TRIBUTE TO THOMAS SZASZ; Congressional Record Vol. 158, No. 144
(Extensions of Remarks - November 13, 2012)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Page E1750]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                        TRIBUTE TO THOMAS SZASZ


                             HON. RON PAUL

                                of texas

                    in the house of representatives

                       Tuesday, November 13, 2012

  Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to insert into the 
Congressional Record ``The Man versus the Therapeutic State,'' by Jacob 
Sullivan of Reason magazine. This piece pays tribute to Dr. Thomas 
Szasz, who passed away on September 8th of this year.
  Dr. Szasz, a trained psychiatrist, was the leading opponent of what 
he labeled the ``therapeutic state.'' For over fifty years, in 35 
books, and hundreds of articles, Dr. Szasz defended human liberty and 
dignity against modern psychiatry. Modern psychiatry, of course, 
insists that behaviors which deviate from some arbitrary norm serve as 
signs or symptoms of organic ``mental illnesses'' (although the 
physiological mechanisms never seem to be clearly identified, much less 
explained). Since ``sick people'' are incapable of controlling 
themselves, it is the responsibility of government to protect them by 
constraining their ability to make harmful choices.
  This is the mentality that Dr. Szasz fought against so valiantly. By 
applying the philosophy of liberty to psychiatry, Dr. Szasz undermined 
the ``individual as helpless victim'' mentality that helps justify 
restrictors on personal liberty when it comes to drugs, fatty foods, 
sodas, pornography, gambling, etc. Dr. Szasz clearly understood, and 
predicated, the rise of the therapeutic nanny state.
  No doubt Dr. Szasz could have enjoyed a successful career had he 
moderated his views or kept quiet instead of presenting a principled 
challenge to the psychiatric-government complex. But Dr. Szasz was one 
of those rare individuals who could not be silent when liberty was 
threatened. For his courage in speaking truth to power, Dr. Szasz was 
rewarded with ridicule and scorn from the gatekeepers of 
``respectable'' opinion. However, Dr. Szasz did find a receptive 
audience among the ranks of the liberty movement, where he quickly 
earned a place as one of the movement's most distinguished thinkers. 
With the recent growth of the liberty movement, I would not be 
surprised if Dr. Szasz's influence becomes greater in the next several 
years. Certainly, all of us who work for individual liberty should be 
grateful for Dr. Thomas Szasz's contributions to the cause of freedom.

                   [From, Sept. 19, 2012]

                  The Man Versus the Therapeutic State

                           (By Jacob Sullum)

       The New York Times obituary for Thomas Szasz, who died this 
     month at the age of 92, says his critique of psychiatry ``had 
     some merit in the 1950s . . . but not later on, when the 
     field began developing more scientific approaches.'' That's a 
     paraphrase of historian Edward Shorter, whose judgment 
     reflects the conventional wisdom: Szasz called much-needed 
     attention to psychiatric abuses early in his career but went 
     too far by insisting on a fundamental distinction between 
     actual, biological diseases and metaphorical diseases of the 
       In fact, however, Szasz's radicalism, which he combined 
     with a sharp wit, a keen eye for obfuscating rhetoric, and an 
     uncompromising dedication to individual freedom and 
     responsibility, was one of his greatest strengths. Beginning 
     with The Myth of Mental Illness in 1961 and continuing 
     through 35 more books and hundreds of articles, the maverick 
     psychiatrist, driven by a ``passion against coercion,'' 
     zeroed in on the foundational fallacies underlying all manner 
     of medicalized tyranny.
       The idea that psychiatry became scientifically rigorous 
     soon after Szasz first likened it to alchemy and astrology is 
     hard to take seriously. After all, it was not until 1973 that 
     the American Psychiatric Association (APA) stopped calling 
     homosexuality a mental disorder.
       More often, psychiatry has expanded its domain. Today it 
     encompasses myriad sins and foibles, including smoking, 
     overeating, gambling, shoplifting, sexual promiscuity, 
     pederasty, rambunctiousness, inattentiveness, social 
     awkwardness, anxiety, sadness, and political extremism. If it 
     can be described, it can be diagnosed, but only if the APA 
     says so. Asperger's, for instance, will cease to exist when 
     the fifth edition of the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical 
     Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) comes out next year.
       As Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal 
     of Medicine, observed last year in The New York Review of 
     Books, ``there are no objective signs or tests for mental 
     illness--no lab data or MRI findings--and the boundaries 
     between normal and abnormal are often unclear. That makes it 
     possible to expand diagnostic boundaries or even create new 
     diagnoses in ways that would be impossible, say, in a field 
     like cardiology.'' In other words, mental illnesses are 
     whatever psychiatrists say they are.
       How ``scientific'' is that? Not very. In a 2010 Wired 
     interview, Allen Frances, lead editor of the current DSM, 
     despaired that defining mental disorders is ``bullshit.'' In 
     an online debate last month, he declared that ``mental 
     disorders most certainly are not diseases.''
       Then what exactly are they? For more than half a century, 
     Szasz stubbornly highlighted the hazards of joining such a 
     fuzzy, subjective concept with the force of law through 
     involuntary treatment, the insanity defense, and other 
     psychiatrically informed policies.
       Consider ``sexually violent predators,'' who are convicted 
     and imprisoned based on the premise that they could have 
     restrained themselves but failed to do so, then committed to 
     mental hospitals after completing their sentences based on 
     the premise that they suffer from irresistible urges and 
     therefore pose an intolerable threat to public safety. From a 
     Szaszian perspective, this incoherent theory is a cover for 
     what is really going on: the retroactive enhancement of duly 
     imposed sentences by politicians who decided certain 
     criminals were getting off too lightly--a policy so plainly 
     contrary to due process and the rule of law that it had to be 
     dressed up in quasi-medical, pseudoscientific justifications.
       Szasz specialized in puncturing such pretensions. He 
     relentlessly attacked the ``therapeutic state,'' the 
     unhealthy alliance of medicine and government that blesses 
     all sorts of unjustified limits on liberty, ranging from the 
     mandatory prescription system to laws against suicide. My own 
     work has been powerfully influenced by Szasz's arguments 
     against drug prohibition, especially his discussion of its 
     symbolism and its reliance on a mistaken understanding of 
     addiction, and his criticism of paternalistic interventions, 
     such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recently approved 
     soda serving ceiling, that conflate private and public 
       I will always be grateful for Szasz's courage and insight, 
     and so should anyone who shares his passion against coercion.