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This volume, as its title indicates, is occupied with an examination of some of the principal causes of crime, and is designed as an introduction to the study of criminal questions in general. In spite of all the attention these questions have hitherto received and are now receiving, crime still remains one of the most ...
This volume, as its title indicates, is occupied with an examination of some of the principal causes of crime, and is designed as an introduction to the study of criminal questions in general. In spite of all the attention these questions have hitherto received and are now receiving, crime still remains one of the most perplexing and obstinate of social problems. It is much more formidable than pauperism, and almost as costly. A social system which has to try hundreds of thousands of offenders annually before the criminal courts is in a very imperfect condition; the causes which lead to this state of things deserve careful consideration from all who take an interest in social welfare.
In the following pages I have endeavoured to show that crime is a more complicated phenomenon than is generally supposed. When society will be able to stamp it out is a question it would be extremely hard to answer. If it ever does so, it will not be the work of one generation but of many, and it will not be effected by the application of any single specific.
Punishment alone will never succeed in putting an end to crime. Punishment will and does hold crime to a certain extent in check, but it will never transform the delinquent population into honest citizens, for the simple reason that it can only strike at the full-fledged criminal and not at the causes which have made him so. Economic prosperity, however widely diffused, will not extinguish crime. Many people imagine that all the evils afflicting society spring from want, but this is only partially true. A small number of crimes are probably due to sheer lack of food, but it has to be borne in mind that crime would still remain an evil of enormous magnitude even if there were no such calamities as destitution and distress.
As a matter of fact easy circumstances have less influence on conduct than is generally believed; prosperity generates criminal inclinations as well as adversity, and on the whole the rich are just as much addicted to crime as the poor. The progress of civilisation will not destroy crime. Many savage tribes living under the most primitive forms of social life present a far more edifying spectacle of respect for person and property than the most cultivated classes in Europe and America. All that civilisation has hitherto done is to change the form in which crime is perpetrated; in substance it remains the same. Primary Schools will not accomplish much in eliminating crime. The merely intellectual training received in these institutions has little salutary influence upon conduct. Nothing can be mope deplorable than that sectarian bickerings, respecting infinitesimal points in the sanctions of morality, should result in the children of England receiving hardly any moral instruction whatever. Conduct, as the late Mr. Matthew Arnold has so often told us, is three fourths of life. What are we to think of an educational system which officially ignores this; what have we to hope in the way of improvement from a people which consents to its being ignored?