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Department of Justice, Law and Society
American University School of Public Affairs
Co-Chairperson, Awards Dinner Committee

George Washington Award
American Hungarian Foundation
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York City
November 11, 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen:

My name is Jeff Schaler. I am a friend and colleague of Thomas Szasz's.

Professor Molnar asked me to introduce Dr. Szasz to you this evening and I consider it a great honor to do so.

"Koszonom." Thank you.

When Professor Molnar asked me to speak, I in turn asked him what he would like me to say. "Tell us a little about Thomas Szasz, the person," he replied.

Therefore, I will say this as the beginning of what I hope turns out to be brief remarks: I think it is safe to say that just because someone is your teacher - in whatever capacity you may wish to construe the meaning of the word "teacher" - that doesn't necessarily mean that he or she is your friend.

I think I speak accurately though, for those of us around the world fortunate to be able to say "Tom Szasz is my friend," when I say that to know Tom as a friend, is to know Tom as a teacher. These are two sides of the same coin.

Now, I am confident that Tom is a bit uncomfortable when I use the word "teacher" in this way, and that is because he is a kind and humble man. I am equally confident in saying that Tom welcomes the label of "friend" over teacher.

Let me add, too, because I rarely get the opportunity to say this publicly, that Tom Szasz is one of the most compassionate and loving persons I have ever known, and I have known and know many great and good people in my life. I say this because many people have been so critical of him throughout his professional career.

That is the price he must pay for the work he has done. It takes a brave person to withstand such criticism.

To be sure, it is easier to write a long letter than it is to write a short one, and I have struggled to keep this introduction short. It is not easy because Thomas Szasz has done so much in his life. I cannot cover it all and I just don't know what to leave in and what to leave out.

The shortest thing I could come up with is this: Here is a man who has demonstrated uncompromising commitment to family, honesty, truth, and liberty throughout his life.

That says it all. Perhaps I should stop there, however, I will continue.

The next shortest thing I could come up with is to paraphrase comments made by a good friend and colleague of Tom's, Robert Seidenberg, someone who has known Tom since they were at the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis together in the 1940s and 1950s.

Seidenberg, also a psychiatrist, remarked, on the occasion of Tom's 80th birthday three years ago, that one of Szasz's greatest achievements is the fact that he never created another school of psychotherapy. He never created a another psychiatric cult, the way Freud and so many "psychotherapists" have done.

There is a lot to be said about that. I'll try not to say it.

He could easily have become a guru in the world of psychiatry. He chose not to do so. Perhaps, in part, this is because he believed that a grown-up can be no man's disciple. I don't know. Szasz was, intellectually speaking, more powerful than Franz Alexander, another Hungarian born in Budapest and founder of the Chicago Institute in 1932. Szasz was and is far more creative and influential than Freud ever dreamt of becoming. There was no question back in the late 1940s and 1950s that Szasz was to be Alexander's successor, the "crown prince" of psychoanalysis.

But Thomas Szasz would have nothing to do with it. He rejected the power he could easily have been given and assumed.

In this sense, it is more than fitting that Szasz should receive this prestigious George Washington Award: Like George Washington, Tom could have taken the road more traveled-an indeterminate presidency in the field of psychiatry-but he chose not to do so. This abdication of power shows greater strength of character than the addiction to power we see all around us in the world today. George Washington recognized that. That's why he turned down another term as President. Tom Szasz recognized that. He resisted the psychiatric Sirens of Titan.

Institutional psychiatrists, that is, psychiatrists who are agents of the state, are addicted to power. They pose a grave threat to liberty in the name of public health and compassion. Very few people pay attention to what Szasz has been saying about this for so many years.

A third and final way of describing Szasz the person is in terms of his intellectual work. I would like to say this and then I will end:

Thomas Szasz is a man at least one hundred years ahead of his time. While he is widely known and widely misunderstood for showing how mental illness is a myth, that is, for discovering and showing how behavior CANNOT be a disease, what many people miss about Thomas Szasz's message, for whatever reason, is his important insight regarding the relationship between the individual and the state.

Like Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, one could easily sum up Szasz's ideas, expressed in his voluminous writings on psychiatry, law, medicine, autonomy and the state over the past 40 years, in the form of a new amendment to the US Constitution, one Szasz proposed as a mere footnote in his book entitled The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement in 1970. It reads like this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of medicine, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Szasz coined the term "the therapeutic state" in 1963 to describe that union of medicine and state that has now securely replaced the theocratic state, the union of church and state. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, among others, recognized the threat to freedom that a state entangled with the church posed. They sought to separate the two, accordingly.

The therapeutic state functions today via legal fiction in order for those in political power to circumvent basic constitutional protections we all hold dear, namely, that a person cannot be deprived of liberty without being found guilty of having committed a crime; and that when those who break the law go unpunished, those who obey the law are cheated. In the first case, I am speaking about involuntary commitment to prisons called mental hospitals. In the second case, I am speaking about the insanity defense and its various offspring.

While both of these legal policies rest on the idea that the mind can be diseased in the same way that the brain can be diseased, neither take into account fundamental protections guaranteed to every person in America by the U.S. Constitution: I am speaking, of course, of due process and equal protection under law. These are the essential principles of the rule of law, the reason many Hungarians and others came to this country.

If there is one single message that Thomas Szasz has given to us all, I believe it is this: The U.S. Constitution does not differentiate between mentally healthy and mentally ill persons. It was written to protect liberty and responsibility for all persons who have come to and were born in America.

If we forget this important message, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of our past. May we all keep a good grip on our memory.

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me pleasure to introduce to you this evening, Professor Thomas Szasz, a recipient of the American Hungarian Foundation's George Washington Award.

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