Thomas Szasz is a psychiatrist and author well known for his criticism of the modern psychiatry movement. He has consistently sought to apply classical liberal principles (such as bodily and mental self ownership) to social science and also explored the consequences of mandatory institutionalization of persons the state deemed to be insane. In his book, The Myth of Mental Illness (1960), Szasz claims that psychiatry ultimately robs people of the responsibility of being moral agents by obscuring the difference between socially unacceptable behavior and disease.
In this lecture, given at the National Libertarian Party’s Nominating Convention in 1983, Szasz compares the influence of psychiatry on the public with the influence of religion on the public (usually with the backing of the respective king or government body) during the Middle Ages. Szasz points out that the state’s tendency to use science as a justification for trampling the rights of individuals today is much like the state’s tendency to use religious justifications to trample the rights of individuals in days past. Szasz once wrote in 1974:
“Since theocracy is the rule of God or its priests, and democracy the rule of the people or of the majority, pharmacracy is therefore the rule of medicine or of doctors.”