Authors: Geoffrey C. Bunn
The German reception of Lombroso's ideas took hold in the mid-1890s with expositions by Robert Sommer, Abraham Baer, Paul NÃ¤cke, Julius Koch, Hans Kurella, and Eugen Bleuler. Sommer accepted the notion of “endogenous criminal constitutions” but doubted the concept of “a type in the anatomical sense.” Although they also denied the notion of the born criminal, Baer and NÃ¤cke proposed that an unfavorable social environment would trigger criminality among a degenerate subpopulation. Koch drew attention to “moral debility,” a key factor in “cases in which immanent pathological characteristics of the individual turn a person into a criminal.”
From the mid-1890s to the outbreak of the First World War, the most influential defense of the concept of the born criminal was in Emil Kraepelin's
, a textbook that was in its eighth edition by 1915. Kraepelin had first introduced Lombroso's work to the medical profession in his favorable review of
Although he accepted that different types of criminal had differing somatic constitutions, Kraepelin rejected Lombroso's atavism hypothesis and considered the concept of stigmata unnecessary. Degeneration theory became highly influential in German psychiatry, partly because it could be used to explain virtually any mental illness through its positing of generational decline, and also because it was sufficiently flexible to accommodate both hereditarian and environmental aetiologies as well as explaining minor or borderline psychiatric conditions.
Kraepelin, Bleuler, and Koch's approach stripped the notion of the born criminal of its anthropological characteristics and redefined the concept in purely psychiatric terms. Gustav Aschaffenburg and Paul NÃ¤cke took a more complex view of the interaction of heredity and environment, arguing that many criminals suffered from general mental abnormalities
that made them more likely to succumb to a life of crime. This approach subsequently came to dominate German criminology.
In 1898 the Austrian judge Hans Gross founded the
Archiv fÃ¼r Kriminal-Anthropologie und Kriminalistik.
As the title of the journal suggested, the intention was to combine the study of scientific crime detection and the handling of scientific evidence. Gross had studied physics, psychology, medicine, and general science, as well as microscopy and photography.
Every criminal case was a scientific problem to which the examining judge must apply the best scientific and technical aids available. Gross rejected Lombroso's theory of the born criminal, maintaining instead that criminals functioned according to normal psychological mechanisms, knowledge of which was a crucial part of the investigating officer's armory. A Criminalistic Institute was established at the University of Graz in 1912, and Gross'
Manual for the Examining Justice
went through seven editions before 1915.
In continental Europe during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, criminology assembled itself around the concept of the “born criminal.” A “relic of a vanished race,”
the born criminal was an anomaly, a prehistoric savage “living amidst the very flower of European civilization.”
The notion of the born criminal was a rich and heterogeneous tapestry of concepts that weaved empirical data with the wisdom of folklore and tied the utopian dream of a crime-free state to an imaginative use of scientific technique. The new science resulted from transformations in an array of enterprises ranging from statistics, prison reform, and psychiatry.
A variety of administrative elements also found their way into the discipline, including charitable and social work, the management of workhouses and slum housing, inquiries about the causes and extent of inebriety, and investigations into the employment and treatment of children. Although all ended up as ingredients in the modern criminological mixture, at the time “they were discrete forms of knowledge, undertaken for a variety of different purposes, and forming elements within a variety of different discourses,” none of which corresponded exactly with the criminological project that eventually formed.
Only when a form of inquiry emerged that centered on the criminal could these various enterprises be drawn together under the umbrella of a specialist discipline.
In the early nineteenth century the practical skills of magistrates and police detectives was of crucial importance in detecting the false appearances of disguised professional criminals, but toward the end of the century science came to organize knowledge around the criminal. While the earlier regime had been intimate and personal, and dominated by the immediacy of hands
and eyes, the latter was abstract and theoretical, and governed by the distancing effects of physiological instruments and statistical tables. Although the miscreant was initially conceptualized as a fallen man, a victim of his own lusts and lack of personal discipline, he was, nevertheless, thought to be capable of moral action. This was not the case for criminal man, who was considered an irredeemably degenerate being, one incapable of functioning adequately in the modern world.
A discourse of otherness par excellence, the new science of criminology spoke of such types as prehistoric humans and contemporary primitives, promiscuous women and delinquent children, epileptics, and the morally insane. Despite their differences, all these species of human beings were believed to share a genealogy with that archetypal but abject figureâa “distinct category of social perception and analysis”
âthe born criminal,
The notion of the category dominated all discussions of criminality until after the turn of the century. But the belief in criminal man prevented the emergence of other biological approaches to criminality. Although the technology that would eventually make up the lie detector became available to criminology in the 1880s, the instrument's invention would have to wait until criminology had abandoned its first organizing concept of criminal man.
At the sight of that skull, I seemed to see all of a sudden, lighted
up as a vast plain under a flaming sky, the problem of the nature
of the criminalâan atavistic being who reproduces in his person
the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior
âCesare Lombroso (1906)
Between the publication of Cesare Lombroso's
in 1876 and Charles Goring's
The English Convict
in 1913, criminology emerged as a viable empirical endeavor. The period was a time of political strife across Europe, conducive to birth of an enterprise devoted to explaining and controlling deviance and dissent.
Like earlier phrenological and degenerationist discourses, also associated with political messages, criminal anthropology was compatible with socialism, fascism, and liberalism, not to mention racism, sexism, and imperialism.
Criminal anthropology blossomed together with a European-wide effort by progressive jurists and penal authorities to revise and update criminal codes that had been held since the late eighteenth century.
Most of the existing statutes did not recognize limited degrees of mental responsibility, and few prison systems distinguished between habitual and insane criminals. Despite its formal egalitarianism, by the 1850s, criminal justice was perceived, in Britain at least, as being particularistic, discretionary, and embodied in personal relations.
Criticism of the old system as a “lottery of justice” went hand-in-hand with appeals to base a new system on scientific (and, therefore, supposedly impartial) knowledge of the criminal.
A new human science, it has been suggested, does not emerge as a consequence of the accumulation and refinement of data and theoryâthese are science's ambitions once establishedâbut rather as a function of widely held social anxieties.
A fledgling discipline obtains support if it addresses a moral panic or solves a social problem. Breaking with the Enlightenment principle that everyone should be treated equally, criminology promised to identify the sources of social danger by scientifically differentiating between intrinsic and extrinsic criminality.
as the problem, offering itself as the solution. Constructed “at the crossroads of moral philosophy and everyday social policy,”
criminology was an empirical-political hybrid.
As with the medical, phrenological, and statistical sciences from which it emerged, criminology's scientific object was considered preeminently governable. Previously thought to be chaotic and unruly, criminological subjects were to be transformed into “calculable, disciplinable objects.”
The focus here is on power. The political dimensions of criminological discourse led to the functioning of the complex enterprise of criminology with relative coherence and stability. The discipline's language, including its argumentative and rhetorical strategies, as well as an interpretation of the role that “Lombroso” played within the discourse, were fundamental. Criminology endowed its texts and the image of its founding father with tremendous charismatic authority. Like the flywheel in a complex machine, charismatic authority ensured the smooth running of the criminological apparatus; indeed, this field has consistently invested in the charisma of its pioneers. The lie detector could not have been created without it.
In 1859, on the outbreak of the Italian wars of unification, Cesare Lombroso volunteered as a doctor in the army. He was particularly struck by his fellow soldiers' tattoos, wondering if they could distinguish “the honest soldier from his vicious comrade.”
Between 1863 and 1872, he was a director of insane asylums. By 1876, when he was appointed to the University of Turin, he had already published on pellagra, cretinism, genius and insanity, brain pathology, and criminality. Italy was at this time in the throes of a debate about the definition of the nation state. According to some estimates, less than one percent of Italians spoke the national language, and seventy-five percent of the population was illiterate.
Lombroso's social evolutionary model of deviance articulated widespread social anxieties, proffered a new language of social representation, and created “a blueprint for disciplining groups that resisted integration into the new national culture.”
His theory promised to unify
Italy's disparate cultures, languages, customs, and economies by delineating “a biological hierarchy that guaranteed power and control to white European adult men.”
“Only we White people have reached the most perfect symmetry of bodily form,” he wrote in 1871, the year of unification: “Only we have created true nationalism.”
If the criminal could be understood scientifically, Lombroso argued, then he and other threats to the social order could be excluded politically.
“One would have to be blind ten times over,” Lombroso lamented in 1894, not to realize that “we are the second most backward amongst the peoples of Europe with regard to morality, wealth, education, industrial activity, agriculture, [and] justice.” He added scornfully, Italy held “the first place when it comes to uncultivated, malarial land, endemic illness â¦ crime and the weight of taxes.”
Although the contemporary moral panic over crime seems not to have been underpinned by any statistical evidence of rising crime rates, there was, nevertheless, a widespread popular belief that crime was on the increase. Above all, Lombroso's ambition was to assist his nation's march toward modernity by defending the state against dangerous individuals, both from within and beyond the state's borders. Despite extensive emigration, this was a period of demographic and economic pressures in Italy.
Although the notion of an atavistic throwback found an enthusiastic audience in this climate, Lombroso's characterization of the Italian peasantry as savages was less a discovery as “a virtual reflex of the governing castes of the North when they ventured into the rural hinterlands.”
While the Italian criminologists made a significant and lasting impact on police science, their ideas met with considerable antagonism in the legislature.
The Lombrosian solutions to criminalityâtransportation, imprisonment, or eliminationâcontrasted with the morality-based punishments of the classical period, when crime had “a fixed exchange rate in punishment.”
The Italian legal community was hostile to criminal anthropology, challenging the importance it attributed to human agency and criminal responsibility. Juries were disinclined to absorb scientific knowledge, resisting calls to repudiate their reliance on folk wisdom.
Raffaele Garofalo complained that judges and legislators continued to abstract the crime from the criminal. To the great disappointment of the positivists, the new Zanardelli Criminal Code of 1889 eventually became but a mere reworking of classical legal theory that privileged the concept of criminal responsibility via the doctrine of free will. The Italians' failure to influence their own criminal code was a sobering lesson for agitators elsewhere in Europe.
Positivist theories had the most
impact outside the criminal code, notably in such bureaucratic contexts as police science and the prison system.
Lombroso despaired over what he considered to be Italy's backwardness compared to other European nations, which were implementing the reforms he championed, such as parole, criminal insane asylums, and youth reformatories. But although he did not live to see them, his ideas eventually left their mark on the Italian criminal justice system.