Dialogue Between Beccaria, Lombroso and Durkheim

Criminology, as every science, is based on facts and evidence. This paper is aimed to create a dialogue between three criminologists of the nineteenth century Beccaria, Lombroso and Durkheim; in this discussion they will explain their points of view and try to implement their theories into the reality of the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty first century. Their theories were developed as a response to the industrialization and the modernization of the societies in the 18th and 19th centuries and were aiming to create a rational society and re-establish social solidarity (Vold, Bernard and Daly, p.101)  Lombroso and Beccaria are sitting in a bright living room waiting for Durkheim to join them and drinking tea. While the criminologist has not come yet, they have time to talk and discuss each other’s works:

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Beccaria: Good afternoon, Mr. Lombroso. How are you doing?

Lombroso: Good afternoon, Mr. Beccaria. Fine, thanks. What about you?

Beccaria: I’m also fine, thank you. I should compliment you: recently I have read your work “The Criminal Man” (1911) and it appeared to be fantastic; I must admit that your point of view is rather interesting; but I have not understood the way you distinguish those three classes of criminals.

Lombroso: I will gladly explain you that. Three types of criminals are: Atavist, Criminaloid and Insane criminal. Atavists are the criminals that reproduce the most ferocious characters of a wild animal or a primitive man, which explains that they are well recognized by large jaws, prominent superciliary arches, solitary lines in the palms, their orbits are of extremely large size, handle-shaped or sessile ears found in criminals, they are insensible to pain, have extremely acute sight, their bodies are covered with tattoos, excessive idleness, they love to participate in orgies and have the irresistible craving for evil for its own sake, the desire not only to extinguish life in the victim but to mutilate the corpse, tear its flesh and drink its blood (Lombroso, p. 101)

Becaria: Hm… I suppose that nowadays all hooligans that are painting graffiti or robbing someone belong to the Atavist group.

Lombroso: Exactly. Now let me explain you about two other types of criminals. Criminaloids are respectable persons who carefully hide their criminal nature thoroughly from society. They enjoy being respected and knowing that nobody knows about their other “me”. Criminaloids usually connect their occupation with law or they work for government which makes it easier for them hide their crimes. Besides, Criminaloids are tend to commit misdemeanors rather than felonies. Insane criminals are mentally ill and not born to be criminals as Criminaloids or Atavists. Insane criminals commit crimes because “of an alteration of the brain, which completely upsets their moral nature” (Lombroso, pp. 14-15). I would say that to such category belong alcoholics, kleptomaniacs, child molesters.

Beccaria: I must admit that your theory is rather interesting. Knowing what type of criminal a detective faces he will know how to punish him or her and where to search for an offender.

Lombroso: Yes, but it is not as easy as it may seem. Nowadays it is very popular among teenagers to have piercing and tattoos or behave aggressively, on the other hand that does not mean that they are Atavists, it is only the way of expressing themselves.

Beccaria: To my mind, Mr. Lombroso, your theory is not perfect. I am sure that there are no those who were born to be criminals; we live in a free country and every person is willing to choose what he or she wants, therefore I am sure that if a person is a criminal he or she has chosen to act so. I do not say that your theories are not right, but they cannot be implemented in life.

Lombroso: I have read your book “On Crimes and Punishment”, where you have presented your own point of view on this issue. I know that you think that there are two characteristics to explain human behavior: rationality and intelligence. However, I cannot understand how this is related to criminology.

Beccaria: Let me explain you, my dear Lombroso. Those juveniles who were commit a misdemeanor think that they will have some particular profit out of this robbery. They say, that every person, every individual is not the servant but rather the master of his or her fate and life. People commit crimes because it is their own free will and not because of some inborn instincts. (Vold et al, pp 8-9). Criminals act according to their free will; they wrongly think that they will have some benefit after committing a crime.

Lombroso: I cannot agree to you, my dear friend Beccaria. Some criminals, it does not matter whether they are Atavists, Criminaloids or Insane criminals, commit some crimes driven only by some particular obsession. For example, Atavists are born criminals, they have no other choice but to commit crimes, it is their nature. I have talked to those criminals, who belong to three different types, and those who are Atavists did not even confess that they have committed a crime.  To my mind, criminals are not something extraordinary, they are a part of modern society and one cannot do anything with this. For example Atavists commit crimes because they think it is cool to be a rebel, it helps them feel like they are different. That is why more and more juveniles were imprisoned in the end of the twentieth century: young people wanted to feel free and to rebel against the society and its rules. How do you think, why do they have their bodies tattooed? Because this reflects their inner insensitivity to pain and their love to adornment ( Lombroso, pp 84)

Durkheim: Good afternoon, my dear friends, Mr. Lombroso, Mr. Beccaria. I am sorry for being late. I suppose you have been discussing some interesting issues about modern criminology without me, have not you been?

Lombroso: Yes, you are right Mr. Durkheim. We were trying to explain each other our theories about criminals and why they become criminals. I was trying to prove Mr. Beccaria that there are three types of criminals and that they are not extraordinary, their criminal nature is what they were born with; it is something like a mental disorder. Besides, I cannot agree to Mr. Beccaria that people commit crimes because they want to do so.

Durkheim: I see. I have read your book “The Criminal Man”, dear Lombroso. Your theory is rather interesting, although I think that in this very discussion you were too much aggressive with Mr. Beccaria. To my mind, criminal conduct is not something ordinary nowadays; I think that everything is determined by society. Social factors are very important and they influence the way a person acts. The point is not that a person has some internal or external reasons to commit a crime; sometimes, a person is driven by social factors. However, I suppose that it is normal that a social fact is present in an ordinary society. (Durkheim, p 65).

Beccaria: I suppose that your theory is based mostly on the way how society influences criminals and not vice versa.

Durkheim: Yes, you are right. I suppose that all world’s societies are of two types, according to how the labor is divided there: Mechanical societies and Organic societies. Mechanical societies are primitive; they are isolated from the neighbor social groups and are relatively self-sufficient. They have almost identical life conditions and they do the same job, all they have one occupation. However, organic societies are more complex; people who live in such social groups are more differently employed, they have more opportunities to find job.

Lombroso: Do you want to say that a person is more likely to commit a crime in a Mechanical society?

Durkheim: Yes, you are right, my dear Lombroso. For a mechanic society crime in normal; besides, I think that there are no societies in the world where individuals do not differ greatly from the collective type (Durkheim, p.70). Let me explain you. Imagine a perfect society, for example, a society of saints; it is a mechanical type of social group. If a person in an organic society, which is an ordinary society, the one we live in, commits a cruel crime, there will be a scandal; the same situation will be if somebody from a mechanical society, from a society of saints, does something wrong, which in organic society will not be even noticed. If we define what crime is and such criminal behaviors exist no longer in a society, the new criminal behaviors will appear and replace the old ones. However, in organic societies such quick changes which appear because of the increasing the division of labor may lead to the people confusion toward social norms and a person may feel lost in this very society. All social norms break down and it lead to the appearing of the Anomie. (Durkheim, p.70)

Lombroso: Anomie? Do you mean that it can be a kind of disorder of a society?

Durkheim: You are right. We are not ready for our society to be changed; it does not matter whether changes are high or low. If a society changed, people who live in this society begin to panic, which leads to the increasing the quantity of suicides, people are used to stability. Instability means abnormality. Human appetites are great; if some of the goal is unreachable a person may become depressed and unhappy; on the other hand, people can be limited only by one thing.

Lombroso: I cannot agree to you that human appetites are great.

Durkheim: They are, my dear friend Lombroso; the point is that sometimes those appetites are reduced by some social factors, for example economic crisis. Economic crisis is a kind of disaster, which makes a person not only be unhappy or depressed but also commit suicides. For example, while the economic crisis of the beginning of the twenty first century, people all over the world were not only in panic, but also the amount of robberies committed worldwide increased. Though, I should admit that such anomie will be worse in an abrupt growth or power and wealth. “The original needs can no longer remain but they are not able in accustoming to the new condition. The richer situation will always stimulate the appetites and make them more exigent and impatient of control.” (Durkheim, pp. 246-247). The society s changing and people should reduce their needs, because they do not have enough money to pay for everything. Besides, I suppose that some people commit crimes only because of their poorness: they do not have money to pay for a flat or a room, they cannot find a job because their parents did not have money to pay for college and now they are uneducated; that is why they choose to commit a crime and be imprisoned; in prison they have shelter, they are fed every day and have a job.

Beccaria: What about punishment for crimes?

Durkheim: First of all we should understand that in mechanical society law is more oppressive; while in organic societies laws are to restitute. In mechanical societies people are to suffer from their punishment; whereas in organic societies punishments are meant to recover normal working process of the society.

Lombroso: first of all we should understand whether they are Atavists, Insane criminals or Criminaloids. And depending on this criminals should be punished.

Durkheim: I agree to you that criminals violate the law and should be punished. However, their punishment should be fair and effective. Besides, I think that the seriousness of a crime should be determined only by the extent of harm. Sometimes the intention itself may cause bad results. The punishment for a robbery of a shop, for example, should not be too severe; it will be ridiculous if such criminals will be sentences to life prison or death (Durkheim, p. 357). One more important thing is that people suppose that a criminal should be punished as fast as possible; they think it is more effectively. Finally, it is better to prevent a crime than to punish a criminal. My theory is that a crime itself is a disease, an illness; therefore the punishment should be compensation. What I want to say is that in order to be a good compensation, a punishment should fulfill its role.

Lombroso: Your ideas are very nice, my dear friend. I suppose they will be useful not only for our modern society, but also for future generations.

Beccaria: I think that all the ideas we have heard today will be useful for future criminologists. Thank you, my dear friends, for such a pleasant discussion.

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