LOUIS RIEL:
INSANITY AND PROPHECY
Thomas Flanagan
Introduction
The opinion now seems firmly established that Louis Riel was insane. Without exception all psychiatrists who have ever published anything about his case have supported this diagnosis. 1 Historians, too, now generally affirm Riel's madness, although often with more hesitation and qualification than the mental health specialists. 2 Against this consensus, I intend to argue that it is a serious distortion to call Riel insane.First, let me say what I will not discuss. I do not intend to analyze the issue of insanity at Riel's trial for high treason in 1885. Insanity as a legal concept has little to do with insanity as a medical concept or as a general idea of mental incompetence in ordinary human affairs. The law defines insanity in many ways, depending on the point of view. Madness can be an issue in a criminal trial, in an inquiry into fitness to stand trial, or in civil commitment proceedings; and in each instance the operational criteria will be different. After even the most careful analysis of the legal issues surrounding Riel's trial, the ordinary person would still want to ask, "Does it make sense in normal speech to call Riel insane, regardless of the lawyer's special concerns?"Before trying to answer this question, let me establish some basic principles. My opinions on insanity are drawn from the provocative works of Dr. Thomas Szasz, especially The Myth of Mental Illness, Law, Liberty and Psychiatry, and The Manufacture of Madness . 3 Readers seeking more information should consult these writings. Here space permits only the briefest statement of certain essential points.
1. What is madness? Regardless of how the dictionary puts it, we all know that madness is irrational behavior on the part of someone who once had the power of reason but seems to have lost it. It is possible for the mind to stop working

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