Madness Is Civilization: When the Diagnosis Was Social, 1948-1980

University of Chicago Press
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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.

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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.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Aug 15, 2011
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Pages
264
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ISBN
9780226771496
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Language
English
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Genres
History / General
History / United States / 20th Century
Psychology / Social Psychology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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When Jewish neoconservatives burst upon the political scene, many people were surprised. Conventional wisdom held that Jews were uniformly liberal. This book explodes the myth of a monolithic liberal Judaism. Michael Staub tells the story of the many fierce battles that raged in postwar America over what the authentically Jewish position ought to be on issues ranging from desegregation to Zionism, from Vietnam to gender relations, sexuality, and family life. Throughout the three decades after 1945, Michael Staub shows, American Jews debated the ways in which the political commitments of Jewish individuals and groups could or should be shaped by their Jewishness. Staub shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the liberal position was never the obvious winner in the contest.

By the late 1960s left-wing Jews were often accused by their conservative counterparts of self-hatred or of being inadequately or improperly Jewish. They, in turn, insisted that right-wing Jews were deaf to the moral imperatives of both the Jewish prophetic tradition and Jewish historical experience, which obliged Jews to pursue social justice for the oppressed and the marginalized. Such declamations characterized disputes over a variety of topics: American anticommunism, activism on behalf of African American civil rights, imperatives of Jewish survival, Israel and Israeli-Palestinian relations, the 1960s counterculture, including the women's and gay and lesbian liberation movements, and the renaissance of Jewish ethnic pride and religious observance. Spanning these controversies, Staub presents not only a revelatory and clear-eyed prehistory of contemporary Jewish neoconservatism but also an important corrective to investigations of "identity politics" that have focused on interethnic contacts and conflicts while neglecting intraethnic ones.

Revising standard assumptions about the timing of Holocaust awareness in postwar America, Staub charts how central arguments over the Holocaust's purported lessons were to intra-Jewish political conflict already in the first two decades after World War II. Revisiting forgotten artifacts of the postwar years, such as Jewish marriage manuals, satiric radical Zionist cartoons, and the 1970s sitcom about an intermarried couple entitled Bridget Loves Bernie, and incidents such as the firing of a Columbia University rabbi for supporting anti-Vietnam war protesters and the efforts of the Miami Beach Hotel Owners Association to cancel an African Methodist Episcopal Church convention, Torn at the Roots sheds new light on an era we thought we knew well.

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