Why Government at All?/3-07

From The Libertarian Labyrinth
Jump to: navigation, search




There are four theories on which punishment for crime may be inflicted, not one of which will bear a moment’s scrutiny. The first is, that of restraint. But the crime has been committed. It is too late for restraint. The criminal can only be restrained from its repetition. But how long? An offense not capital only admits of a limited term of punishment, and consequently of limited restraint. After his release is he less liable to its commission than before? No, rather more. His self-respect has been destroyed, and there is less restraint than at first. Perhaps the immediate stimulus to its commission at first was temporary, and never likely to recur, which would render the restraint no more necessary than with others open to the same danger. Shall we arrest those others too for the offense they may commit?

Another theory is that of reform. But reform is from within. It is a growth. It is a development of self-respect, of individual character. But punishment is a destruction of self-respect, and of character. To punish a man is to degrade him. Reform can no more live in the atmosphere of punishment, than healthy physical life can exist in an atmosphere of sewer gas.

Another theory is that of example. If it is good, the more horrible the example the better it will be; which is an absurdity. Try it. Make petty thieving a capital offense. Draw and quarter men for slight causes. Apply the rack and thumb-screws. Make an example of them. The absurdity is apparent.

The last is vengeance; and it is the only consistent [261] theory of punishment. But it is the theory of the barbarian.

“Wrong begets revenge; and revenge is but a new wrong. And hence it is necessary to look for some species of revenge which does not admit of any other relations—that is, the punishment inflicted by the state, or for a settlement of the controversy which obliges the parties to rest satisfied, viz: the decision of the Judge."—William Von Humboldt.

This is probably the most favorable statement of the theory of punishment that the subject admits of; but at best, the revenge of the government is but the revenge of the bigger bully who administers his revenge without the mitigating circumstance of having a grievance. But this is, at bottom, the only theory on which all punishment of crime is founded. Men say, “The thief has offended against the law; let him pay the penalty.” “The robber has forfeited his liberty; confine him.” “The murderer has forfeited his life; kill him.” It is vengeance. But what shall be the measure of that vengeance—the degree of the punishment? There is no relation between crime and punishment,—no standard of delinquency. Such a thing is impossible until men are able to sit in judgment upon the motives, thoughts, and circumstances of other men. They profess to do it now, but it is the wolf sitting in judgment upon the necessities, motives, tastes, and circumstances of the lamb. Men are at heart exactly alike, but vary infinitely by reason of circumstances and conditions; so that no man can judge of the thoughts and needs of another. We formulate a scale of punishments, and then fit the offense to the punishment, instead of the punishment to the crime. We must do this if we punish at all, because no two crimes were ever exactly alike. Punishment is illogical, viewed in any light. Restraint is only effectual as long as it lasts. Reform is out of the question. Punishment can reform no man. The only value in the example is in an exhibition of the brutality of vengeance. And the man [262] who is once made to feel the weight of vengeance is thenceforth an enemy, with all the motives, passions, and resentments of an enemy. He is incapable of reconciliation.

The “crime against criminals” is one of the blackest in the long list of crimes which have been perpetrated by governments in all human history. I see no way in which that crime can be lessened so long as the oppressions of the law are tolerated. Something might be done by jurors, when sitting in criminal cases, if they would refuse to convict regardless of the testimony offered, if the severe examinations as to qualifications did not exclude from the jury-box those intelligent enough and humane enough to apply this remedy. But even if this were practicable it could never give •any large measure of relief. It could only apply in individual cases. The only remedy is to destroy the law.

Much is said from time to time about “prison reform,” and reformatory penal institutions; and there are some men who pose as advocates of prison reform, attend prison reform conventions, and get their names into the papers as authority on the subject of reforming of criminals. One conspicuous case of this kind occurs to me now, where such a person was placed in charge of an institution in Pennsylvania, designed upon the most approved principles of prison reform. But his theories of prison reform did not work, and he was at his wit’s end, until at last he was compelled to resort to an improved paddle, and “spank” the refractory into submission. He had not advanced one step beyond the rack and thumb-screw, or any other instrument of torture. The utmost that any prison reform can do is to make successful hypocrites. The only way to reform the prison is to destroy the prison.

The fact is, that the punishment of one man by another, in any way or for any purpose, is directly opposed to nature, and can never result in good. [263] This is proven over and over again by the increase of crimes where the severity of punishments has been increased, and the decrease where that severity has been lessened. Punishment becomes more efficient as it becomes milder. Keep on; it destroys itself.

“The great ameliorations in. our penal code, initiated by Romilly, has not been followed by increased criminality, but by decreased criminality.—Herbert Spencer.

Thus, the law being itself a violation of nature, its enforcement by penalties is but a continuation of that violation; and can never become anything else but mischievous and unnecessary.

Von Humboldt says:

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

As a comparison of the expense and efficiency of two methods of treatment of criminals, one that of repression, punishment, and degradation, the method of the law, and the other a comparative degree of liberty, let us contrast the police method with that adopted by the Children’s Aid Society, of New York, already referred to.

It is useless to itemize the expenses of the first. Any one can do that for himself, and to his own liking. Take into account the losses by way of depredations of criminals, the expenses of their capture, detention, trial, and punishment, with almost the certainty that they will renew their depredations as soon as released, and with the added incentive of hostility to society for the punishment undergone, and the sum total must be large, and the results meager, whatever the basis of computation.

According to the reports of the Children’s Aid Society, the children taken from the slums of New York, directly from the ranks of the criminals, with long lines of criminal ancestry behind them, all their associations criminal, and with no hope of [264] anything better before them, were removed to homes in the country where they were adopted, reared and educated under conditions of respectability, and between 98 and 99 per cent of them became honest, industrious, and respected citizens. The average cost in each case only amounted to a small fraction over $15.

I do not infer from this that people should go into the business of removing children, or criminals to the country at $15 a head, or any other sum. But this does show beyond a possibility of cavil, that what the poor need, and what criminals need, and in fact, what all men need, is liberty; liberty to produce freely, and to have what they produce without being robbed by government, or by the creatures and favorites of government. Such a liberty is just as possible in the city as in the country; and when it is realized, not 98 per cent, but 100 per cent will become prosperous, happy, and honored citizens.

But the utter viciousness of the criminal administration of the law does not stop with the ordinary criminal procedure. The detectives and the police are actively and purposely engaged in making criminals, either for rewards offered by those interested, or to obtain credit for efficiency. Men are trapped into the commission of crime, —purposely lured into it, so that at a critical time they may be arrested and exposed. A case was recently reported where a Chicago policeman was offered $500, if he would induce a previously respected citizen to commit a burglary, and then nab him in the very act. The report was that he earned and received his reward.

And yet, this does not sound the depths of infamy to which those who profess to administer the law carry their oppressions and abuses. In every considerable city in this country, and from time immemorial, the police courts, and the police, have [265] practiced a regular system of blackmail upon those unfortunate women who have been driven to prostitution as a means of subsistence. When threats of arrest and imprisonment have not brought contributions liberal enough to satisfy the guardians of the law, they have made the arrests, and the magistrates have imposed fines or imprisonment. Over, and over again this has gone on from year to year, with never a protest except occasionally from a newspaper which desired to make a sensation whenever it ran short of other news. These facts are so well known that it is only necessary to refer to them. They are of common notoriety. A case occurred recently in Chicago which is a complete illustration of these abominable methods. A police raid was planned and executed upon some of the vilest haunts in the city. One hundred and fourteen; arrests were made, and every one of them were immediately released on giving bonds for their appearance; which means that there were one hundred and fourteen different fees for the professional bailor, and a like number, of one dollar each, for the justice (!) who signed the bonds. The Captain of Police may have “stood in” with the bailor and justice; or, he may have taught the “disreputables” to give up more freely in future whenever he should call upon them for contributions. In any case no one believes that men like that do jobs of that kind for nothing. At last, when the newspapers undertook to trace the responsibility, the department disowned all knowledge of the affair, and finally disapproved it. But did it repair the wrong done? Did the justice restore the extortions wrung from the miseries of the poor and unfortunate under threat of imprisonment? Did he compel the professional bailor to restore his share of the plunder? Not a bit of it.

The following is taken from a recent report submitted to the various labor organizations of Chicago, [266] by a joint committee, including one from the Illinois Woman’s Alliance.

We respectfully submit the following synopsis of the recent work of the alliance, as reported at its last meeting: One year ago the Illinois Woman’s Alliance began investigating the administration of justice in the police courts of the city as it affects women and children. The investigation revealed the fact that the word justice in connection with our police courts is a misnomer, for so far as their effects upon the helpless women and children are concerned the word injustice more properly applies; that these courts in connection with the police courts have for years been operated under a system by which the most wretched and helpless class in society (the female prostitutes) have been regularly blackmailed, the money obtained thereby forming such an important and unfailing addition to the wages of the police and fees of the “justices” as to encourage the most outrageous violations of the law and public decency. Liberty to walk the streets has been made dependent on the ability and willingness of the poor victims to pay the police officer his levy. Failure in this results in their being “run in.” . . . Investigation proves that not alone are the rights of these creatures violated by these representatives of the law, but the rights of the wife, daughter, and sister of spotless reputation, have been arrested on the principal streets of this town at mid-day, without process of law, by officers both in uniform and in citizen’s dress, and subjected to indignities for which no redress has been had.

Procuresses have been known to ply their nefarious business in our very justice courts, and under the eyes of the officers of the law, to whom they are known. Under the baleful influences that have controlled police stations the women matrons appointed to guard the females arrested have been necessarily of a type in keeping with the prevailing conditions. Efforts to remove especially brutal police officers and objectionable matrons have been until this time unavailing, these individuals being retained by influences coming not alone from the disreputable elements of the community, but from sources from which the public has been educated to expect naught but the purest moral force. . . . The investigation has proved to the satisfaction of the alliance that inability to find employment at living wages is largely the cause of prostitution; and we here emphasize the fact too little known that the dependent condition of women and girls makes them the easy victims of lecherous employers, managers and foremen, who, under the intimidating power of discharge in case of refusal, and additional pay and favor as reward for submission, debauch the wives, daughters and sisters of the workingmen of this city to an extent but little dreamed of by those who have not had their attention called to this phase of the social and economical relations of employers.

If a poor man is drunk, he is ‘run in” to the station. [267] If it is a rich one, he is taken home in a cab. If the poor are found with dynamite in their possession, they are railroaded into the penitentiary, if perjured evidence will do it. But if a rich distiller tries to blow up a rival in business he is not even tried. If a poor man steal food to ward off starvation he is branded as a felon. But if a wealthy one steals millions he is adjudged insane by a convenient and facile judge. If a strike of workingmen is to be put down, or a workingman’s meeting broken up, the action of the police is prompt and energetic. It deals its blow first and investigates afterward. But if it is desired to break up a gambling lay out of sporting men, it must proceed with great deliberation. It takes weeks or months to get down to business with a thing of that kind. It can pay contributions. If workingmen conspire to boycott a railroad, in order to make effective a strike, the law is strained in every possible way to convict them of conspiracy, and send them to the penitentiary. But if the directors of a great railroad fail to provide proper appliances, or take proper precautions for the safety of passengers, and people are killed and mangled, those directors may possibly be mentioned in a respectful manner in the verdict of the coroner’s jury. It is barely possible that they may be indicted, and held to bail. Such a thing has been known. But it was treated by those directors, and others, as a roaring farce. And well they might! The criminal law never was meant for them at all. It is intended to protect them, and prevent interference with their privileges. Of course, the prosecution never went any further.

I have here called attention to a few recent cases, not that they are at all singular; in fact, they are typical of the whole administration of the law. I have done so, not to arouse prejudice against the rich, but to illustrate a fact, that the law is intended to operate, and does always operate, to the advantage [268] of the rich, in the exercise of its criminal functions, precisely as it does in its civil functions. The law is never for the benefit of the poor. It was never intended to be. It is for the rich; and the richer the man, or the corporation, the more immunity he, or it, receives from the law. Whatever resentment is entertained should be directed against the law. That is the culprit, and not the rich.

It is impossible and unnecessary to go into the vast multitude of abuses growing out of, and always attending, the penal administration of the law; the wanton degradations attending arrests before conviction, and in many cases where parties are wholly innocent, the mistaken, and willfully false convictions procured by perjury, oppressive and disproportionate punishments, the over-crowding of prisons, the brutality of keepers, the open scandals in prison management, etc. They are well known and notorious. They are made possible by the false ideas generally accepted as to the nature of crime. When we understand that these same criminals are our brothers, our sisters, possibly our children, and might have been ourselves under slightly different circumstances not due to any quality, or volition of our own, but to the oppressions which we ourselves are upholding in the law, we shall have taken the first step toward banishing criminality from the world. Let us understand that all the disorders which afflict men have their origin, not in the absence of law—not in the freedom from restriction, but in the law itself, and the problem of banishing evil from the world will be near its solution.

“Men, in looking upon crime, look upon it as the law looks upon it. They have accepted the ideas of the law. They worship the law. Whom the law smites they smite. Horrible! Distinguish between what man writes and what nature writes, between law and the right.”—Victor Hugo.