The comment is by ‘Aporeticist’ and he or she is clearly a fierce critic of modern psychiatry (to the point of indulging in sweeping generalisations at times) but the analysis of Szasz is remarkably insightful and cuts to the core of both his triumphs and failings.
Many of Szasz’s early critics have over the years quietly come around to some of his basic views. (Karl Menninger was one of his colleagues who acknowledged his change of heart.) The notion that the great majority of people with mental illness should never be hospitalized against their will (even when they are troublesome to those around them) has become common sense. It remains one of the great injustices of history that the psychiatric establishment continues to refuse to credit Szasz with being the first member of his profession who, in the mid 1960s, stated on record — against the unanimous opinion of his colleagues — the revolutionary contention that homosexuality was not a disease, and that it didn’t warrant “treatment” of any kind.
The classical liberal notion of “live and let live” resonates closely with the “first, do no harm” of the Hippocratic Oath that Thomas Szasz took as a young medical doctor. For better or worse, Szasz remained consistently faithful to these principles of negative freedom his whole life. Those, however, who believe that, as individuals and as a society, we have a moral obligation to (somehow) assist the mentally ill even when they don’t reach out for support, would regard Szasz’s characterization of psychiatric paternalism as “cruel compassion” as equally descriptive of his own apparent lack of concern for the welfare of those labelled mentally ill. Szasz tirelessly defended the autonomy of even the most severely disturbed mental patients (so long as they didn’t violate the law), yet seemed to care little whether they live or die if no one infringed on their sacred negative rights.
Recommended. Thanks Aporeticist.
Link to commentary on Szasz’s legacy by Aporeticist.