Monday 1 January 2024

60 years since Thomas Szasz’s ‘Law, Liberty, and Society’ (1963). Keith Hoeller and Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 289 (19 May 2024)


Thomas Szasz

Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry (1963)

Sixtieth anniversary reflections 

Keith Hoeller   Anthony Stadlen

conduct by Zoom

Inner Circle Seminar No. 289

Sunday 19 May 2024

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz
Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz
15 April 1920 – 8 September 2012
at his 90th-birthday seminar
13 June 2010 (Inner Circle Seminar No. 153)
Photograph copyright
Not to be used without permission

Thomas Szasz published his first book, Pain and Pleasure: A Study of Bodily Feelings, in 1957. The philosopher Susanne Langer in her book Philosophical Sketches (1962) praised Szaszbook as an attempt to resolve ‘the mind-and-body problem’. (This alone shows the folly of those self-styled existential therapists and others who ignorantly claim Szasz was a ‘Cartesian dualist’.)
Szasz had already written a number of what he called cautiously phrased articles’, but in 1960 he published a brief, more controversial, paper, The Myth of Mental Illness’. This was noticed with some consternation in psychiatric circles.
In 1961 battle commenced. He published his second book, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct. It developed the thesis of the similarly named paper, as well as of the earlier book. In Szasz’s words, all hell broke loose’.
Even The Myth of Mental Illness, shocking and scandalous as it was to the psychiatric establishment, could still (just about) be read (or misread) as a relatively academic logical and scientific analysis of the prevailing theory of the phenomena which, in Szaszs view, were wrongly classified as mental illnesses’. The books full implications for practice were, for almost all readers, still unclear, even though psychiatrists understood well enough, without quite understanding why, that he was claiming that the foundations of their theory were delusory.
In fact, as Szasz wrote in his book Faith in Freedom (2004):
The Myth of Mental Illneswas intended to be more than just an academic exercise in semantics. It was also intended to be a denunciation of the moral legitimacy of the most violent method that the modern state possesses and wields in its perpetual effort to domesticate and control people, namely, depriving innocent individuals – with the full support of physicians and lawyers – not only of liberty but of virtually all their constitutional rights, in the name of helping them.
And with his third book, Law, Liberty and Psychiatry: An Inquiry into the Social Uses of Mental Health Practices (1963), there could be no more doubt. Szasz now turned his attention unequivocally to the psychiatric practices, ‘taking place outside the privacy of the consulting room’, consequent on what he called the ‘dangerous deception and self-deception’ of the presumption of ‘mental illness’.
Szasz identified the two paradigmatic psychiatric practices as: (1) involuntary hospitalisation and treatment; and (2) the insanity defence. This was no mere academic study. His denunciation of these practices was ethical and political.
Szasz had crossed the brink. This was more than the psychiatric authorities could stand. A quarter of a century later, in his Preface to the 1989 Syracuse edition of Law, Liberty and Psychiatry, he wrote that, with his rejection, in the first, 1963, edition of this book  of these paradigmatic practices and of the assumptions about human beings that they incarnated,
my excommunication from psychiatry became complete and irreversible.
Unfortunately, the book was not published in the United Kingdom until 1974, so that British readers did not, for the most part, know during the 1960s Szasz’s attack on psychiatric practice or appreciate how directly and logically it followed from his attack on ‘mental illness’. (The Manufacture of Madness was published in the UK in 1971). However, David Cooper, in his Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry (1967), cited Szasz’s argument that ‘schizophrenia’ is a ‘panchreston’ (‘explain-all’) without specifying that the argument was to be found in the 1963 American first edition of Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry.
In his Preface to that 1974 British edition Szasz wrote:
Among [my] books, I consider Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry, first published in 1963, especially important because it is in this book that I most fully describe and document the precise legal status of the mental hospital patient – as an innocent person incarcerated in a psychiatric prison; most clearly articulate my objections to institutional psychiatry – as an extra-legal system of penology and punishments; and first demonstrate what, in a free society, I consider the only morally proper aim with respect to so-called psychiatric abuses – namely, the complete abolition of all involuntary psychiatric interventions.  
The best-known sentence of this revolutionary book of 1963 must be:
Although we may not know it, we have, in our day, witnessed the birth of the Therapeutic State.
Sixty years on, the Therapeutic State shows no sign of dying. It has grown monstrous.
The book is rich in detailed case studies of people who fall foul of the law, either being coerced or excused, because they are allegedly ‘mentally ill’. A crucial case is the poet Ezra Pound, who was incarcerated for years in St Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, DC as too ‘insane’ to be tried as legally responsible for his fascist wartime broadcasts from Italy.
Today we shall explore both Szasz’s argument and some of his case studies in Law, Liberty and Psychiatry.
The argument and case studies were both of a new kind.
The argument (as developed by Szasz in this book and many more over the next half-century) was expounded by Professors Jeffrey Schaler and Richard Vatz in Inner Circle Seminar No. 276 on 30 October 2022. They explained Szasz’s view that compulsory psychiatry and the insanity defence are two sides of the same coin: Siamese twins’. They described the MNaghten (1843, England) and Durham (1954, USA) Rules for whether and when a mental disease’ absolves from criminal responsibility. Today Professor Keith Hoeller will recapitulate and continue to explain.
The case studies were not the conventional kind intended to illustrate and boast about how the insight and healing powers of the therapist-author led to the patientcure. Rather, they illustrated the catastrophic encounters of the patients with, and torture by, psychiatry.
Szasz did, in fact, before publishing The Myth of Mental Illness (1961), publish case studies of a relatively conventional kind, notably The Case of Prisoner ‘K.’ (1959 – he also at that time tolerated a pile-up of quotation marks he would have abhorred later), showing how he worked as an autonomous psychotherapist’ with people who had, in his words, problems in living’, psychosomatic illnesses, and so on. But he refrained from publishing more case studies of this kind for the remaining half-century of his life.
Anthony Stadlen asked Szasz (after a searching conversation in 2007 on the nature of psychotherapywhether – having demystified the myth of mental illness, and defined authentic psychoanalysis and existential psychotherapy simply as conversation, analogous, as Szasz put it, to the conversation (for which there could be no theory) between mother and child, though of course without infantilising the client – he had felt it was a betrayal of his relationships with his clients to continue to write case histories’ of this conventional kind. Szasz confirmed this.
But in Law, Liberty and Psychiatry he pioneered a new kind of case history, exemplified by his studies of, among others, King Ludwig II of BavariaMiss Edith L. HoughJim CooperMichael L. Chomentowski (further recounted as Louis Perroni’ in Psychiatric Justice (1965)), Victor RosarioMrs Betty Kowalski, Mrs Isola Ware Curry, and Ezra PoundWe shall explore some of these pioneering case histories of Szasz’s, from this first book of them, today.
We shall also examine the recent confirmation of the verdict, unchallenged by the prosecution, of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, rather than murder, for the killing, by a man diagnosed as a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’, of three people in Nottingham. The killer had pleaded that he was obeying his ‘voices’. Is obeying orders now an excuse? We shall link this with our seminars in recent years exploring Kierkegaards Fear and Trembling.
The year after Szasz published his book with its metastudies or singularity studies (as they might be called), R. D. Laing and Aaron Esterson published their incomparable set of eleven such metastudies in Sanity, Madness and the Family: Families of Schizophrenics (1964), in which the first reference (p.4, n.1) is to Szasz’s The Myth Of Mental Illness. The problem was, and remains (after sixty years), that readers do not read them as metastudies, but as case studies pure and simple: clinical’ studies of schizophrenics’ and their families of precisely the kind that SzaszLaing, and Esterson were rejecting.
Stadlen will discuss these metastudies or singularity studies of SzaszLaing, and Esterson, and compare and contrast them with the paradigmatic clinical’ case-studies he has spent decades historically researching. 
Just as Law, Liberty and Psychiatry cleared the way for Sanity, Madness and the Family (though it could have done so more effectively if it had also been published in the UK), todays seminar prepares the ground for our new subseries of seminars for the sixtieth anniversary of Laing and Esterson’s book, starting with the next two Inner Circle Seminars, No. 290 on 16 June and No. 291 on 21 July.
It is notable, and regrettable, that this revolutionary work of Szasz, Laing, and Esterson  was totally ignored by Martin Heidegger and Medard Boss in their contemporary Zollikon seminars (1959-69), as they have continued to be ignored by Daseinsanalysts to this day.
Stadlen will continue to argue, as he has in recent seminars, that Daseinsanalysis has followed Heidegger in failing to pursue his fleeting insight of 1919, reported by the philosopher Oskar Becker, that dialectic could be diahermeneutics, and so could have been in harmony with the study of dialectics and dialectical reason as embodied in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Szasz, Laing, and Esterson.
Keith Hoeller and Anthony Stadlen are unusual among Szasz or Heidegger scholars in that they have both devoted decades to the detailed study of both Szasz and Heidegger; they have both conducted Inner Circle Seminars on both. They are uniquely placed to explain the intricate similarities and subtle differences between the thinking of these two great philosophers of human freedom.

Your contribution will be warmly welcomed.

Professor Keith Hoeller PhD is a world authority on both Szasz and Heidegger, and has already co-conducted important Inner Circle Seminars on each. For forty years Professor Hoeller taught undergraduate and graduate courses in philosophy, psychology, and medical ethics. For more than a decade he taught an annual course on The Philosophy of Law which focussed on mental health law, including Szaszs views on involuntary commitment and the insanity defence.
He joined the American Civil Liberties Union and the Seattle Displacement Coalition in opposing Washington’s Becca Bill, which nonetheless passed and became the ‘Becca Law’, taking away the right of children aged 13-17 to refuse psychiatric treatment. As a direct result, Washington state led the nation in jailing children for school truancy and running away from home.
For thirty years Hoeller served as Editor of the Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry and its companion book series Studies in Existential Psychology & Psychiatry. He is the Editor of Thomas Szasz: Moral Philosopher of Psychiatry, Heidegger & Psychology, The Heidegger-Boss Relationship, Rollo May's Existential Psychotherapy, and Readings in Existential Psychology & Psychiatry.  
He received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to publish Dream and Existence by Michel Foucault and Ludwig Binswanger and to translate Heidegger’s Erläuterungen zu Hölderlins Dichtung as Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000).
He edited an anthology on non-tenure-track college professors, Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2014).
His most recent article is:
In 2002 he was the recipient of the Thomas Szasz award from The Center for Independent Thought ‘for his newspaper columns about the dangers posed to individual liberty by the mental-health laws’.
In 2014 he was the recipient of an award by the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry ‘for his committed scholarly examination of the life and works of Thomas Szasz, MD.

NB. We devoted an earlier Inner Circle Seminar, No. 70, on 20 July 2003, to a study of Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry in recognition of its fortieth anniversary. See:
This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, others £175; reductions for combinations of seminars; some bursaries; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250  

For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

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