Laure Murat is a historian and a professor in the Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA. She has published several outstanding books, the most recent of which, L’Homme qui se prenait pour Napoléon. Pour une histoire politique de la folie (Gallimard, 2011), is of fundamental importance.
She reexamines for us the relationships between equality, democracy, and the asylum by turning her attention to three major dates:
- 1790, because of the law abolishing lettres de cachet, which had previously made it possible for anyone to be institutionalized for madness without further ado. The madman became a patient.
- The second date, 1805, because of Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol's dissertation, which formulated the idea that any man can become mad and every madman is to be treated as a man who is curable.
- Finally, the Act of 1838, called the “Act of the Deranged,” was a stage in the reinforcement of the logic of confinement, to the detriment of the power of the talking cure. It reveals the anxiety society feels and, as Albert Londres would later write, its desire to be rid of those who are “stricken with a mental illness.” Equality was to suffer as a result and institutional psychotherapy would, much later on, set up against this Act its laboratories of democracy.