Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Thomas 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

"Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly often attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children, and by children to adults."

"A teacher should have maximal authority, and minimal power."

"If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to your, you have schizophrenia. If the dead to talk to you, your are a spiritualist; if God talks to you, your are a schizophrenic."

"Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic."

"The plague of mankind is the fear and rejection of diversity: monotheism, monarchy, monogamy and, in our age, mono-medicine. The belief that there is only one right way to live only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual, medical affairs is the root cause of the greatest threat to man: members of his own species, bent on ensuring his salvation, security, and sanity."

"Some people say they haven't found themselves. But the self is not something one finds; it is something one creates."

"There is no psychology; there is only biography and autobiography."

"Delusion: believe said to be false by someone who does not share it."

"Being considered or labeled mentally disordered – abnormal, crazy, mad, psychotic, sick, it matters not what variant is used – is the most profoundly discrediting classification that can be imposed on a person today. Mental illness casts the “patient” out of our social order just as surely as heresy cast the “witch” out of medieval society. That, indeed, is the very purpose of stigma terms."

"Keeping another person waiting is a basic tactic for defining him as inferior and oneself as superior."

"In contemporary America [mental health] has come to mean conformity to the demands of society. According to the commonsense definition, mental health is the ability to play the game of social living, and to play it well. Conversely, mental illness is the refusal to play, or the inability to play well."

"The fundamental conflicts in human life are not between competing ideas – one of which is true and the other false, but rather, between those that hold power and use it to oppress others, and those who are oppressed by power and seed to free themselves of it."

"Mental illness is a myth, whose function is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations."

"Mental hospitals are the POW camps of our undeclared and unarticulated civil wars."

"Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all."

"The less a person knows about the workings of the social institutions of his society, the more he must trust those who wield power in it; and the more he trusts those who wield such power, the more vulnerable he makes himself to becoming their victim."

"The fundamental error of psychiatry is that it regards life as a problem to be solved, instead of as a purpose to be fulfilled."

"The psychiatric profession’s most distinguishing feature… the deliberate, systematic dehumanization of man, in the name of mental health."

"The scapegoat is necessary as a symbol of evil which it is convenient to cast out of the social order and, which, through its very being, confirms the remaining members of the community as good."

"What the psychiatrist calls a “delusion of persecution” is one of the most dramatic human defenses against the feeling of personal insignificance and worthlessness. In fact, no one cares a hoot about Jones. He is an extra on the stage of life. But he wants to be a star."

"“To believe your own thought,” observed Emerson, “to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius.” But to impose what you believe is true for you upon all men, indeed upon a single individual – that is despotism."

"[Growing up] is especially difficult to achieve for a child whose parents do not take him seriously; that is, who do not expect proper behavior from him, do not discipline him, and finally, do not respect him enough to tell him the truth."

"[Autonomy] is freedom to develop one’s self – to increase one’s knowledge, improve one’s skills, and achieve responsibility for one’s conduct. And it is freedom to lead one’s own life, to choose among alternative courses of action so long as no injury to others results."

"Although both the natural and moral sciences seek to understand the objects of their observation, in natural science the purpose of this is to be able to control them better, whereas in moral science it is, or ought to be, to be better able to leave them alone. The morally proper aim of psychology, then, is self-control."

"A child becomes an adult when he realizes that he has a right not only to be right but also to be wrong."

"Addiction, obesity, starvation (anorexia nervosa) are political problems, not psychiatric: each condenses and expresses a contest between the individual and some other person or persons in his environment over the control of the individual's body."

"Although (mental illness) might have been a useful concept in the nineteenth century, today it is scientifically worthless and socially harmful. In non-psychiatric circles mental illness all too often is considered to be whatever psychiatrists say it is. The answer to the question, Who is mentally ill? thus becomes: Those who are confined in mental hospitals or who consult psychiatrists in their private offices."

"Adulthood is the ever-shrinking period between childhood and old age. It is the apparent aim of modern industrial societies to reduce this period to a minimum."

"Anxiety is the unwillingness to play even when you know the odds are for you."

"Aided and abetted by corrupt analysts, patients who have nothing better to do with their lives often use the psychoanalytic situation to transform insignificant childhood hurts into private shrines at which they worship unceasingly the enormity of the offenses committed against them. This solution is immensely flattering to the patients -- as are all forms of unmerited self-aggrandizement; it is immensely profitable for the analysts -- as are all forms pandering to people's vanity; and it is often immensely unpleasant for nearly everyone else in the patient's life."

"Although we may not know it, we have, in our day, witnessed the birth of the Therapeutic State. This is perhaps the major implication of psychiatry as an institution of social control."

"Anxiety is the unwillingness to play even when you know the odds are for you. Courage is the willingness to play even when you know the odds are against you."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"Classifying thoughts, feelings and behaviors as diseases is a logical and semantic error, like classifying whale as fish."

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

"By pretending that convention is Nature, that disobeying a personal prohibition is a medical illness, they establish themselves as agents of social control and at the same time disguise their punitive interventions in the semantic and social trappings of medical practice."

"By problems in living, then, I refer to that truly explosive chain reaction which began with man?s fall from divine grace by partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Man?s awareness of himself and of the world about him seems to be a steadily expanding one, bringing in its wake an ever large; burden of understanding (an expression borrowed from Susanne Langer, 1953). This burden, then, is to be expected and must not be misinterpreted. Our only rational means for lightening it is more understanding, and appropriate action based on such understanding."

"Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence."

"Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily."

"Courage is the willingness to play even when you know the odds are against you."

"For Jews, the Messiah has never come; for Christians, He has come but once; for modern man, He appears and disappears with increasing rapidity. The saviors of modern man, the "scientists" who promise salvation through the "discoveries" of ethology and sociology, psychology and psychiatry, and all the other bogus religions, issue forth periodically, as if selected by some Messiah-of-the-Month Club."

"Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions."

"For more than fifty years I have maintained that mental illnesses are counterfeit diseases (?nondiseases?), that coerced psychiatric relations are like coerced labor relations (?slavery?) or coerced sexual relations (rape), and spent the better part of my professional life criticizing the concept of mental illness, objecting to the practices of involuntary-institutional psychiatry, and advocating the abolition of ?psychiatric slavery? and ?psychiatric rape.'"

"Had the white settlers in North America called the natives 'Americans' instead of 'Indians', the early Americans could not have said that the 'only good Indian is a dead Indian' and could not have deprived them so easily of their lands and lands and lives. Robbing people of their proper names is often the first step in robbing them of their property, liberty, and life."

"I became interested in writing this book approximately ten years ago when, having become established as a psychiatrist, I became increasingly impressed by the vague, capricious and generally unsatisfactory character of the widely used concept of mental illness and its corollaries, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment."

"He who does not accept and respect those who want to reject life does not truly accept and respect life itself."

"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."

"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."