Foucault alleges, for example, that the 1815–16 House of Commons inquiry into the state of England’s madhouses revealed that Bedlam (Bethlem) placed its inmates on public display every Sunday, and charged a penny a time for the privilege of viewing them to some 96,000 sightseers a year. In reality, the reports of the inquiry contain no such claims. This is not surprising: public visitation (which had not been confined to Sundays in any event) had been banned by Bethlem Royal Hospital’s governors in 1770, and even before then the tales of a fixed admission fee turn out to be apocryphal. Foucault is bedevilled by Bethlem’s history. He makes the remarkable claim that “From the day when Bethlem, the hospital for curative lunatics, was opened to hopeless cases in 1733, there was no longer any notable difference between the London hospital and the French Hôpital Général, or any other house of correction”. And he speaks of Bethlem’s “refurbishment” in 1676. In reality, it had moved in that year from its previous location in an old monastery in Bishopsgate to a grandiose new building in Moorfields designed by Robert Hooke.In short, Foucault was talking bollocks. Andrew Scull shows how much bollocks he was talking. I only mention this because the work of Foucault came up in discussion, in another place. And because I struggle to see why people take Foucault so seriously. The errors of fact which Scull mentions here are not trivial. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of 18th Century English history could see them, and could see that they undermine his entire theory. He is simply wrong about the past. So why is Foucault constantly invoked as an authority and guide?
Answers on a postcard, please, to the usual address.