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Introduction of Keith Hoeller
by Jeff Schaler
November 12, 2002
Cato Institute
Washington, DC

It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Dr. Keith Hoeller, of Seattle, Washington, this year's recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties - professional category. Keith is being given this award for his outstanding teaching and writing.

Many people do not realize the difficulties a person such as Keith faces as a "teacher of Szasz" in academia. It is a bit like teaching the theory of evolution to a cult of creationists. One is constantly criticized, ostracized, and ridiculed in the academe for teaching Szasz. One's job is always hanging by a thread. One's financial security is always being threatened.

You know, it is one thing to be rich and defend libertarianism. It is quite another to teach Szasz and worry about where your next pay check is coming from.

If you think it's difficult being a republican or conservative in the liberal or socialist controlled academe, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Liberals want conservatives out. Liberals and conservatives want Szaszians dead.

Keith's job is a lonely one that requires great courage, perseverance and trust in himself.

What is at the core of "teaching Szasz" in the college and university setting? There are at least three ideas:

One concerns the practice of committing innocent persons to prisons called mental hospitals for crimes they didn't commit. In other words, innocent persons are treated by the state as if they are guilty persons. Involuntary commitment uses the idea of mental illness to deprive individuals of liberty. Liberals, conservatives, and putative libertarians alike defend the practice in the name of compassion and public safety.

Another concerns the insanity defense. Guilty persons are exculpated for crimes they did commit. In other words, guilty persons are treated by the state as if they are innocent persons. The insanity defense uses the idea of mental illness to deprive society of justice.

A third concerns what it means to be a human being. This is the most threatening of all things Keith could teach when he "teaches Szasz"-threatening to agents of the therapeutic state, that polity where state and medicine are united in much the same way that church and state once were. (And if I may take this opportunity to point out, once again, that it was Szasz and Szasz alone who coined the term "therapeutic state" back in 1963. Now he is even being robbed of this by people like James Nolan and others who act as though they or Philip Rieff invented the term.)

To be a human being, from a Szaszian point of view, is to be a moral agent, a person who chooses. This is the essence of existentialism and the essence of libertarianism. Choice is liberty and with liberty must come responsibility. A person cannot be free if he is not responsible.

As Szasz once remarked:

"When culturally undeveloped, men treat objects as agents; when culturally developed, they treat agents as objects. The primitive explains nature in terms of human nature, the psychiatrist explains human nature in terms of nature. The modern scientist has refuted the savage's mistake, but has ratified the psychiatrist's. Who, then, will correct the psychiatrist's mistake?"

People such as Keith Hoeller do and will. That's because as a college professor Keith reaches deep into the minds of his students and shows them the difference between mind and brain, behavior and disease, persons and things.

Why does this upset people so? Because teaching students how they alone are captains of their ship is anathema to collectivists, socialists, and other wolves in sheep clothing. A person either controls himself or is controlled by others.

The idea of mental illness is used to circumvent constitutional protections. It is a sacred tool of totalitarians. Challenging the existence of mental illness is like challenging the existence of God. One must not do so. One cannot do so. Because so much power rests on the idea.

Nevertheless, people such as Keith persist in upsetting the intellectual applecart. And for this he deserves our recognition, praise, and thanks.

Thank you Keith, for your courage and determination.

And thank you, Andrea, for creating and perpetuating this award process. It is so important that we recognize Keith and so many like him for the good work they do. Good work that ultimately will help to change our lives for the good.

If you bear with me, I would like to briefly list some of Keith's accomplishments:

Since 1979, he has been the Editor of the "Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry," which was founded in 1961 by the existential psychiatrist Rollo May.

Since 1984, Keith has edited the Review's companion book series, "Studies in Existential Psychology & Psychiatry."

He is also the editor of "Thomas Szasz: Moral Philosopher of Psychiatry," which appeared in both the journal and the book series. There is a copy of it here.

Professor Keith Hoeller has taught as an adjunct professor of both philosophy and psychology at numerous colleges and universities in the Seattle area, including Seattle University and the University of Washington. For the past ten years he has taught in the Washington state community college system.

Dr. Hoeller has been active as a leader in the adjunct faculty movement, both in Washington state and nationwide. He has worked with several state legislators to improve the pay and working conditions for adjunct and part-time faculty.

In June, 2002, he was awarded the Georgina Smith Award by the national office of the American Association of University Professors for his work in improving the plight of women and collective bargaining rights for part-time faculty.

He has received several grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the French Government.

Keith earned his B.A. with Honors in English from the University of Florida (Gainesville, FL) in 1970; his M.A. in Psychology from Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, PA) in 1972; his M.A. in Philosophy from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) in 1979; and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA) in 1982.

He has published widely in both philosophy and psychology since 1972, when "Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying," published his article, "A Phenomenological Study of Suicide."

He is the translator of Martin Heidegger's "Elucidations of Hoelderlin's Poetry" (Humanity Books, 2000).

It is an honor to present to you, Keith Hoeller, the 2002 Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to Civil Liberties for the Professional Category.


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