History of madness in the classical age

Michel Foucault, History of madness in the classical age, Al Tel Gallimard, 1972

Imposing a book, more than 660 pages in the pagination of Gallimard, for which I offer you a place to start. Foucault describes a major reversal in the last years of the Fifteenth century : the substitution of the theme of madness to that of leprosy in the western imagination. In the symbolic economy of the world of the Renaissance, madness appears as the experience of primary classification of the world. The madness, the insane become of the characters major in literature, painting. The old leper-houses are being converted into houses of internment.


P 18 – 20 ” At the end of the Middle Ages, leprosy disappeared from the western world. In the margins of the community, to the gates of the cities open like great beaches that evil has ceased to haunt him, but that he had left sterile and long uninhabitable. Since the High Middle Ages, until the end of the Crusades, the leper-houses had multiplied over the entire surface of Europe, their cities were cursed. For a century already, the royal power had undertaken the control and the reorganization of the immense fortune represented by the land of the leper. “

“The relay of leprosy was taken up first by venereal diseases. All of a sudden, at the end of the fifteenth century they follow to leprosy as by right of inheritance. We receive them in several hospitals of lepers… A new leprosy was born, which takes the place of the first one…and yet, it is not the venereal disease that will in the classical world, the role that had the leprosy on the inside of the medieval culture. Despite these first measures of exclusion, they are taking place soon, among other diseases. Willingly, or unwillingly, receive the venereal in the hospitals…the evil venereum moved, in the course of the Sixteenth century, in the order of diseases that require treatment. “

“In fact, the true legacy of leprosy, this is not where you should look, but in a phenomenon that is highly complex, and that the medicine will long to own. This phenomenon, it is the madness. But it will take a long time of latency, almost two centuries for this new obsession, which is the successor to the leprosy in the fears of secular, raises as reactions to sharing, exclusion, purification, which are however related an obvious way. “

P 76 “The classicism invented the internment, a bit like the Middle Ages the segregation of lepers; the place left vacant by them was occupied by people new to the european world: what are the” internees “. The leprosarium did not feel that medical, many other functions had played in this act of banishment, which opened up spaces cursed. The gesture to indicate that he is no more simple: it also has meanings in the political, social, religious, economic, moral. And which probably concerns some of the essential structures in the classical world as a whole…

P 79 In a few years, it’s a whole network that has been cast on Europe. “

What Foucault calls the grand include (chapter 2, pp. 67-110) is the reorganization of the classical world around the madness. A decree, of April 27, 1656, ordered the fear and the experience of madness. This decree is that by which are brought together under a common administration – general Hospital – many hospitals of Paris. This is to prevent begging and idleness, the answer to the problem of unemployment, as the source of all the disorders, this is the first step of a national policy, global confinement.


P 74 ” In its functioning, or in his remarks, the general Hospital is not similar to any medical idea. It is an instance of the order, the order of monarchical and bourgeois, which is organized in France at the same period. It is connected directly to the royal power which placed it under the sole authority of the civil government. … This structure proper to the order, monarchical and bourgeois, and who is contemporary with its organization in the form of absolutism, and covers soon to its network in the whole of France. An edict of the King, dated June 16, 1676, prescribed the establishment of a “Hospital general in each city of his kingdom “. Even if it has been quite deliberately kept away from the organization of general hospitals, – of aiding and abetting without doubt between the royal power and bourgeoisie – the Church nonetheless did not remain foreign to the movement. It is reforming its hospital institutions, and redistributes the goods to its foundations; it creates even congregations that propose goals quite similar to those of the general Hospital. Vincent de Paul reorganized Saint-Lazare, the most important of the ancient leper-houses of Paris. “

P 90 “The internment, this is massive, and there is signs all over Europe of the Seventeenth century, is something of the” police “. Before having the medical meaning we give it, or that the less we love him to suppose, confinement was required by something quite different that the concern of the healing. This has made it necessary, it is a requirement of work. “

The general Hospital is a solution that is new, invented in the Seventeenth century.

P 92 ” It is in any case a solution new: the first time that we replace the measures of exclusion purely negative a measure of confinement; the unemployed person is no longer driven away or punished; it supports the expenses of the nation, but at the expense of his personal freedom. “

P 93 ” In Europe, internment has the same meaning, if one takes it, at least, to its origin. It forms one of the answers the Seventeenth century to an economic crisis that affects the western world as a whole: declining wages, unemployment, scarcity of coin, this set of facts is probably due to a crisis in the Spanish economy “

P 108 ” The internment is a creation of institutional own in the Seventeenth century. He took out an extent that leaves him no common dimension with imprisonment, such that he could practice in the Middle Ages. As an economic measure and precautionary social value of the invention. But in the history of unreason, it refers to a decisive event: the moment when madness was perceived on the social horizons of poverty, inability to work, inability to integrate with the group; the moment when she begins to form text, with the problems of the city. “

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