Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dalrymple - 'In the Asylum'

"Foucault was not so much concerned by the cases of abuse or the poor conditions in asylums, as a mere reformer might have been. In the tortuous prose then typical of French intellectuals, he was concerned to assert that the separation of the mad from the sane, both physically and as a matter of classification, was neither intellectually justified nor motivated by beneficence. Instead, it was an instance of the exertion of power by the rising bourgeoisie, which needed a disciplined and compliant workforce to fuel its economic system and was therefore increasingly intolerant of deviance—not only of conduct but of thought. It therefore locked deviants away in what Foucault called “the great incarceration” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, of which the asylums of the Victorian era were a late manifestation.

In Foucault’s Nietzschean vision, all human institutions—even, or especially, those of avowedly beneficent intent—are expressions of the will to power, because such a will underlies all human activity. It is not really surprising, then, if asylums had turned into nothing but chambers of horrors: for psychiatry, and indeed the whole of medicine, to the rest of which Foucault soon turned his undermining attention, were not enterprises to liberate mankind from some of its travails—enterprises that inevitably committed errors en route to knowledge and enlightenment—but expressions of the will to power of the medical profession. The fact that this will was cloaked under an official ideology of benevolence made it only the more dangerous and sinister. This will needed to be unmasked, so that mankind could liberate itself and live in the anarchic Dionysian mode that Foucault favored. (A sadomasochistic homosexual, the French philosopher later lived out his fantasies in San Francisco, and died of AIDS as a result.)" - City Journal, Summer 2005.

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