I heard via the grapevine that Thomas Szasz died today, but have seen nothing in today's newspapers about this event. Whatever the outcome, Thomas Szasz will be alive and kicking up controversy for years to come.
Here's a recent letter to the editor of Cato Unbound condemning the Cato Institute for continuing to uphold Szasz's libertarian ideas about the power of the state. The author takes issue with Szasz's central belief that there is no such thing as mental illness and she asserts that government policy was deeply endebted to Szasz's thinking by closing state hospitals. The editorial writer is experiencing a distressed state of her own, as it was largely the advent of the first generation anti-psychotics, not public policy embracing hippiedom, that emptied state mental hospitals. It wasn't just tthe new drugs, of course. The state has long believed in exactly in something called mental illness and has always acted on that belief, never very efficiently or elegantly. To think that Thomas Szasz influenced public policy back then is absurd. Hollywood, perhaps. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, definitely.
excerpt: The upshot was that a literally mad idea—the bizarre conceit that the ancient, ongoing and universal scourge of mental illness did not in fact exist—became the foundation of public policy. Legislators and lawyers emptied state mental hospitals. As readers of Amanda Pustilnik's contribution already know, their role has been taken over by jails and prisons. Involuntary commitment became contingent on imminent dangerousness and even then treatment was uncertain because the law instituted a right to refuse treatment, which could be exercised even after commitment.