Madness Is Civilization: When the Diagnosis Was Social, 1948-1980
Michael E. Staub
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In the 1960s and 1970s, a popular diagnosis for America’s problems was that society was becoming a madhouse. In this intellectual and cultural history, Michael E. Staub examines a time when many believed insanity was a sane reaction to obscene social conditions, psychiatrists were agents of repression, asylums were gulags for society’s undesirables, and mental illness was a concept with no medical basis.
The first study to describe how social diagnostic thinking emerged, Madness Is Civilization casts new light on the politics of the postwar era.
intended to defend and reﬁne this axiom, seeking more precisely to determine correlations between pathological personality factors and destructive ideological opinions, including the hatred of ethnic and racial minorities. Did persons who harbored resentments and hostilities toward minorities share a speciﬁc character structure that might be labeled “authoritarian”? Was it possible to extrapolate from an individual case study to the population as a whole? What was the link between the individual
resolve social conﬂicts. Lewin argued that racial prejudices “should not be viewed as individual character traits” but rather as “anchored in cultural standards,” and that the “stability” and “change” of such prejudices “depend largely on happenings in groups as groups.” And Lewin believed that small groups might transform “a multitude of unrelated individuals, frequently opposed in their outlook and their interests,” into “co-operative teams not on the basis of sweetness but on the basis of
about mental vulnerability could be put to use for progressive politics. II “Brainwashing” was a new concept in the 1950s. Named “menticide” by New York psychiatrist Joost A. M. Meerloo and “brain warfare” by Allen W. Dulles, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the methods that typically came to be called “brainwashing” grew speciﬁcally out of concerns regarding the psychological tortures inﬂicted upon American prisoners of war in Korea to extract false confessions.4 The word
illness in the United States? This chapter situates the positions of Thomas Szasz more ﬁrmly within their historical context as a means of illuminating ﬁrst of all the remarkable extent to which his ideas reﬂected popular cynicism about psychiatry already circulating widely during the mid-1950s. The chapter further emphasizes that Szasz’s most powerfully original and unorthodox contributions, rooted in his deep and abiding enmity toward the power he perceived psychiatry as wielding in
social nature of mental illness. As problematic as it may in many ways have been, what the academic work on social theories of schizophrenia and the growing popularization of the associated ideas through the 1950s and ﬁrst half of the 1960s had facilitated was the powerful plausibility of social diagnoses as well as a partial destigmatization of and growing fascination with insanity. Madness had also been gradually transformed into a condition that could potentially strike anyone trapped in