover, the concept of mental illness also undermines the principle of personal responsibility, the ground on which all free political institutions rest.

Involuntary mental hospitalization is like slavery. Refining the standards for commitment is like prettifying the slave plantations. The problem is not how to improve commitment, but how to abolish it.

Men love liberty because it protects them from control and humiliation from others, and thus affords them the possibility of dignity. They loathe liberty because it throws them back on their own abilities and resources, and thus confronts them with the possibility of insignificance.

Prostitution is said to be the world?s oldest profession. It is, indeed, a model of all professional work: the worker relinquishes control over himself ? in exchange for money. Because of the passivity it entails, this is a difficult and, for many, a distasteful role.

Suicide is a fundamental human right. This does not mean that it is morally desirable. It only means that society does not have the moral right to interfere.

The many faces of intimacy: the Victorians could experience it through correspondence, but not through cohabitation; contemporary men and women can experience it through fornication, but not through friendship.

Traditionally, sex has been a very private, secretive activity. Herein perhaps lies its powerful force for uniting people in a strong bond. As we make sex less secretive, we may rob it of its power to hold men and women together.

As the base rhetorician uses language to increase his own power, to produce converts to his own cause, and to create loyal followers of his own person?so the noble rhetorician uses language to wean men away from their inclination to depend on authority, to encourage them to think and speak clearly, and to teach them to be their own masters.

I started to work on this book in 1954, when, having been called to active duty in the Navy, I was relieved of the burdens of a full-time psychoanalytic practice... Within a year of its publication, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene demanded, in a letter citing specifically 'The Myth Of Mental Illness', that I be dismissed from my university position because I did not "believe" in mental illness.

Is psychiatry a medical enterprise concerned with treating diseases, or a humanistic enterprise concerned with helping persons with their personal problems? Psychiatry could be one or the other, but it cannot--despite the pretensions and protestations of psichiatrists--be both.

Men often treat others worse than they treat themselves, but they rarely treat anyone better. It is the height of folly to expect consideration and decency from a person who mistreats himself.

Psychiatric expert testimony: mendacity masquerading as medicine.

The ?treatment? can have only one goal: to convert the heretic to the true faith, to transform the homosexual into a heterosexual.

The Nazis spoke of having a Jewish problem. We now speak of having a drug-abuse problem. Actually, ?Jewish problem? was the name the Germans gave to their persecution of the Jews; ?drug-abuse problem? is the name we give to the persecution of people who use certain drugs.

Two wrongs don't make a right, but they make a good excuse.

As the dominant social ethic changed from a religious to a secular one, the problem of heresy disappeared, and the problem of madness arose and became of great social significance. In the next chapter I shall examine the creation of social deviants, and shall show that as formerly priests had manufactured heretics, so physicians, as the new guardians of social conduct and morality, began to manufacture madmen.

If he who breaks the law is not punished, he who obeys it is cheated. This, and this alone, is why lawbreakers ought to be punished: to authenticate as good, and to encourage as useful, law-abiding behavior. The aim of criminal law cannot be correction or deterrence; it can only be the maintenance of the legal order.

It becomes logical to ask where the idea originates that the rules of the game of life ought to be such that those who are weak, disabled or ill should be helped?

Mental illness, of course, is not literally a "thing" ? or physical object ? and hence it can "exist" only in the same sort of way in which other theoretical concepts exist. Yet, familiar theories are in the habit of posing, sooner or later ? at least to those who come to believe in them ? as "objective truths" (or "facts"). During certain historical periods, explanatory conceptions such as deities, witches, and microorganisms appeared not only as theories but as self-evident causes of a vast number of events. I submit that today mental illness is widely regarded in a somewhat similar fashion, that is, as the cause of innumerable diverse happenings. As an antidote to the complacent use of the notion of mental illness ? whether as a self-evident phenomenon, theory, or cause ? let us ask this question: What is meant when it is asserted that someone is mentally ill? In what follows I shall describe briefly the main uses to which the concept of mental illness has been put. I shall argue that this notion has outlived whatever usefulness it might have had and that it now functions merely as a convenient myth.

Psychiatrists classify a person as neurotic if he suffers from his problems in living, and a psychotic if he makes others suffer.

The basic ingredients of psychotherapy are religion, rhetoric, and repression, which are themselves mutually overlapping categories.

The notion of mental illness thus serves mainly to obscure the everyday fact that life for most people is a continuous struggle, not for biological survival, but for a ?place in the sun,? ?peace of mind,? or some other human value. For man aware of himself and of the world about him, once the needs for preserving the body (and perhaps the race) are more or less satisfied, the problem arises as to what he should do with himself. Sustained adherence to the myth of mental illness allows people to avoid facing this problem, believing that mental health, conceived as the absence of mental illness, automatically insures the making of right and safe choices in one?s conduct of life. But the facts are all the other way. It is the making of good choices in life that others regard, retrospectively, as good mental health!? Our adversaries are not demons, witches, fate, or mental illness. We have no enemy whom we can fight, exorcise, or dispel by ?cure.? What we do have are problems in living?whether these be biologic, economic, political, or socio-psychological. In this essay I was concerned only with problems belonging in the last mentioned category, and within this group mainly with those pertaining to moral values. The field to which modern psychiatry addresses itself is vast, and I made no effort to encompass it all. My argument was limited to the proposition that mental illness is a myth, whose function it is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations.

We achieve active mastery over illness and death by delegating all responsibility for their management to physicians, and by exiling the sick and the dying to hospitals. But hospitals serve the convenience of staff not patients: we cannot be properly ill in a hospital, nor die in one decently; we can do so only among those who love and value us. The result is the institutionalized dehumanization of the ill, characteristic of our age.

Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.

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Szasz, fully Thomas Stephen Szasz
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Hungarian-born American Psychiatrist, Social Critic of the Moral and Scientific Foundations of Psychiatry and Professor at the University of New York Health Center