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.
Madness Is Civilization explores the general consensus that societal ills—from dysfunctional marriage and family dynamics to the Vietnam War, racism, and sexism—were at the root of mental illness. Staub chronicles the surge in influence of socially attuned psychodynamic theories along with the rise of radical therapy and psychiatric survivors' movements. He shows how the theories of antipsychiatry held unprecedented sway over an enormous range of medical, social, and political debates until a bruising backlash against these theories—part of the reaction to the perceived excesses and self-absorptions of the 1960s—effectively distorted them into caricatures. Throughout, Staub reveals that at stake in these debates of psychiatry and politics was nothing less than how to think about the institution of the family, the nature of the self, and the prospects for, and limits of, social change.
The first study to describe how social diagnostic thinking emerged, Madness Is Civilization casts new light on the politics of the postwar era.
University of Chicago Press; August 2011
- ISBN: 9780226771496
- Read online, or download in secure PDF format
- Title: Madness Is Civilization
- Author: Michael E. Staub
Imprint: University of Chicago Press
In The Press
“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.”
— Kim Hopper, Columbia University
“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.”
— Mari Jo Buhle, author of Feminism and Its Discontents: A Century of Struggle with Psychoanalysis
“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.”
— David Herzberg, University of Buffalo
“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.”
— Regina Morantz-Sanchez, University of Michigan
“The author does a praiseworthy job of detailing the antipsychiatry battles of the 1960s and 1970s.”
— Journal of American History
“[A] new, readable, and extremely important book on post-WWII psychiatry and American culture. . . . Staub tells this American tale brilliantly.”
— Sander L. Gilman, The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture
“An interesting and accessible read, Madness Is Civilization sheds new light on the subject of mental health in the United States, while cohesively drawing together disparate intellectual elements under the rise (and fall) of the anti-psychiatry movement. . . . As such, any scholar with an interest in the changing dynamics of American culture and politics should include this book on their reading lists, as it provides both a unique and insightful analysis of the emergence of social diagnostic thinking and its importance in social change.”
— Contemporary Sociology
“Critics of psychiatry had been around for over a century but nothing compared with the torrent of attacks on the field launched by individuals such as Michel Foucault, Erving Goffman, RD Laing, Ken Kesey and Thomas Szasz. Staub is to be commended for reconstructing this volatile, influential and largely neglected era in the history of psychiatry, as well as his coverage of research into the family origins of severe mental diseases during the 1950s.”
— History of Psychiatry
“Madness Is Civilization makes a valuable contribution to the American intellectual history of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. For older readers, Staub provides a well-researched and insightful recreation of the debates that dominated a bygone period. For younger ones, he is a thoughtful guide to the general intellectual energy that the study of sanity and madness once provided. For both cohorts, he shows how much has been lost because of the absence of a genuinely social view of mental illness in current discourse about normality and abnormality. . . . Staub’s highly readable synthesis of a wide range of material is the single best source for a thoughtful discussion of the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement that at the same time is so chronologically close yet so intellectually distant from our current era.”
— Allan V. Horwitz, Social History of Medicine
“In Madness Is Civilization, Michael E. Staub provides a clear perspective of the scrutiny of psychiatric disorders in the mid-20th century by broadly reviewing the clinical, political, sociological, and community work of the protesting intellectuals who propelled the antipsychiatry and countercultural movements from 1948 to 1980. . . . Psychiatrists and anyone else struggling to understand how large segments of society can angrily discount one branch of medicine should read this book to better understand the history of antipsychiatry groups and the current manifestations of the antipsychiatry movement.”
— American Journal of Psychiatry
About The Author
Michael Staub is professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York, and the author of Torn at the Roots: The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America.