Madness and Democracy: The Modern Psychiatric Universe: The Modern Psychiatric Universe

Princeton University Press
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How the insane asylum became a laboratory of democracy is revealed in this provocative look at the treatment of the mentally ill in nineteenth-century France. Political thinkers reasoned that if government was to rest in the hands of individuals, then measures should be taken to understand the deepest reaches of the self, including the state of madness. Marcel Gauchet and Gladys Swain maintain that the asylum originally embodied the revolutionary hope of curing all the insane by saving the glimmer of sanity left in them. Their analysis of why this utopian vision failed ultimately constitutes both a powerful argument for liberalism and a direct challenge to Michel Foucault's indictment of liberal institutions.

The creation of an artificial environment was meant to encourage the mentally ill to live as social beings, in conditions that resembled as much as possible those prevailing in real life. The asylum was therefore the first instance of a modern utopian community in which a scientifically designed environment was supposed to achieve complete control over the minds of a whole category of human beings. Gauchet and Swain argue that the social domination of the inner self, far from being the hidden truth of emancipation, represented the failure of its overly optimistic beginnings.

Madness and Democracy combines rich details of nineteenth-century asylum life with reflections on the crucial role of subjectivity and difference within modernism. Its final achievement is to show that the lessons learned from the failure of the asylum led to the rise of psychoanalysis, an endeavor focused on individual care and on the cooperation between psychiatrist and patient. By linking the rise of liberalism to a chapter in the history of psychiatry, Gauchet and Swain offer a fascinating reassessment of political modernity.

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About the author

Marcel Gauchet is the editor of Le Débat and the author of The Disenchantment of the World (Princeton). Gladys Swain was a practicing psychiatrist and the author of Dialogue avec l'insensé (Gallimard).
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Additional Information

Princeton University Press
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Published on
May 5, 2012
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Philosophy / Political
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This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Il y a un malheur français, bien spécifique à ce pays : pourquoi sommes-nous les champions du monde du pessimisme et du mécontentement de nous-mêmes ? Pourquoi vivons-nous notre situation, notre place dans l’Europe et le monde, comme un malheur incomparable ?
Marcel Gauchet aborde ce problème d’une façon originale, en procédant d’abord à un vaste examen historique, qui le conduit aux xviie-xviiie siècles, jusqu’à la période immédiatement contemporaine. Au passage, l’auteur analyse en profondeur le règne de De Gaulle et celui de Mitterrand, l’un et l’autre matriciels pour comprendre notre présent.
Puis Marcel Gauchet s’attaque aux ressorts de la société française d’aujourd’hui, dont il dissèque les maux : pourquoi la mondialisation et l’insertion dans l’ensemble européen sont-ils ressentis en France avec une particulière inquiétude ? Pourquoi le divorce entre les élites et le peuple prend-il chez nous ce tour dramatique ? Quelle responsabilité incombe aux dirigeants dans la montée de ce qu’on appelle, sans y réfléchir, « populisme » ? Quel rôle joue, dans le marasme français, le néo-libéralisme auquel Mitterrand a converti la France sans le dire ?
Enfin, l’auteur montre que nous sommes aujourd’hui au plein coeur d’une période d’idéologie, d’autant plus pernicieuse qu’elle n’est jamais repérée pour ce qu’elle est, mais toujours confondue avec le cours obligatoire des choses : il s’agit de l’idéologie néo-libérale, qui va de pair avec la dépolitisation de nos sociétés.
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