Are we witnessing the emergence of a new global psychiatric power? (2019)

by Federico Soldani


Why are politics, politicians and citizens involved in politics increasingly represented on the mass media and social media as crazy and out of control?

Why is political language increasingly populated with terms that claim to be technical-scientific or metaphors such as “political pathology” or “political health” or, to cite a recent example, “testosterone politics”? In particular, why do we increasingly apply psychological expressions such as “narcissism”, “mental pathology”, “mental health”, “sociopathy” or “schizophrenia” to social, economic or political categories?

And why do metaphors and political analogies now refer constantly to medicine, psychology, or epidemiology?

Why are ideas slowly but surely associated with sick thoughts? Or the spread of political ideas, and not only, is presented more and more literally as an epidemic, a viral spread, to be stopped and prevented?

Why the U.S. President, “the most powerful man in the world,” is represented as a madman? Or Hollywood blockbusters like ‘Joker’ represent the people and the sovereign citizens as de-politicized, savages, criminals and madmen?

Does “politically correct” language have a disciplinary and “orthopedic” function? If so, how?

Why are hallucinogens, psychedelics and cannabis products spreading on a mass scale and for every possible and imaginable use, ‘therapeutic’ or not?

Are these trends completely new or are they part of an ideology that comes from afar?

Below, the link to a talk that I held at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the City of London, in the summer of 2019, which tries to explain the new and overbearing avant-garde trends as indispensable preparatory elements for the transition towards a global post-democracy, anti-political, digital, essentially technocratic and in all probability totalitarian.

A path of apparent ‘liberation’ which is instead the path to the de-sovereignization of each of us from one’s own rationality.

(Introductory text above, by the author, 28th October 2019


Video subtitled in English or Italian:

“Are we witnessing the emergence of a new global psychiatric power?”

Federico Soldani, MD, SM, PhD

3rd September 2019 – Royal College of Psychiatrists – London

Philosophy of Psychiatry Special Interest Group
Biennial Conference – “Madness, the Mind, and Politics” See this link for program.

Original conference abstract, submitted 15th May 2019:

Are we witnessing the emergence of a new global psychiatric power?

In recent years we have observed an increasing focus on language and concepts related to mental health in the broader societal and political world.

For instance, political language related to “phobias” has rapidly surged to commonplace.

Similar lexicon derived largely from psychiatry, psychology, and psychoanalysis might lead to a progressive internalization and de-politicization of civic concepts, without most citizens realizing it.

More recently, prominent groups of intellectuals including psychiatrists from global academic institutions argued explicitly for a new necessity of the psychiatrization of old political concepts and institutions.

Among others, Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, in a volume written by 37 contributors titled “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” (2nd Edition, 2019), asserted explicitly: “Those who pretend that we are in the realm of politics when we are really in the realm of psychopathology make the situation even more dangerous, because they will not be prepared while the future of the planet and the human race are at stake.”

Former DSM-IV chief Allen Frances, in his essay “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” (2017) argued: “Trump isn’t crazy. We are.”

Michel Foucault, in his 1973-74 lecture series on “Psychiatric Power” at the Collège de France, pointed to the madness of King George III of England, monarch of a global British empire, as reported by Philippe Pinel in the seminal “Traité médico-philosophique sur l’aliénation mentale; ou la manie,” published in 1800 in Paris. According to Foucault, such emblematic scene of madness marked the birth of psychiatry as well as the passage from sovereign to disciplinary power in the modern world.

In this light, the current public psychiatrization of “the most powerful man in the world,” as the media often describe the President of the United States of America, could be seen as a new paradigm shift in contemporary power.

Such a public spectacle is broadcasted around the world via TV and digital social media (e.g, Twitter) in real time. In addition to the increasing use of a psychologized lexicon in everyday speech, a role might be played by such spectacle communicating symbolically, and contributing to, a global cultural shift towards a subjectivist worldview and a progressive de-politicization of citizenship.

Last Updated on July 28, 2020 by Federico Soldani

One thought on “Are we witnessing the emergence of a new global psychiatric power? (2019)

  1. More than one year after my London talk above, centered from its title on Foucault’s “Psychiatric Power” lecture series (1973-1974), the historical Editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, is trying to have anglophone medicine and public health discover Foucault.


    Offline: COVID-19—a crisis of power
    Richard Horton

    Published:October 31, 2020DOI:

    COVID-19 is about the politics of the body. In a series of lectures and essays in the 1970s and early 1980s, Michel Foucault (who died in 1984) argued that the discipline of public health emerged with the birth of capitalism in the 18th century. The body came to be understood as an instrument of economic production, of labour power, and so became a subject of significant political interest. Medicine and public health were endorsed as tools to enhance these productive forces, to ensure that people were fit for work. The priority given to the body as an important determinant of mercantilist prosperity ran parallel with a further historical turn—the meaning of government.

    “The imperative for health”, Foucault wrote, “—at once the duty of each and the objective of all”. “The body is a biopolitical reality; medicine is a biopolitical strategy.” Public health—observation and measurement of sickness, standardisation of knowledge and practice, and the creation of an administrative structure to manage health—became a type of pastoral power with the aim of social and economic development. The growing importance of health to industrial societies led to the valorisation of doctors and the growth of medical science. An alliance formed between medicine and the state—“a politico–medical hold on a population”.


    And this article of mine contains also a short response to this opinion piece on the Lancet:

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