Thomas Szasz Against the Theoristsrnby Irving Louis HorowitzrnSince the publication of The Myth of Mental Illness and PsychiatricrnJustice some 35 years ago, Thomas Szasz has battled thernpopular conception of mental illness as a disease “like any other.”rnHe has long argued against the involuntary interning of the mentallyrnill, against denying the mentally ill their constitutional rightrnto trial, and against exonerating criminals from responsibility forrntheir actions on the basis of “temporary insanity.” Thomas Szaszrnis a professor of psxcliiatry at the State University of New York inrnSyracuse.rnThere is a strange and wondrous storv by Edgar Allan Poerncalled “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,”rnin which the reader is never quite certain, at least until the end,rnjust who is the superintendent and who is the patient in a Maisonrnde Sante outside of Paris in the first half of the 19th ccntur-.rnhidccd, there is sufficient role reversal taking place so thatrnthe reader is unrelieved of doubt on the doctor-patient rolerne’en after the story is concluded, hi the short story, Poe mixesrnterror and kindness, sickness is commingled vith health, lueiditrnwith imaginings of all sorts. Overall, we are left with graverndoubt as to the relationships of people to each other—especial-rn1 in confined settings, or what Erving Goffman preferred torncall total institutions. The human condition is neither comedicrnnor tragic, but some ever-changing admixture of the two.rnIt is not that categories of sanity and insanity are fictitious,rnbut that the human bearers of such categories are all too real.rnIrving Louis Horowitz is Hannah Arendt Distinguished Professorrnof Sociology and Political Science at Rutgers University andrnpresident emeritus of Transaction Publishers.rnThey operate from a mixed bag of motives which require explication.rnPoe’s story might well be the appropriate fictive tale tornthe quite real concerns of Thomas Szasz. For his interests rangernfar beyond commonplace slogans about mental illness, into thernpainful ambiguities of everyday life—and the need to make decisionsrnabout what constitutes creative as well as destructive behavior,rnno less than what we mean by health and ailment. Hisrnwork crisscrosses law, medicine, and the social sciences withrnfrightening ease—frightening because Szasz is so knowledgeable,rnand even more, because he probes the sources of our intellectualrnboundaries in a challenging way.rnIf there is another living psychiatrist who has suffered morernprofessional obliquity while sustaining great public recognition,rnthis person escapes my recognition. To be sure, the work ofrnThomas Szasz has far greater support in allied disciplines suchrnas sociology and political science than in his own native field.rnThis is a two-way street, of course. For if people like ErvingrnGoffman drew support in his Asylums from the earlier efforts ofrnSzasz, so too has Szasz sought relief and comfort in the likes ofrnGeorge fierbcrt Mead and his Mind, Self&r Society. To say thernleast, the life and career of Szasz are a tribute to the incrediblernmoral spine of this individual, but also to the tangled web ofrnprofessional relationships that have evolved oer the century inrnthe social and behavioral sciences.rnCalling attention to the contributions of the social sciencesrnmay be the greatest sin committed by Szasz in the eyes of hisrncritics. For it is the medical model of psychiatric practice thatrncomes under the sharpest critique in his work. This is not becausernSzasz is against medicine—indeed his training andrnpoints of reference have always been the medical profession—rnJANUARY 1996/23rnrnrn