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Posts tagged Tyrannicide Day

Wearable Anarchy

For those of you who don’t know, L. and I moved across the country back in August. She’s in grad school; I’m trying to make a living in some way that will let me keep attending to most or all of the different pots that I have on different burners — Rad Geek People’s Daily, FeedWordPress, Fair Use Repository, Feminist Blogs, et cetera. So, I’d like to offer the following wearable propaganda, now available through my CafePress online store. Besides getting a t-shirt, you’ll also be helping to support my work here at the blog. If you’re interested, click through to get more information or a larger view of the shirt. These are all the designs so far, but some alternate styles can be found through the storefront.

T-shirt: War is the Health of the State

War is the Health of the State / The Mirrour which Flatters Not

T-shirt: This is what an Anarchist looks like!

This is what an Anarchist looks like!

T-shirt: Celebrate Tyrannicide Day

Celebrate Tyrannicide Day!

T-shirt: Rad Geek People's Daily

Rad Geek People’s Daily

Let me know what you think. And enjoy!

Refuge of Oppression #2

Here’s a recent correspondence from a friend of human greatness, apparently in response to my celebrations of Tyrannicide Day on the Ides of March. Here’s what he has to say on behalf of the man who publicly boasted of killing or enslaving one third of the population of Gaul:

From: Paul
Date: 9 April 2007 4:44 AM
Subject: How dare you…

(((This message was submitted by Paul [e-mail address redacted] using the online contact form)))

Just who do you think you are, berating such a man as Caesar? Caesar was a man greater than any of us could ever hope to be, and the anniversary of his murder is a date to be mourned, not celebrated. Of course, most people are so blinded by Shakespeare’s interpretation of Caesar that they can’t even see his greatness. Caesar fought for Rome, and only for Rome; he was kind to those that surrendered, forceful to those that resisted, and vengeful to those that betrayed. What do you expect? Do you expect anyone to simply sit back at swallow betrayal after betrayal with no retaliation? Do you expect anyone of that time to allow Rome’s enemies to threaten Rome and her protected peoples? Do you expect anyone to stand quietly while he is stripped of the power he earned? Pompey and the Senate, despite Caesar’s numerous efforts for peace, forced his hand by not allowing him, a man who had done so much for Rome, to even return to the city. I would have done no differently, and anyone who would has no self-respect and is a doormat. Caesar, in all his greatness, fit neither of these criteria and fought to defend his rights and to secure that which was due him.

Oh, and while I’m at it, I suppose I’ll mention that the Crimean War was a defensive war on Russia’s part; Britain and France landed their troops on the Crimean Peninsula, Russian territory, and Alexander simply tried to fend them off. Czar Alexander may not have been the greatest leader, but don’t bust him on the Crimean War.


I would like to say that I am very sorry to the absolutist emperors and military dictators-for-life of the world for any unfair berating that I may have directed against them in the course of my infamous scribbling against my betters. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I am blinded against the greatness of those who so clearly excel at slaughtering, terrorizing, and dominating their fellow human beings.

Paul asked several questions in the course of his message. The answers to them, as I see it, are, in order: abdication, it depends on what you mean, yes, and I most certainly do.

Further reading:

Tyrannicide Day 2007

Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!

Today, March 15th, commemorates the assassination of two tyrants. Gaius Julius Caesar, the butcher of Gaul and the dictator-for-life who had conquered, burned, and proscribed his way to becoming the King of Rome in everything but name, was stabbed to death on the floor of the Senate, by a group of republican conspirators known as the Liberatores, on March 15th, 44 BCE (2,050 years ago today, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments). Czar Alexander II Nikolaevitch, the self-styled Caesar of all the Russias, died in an explosion set off as an act of propaganda by the deed by a group of anarchist conspirators on March 13th, 1881 CE (126 years ago Tuesday, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments).

There are lots of reasons to avoid tyrannicide as a political tactic — after all, these two famous cases each ended a tyrant but not the tyrannical regime; Alexander II was replaced by the even more brutal Alexander III, and Julius Caesar was replaced by his former running-dogs, one of whom would emerge from the abattoir that followed as Augustus Caesar, to begin the long Imperial nightmare in earnest. But it’s important to recognize that these are strategic failures, not moral ones, and what should be celebrated on the Ides of March is not the tyrannicide as a strategy, but rather tyrannicide as a moral fact. Putting a diadem on your head and wrapping yourself in the blood-dyed robes of the State confers neither the virtue, the knowledge, nor the right to rule over anyone, anywhere, for even one second, any more than you had naked and alone. Tyranny is nothing more and nothing less than organized crime executed with a pompous sense of entitlement and a specious justification; the right to self-defense applies every bit as much against the person of some self-proclaimed sovereign as it does against any other two-bit punk who might attack you on the street. Every victory for human liberation in history — whether against the crowned heads of Europe, the cannibal-empires of modern Fascism and Bolshevism, or the age-old self-perpetuating oligarchies of race and sex — has had this insight at its core: the moral right to deal with the princes and potentates of the world as nothing more and nothing less than fellow human beings, to address them as such, to challenge them as such, and — if necessary — to resist them as such.

In honor of the event, the Ministry of Culture of this secessionist republic of one would like to offer a commemorative reading. This is from Act IV, Scene III of Friedrich von Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell (1805). According to the legends from which Schiller drew his story, in 1307 William Tell, a renowned archer and patriot from the canton of Uri, assassinated Gessler, the brutal governor who ruled the canton on behalf of the Holy Roman Emperor in Austria. The assassination sparked an uprising in which the people of Uri and the surrounding cantons tore down the Hapsburg forts, and drove the Austrian forces out of what then became the free and independent Swiss Confederacy. How far the legends reflect historical events and how far they are inventions of early modern Swiss nationalists is a matter of debate; but if true, they record one of the most successful tyrannicides known to history.

(GESSLER and RUDOLF DER HARRAS on horseback.)

GESSLER: Say, what you will, I am the Emp’ror’s servant And must give thought, to how I best can please him. He hath not sent me to this land, to flatter The people and be soft to them — He wants Obedience, the issue is, shall farmers Be master in the land or shall the Emp’ror.

ARMGARD: Now is the moment! Now I’ll bring it up!

(Approaches timidly.)

GESSLER: I have not had the hat put up as jest In Altorf, nor was it to test the hearts O’ th’ people, these I’ve known for quite some time. I have had it put up, that they might learn To bend their necks to me, which they hold high — I had the inconvenient thing set up Upon their path, where they would have to pass, That they would meet it with their eyes, and it Would bring to mind their lord, whom they forget.

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: And yet the people do have certain rights —

GESSLER: To ponder these, there is just now no time! — Far reaching projects are at work and growing, The Imperial house would grow, and what the father Hath gloriously begun, the son will end. This little people is to us a stone I’ th’ way — this way or that, they must submit.

(They want to pass on. The woman throws herself down before the GOVERNOR.)

ARMGARD: Kind-heartedness, Lord Governor! Mercy! Mercy!

GESSLER: Why stand you on the public highway in My way — Stand back!

ARMGARD: My husband lies in prison, The wretched orphans cry for bread — Have pity, Severest Lord, on our great misery.

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Who are you? And who is your man?

ARMGARD: A poor Wild hay man, gracious Lord, from Rigiberg, Who over the abyss mows down the grass Which freely grows from jagged rocky walls, To which the cattle do not dare to climb —

RUDOLF DER HARRAS (to the GOVERNOR): By God, a miserable and wretched life! I beg you, set him free, the wretched man, However heavy his offense may be, His ghastly trade is punishment enough.

(To the woman.)

You shall have justice — Yonder in the castle Bring your petition — Here is not the place.

ARMGARD: No, no I will not budge from out this place, Until the Gov’rnor hath returned my husband! Six months already lies he in the tower And waits the sentence of the judge in vain.

GESSLER: Woman, would you use force with me, away.

ARMGARD: I ask for justice, Gov’rner! Thou art judge I’ th’ country in the Emp’ror’s stead and God’s. Perform thy duty! As thou hop’st for justice Yourself from Heaven, so show it to us.

GESSLER: Hence, drive this brazen people from mine eyes.

ARMGARD (Seizes the reins of his horse.): No, no, there’s nothing more for me to lose. — Thou com’st not, Gov’rnor from this place, ’til thou Hast rendered justice to me — Knit thy brows, And roll thine eyes, just as thou wilt — We are In such unbounded misery, that we Care not about thine anger —

GESSLER: Woman, hence, Or else my horse will trample over thee.

ARMGARD: So let it trample over me — there —

*(She pulls her children to the ground and throws herself with them in his way.) *

Here I lie With all my children — Let the wretched orphans Be trodden under by thy horses’ hooves, It will not be the worst, that thou hast done

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Woman, are you mad?

ARMGARD (vehemently continuing): Thou hast for some time Trampled the Emperor’s land beneath thy feet! — O I am but a woman! Were I man, I would know something better, than to lie Here in the dust —

(He hears the previous music again upon the crest of the way, but muffled.)

GESSLER: Where are my servants? Have them carry her away from here, or I’ll Forget myself and do what I will rue.

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: The servants can not pass therethrough, O Lord, The hollow way is blocked up by a marriage.

GESSLER: An all too gentle ruler am I to This people still — their tongues are still. too free, They have not yet been tamed, as they should be — Yet this shall all be changed, I promise it, I will yet break this stubborn mood of theirs, The brazen spirit of freedom I will bend. Throughout these canton lands I’ll promulgate A new decree — I will —

(An arrow pierces through him, he puts his hand on his heart and starts to fall. With feeble voice.)

God grant me mercy!

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Lord God what is this? Whither came it?

ARMGARD (starting up): Murder! Murder! He totters, sinks! He’s hit!

The arrow’s hit the center of his heart!

RUDOLF DER HARRAS (springs from his horse): What horrible occurrence — God — Lord knight — Call on the mercy of your God — For you Are now a man of death —

GESSLER: That is Tell’s shot

(Is slid down from his horse into the arms of RUDOLF DER HARRAS and is laid upon the bench.)

TELL (appears above on the top of the rocks): Thou ken’st the archer, seek not for another! Free are our huts, the innocent are safe ‘Fore thee, thou wilt no longer harm the land.

(Disappears from the heights.)

(People rush in.)

STUSSI (in front): What is the matter? What hath happened here?

ARMGARD: The Gov’rnor hath been shot through by an arrow.

PEOPLE (rushing in): Who hath been shot?

(Meanwhile the foremost of the wedding train come on the stage, the hindmost are still on the heights, and the music continues.)

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: He’s bleeding fast to death. Go forth, get help! Pursue the murderer! — Unhappy man, so must it end with thee, And yet thou would’st not listen to my warning!

STUSSI: By God! here lies he pale and without life!

MANY VOICES: Who’s done the deed?

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Hath madness seized these people, That they make music for a murder? Silence.

(Music suddenly breaks off, still more people come in.)

Lord Gov’rnor, speak now, if you can — Have you No more to trust to me?

(Gessler gives a sign with his hand, which he repeats with vehemence, when it is not understood at once.)

Where shall I go? — To Kussnacht? — I can’t understand you — O Be not impatient — Leave all thought of earth, Think now, to reconcile yourself with Heaven.

(The whole marriage party stands around the dying man with an unfeeling horror.)

STUSSI: Behold, how pale he grows — Now enters death Into his heart — his eyes have now grown dim.

ARMGARD (lifts up a child): See, children, how a maniac expires!

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: O insane women, have you then no feeling, That you must feast your eyes upon his horror? — Help — Lend your hand — Will no one stand by me, To draw the painful arrow from his breast?

WOMEN (step back): We touch the man, whom God himself hath struck!

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Curse on you and damnation!

(Draws his sword.)

STUSSI (seizes him by the arm): Dare it, Lord! Your rule is at an end. The tyrant of The country is now fallen. We’ll endure No further violence. We are free men.

ALL (tumultuously): The land is free.

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: And is it come to this? Fear and obedience so quickly end? (To the men in arms, who are thronging in.) You see the horrifying act of murder, The which hath happened here help is in vain — ‘Tis useless, to pursue the murderer. We’re pressed by other worries — On, to Kussnacht, That we may save the Emp’ror’s fortresses! For in this moment are dissolved alike All bonds of order and all ties of duty, And no man’s loyalty is to be trusted.

(Whilst he exits with the men in arms, six BROTHERS OF MERCY appear.)

ARMGARD: Make room! Make room! Here come the Brothers o’ Mercy.

STUSSI: The victim lies — The ravens now descend.

BROTHERS OF MERCY (form a half-circle around the dead man and sing in deep tones): With hasty step death comes to man, It hath no respite to him given, It strikes him midway in his span, Forth from life’s fullness is he driven, If he’s prepared or not, to die, He must stand ‘fore his Judge on high!

(Whilst the last lines are repeated, the curtain falls.)

— Friedrich von Schiller (1805): Wilhelm Tell, translated by William F. Wertz, Jr.

Thus always to tyrants. Beware the State; celebrate the Ides of March!

Past celebrations

Over My Shoulder #15: Robert Whitaker (2002), Mad in America

You know the rules; here’s the quote. This is again delayed (this time, by the belated Tyrannicide Day celebration of going to see V for Vendetta on opening night; in case you’re wondering, it’s very good, but you should read the comic book, too, or you’ll miss out on a lot of good stuff). This week’s reading is from the bus on the way to work: a long passage from the first chapter of Robert Whitaker’s Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill (2002). Whitaker is explaining the historical backdrop of Benjamin Rush’s European medical training:

One of the first English physicians to write extensively on madness, its nature, and the proper treatment for it was Thomas Willis. He as highly admired for his investigations into the nervous system, and his 1684 text on insanity set the tone for the many medical guides that would be written over the next 100 years by English mad-doctors. The book’s title neatly summed up his views of the mad: The Practice of Physick: Two Discourses Concerning the Soul of Brutes. His belief–that the insane were animal-like in kind–reflected prevailing conceptions about the nature of man. The great English scientists and philosophers of the seventeenth century–Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, John Locke, and others–had all argued that reason was the faculty that elevated humankind above the animals. This was the form of intelligence that enabled man to scientifically know his world, and to create a civilized society. Thus the insane, by virtue of having lost their reason, were seen as having descended to a brutish state. They were, Willis explained, fierce creatures who enjoyed superhuman strength. They can break cords and chains, break down doors or walls … they are almost never tired … they bear cold, heat, watching, fasting, strokes, and wounds, without any sensible hurt. The mad, he added, if they were to be cured, needed to hold their physicians in awe and think of them as their tormentors.

Discipline, threats, fetters, and blows are needed as much as medical treatment … Truly nothing is more necessary and more effective for the recovery of these people than forcing them to respect and fear intimidation. By this method, the mind, held back by restraint is induced to give up its arrogance and wild ideas and it soon becomes meek and orderly. This is why maniacs often recover much sooner if they are treated with tortures and torments in a hovel instead of with medicaments.

A medical paradigm for treating the mad had been born, and eighteenth-century English medical texts regularly repeated this basic wisdom. In 1751, Richard Mead explained that the madman was a brute who could be expected to attack his fellow creatures with fury like a wild beast and thus needed to be tied down and even beat, to prevent his doing mischief to himself or others. Thomas Bakewell told of how a maniac bellowed like a wild beast, and shook his chain almost constantly for several days and nights … I therefore got up, took a hand whip, and gave him a few smart stripes upon the shoulders… He disturbed me no more. Physician Charles Bell, in his book Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting, advised artists wishing to depict madmen to learn the character of the human countenance when devoid of expression, and reduced to the state of lower animals.

Like all wild animals, lunatics needed to be dominated and broken. The primary treatments advocated by English physicians were those that physically weakened the mad–bleeding to the point of fainting and the regular use of powerful purges, emetics, and nausea-inducing agents. All of this could quickly reduce even the strongest maniac to a pitiful, whimpering state. William Cullen, reviewing bleeding practices, noted that some advised cutting into the jugular vein. Purges and emetics, which would make the mad patient violently sick, were to be repeatedly administered over an extended period. John Monro, superintendent of Bethlehem Asylum, gave one of his patients sixty-one vomit-inducing emetics in six months, including strong doses on eighteen successive nights. Mercury and other chemical agents, meanwhile, were used to induce nausea so fierce that the patient could not hope to have the mental strength to rant and rave. While nausea lasts, George Man Burrows advised, hallucinations of long adherence will be suspended, and sometimes be perfectly removed, or perhaps exchanged for others, and the most furious will become tranquil and obedient. It was, he added, far safer to reduce the patient by nauseating him than by depleting him.

A near-starvation diet was another recommendation for robbing the madman of his strength. The various depleting remedies–bleedings, purgings, emetics, and nausea-inducing agents–were also said to be therapeutic because they inflicted considerable pain, and thus the madman’s mind became focused on this sensation rather than on his usual raving thoughts. Blistering was another treatment useful for stirring great bodily pain. Mustard powders could be rubbed on a shaved scalp, and once the blisters formed, a caustic rubbed into the blisters to further irritate and infect the scalp. The suffering that attends the formation of these pustules is often indescribable, wrote one physician. The madman’s pain could be expected to increase as he rubbed his hands in the caustic and touched his genitals, a pain that would enable the patient to regain consciousness of his true self, to wake from his supersensual slumber and to stay awake.

All of these physically depleting, painful therapies also had a psychological value: They were feared by the lunatics, and thus the mere threat of their employment could get the lunatics to behave in a better manner. Together with liberal use of restraints and an occasional beating, the mad would learn to cower before their doctors and attendants. In most cases it has appeared to be necessary to employ a very constant impression of fear; and therefore to inspire them with the awe and dread of some particular persons, especially of those who are to be constantly near them, Cullen wrote. This awe and dread is therefore, by one means or other, to be acquired; in the first place by their being the authors of all the restraints that may be occasionally proper; but sometimes it may be necessary to acquire it even by stripes and blows. The former, although having the appearance of more severity, are much safer than strokes or blows about the head.

Such were the writings of English mad-doctors in the 1700s. The mad were to be tamed. But were such treatments really curative? In the beginning, the mad-doctors were hesitant to make that claim. But gradually they began to change their tune, and they did so for a simple reason: It gave them a leg up in the profitable madhouse business.

In eighteenth-century England, the London asylum Bethlehem was almost entirely a place for the poor insane. The well-to-do in London shipped their family lunatics to private madhouses, a trade that had begun to emerge in the first part of the century. These boarding houses also served as convenient dumping grounds for relatives who were simply annoying or unwanted. Men could get free from their wives in this manner–had not their noisome, bothersome spouses gone quite daft in the head? A physician who would attest to this fact could earn a nice sum–a fee for the consultation and a referral fee from the madhouse owner. Doctors who owned madhouses mad out particularly well. William Battie, who operated madhouses in Islington and Clerkenwell, left an estate valued at between £100,000 and £200,000, a fabulous sum for the time, which was derived largely from this trade.

Even though most of the mad and not-so-mad committed to the private madhouses came from better families, they could still expect neglect and the harsh flicker of the whip. As reformer Daniel Defoe protested in 1728, Is it not enough to make any one mad to be suddenly clap’d up, stripp’d, whipp’d, ill fed, and worse us’d? In the face of such public criticism, the madhouse operators protested that their methods, while seemingly harsh, were remedies that could restore the mad to their senses. The weren’t just methods for managing lunatics, but curative medical treatments. In 1758, Battie wrote: Madness is, contrary to the opinion of some unthinking persons, as manageable as many other distempers, which are equally dreadful and obstinate. He devoted a full three chapters to cures.

In 1774, the English mad trade got a boost with the passage of the Act for Regulating Madhouses, Licensings, and Inspection. The new law prevented the commitment of a person to a madhouse unless a physician had certified the person as insane (which is the origin of the term certifiably insane). Physicians were now the sole arbiters of insanity, a legal authority that mad the mad-doctoring trade more profitable than ever. Then, in 1788, King George III suffered a bout of madness, and his recovery provided the mad-doctors with public proof of their curative ways.

Francis Willis, the prominent London physician called upon by the queen to treat King George, was bold in proclaiming his powers. He boasted to the English Parliament that he could reliably cure nine out of ten mad patients and that he rarely missed curing any [patients] that I had so early under my care: I mean radically cured. On December 5, 1788, he arrived at the king’s residence in Kew with an assistant, three keepers, a straight waistcoat, and the belief that a madman needed to be broken like a horse in a manège. King George III was so appalled by the sight of the keepers and the straight waistcoat that he flew into a rage–a reaction that caused Willis to immediately put him into the confining garment.

As was his custom, Willis quickly strove to assert his dominance over his patient. When the king resisted or protested in any way, Willis had him clapped into the straight-waistcoat, often with a band across his chest, and his legs tied to the bed. Blisters were raised on the king’s legs and quickly became infected, the king pleading that the pustules burned and tortured him–a complaint that earned him yet another turn in the straight waistcoat. Soon his legs were so painful and sore that he couldn’t walk, his mind now wondering how a king lay in this damned confined condition. He was repeatedly bled, with leeches placed on his templates, and sedated with opium pills. Willis also surreptitiously laced his food with emetics, which made the king so violently sick that, on one occasion, he knelt on his chair and prayed that God would be pleased either to restore Him to his Senses, or permit that He might die directly.

In the first month of 1789, the battle between the patient and doctor became ever more fierce. King George III–bled, purged, blistered, restrained, and sedated, his food secretly sprinkled with a tartar emetic to make him sick–sought to escape, offering a bribe to his keepers. He would give them annuities for life if they would just free him from the mad-doctor. Willis responded by bringing in a new piece of medical equipment–a restraint chair that bound him more tightly than the straight waistcoat–and by replacing his pages with strangers. The king would no longer be allowed the sight of familiar faces, which he took as evidence that Willis’s men meant to murder him.

In late February, the king made an apparently miraculous recovery. His agitation and delusions abated, and he soon resumed his royal duties. Historians today believe that King George III, rather than being mad, suffered from a rare genetic disorder, called porphyria, which can lead to high levels of toxic substance in the body that cause temporary delirium. He might have recovered more quickly, they believe, if Willis’s medical treatment had not so weakened him that they aggravated the underlying condition. But in 1789, the return of the king’s sanity was, for the mad-doctors, a medical triumph of the most visible sort.

In the wake of the king’s recovery, a number of English physicians raced to exploit the commercial opportunity at hand by publishing their novel methods for curing insanity. Their marketing message was often as neat as a twentieth century sound bite: Insanity proved curable. One operator of a madhouse in Chelsea, Benjamin Faulkner, even offered a money-back guarantee: Unless patients were cured within six months, all board, lodging, and medical treatments would be provided free of all expence whatever. The mad trade in England flourished. The number of private madhouses in the London area increased from twenty-two in 1788 to double that number by 1820, growth so stunning that many began to worry that insanity was a malady particularly common to the English.

In this era of medical optimism, English physicians–and their counterparts in other European countries–developed an ever more innovative array of therapeutics. Dunking the patient in water became quite popular–a therapy intended both to cool the patient’s scalp and to provoke terror. Physicians advised pouring buckets of water on the patient from a great height or placing the patient under a waterfall; they also devised machines and pumps that could pummel the patient with a torrent of water. The painful blasts of water were effective as a remedy and a punishment, one that made patients complain of pain as if the lateral lobes of the cerebrum were split asunder. The Bath of Surprise became a staple of many asylums: The lunatic, often while being led blindfolded across a room, would suddenly be dropped through a trapdoor into a tub of cold water–the unexpected plunge hopefully inducing such terror that the patient’s senses might be dramatically restored. Cullen found this approach particularly valuable:

Maniacs have often been relieved, and sometimes entirely cured, by the use of cold bathing, especially when administered in a certain manner. This seems to consist, in throwing the madman in the cold water by surprise; by detaining him in it for some length of time; and pouring water frequently upon the head, while the whole of the body except the head is immersed in the water; and thus managing the whole process, so as that, with the assistance of some fear, a refrigerant effect may be produced. This, I can affirm, has been often useful.

The most extreme form of water therapy involved temporarily drowning the patient. This practice had its roots in a recommendation made by the renowned clinician of Leyden, Hermann Boerhaave. The greatest remedy for [mania] is to throw the Patient unwarily into the Sea, and to keep him under Water as long as he can possibly bear without being quite stifled. Burrows, reviewing this practice in 1828, said it was designed to create the effect of asphyxia, or suspension of vital as well as of all intellectual operations, so far as safety would permit. Boerhaave’s advice led mad-doctors to concoct various methods for stimulating drowning such as placing the patient into a box drilled with holes and then submerging it underwater. Joseph Guislain built an elaborate mechanism for drowning the patient, which he called The Chinese Temple. The maniac would be locked into an iron cage that would be mechanically lowered, much in the manner of an elevator car, into a pond. To expose the madman to the action of this device, Guislain explained, he is led into the interior of this cage: one servant shuts the door from the outside while the other releases a break which, by this maneuver, causes the patient to sink down, shut up in the cage, under the water. Having produced the desired effect, one raises the machine again.

The most common mechanical device to be employed in European asylums during this period was a swinging chair. Invented by Englishman Joseph Mason Cox, the chair could, in one fell swoop, physically weaken the patient, inflict great pain, and invoke terror–all effects perceived as therapeutic for the mad. The chair, hung from a wooden frame, would be rotated rapidly by an operator to induce in the patient fatigue, exhaustion, pallor, horripilatio [goose bumps], vertigo, etc, thereby producing new associations and trains of thoughts. In the hands of a skilled operator, able to rapidly alter the directional motion of the swing, it could reliably produce nausea, vomiting, and violent convulsions. Patients would also involuntarily urinate and defecate, and plead for the machine to be stopped. The treatment was so powerful, said one nineteenth-century physician, that if the swing didn’t make a mad person obedient, nothing would.

Once Cox’s swing had been introduced, asylum doctors tried many variations on the theme–spinning beds, spinning stools, and spinning boards were all introduced. In this spirit of innovation and medical advance, one inventor built a swing that could twirl four patients at once, at revolutions up to 100 per minute. Cox’s swing and other twirling devices, however, were eventually banned by several European governments, the protective laws spurred by a public repulsed by the apparent cruelty of such therapeutics. This governmental intrusion into medical affairs caused Burrows, a madhouse owner who claimed that he cured 91 percent of his patients, to complain that an ignorant public would instruct us that patient endurance and kindliness of heart are the only effectual remedies for insanity!

Even the more mainstream treatments–the Bath of Surprise, the swinging chair, the painful blistering–might have given a compassionate physician like Rush pause. But mad-doctors were advised not to let their sentiments keep them from doing their duty. It was the highest form of cruelty, one eighteenth-century physician advised, not to be bold in the Administration of Medicine. Even those who urged that the insane, in general, should be treated with kindness, saw a need for such heroic treatments to knock down mania. Certain cases of mania seem to require a boldness of practice, which a young physician of sensibility may feel a reluctance to adopt, wrote Thomas Percival, setting forth ethical guidelines for physicians. On such occasions he must not yield to timidity, but fortify his mind by the councils of his more experienced brethren of the faculty.

–Robert Whitaker (2002), Mad in America, pp. 6–13.

This book is one of the only things I’ve read that ever made me cry.

Further reading

Tyrannicide Day ceremonies for 2006

Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!

Today, March 15th, commemorates the assassination of two would-be tyrants: the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar on the floor of the Senate, by a group of republican conspirators known as the Liberatores, on March 15th, 44 BCE (2,049 years ago today, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments), and the assassination of Czar Alexander II Nikolaevitch, the self-styled Caesar over all the Russias, who was killed on March 13th, 1881 CE (125 years ago Monday, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments), by grenades thrown by a group of anarchist conspirators in an act of propaganda by the deed.

As a political strategy there are plenty of reasons not to get too enthusiastic about tyrannicide — after all, these two famous cases each ended a tyrant but not the tyrannical regime; Alexander II was replaced by the even more brutal Alexander III, and Julius Caesar was replaced by his former running-dogs, one of whom would emerge from the abattoir that followed as Augustus Caesar, to begin the long Imperial nightmare in earnest. What I want to honor today is tyrannicide not as a political strategy but as a moral fact: putting a diadem on your head and wrapping yourself in the blood-dyed robes of the State confers neither the virtue, the knowledge, nor the right to rule over anyone, any more than you had naked and alone. Tyranny is nothing more and nothing less than organized crime executed with a pompous sense of entitlement and a specious justification; the right to self-defense applies every bit as much against the person of some self-proclaimed sovereign as it does against any other two-bit punk who might attack you on the street. Every victory for human liberation in history — whether against the crowned heads of Europe, the cannibal-empires of modern Fascism and Bolshevism, or the self-perpetuating oligarchies of race and sex — has had this insight at its core: the moral right to deal with the princes and potentates of the world as nothing more and nothing less than fellow human beings, to address them as such, to challenge them as such, and — if necessary — to resist them as such. Thus always to tyrants.

In honor of the event, the Ministry of Culture of this secessionist republic of one would like to offer a commemorative reading. This is from William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act I Scene 2:

BRUTUS: What means this shouting? I do fear, the people
Choose Caesar for their king.

CASSIUS: Ay, do you fear it?
Then must I think you would not have it so.

BRUTUS: I would not, Cassius; yet I love him well.
But wherefore do you hold me here so long?
What is it that you would impart to me?
If it be aught toward the general good,
Set honour in one eye and death i’ the other,
And I will look on both indifferently,
For let the gods so speed me as I love
The name of honour more than I fear death.

CASSIUS: I know that virtue to be in you, Brutus,
As well as I do know your outward favour.
Well, honour is the subject of my story.
I cannot tell what you and other men
Think of this life; but, for my single self,
I had as lief not be as live to be
In awe of such a thing as I myself.
I was born free as Caesar; so were you:
We both have fed as well, and we can both
Endure the winter’s cold as well as he:
For once, upon a raw and gusty day,
The troubled Tiber chafing with her shores,
Caesar said to me Darest thou, Cassius, now
Leap in with me into this angry flood,
And swim to yonder point?
Upon the word,
Accoutred as I was, I plunged in
And bade him follow; so indeed he did.
The torrent roar’d, and we did buffet it
With lusty sinews, throwing it aside
And stemming it with hearts of controversy;
But ere we could arrive the point proposed,
Caesar cried Help me, Cassius, or I sink!
I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor,
Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder
The old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber
Did I the tired Caesar. And this man
Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature and must bend his body,
If Caesar carelessly but nod on him.
He had a fever when he was in Spain,
And when the fit was on him, I did mark
How he did shake: ’tis true, this god did shake;
His coward lips did from their colour fly,
And that same eye whose bend doth awe the world
Did lose his lustre: I did hear him groan:
Ay, and that tongue of his that bade the Romans
Mark him and write his speeches in their books,
Alas, it cried Give me some drink, Titinius,
As a sick girl. Ye gods, it doth amaze me
A man of such a feeble temper should
So get the start of the majestic world
And bear the palm alone.

Shout. Flourish.

BRUTUS: Another general shout!
I do believe that these applauses are
For some new honours that are heap’d on Caesar.

CASSIUS: Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that Caesar?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was famed with more than with one man?
When could they say till now, that talk’d of Rome,
That her wide walls encompass’d but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man.
O, you and I have heard our fathers say,
There was a Brutus once that would have brook’d
The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.

BRUTUS: That you do love me, I am nothing jealous;
What you would work me to, I have some aim:
How I have thought of this and of these times,
I shall recount hereafter; for this present,
I would not, so with love I might entreat you,
Be any further moved. What you have said
I will consider; what you have to say
I will with patience hear, and find a time
Both meet to hear and answer such high things.
Till then, my noble friend, chew upon this:
Brutus had rather be a villager
Than to repute himself a son of Rome
Under these hard conditions as this time
Is like to lay upon us.

CASSIUS: I am glad that my weak words
Have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus.

BRUTUS: The games are done and Caesar is returning.

CASSIUS: As they pass by, pluck Casca by the sleeve;
And he will, after his sour fashion, tell you
What hath proceeded worthy note to-day.

Re-enter CAESAR and his Train

BRUTUS: I will do so. But, look you, Cassius,
The angry spot doth glow on Caesar’s brow,
And all the rest look like a chidden train:
Calpurnia’s cheek is pale; and Cicero
Looks with such ferret and such fiery eyes
As we have seen him in the Capitol,
Being cross’d in conference by some senators.

CASSIUS: Casca will tell us what the matter is.

CAESAR: Antonius!

ANTONY: Caesar?

CAESAR: Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

Beware the State. Celebrate the Ides of March!

Past celebrations

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