Madness Is Civilization
When the Diagnosis Was Social, 1948-1980
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.
“Fiercely argued and wide ranging, Madness Is Civilization revisits that much-reviled and much-celebrated period in US history, the sixties. But this view is through the looking glass of a cultural argument about psychosis as both indictment of and liberation from a repressive society. Sharply observed, reliably provocative, and tension-riddled to the last line, Staub’s reclamation of the unfinished legacy of a decade is sure to be widely read and debated.”
“Madness Is Civilization is a fresh and analytically stunning account of the critiques of psychiatry that prevailed in the decades after World War II. Staub explores the cultural and political meanings of the idea that insanity was a reasonable response to a society gone mad. Boldly, he revives the works of such luminaries as Theodor Adorno, Thomas Szasz, and R. D. Laing, and recounts the activism of such fascinating antipsychiatry movements as radical therapy and patients’ rights. In creating this exceptionally readable account, Staub utilizes a variety of sources ranging from medical to popular. Madness Is Civilization is a must read.”
“Draws unexpected and fascinating connections between a host of important postwar thinkers, many of whom are often thought to have been at odds with each other but whom Staub persuasively depicts as having created and inhabited the same cultural moment. With creative new arguments about antipsychiatry and its connections to intellectual radicalism on both the left and the right, this is a valuable contribution to American intellectual history.”
“This lively examination of American therapeutic culture from the late 1940’s to 1980 examines how key events—fascism, the Cold War, the New Left, Civil Rights, feminism, Vietnam—shaped American psychiatry. The commitment to understanding an individual’s familial, social, and political contexts becomes in Staub’s hands a story of professional twists, turns, and unintended consequences. Humanistic therapies often failed to produce progressive outcomes, ushering in an age of biochemical solutions in psychiatric treatment. Wonderfully accessible and full of cultural irony, Madness Is Civilization is essential reading for scholars interested in the relationship between American culture and politics.”