Crime and Justice:

Some Thoughts From the Past





Justice must always question itself, just as society can exist only by means of the work it does on itself and on its institutions.
Michel Foucault (1926-84), French philosopher. "Vous Êtes Dangereux," in Libération (Paris, 30 June 1983; repr. in Didier Eribon, Michel Foucault, 1989; tr. 1991).

Absolute justice is achieved by the suppression of all contradiction: therefore it destroys freedom.
Albert Camus (1913-60), French-Algerian philosopher, author. The Rebel, pt. 5, "Historic Murder" (1951; tr. 1953)

A good parson once said that where mystery begins religion ends. Cannot I say, as truly at least, of human laws, that where mystery begins justice ends?
Edmund Burke (1729-97), Irish philosopher, statesman. A Vindication of Natural Society (1756).

If some beggar steals a bridle
he'll be hung by a man who's stolen a horse.
There's no surer justice in the world than that
which makes the rich thief hang the poor one.
Peire Cardenal (c. 1180-1272), French troubadour poet. "Las amairitz, qui encolpar las vol," published in Songs of the Troubadours (ed. and tr. by Anthony Bonner, 1972).

There is one, and only one, thing in modern society more hideous than crime - namely, repressive justice.
Simone Weil (1909-43), French philosopher, mystic. "Human Personality" (published in La Table Ronde, Dec. 1950; repr. in Selected Essays, ed. by Richard Rees, 1962).

If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected-those, precisely, who need the laws's  protection most!-and listens to their testimony.
James Baldwin (1924-1987), U.S. author. The Price of the Ticket, "No Name in the Street" (1972).

Justice is a whore that won't let herself be stiffed, and collects the wages of shame even from the poor.
Karl Kraus (1874-1936) Austrian satirist. "The Good Conduct Medal" (1909; repr. in In These Great Times: A Karl Kraus Reader, ed. by Harry Zohn, 1976).

Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (b. 1918), Russian novelist. Letter, Oct. 1967, from Solzhenitsyn to three students (published in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record, "The Struggle Intensifies," ed. by Leopold Labedz, 1970).

Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.
H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), U.S. journalist. Prejudices, ch. 3 (Third Series, 1922).

A weak man is just by accident. A strong but non-violent man is unjust by accident.
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), Indian political and spiritual leader. Non-Violence in Peace and War, vol. 1, ch. 354 (1942).

Justice in the hands of the powerful is merely a governing system like any other. Why call it justice? Let us rather call it injustice, but of a sly effective order, based entirely on cruel knowledge of the resistance of the weak, their capacity for pain, humilation and misery. Injustice sustained at the exact degree of necessary tension to turn the cogs of the huge machine-for-the-making-of-rich-men, without bursting the boiler.
Georges Bernanos (1888-1948), French novelist, political writer. M. Olivier, in The Diary of a Country Priest, ch. 7 (1936).

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Crime and Criminals


There is no society known where a more or less developed criminality is not found under different forms. No people exists whose morality is not daily infringed upon. We must therefore call crime necessary and declare that it cannot be non-existent, that the fundamental conditions of social organization, as they are understood, logically imply it.
Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), French sociologist. Suicide, bk. 3, ch. 3, sct. 1 (1897; tr. 1951).

Crime seems to change character when it crosses a bridge or a tunnel. In the city, crime is taken as emblematic of class and race. In the suburbs, though, it's intimate and psychological-resistant to generalization, a mystery of the individual soul.
Barbara Ehrenreich (b. 1941), U.S. author, columnist. The Worst Years of Our Lives, "Marginal Men" (1991; first published 1989).

A crime persevered in a thousand centuries ceases to be a crime, and becomes a virtue. This is the law of custom, and custom supersedes all other forms of law.
Mark Twain (1835-1910), U.S. author. Following the Equator, ch. 63, "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar (1897).

The study of crime begins with the knowledge of oneself. All that you despise, all that you loathe, all that you reject, all that you condemn and seek to convert by punishment springs from you.
Henry Miller (1891-1980), U.S. author. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, "The Soul of Anaesthesia" (1945).

There is a heroism in crime as well as in virtue. Vice and infamy have their altars and their religion.
William Hazlitt (1778-1830), English essayist. Characteristics: In the Manner of Rochefoucault's Maxims, no. 354 (1823; repr. in The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, vol. 9, ed. by P. P. Howe, 1932).

Crime is naught but misdirected energy.
Emma Goldman (1869-1940), U.S. anarchist. Anarchism and Other Essays, "Anarchism: What It Really Stands For" (1910).

Stripped of ethical rationalizations and philosophical pretensions, a crime is anything that a group in power chooses to prohibit.
Freda Adler (b. 1934), U.S. educator, author. Sisters in Crime, ch. 7 (1975).

How vainly shall we endeavor to repress crime by our barbarous punishment of the poorer class of criminals so long as children are reared in the brutalizing influences of poverty, so long as the bite of want drives men to crime.
Henry George (1839-97), U.S. economist. Social Problems, ch. 9 (1883).

No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes. On the contrary, whatever the punishment, once a specific crime has appeared for the first time, its reappearance is more likely than its initial emergence could ever have been.
Hannah Arendt (1906-75), German-born U.S. political philosopher. Eichmann in Jerusalem, Epilogue (1963).

It is certain that stealing nourishes courage, strength, skill, tact, in a word, all the virtues useful to a republican system and consequently to our own. Lay partiality aside, and answer me: is theft, whose effect is to distribute wealth more evenly, to be branded as a wrong in our day, under our government which aims at equality? Plainly, the answer is no.
Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), French author. Dolmancé, in Philosophy in the Bedroom, "Dialogue the Fifth: Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen, If You Would Become Republicans" (1795).

The world of crime . . . is a last refuge of the authentic, uncorrupted, spontaneous event.
Daniel J. Boorstin (b. 1914), U.S. historian. The Image, ch. 6 (1961).

The common argument that crime is caused by poverty is a kind of slander on the poor.
H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), U.S. journalist. Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks, no. 273 (1956).

Crime and bad lives are the measure of a State's failure, all crime in the end is the crime of the community.
H. G. Wells (1866-1946), British author. A Modern Utopia, ch. 5, sct. 2 (1905; repr. in The Works of H. G. Wells, vol. 9, 1925).

All, all is theft, all is unceasing and rigorous competition in nature; the desire to make off with the substance of others is the foremost-the most legitimate-passion nature has bred into us . . . and, without doubt, the most agreeable one.
Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), French author. Juliette ou les Prospérités du Vice, vol. 1 (1797).

As there is a use in medicine for poisons, so the world cannot move without rogues.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher. The Conduct of Life, "Power" (1860).

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Distrust everyone in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, pt. 2, ch. 29 (1883-91).

All in all, punishment hardens and renders people more insensible; it concentrates; it increases the feeling of estrangement; it strengthens the power of resistance.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher. The Genealogy of Morals, essay 2, aph. 14 (1887).

The generality of men are naturally apt to be swayed by fear rather than reverence, and to refrain from evil rather because of the punishment that it brings than because of its own foulness.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), Greek philosopher. Nicomachean Ethics, bk. 10, ch. 9.

Our system is the height of absurdity, since we treat the culprit both as a child, so as to have the right to punish him, and as an adult, in order to deny him consolation.
Claude Lévi-Strauss (b. 1908), French anthropologist. Tristes Tropiques, ch. 38 (1955), commenting on the system of justice.

Retaliation is related to nature and instinct, not to law. Law, by definition, cannot obey the same rules as nature.
Albert Camus (1913-60), French-Algerian philosopher, author. Resistance, Rebellion and Death, "Reflections on the Guillotine" (1961).

In its function, the power to punish is not essentially different from that of curing or educating.
Michel Foucault (1926-84), French philosopher. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, pt. 4, ch. 3 (1975).

Let us have compassion for those under chastisement. Alas, who are we ourselves? Who am I and who are you? Whence do we come and is it quite certain that we did nothing before we were born? This earth is not without some resemblance to a gaol. Who knows but that man is a victim of divine justice? Look closely at life. It is so constituted that one senses punishment everywhere.
Victor Hugo (1802-85), French poet, dramatist, novelist. Les Misérables, pt. 4, bk. 7, ch. 1 (1862).

One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted; and a community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurence of crime.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Anglo-Irish playwright, author. The Soul of Man Under Socialism, in Fortnightly Review (London, Feb. 1891; repr. 1895).

Whenever a human being, through the commission of a crime, has become exiled from good, he needs to be reintegrated with it through suffering. The suffering should be inflicted with the aim of bringing the soul to recognize freely some day that its infliction was just.
Simone Weil (1909-43), French philosopher, mystic. "Draft for a Statement of Human Obligations" (written 1943; repr. in Selected Essays, ed. by Richard Rees, 1962).

We have found that morals are not, like bacon, to be cured by hanging; nor, like wine, to be improved by sea voyages; nor, like honey, to be preserved in cells.
William Cooke Taylor (1800-1849), Irish author. Remark, 1849. Quoted in: James Walvin, Victorian Values, ch. 6 (1987).

If he who breaks the law is not punished, he who obeys it is cheated. This, and this alone, is why lawbreakers ought to be punished: to authenticate as good, and to encourage as useful, law-abiding behavior. The aim of criminal law cannot be correction or deterrence; it can only be the maintenance of the legal order.
Thomas Szasz (b. 1920), U.S. psychiatrist. The Second Sin, "Punishment" (1973).

Whipping and abuse are like laudanum: you have to double the dose as the sensibilities decline.
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96), U.S. novelist, anti-slavery campaigner. Uncle Tom's Cabin, ch. 20 (1852).

Men are not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen.
George Savile Halifax, Lord (1633-95), English statesman, author. Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections, "Of Punishment" (1750).

Any punishment that does not correct, that can merely rouse rebellion in whoever has to endure it, is a piece of gratuitous infamy which makes those who impose it more guilty in the eyes of humanity, good sense and reason, nay a hundred times more guilty than the victim on whom the punishment is inflicted.
Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), French author. Letter, 21 May 1781, to his wife from Vincennes prison (published in Selected Letters, no. 8, ed. by Margaret Crosland, 1965).

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You are thought here to be the most senseless and fit man for the constable of the watch, therefore bear you the lantern.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist, poet. Dogberry to the First Watchman, in Much Ado About Nothing, act 3, sc. 3, venting one of his many malapropisms ("senseless" for sensible).

The art of the police is not to see what it is useless that it should see.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), French general, emperor. Letter, 24 May 1800.

Rain is the best policeman.

Police Motto.

Policemen so cherish their status as keepers of the peace and protectors of the public that they have occasionally been known to beat to death those citizens or groups who question that status.

David Mamet (b. 1947), U.S. playwright. Writing in Restaurants, "Some Thoughts on Writing in Restaurants" (1986).

At one time my only wish was to be a police official. It seemed to me to be an occupation for my sleepless intriguing mind. I had the idea that there, among criminals, were people to fight: clever, vigorous, crafty fellows. Later I realized that it was good that I did not become one, for most police cases involve misery and wretchedness-not crimes and scandals.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55), Danish philosopher. Journals and Papers, vol. 5, entry no. 6016 (ed. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, 1978). Kierkegaard found his vocation instead as-in his words-"a spy in the service of the highest."

Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.

Robert Kennedy (1925-68), U.S. Attorney General, Democratic politician. The Pursuit of Justice, pt. 3, "Eradicating Free Enterprise in Organized Crime" (1964).

If it were possible to make an accurate calculation of the evils which police regulations occasion, and of those which they prevent, the number of the former would, in all cases, exceed that of the latter.

Karl Wilhelm Von Humboldt (1767-1835), German statesman, philologist. The Limits of State Action, ch. 8 (1792; repr. 1854; tr. and ed. by J. W. Burrow, 1969).

I'm not against the police; I'm just afraid of them.

Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), Anglo-American filmmaker. Quoted in: New Society (London, 10 May 1984).

There is nothing more unaesthetic than a policeman.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), English author. Thaddeus Sholto, in The Sign of Four, ch. 4 (1889).

However low a man sinks he never reaches the level of the police.

Quentin Crisp (b. 1908), British author. The Naked Civil Servant, ch. 12 (1968).

A really good detective never gets married.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), U.S. author. "Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel" (1949; first published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962).

A functioning police state needs no police.

William Burroughs (b. 1914), U.S. author. Dr. Benway, in The Naked Lunch, "Benway" (1959).

He may be a very nice man. But I haven't got the time to figure that out. All I know is, he's got a uniform and a gun and I have to relate to him that way. That's the only way to relate to him because one of us may have to die.

James Baldwin (1924-87), U.S. author. A Dialogue (1973; with Nikki Giovanni), said of the police in a conversation in London, 4 Nov. 1971.

We're talking scum here. Air should be illegal if they breathe it.

Policeman. Quoted by P. J. O'Rourke in: Rolling Stone (New York, 30 Nov. 1989), on drug abusers, Washington, D.C.

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Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.

John Buchan (1875-1940), British author, statesman. Leithen, in The Power-House ch. 2 (1916).

As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-45), U.S. poet, critic, short-story writer. The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841).

At bottom, I mean profoundly at bottom, the FBI has nothing to do with Communism, it has nothing to do with catching criminals, it has nothing to do with the Mafia, the syndicate, it has nothing to do with trust-busting, it has nothing to do with interstate commerce, it has nothing to do with anything but serving as a church for the mediocre. A high church for the true mediocre.

Norman Mailer (b. 1923), U.S. author. The Presidential Papers, "Sixth Presidential Paper-A Kennedy Miscellany: An Impolite Interview" (1963). Mailer called the FBI "the only absolute organization in America."

"It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognise out of a number of facts which are incidental and which are vital. . . . I would call your attention to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

"The dog did nothing in the night-time."

"That was the curious incident."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), English author. Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Gregory, in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, "Silver Blaze" (1893).

The private detective of fiction is a fantastic creation who acts and speaks like a real man. He can be completely realistic in every sense but one, that one sense being that in life as we know it such a man would not be a private detective.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), U.S. author. Letter, 19 April 1951 (published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962).

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All quotations are drawn from the Columbia Dictionary of Quotations. The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations is licensed from Columbia University Press. Copyright © 1993 by Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.