Clarence Darrow.

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they began criminal careers as boys. Such crimes especially appeal to
the activity and love of adventure which inhere in every boy. They are
committed for the most part by youths who have had almost no chance to
get the needed sport and physical experience incident to boyhood. The
foot-ball, base-ball, polo or golf player very seldom becomes a robber
or a burglar. Almost no rich man or rich man's son becomes a robber or a
burglar. Those who fall under this lure are mainly the denizens of the
streets, the railroad yards, the vacant lots, the casual workers who are
stimulated by a variety of conditions to get property unlawfully. Added
to this are almost invariably a defective heredity, vicious environment,
little education, and a total want of direction in the building up of
habits and inhibitions.

The robber or burglar who kills in the commission of crime is more
dangerous and harder to cure than the one who kills from passion or
malice. There is always the element of an occupation, for getting
property, and generally a love of adventure that is difficult to
overcome, except by a substantial change of social relations which makes
acquiring property easier for the class from which all these criminals
develop. The murder that comes from passion and feeling implies
situations and circumstances that are rarely strong enough to overcome
the restrictions against killing.



Not less than eighty per cent of all crimes are property crimes, and it
seems probable that, of the rest, most arise from the same motives. If
we look at civilization as the result of that seesaw trend of the race
from "Naturalism to Artificialism," we may get a flexible view of life
that will be in accordance with the facts, and will help us to get rid
of the arbitrary division of man's history into the three periods termed
Savagery, Barbarism and Civilization. However desirable this division
may be for historic purposes in general, it is only confusing in an
effort to study the nature of man.

In the life and origin of the race, the fact is always evidenced that
the Ego through its growth and persistence is always drawing to itself
from the current of environment all things which it feels desirable to
its life and growth. This must be a necessary condition of survival. In
the long journey from amoeba to man, any circumstance causing a complete
halt for even a brief period meant extinction, while even a persistent
interference produced a weakened organism, if not an arrest of

This then is the origin of the "Master Instinct," hunger. When we
consider the various emotions growing from the force of this vital urge,
as developed by adaptation to an ever-changing environment, we are able
to realize fully why it bulks so large in moulding and shaping the
destiny of the race.

All psychologists are agreed in classing under the nutritive instinct
such activities as acquisition, storing and hoarding. During a period
variously estimated as a quarter of a million to two million years, man
and his animal antecedents responded to the hunger instinct, in the
manner and by the same methods as did the various jungle animals. He
secured his prey by capture, or killed it wherever found, the one
condition being his power to get and to hold. Later tribal organization
arose, and food and shelter were held in common. But since the folk-ways
commended raiding and looting between alien tribes, here was presented
an alluring chance to secure both booty and glory to men trained in the
"get and hold" process of acquiring. For thousands of years life itself
depended upon this unerring exercise.

It was during the period outlined that man developed his big brain
(cerebrum) involving the central nervous system. Furthermore, it was
developed by, and trained to, these particular reactions. The
far-reaching control of the mind must be remembered, as upon this
through his racial heritage must be based his conflicting impulses.
These must be reckoned with in our conclusions with regard to
present-day behavior, economic or otherwise.

During the last thirty years, psychological laboratories, aided by
physiology, through oft-repeated experiments conducted with
newly-invented weighing and measuring instruments of marvelous accuracy,
have put us in possession of an array of facts unknown to students of
earlier periods, who sought the "why and the how" of man's erratic
actions as a social animal. It is constantly being demonstrated that
under given conditions, moved by appropriate stimuli, the human animal
inevitably and surely reacts the same as does inorganic matter. If we
understand "intelligence" to be the "capacity to respond to new
conditions," we can measurably see and at least partly understand the
constant inter-play of heredity and environment. Between these there is
no antagonism. The sum of life experiences consists solely in the
adjustments required to enable the sentient organism - man or beast - to

How readily a "throw-back" to earlier and cruder life may be brought
about under favorable conditions, is shown by the methods and virulence
of combat during the vicious massacre in the war just ended. Can the
conclusion be evaded that individually and collectively we constantly
teeter on the brink of a precipice? If we fall it spells crime or
misfortune, or both.

Wherever civilization exists on the private property basis as its main
bulwark, we find crime as an inseparable result. Man, by virtue of his
organic nature, is a predatory animal. This does not mean that he is a
vicious animal. It simply means that man, in common with the eagle and
the wolf, acts in accordance with the all-impelling urge and fundamental
instincts of his organic structure. In any conflict between newer and
nobler sentiments and the emotions which function through the primeval
instincts, he is shackled to the bed-rock master instincts in such
manner that they usually win. This is conclusively shown by the history
of the race.

If this is true, we should expect to find the master hunger specially
active through the many chances presented for exploitation after the
fall of feudalism - beginning, let us assume, with the invention of power
machinery - the "Age of Steam". It is apparent that from that time to our
own day, man's acquisitive tendency has so expanded, that if we were
capable of an unbiased opinion it might be said to be a form of
megalomania gripping the entire white race, where highly-developed
commerce and industry are found in their most vigorous forms.

If our theory is correct, we should expect to find the most energetic
and enterprising nations showing a greater ratio of property crimes than
the invalid and feeble nations. This would more certainly be true where
political constitutions by letter and spirit encourage and promote
individual development, mental and industrial. When this condition
exists with abundant natural resources, such as often may be found in
what we term a new country, it furnishes the chance for the most
vigorous functioning of whatsoever may be the dominant qualities
inherent in the tendencies and aspirations of a people. The United
States of America, among the nations, meets these conditions, and we
find here the highest ratio of property crimes per capita. This holds as
to all such crimes, both minor and major, which are far in excess of
those of any other nation, as shown by statistics.

It seems clear that this explanation shows the main reason for the
seemingly abnormal number of property crimes in the United States.

Man's infinitely long past developed the hunger instinct, which made him
take directly and simply where he could and as he could. This is always
urging him to supply his wants in the simplest way, regardless of the
later restrictions that modern civilization has placed around the
getting of property. With the weaker intellectually and physically,
these instincts are all-controlling. The superficial and absurd theories
that his excesses are due to the lack of the certainty of punishment
take no account of the life experience, and the inherent structure of

Especially in our large cities with their great opportunities for the
creation and accumulation of wealth, the "lust of power" is shown by the
nerve-racking efforts to obtain wealth by the most reckless methods. The
emotion drives us to spend extravagantly and conspicuously, that we may
inspire the envy of our neighbors by our money and power.

This is an old emotion securing a new outlet, and tenfold magnified in
force, through modern conditions in commercial and industrial life. Is
it not plain that in America it has assumed the form of an obsession,
biting us high and low, until we reek of it? It is likewise clear that
it is a menace to any abiding peace and welfare; that it is still
growing and leaving a bitter harvest of neurasthenics in its wake.

The criminologist must face the fact that, in spite of contrary
pretenses by most of our social doctors, we are still in our work-a-day
life guided almost exclusively by the mores - the folk-ways of
old - founded on expediency as revealed by experiences, and acquired by
the only known process, that of trial and error. If this be true, it
clearly follows that in order to conserve any vestige of a civilization,
we must realize the fact that property crimes are the normal results of
the complex activities making up the treadmill called civilization. We
must likewise realize that to modify these crimes we must modify the
trend of the race.

When the seamy side of man's behavior is scrutinized by science, it
cannot be other than grim and distressing to the reader. It is this to
the writer. But all the really significant facts of life are grim and
often repulsive in the material presented. To the "irony of facts" must
be ascribed the shadows as well as the high lights. No distortions or
speculations can influence the findings of science. They are accessible
and can be checked up by any one sufficiently interested. The student
knows that man is what he is, because of his origin and long and painful



By far the largest class of crimes may be called crimes against
property. Strictly speaking, these are crimes in relation to the
ownership of property; criminal ways of depriving the lawful owner of
its possession.

Many writers claim that nearly all crime is caused by economic
conditions, or in other words that poverty is practically the whole
cause of crime. Endless statistics have been gathered on this subject
which seem to show conclusively that property crimes are largely the
result of the unequal distribution of wealth. But crime of any class
cannot safely be ascribed to a single cause. Life is too complex,
heredity is too variant and imperfect, too many separate things
contribute to human behavior, to make it possible to trace all actions
to a single cause. No one familiar with courts and prisons can fail to
observe the close relation between poverty and crime. All lawyers know
that the practice of criminal law is a poor business. Most lawyers of
ability refuse such practice because it offers no financial rewards.
Nearly all the inmates of penal institutions are without money. This is
true of almost all men who are placed on trial. Broad generalizations
have been made from statistics gathered for at least seventy-five years.
It has been noted in every civilized country that the number of property
crimes materially increases in the cold months and diminishes in the
spring, summer and early autumn. The obvious cause is that employment is
less regular in the winter time, expenses of living are higher, idle
workers are more numerous, wages are lower, and, in short, it is harder
for the poor to live. Most men and women spend their whole lives close
to the line of want; they have little or nothing laid by. Sickness, hard
luck, or lack of work makes them penniless and desperate. This drives
many over the uncertain line between lawful and unlawful conduct and
they land in jail. There are more crimes committed in hard times than in
good times. When wages are comparatively high and work is steady fewer
men enter the extra-hazardous occupation of crime. Strikes, lockouts,
panics and the like always leave their list of unfortunates in the
prisons. Every lawyer engaged in criminal practice has noticed the large
numbers of prosecutions and convictions for all sorts of offences that
follow in the wake of strikes and lockouts.

The cost of living has also had a direct effect on crime. Long ago,
Buckle, in his "_History of Civilization_," collected statistics
showing that crime rose and fell in direct ratio to the price of food.
The life, health and conduct of animals are directly dependent upon the
food supply. When the pasture is poor cattle jump the fences. When food
is scarce in the mountains and woods the deer come down to the farms and
villages. And the same general laws that affect all other animal life
affect men. When men are in want, or even when their standard of living
is falling, they will take means to get food or its equivalent that they
would not think of adopting except from need. This is doubly true when a
family is dependent for its daily bread upon its own efforts.

Always bearing in mind that most criminals are men whose equipment and
surroundings have made it difficult for them to make the adjustments to
environment necessary for success in life, we may easily see how any
increase of difficulties will lead to crime. Most men are not well
prepared for life. Even in the daily matter of the way to spend their
money, they lack the judgment necessary to get the most from what they
have. As families increase, debts increase, until many a man finds
himself in a net of difficulties with no way out but crime. Men whose
necessities have led them to embezzlement and larceny turn up so
regularly that they hardly attract attention. Neither does punishment
seem to deter others from following the same path although the danger
of detection, disgrace and prison is perfectly clear.

Sometimes, of course, men of education and apparent lack of physical
defect commit property crimes. Bankers often take money on deposit after
the bank is insolvent. Not infrequently they forge notes to cover losses
and in various ways manipulate funds to prevent the discovery of
insolvency. As a rule the condition of the bank is brought about by the
use of funds for speculation, with the intention of repaying from what
seems to be a safe venture. Sometimes it comes through bad loans and
unforeseen conditions. Business men and bankers frequently shock their
friends and the community by suicide, on disclosures showing they have
embezzled money to use on some financial venture that came to a
disastrous end.

These cases are not difficult to understand. The love of money is the
controlling emotion of the age. Just as religion, war, learning,
invention and discovery have been the moving passions of former ages, so
now the accumulation of large fortunes is the main object that moves
man. It does not follow that this phase will not pass away and give
place to something more worth while, but while it lasts it will claim
its victims, just as other strong emotions in turn have done. The fear
of poverty, especially by those who have known something of the value of
money, the desire for the power that money brings, the envy of others,
the opportunities that seem easy, all these feelings are too strong for
many fairly good "machines," and bring disaster when plans go wrong.

Only a small portion of those who have speculated with trust funds are
ever prosecuted. Generally the speculation is successful or at least
covered up. Many men prefer to take a chance of disgrace or punishment
or death rather than remain poor. These are not necessarily dishonest or
bad. They may be more venturesome, or more unfortunate; at any rate, it
is obvious that the passion for money, the chance to get it, the dread
of poverty, the love of wealth and power were too strong for their
equipment, otherwise the pressure would have been resisted. The same
pressure on some other man would not have brought disaster.

The restrictions placed around the accumulation of property are
multiplying faster than any other portions of the criminal code. It
takes a long time for new customs or habits or restraints to become a
part of the life and consciousness of man so that the mere suggestion of
the act causes the reaction that doing it is wrong. No matter how long
some statutes are on the books, and how severe the penalties, many men
never believe that doing the forbidden act is really a crime. For
instance, the violations of many revenue laws, game laws, prohibition
laws, and many laws against various means of getting property are often
considered as not really criminal. In fact, a large and probably growing
class of men disputes the justice of creating many legal rules in
reference to private property.

Primitive peoples, as a rule, held property in common. Their inhibitions
were few and simple. They took what they needed and wanted in the
easiest way. There is a strong call in all life to hark back to
primitive feelings, customs and habits. Many new laws are especially
painful and difficult to a large class of weak men who form the bulk of
our criminal class.

To understand the constant urge to throw off the shackles of
civilization, one need but think of the number of men who use liquor or
drugs. One need only look at the professional and business man, who at
every opportunity leaves civilization and goes to the woods to kill wild
animals or to the lakes and streams to fish.

The call to live a simple life, free from the conventions, customs and
rules, to kill for the sake of killing, to get to the woods and streams
and away from brick buildings and stone walls, is strong in the
constitution of almost every man. Probably the underlying cause of the
world war was the need of man to relax from the hard and growing strain
of the civilization that is continually weaving new fetters to bind
him. There must always come a breaking point, for, after all, man is an
animal and can live only from and by the primitive things.

Children have no idea of the rights of property. It takes long and
patient teaching, even to the most intelligent, to make them feel that
there is a point at which the taking of property is wrong. Nowhere in
Nature can we see an analogy to our property rights. Plants and animals
alike get their sustenance where and how they can. It is not meant here
to discuss the question of how many of the restrictions that control the
getting of property are wise and how many are foolish; it is only meant
to give the facts as they affect life and conduct.

It is certainly true that the child learns very slowly and very
imperfectly to distinguish the ways by which he may and may not get
property. His nature always protests against it as he goes along. Only a
few can ever learn it in anything like completeness. Many men cannot
learn it, and if they learned the forbidden things they would have no
feeling that to disobey was wrong. Even the most intelligent ones never
know or feel the whole code, and in fact, lawyers are forever debating
and judges doubting as to whether many ways of getting property are
inside or outside the law. No doubt many of the methods that intelligent
and respected men adopt for getting property have more inherent
criminality than others that are directly forbidden by the law. It must
always be remembered that all laws are naturally and inevitably evolved
by the strongest force in a community, and in the last analysis made for
the protection of the dominant class.



Probably the chief barrier to the commission of crime is the feeling of
right and wrong connected with the doing or not doing of particular
acts. All men have a more or less binding conscience. This is the result
of long teaching and habit in matters of conduct. Most people are taught
at home and in school that certain things are right and that others are
wrong. This constant instruction builds up habits and rules of conduct,
and it is mainly upon these that society depends for the behavior of its
citizens. To most men conscience is the monitor, rather than law. It
acts more automatically, and a shock to the conscience is far more
effective than the knowledge that a law is broken. For the most part the
promptings of conscience follow pretty closely the inhibitions of the
criminal code, although they may or may not follow the spirit of the
law. Each person has his own idea of the relative values attached to
human actions. That is, no two machines respond exactly alike as to the
relative importance of different things. No two ethical commands have
the same importance to all people or to any two people. Often men do
not hesitate to circumvent or violate one statute, when they could never
be even tempted to violate another.

Ordinarily unless the response of conscience is quick and plain, men are
not bothered by the infraction of the law except, perchance, by the fear
of discovery. This is quite apart from the teaching that it is the duty
of all men to obey all laws, a proposition so general that it has no
effect. Even those who make the statement do not follow the precept, and
the long list of penal laws that die from lack of enforcement instead of
by repeal is too well known to warrant the belief that anyone pays
serious attention to such a purely academic statement. No one believes
in the enforcement of all laws or the duty to obey all laws, and no one,
in fact, does obey them all. Those who proclaim the loudest the duty of
obedience to all laws never obey, for example, the revenue laws. These
are clear and explicit, and yet men take every means possible to have
their property exempted from taxation - in other words, to defraud the
State. This is done on the excuse that everyone else does it, and the
man who makes a strict return according to law would pay the taxes of
the shirkers. While this is true, it simply shows that all men violate
the law when the justification seems sufficient to them. The laws
against blasphemy, against Sunday work and Sunday play, against buying
and transporting intoxicating liquors and smuggling goods are freely
violated. Many laws are so recent that they have not grown to be
folk-ways or fixed new habits, and their violation brings no moral
shock. In spite of the professions often made, most men have a poor
opinion of congressmen and legislators, and feel that their own
conscience is a much higher guide for them than the law.

Religions have always taught obedience to God or to what takes His
place. Religious commands and feelings, are higher and more binding on
man than human law. The captains of industry are forever belittling and
criticising all those laws made by legislatures and courts which
interfere with the unrestricted use of property. None of this sort of
legislation has their approval and the courts are regarded as meddlesome
when they enforce it. The anti-trust laws, the anti-pooling laws,
factory legislation of all kinds, anything in short that interferes with
the unrestricted use of property by its owner are roundly condemned and
violated by evasion. On the other hand, so much has been written and
said in reference to the creation of the fundamental rights to own
property, and these rights depend so absolutely upon social arrangements
and work out such manifest injustice and inequality, that there is
always a deep-seated feeling of protest against many of our so-called
property laws. From those who advocate a new distribution of wealth and
condemn the injustice of present property rights, the step is quite
short to those who feel the injustice and put their ideas in force by
taking property when and where they are able to get it.

For instance, a miner may believe that the corporation for which he
works really has no right to the gold down in the mine. As he is digging
he strikes a particularly rich pocket of high-grade ore. He feels that
he does no wrong if he appropriates the ore. Elaborate means are taken
to prevent this, even compelling the absolute stripping of the workman,
and a complete change of clothes on going in and coming out of the mine.

Many laws are put on the books which are of a purely sumptuary nature;
these attempt to control what one shall do in his own personal affairs.
Such laws are brought about by organizations with a "purpose". The
members are anxious to make everyone else conform to their ideas and

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Online LibraryClarence DarrowCrime: Its Cause and Treatment → online text (page 6 of 16)