Totalitarian “medicine”. George F. Will in the Washington Post, 1987 (2022)

by George F. Will – 21st May 1987

Washington Post

“It is a paradox of modern politics that two of the most intellectually primitive regimes have considered themselves servants of science. In 1934, Rudolph Hess said: ”National Socialism is nothing but applied biology.” The Soviet regime applies ”scientific socialism,” within which psychiatry has a special place, as Dr. Anatoly Koryagin can testify. [Koryagin is a Soviet psychiatrist and dissident, in the photo above, now living in Switzerland who was working in Kharkiv, Ukraine, arrested and sentenced in the U.S.S.R. for having sent correspondence published as “Unwilling patients” in The Lancet in 1981. See also, ‘Koryagin urges continued efforts against psychiatric abuse’, AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility, 1987 ( ed.].

Koryagin, 48, recently was released to the West from a prison camp where he served six years of a 14-year sentence for the usual offense, ”anti-Soviet activities,” which included getting out to the West an article about Soviet abuses of psychiatry. Such abuses are as old as the Soviet regime. Historian Paul Johnson notes that in 1919 the Moscow Revolutionary Tribunal sentenced an anticommunist leader to treatment in a sanatorium. In the 1930s, the secret police built a 400-bed penal hospital (two words perversely joined in communist societies) on the grounds of a mental hospital. In the 1940s, the leading Soviet research institution for criminal psychology had a department for ”political” cases.

Koryagin says that since 1977 the number of psychiatric ”hospitals” where dissidents are imprisoned with the criminally insane has grown from 11 to 16. And glasnost has not involved the release of any dissident from a psychiatric ”hospital.”

The 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact truly was a joining of kindred spirits. Neal Ascherson, in the New York Review of Books, says German doctors were dazzled to discover that, under Hitler, medicine was ”the central intellectual resource of the New Order.” Doctors practiced ”biological soldiering,” perfecting the race by killing the unfit and using them for ”research” to benefit the master race. And in the Soviet Union, psychiatry, a less-settled science than biology, has been conscripted by the regime.

Since Freud postulated that the self is a fractious committee — the ego, id and libido — there has been ”scientific” doubt about the importance of reason in the individual’s life. Freud, a semi-materialist, believed in the body and ”consciousness,” a passive ghost in the machine. His intimation was that civilization is a misfortune because neuroses result from maladjustments to the unyielding reality of modern society.

But Marxists believe anything will yield to their ”science,” backed by force. They fancy themselves architects of societies so well-designed that they cannot be sources of discontent. As Khrushchev said in Pravda in 1959 about people ”who might start calling for opposition” to communism: ”Clearly the mental state of such people is not normal.”

Psychiatry, with its expanding arsenal of drugs, can be abused as a brutal instrument of social control. And the official Soviet premise, that only the psychologically disabled could fail to love socialism, enlists psychiatry as a rationalization for the regime.

In the West, neurological discoveries and pharmacological sophistication are confirming this much of a materialist thesis: mental illness often is biologically based, as in brain chemistry. This of course does not confirm or even support the Soviet premise that mental disorders of Soviet citizens must be biologically based because Soviet society is too advanced to be a source of suffering for Homo sovieticus, the new Soviet man manufactured for communism. However, what is known about the biological basis of mental disorders is distressingly useful to totalitarians who believe there is no intractable tension between human nature and society because both are infinitely malleable under the forceful application of this or that science.

Technically speaking (scientific socialists love speaking technically), the Soviet Union is, 70 years after the Revolution, still in the Glorious Transition Period. The transition to pure communism is not over because the state has not quite withered away. But Soviet society is close enough to scientific perfection that mental disorders, including persistent dissent, must be biologically based and hence treatable with drugs, at least theoretically.

A perennial question about the Soviet regime is: Does it believe and act on its ideological inanities? A reasonable conclusion is that the regime’s mind is a strange alloy of cynicism and sincerity. Koryagin stresses the cynicism and cites a telling detail about the confinement of dissidents in psychiatric hospitals: whereas people who are really mentally ill are confined until cured, dissidents have been given fixed sentences.

And the regime has elastic standards regarding deviant behavior. When Koryagin’s 9-year-old son received a severe concussion when he was beaten (as all members of the family were at various times in the street), a court held that the beating was a ”natural” expression of public feeling against an anti-Soviet family. Such is the sphere of spontaneity in Soviet society.”


[According to Wikipedia, accessed 23rd October 2022, George Frederick Will (born May 4, 1941) is an American libertarian-conservative political commentator and author. He writes regular columns for The Washington Post and provides commentary for NBC News and MSNBC. In 1986The Wall Street Journal called him “perhaps the most powerful journalist in America”, in a league with Walter Lippmann (1889–1974). He won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1977. Bold for emphasis and links were added in the text above.]

Cite this article as: Federico Soldani, "Totalitarian “medicine”. George F. Will in the Washington Post, 1987 (2022)," in PsyPolitics, October 23, 2022,

Last Updated on May 2, 2023 by Federico Soldani

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