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Mises on Psychiatry and Anarchism

Ludwig von Mises in Human Action:
Anarchism believes that education could make all people comprehend what their own interests require them to do; rightly instructed they would of their own accord always comply with the rules of conduct indispensable for the preservation of society. The anarchists contend that a social order in which nobody enjoys privileges at the expense of his fellow-citizens could exist without any compulsion and coercion for the prevention of action detrimental to society. Such an ideal society could do without state and government, i.e., without a police force, the social apparatus of coercion and compulsion.

The anarchists overlook the undeniable fact that some people are either too narrow-minded or too weak to adjust themselves spontaneously to the conditions of social life. Even if we admit that every sane adult is endowed with the faculty of realizing the good of social cooperation and of acting accordingly, there still remains the problem of the infants, the aged, and the insane. We may agree that he who acts antisocially should be considered mentally sick and in need of care. But as long as not all are cured, and as long as there are infants and the senile, some provision must be taken lest they jeopardize society. An anarchistic society would be exposed to the mercy of every individual. Society cannot exist if the majority is not ready to hinder, by the application or threat of violent action, minorities from destroying the social order. This power is vested in the state or government.

State or government is the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion. It has the monopoly of violent action. No individual is free to use violence or the threat of violence if the government has not accorded this right to him. The state is essentially an institution for the preservation of peaceful interhuman relations. However, for the preservation of peace it must be prepared to crush the onslaughts of peace-breakers.
As far as anarchism goes, the idea that an anarchist society would have no police, no defense of property rights, no defense against violence ... is pure straw man.

More interesting, I think, is the discussion of the mentally ill.

To agree to use force against those deemed antisocial or insane is pure tyranny and totalitarianism. It is the suppression of dissent and all radical new moral ideas (because those will deviate from current social norms). It is the opposite of a free, tolerant, liberal society (Mises is advocating liberalism in the book).

The only possible liberal attitude is to refuse to dehumanize any large groups of humans. To label someone "insane" does not make him less of a person. To dehumanize the large and vague group of "antisocial" people, and to endorse violence against them, is even more broadly destructive.

We must thoroughly renounce violence in human relations, not let psychiatry sneak it back in. Mises wants social cooperation but he apparently doesn't understand that social cooperation ought to include everyone, at least in a minimal way. The value of social cooperation must not be used as a justification for violence against those I deem insufficiently cooperative or who do not socialize in the ways I want them to.

I further object to Mises mixing up the insane and antisocial with the criminals and peace-breakers. Most people labelled mentally ill are not criminals, not violent, and do not hurt anyone. To smear all the psychiatrically-labelled deviants as criminals is awful. And completely unnecessary: the people who do break laws can be dealt with according to the law without any psychiatric claim. So the only purpose of the smear is to legitimize violence against the non-violent, non-criminal people who are, nonetheless, targeted by psychiatry.

Elliot Temple on April 22, 2012


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