The writings of Franco Basaglia are critically reviewed, both from a technical psychiatric point of view and from a general political and social one. Basaglia maintained that the causes of psychiatric disorder are essentially social in nature, and that the only valid treatments are political struggle and the revival of the patient's aggressiveness. Therefore, no institution can be therapeutic for the patient, since its aim must be his custody and violent destruction. These statements are considered in the light of the need for institutions which are a therapeutic alternative to the mental hospital. Basaglia's ‘liberal’ defence of the individual against society is analysed, in relation to the negative consequences that the Italian Law 180 of 1978 is having on the care of long-term psychiatric patients. This law ‘forgot’ such patients, as well as adversely affecting the treatment of acute patients, for whom an insufficient number of psychiatric beds was permitted in general hospitals. A revision is proposed of Law 180 that would make possible the setting up of alternative institutions to outdated mental hospitals, but at the same time allow a transformation of their old structures.