Read The Truth Machine Online

Authors: Geoffrey C. Bunn

The Truth Machine (5 page)

Criminals were “constituted for evil” Lombroso wrote; they “do not resemble us, but instead ferocious beasts.”
95
In the second edition of his book, he introduced the “habitual criminal,” the “insane criminal,” and the “criminal by passion.” The “insane criminal” came to include three more psychological types, less distinguished by physical stigmata: the alcoholic, the hysteric, and the “mattoide” or semi-insane. Coined by one of Lombroso's most loyal followers, Enrico Ferri in 1880, the “born criminal” featured in the third edition of
L'uomo delinquente.
Lombroso's increasingly elastic categorization scheme resulted in the labeling of many more deviants as criminal.
96
He reduced the space devoted to biologically perverse criminals from a half to a third and expanded his discussions of the sociological causes of crime. Space allotted to punishment theory similarly increased across the editions. It was also in the third edition that he abandoned atavism (the reversion to a more primitive stage of evolution) for degeneration (the passage of pathologies through different generations of the same family), suggesting a prenatal mechanism for the latter mediated by the effects of alcohol, venereal disease, or malnutrition. Degeneration allowed Lombroso to incorporate many more stigmata and to integrate mental traits into his system. Despite gradually reducing his reliance on anthropometry and craniometry, by the fourth edition he claimed to have studied 6,608 criminals and, by the final edition, having measured 689 skulls.
97

In the final edition of
L'uomo delinquente
, Lombroso added the category of the “occasional criminal,” but complained that “it does not offer a homogeneous type like the born criminal and the criminal by passion, but is constituted of many disparate groups.” Lombroso's followers were not troubled by the increasing flexibility of their leader's central concept; indeed, many of them produced their own variant on the criminal type. Enrico Ferri, for example, a brilliant criminal lawyer and Lombroso's “most visible and indefatigable disciple,”
98
proposed a scale of dangerousness that included the occasional criminal, criminals by passion, insane criminals, and—the most treacherous of all—the born criminal. Raffaele Garofalo, whose major work
was
Criminology
(1885), posited three physiognomic types: the murderer, the violent criminal, and the thief. By 1900, the category of criminal man had expanded to include criminaloids, habitual criminals, criminals by passion, occasional criminals, and criminal crowds. The insane criminal had come to incorporate imbeciles, idiots, epileptics, the morally insane, manic-depressives, alcoholics, and the demented.

As criminological discourse expanded, so did the list of physical stigmata taken to signify deviance. Not only did asymmetry of the face, eye defects, and excessive jaw size count toward the diagnosis, but defects of the thorax, an imbalance of the hemispheres of the brain, and even the presence of supernumerary nipples were also taken to be indicators of criminal man.
99
Even before the publication of
L'uomo deliquente
, Lombroso had claimed that “as a rule,” thieves had “mobile hands,” rapists had “brilliant eyes” and “delicate faces,” and murderers had dark, abundant curly hair.
100
The lack of agreement as to which stigmata signified criminality attracted much criticism.
101

Despite the elasticity of the notion of the born criminal, there was a widespread belief among the faithful that the category represented a stable and special kind of contemptible human being. Garofalo concluded that “all who deal with the physical study of the criminal are forced to the conclusion that he is a being apart.”
102
Despite accepting that tradition, prejudice, inadequate role models, climate, and alcohol were all implicated, he maintained that “there is always present in the instincts of the true criminal, a specific element which is congenital or inherited, or else acquired in early infancy and becomes inseparable from his psychic organism. There is no such thing as the ‘casual' offender.”
103
Boasting that his physiognomic theory rarely let him down, on one occasion Garofalo claimed that he had erred in distinguishing murderers from fraudsters “not more than seven or eight times out of a hundred.”
104

Criminology—a term apparently first coined in 1883—thus emerged as the systematic study of the peculiar biological abnormalities of criminal man.
105
That criminology was coupled to the criminal as one mountaineer to another was a fact recognized by contemporary observers. In 1894 T. S. Clouston wondered what “anatomical, physiological, and psychological signs are there to distinguish this criminal and his cortex?” “If there are no such signs then there is no such branch of science as criminal anthropology,” he concluded.
106
Clouston recognized that the boundary between the born criminal and the habitual criminal was far from stable. But even if there was no “absolutely marked criminal type that all will agree on,” there could be no doubt
“that criminals fall far below a high or ideal anatomical and physiological standard of brain, and body and mind.”
107
In a recapitulation reminiscent of Henry Mayhew's extensive studies of the London poor, Clouston argued that scientific criminal anthropology “must deal with the idle, the vagrant, the pauper, the prostitute, the drunkard, the imbecile, the epileptic, and the insane, as well as the criminal.” This complex array could be reduced to “two great sources of criminality.” First, “the not fully evolved man who might do his work well enough in a primitive society, but who cannot accommodate himself to the conditions of a highly organised and largely artificial modern society.” And second, “the non-developed man, whose development has been pathologically arrested towards the end of the period of adolescence, just before the inhibitory and moral faculties had attained normal strength, there being in him often a slight intellectual impairment also.”
108

During the early years of the nineteenth century, phrenologists, statisticians, and asylum doctors had not been interested in singling out the criminal for special attention. They were more concerned with understanding the physical determinants of human conduct in naturalistic terms.
109
Their projects did not attempt to create a distinctive criminological science, even though many of their ideas and techniques eventually became part of criminological knowledge and practice. Nevertheless, these sciences, together with a variety of administrative projects, contributed to a general process that gradually made possible the systematic study of what J. Bruce Thomson called “a depraved and criminal class hereditarily disposed to crime.” By the century's end, crime was no longer thought to be a mysterious occurrence, explicable only in terms of morality's failures. It had come to be regarded as an ordinary if regrettable feature of society, a natural phenomena whose regularities rendered it amenable to empirical investigation.

The explosion of international interest in criminal man left a considerable quantity of ideological debris in its wake.
110
At the 1889 Second International Criminal Anthropology Congress in Paris, French criminologists attacked Lombrosoian doctrine for its determinism, proposing instead to account for criminality with the concept of the “social milieu.”
111
Gabriel Tarde and Paul Topinard voiced their opposition, as did Alexandre Lacassagne, who proposed a sociological explanation of crime.
112
Other challenges to the “Italian School” focused on the reality of cranial anomalies, the statistical data, and the lack of criminality in women.
113
The adoption of the Italian approach, Lacassagne had argued at the First Congress, would mean that jurists and legislators could “do nothing but cross their arms, or construct prisons in
which to gather these misshapen creatures.”
114
As the debates descended into disorganization and ad hominem attacks, the Italians voted en masse not to attend the Brussels congress. Criminal anthropology's detractors either took a sociological approach—the socialist Turati asserting that “bourgeois Society is the biggest criminal”—or they downgraded the importance of biology by pointing to the existence of habitual or occasional criminals. Colajanni, the author of
Criminal Sociology
, made the compelling criticism that Lombroso and his followers had failed to find a single trait that was exclusive to delinquents. The Catholic Church, a firm opponent of criminal anthropology, resolutely defended the concept of free will, rehearsing the argument that crime was a function of immorality.
115
Charles Féré, the author of
Degeneration and Criminality
(1895), blamed the genesis of crime on morality and inferior physiology. Charles Goring, a student of Karl Pearson's biometric statistical school, similarly conflated the physical, the mental, and the moral in his description of the criminal.
116

French anthropology—a powerful influence by the final quarter of the nineteenth century—was more open to ethnographic and cultural interpretations of human action. Police officer and creator of the “Bertiollage” system of anthropometrics, Alphonse Bertillon refused to accept the notion of born criminal, arguing that attempts at rehabilitation would be useless.
117
One of Lombroso's most influential opponents, the sociologist Gabriel Tarde, disputed the theory's atavistic underpinnings, offering instead a psychosociological explanation of crime.
118
Tarde's social imitation theory proposed that criminal customs and habits were transformed into personological traits over time.
119
Hostile to the Italians' perceived fatalism, the French thought that heredity and social milieu were bound up in constant reciprocal exchange.
120
The “social milieu is the broth of criminality,” Lacassagne wrote, “the microbe is the criminal.”
121
Medical doctors maintained their influence within the French legal system. Even though they sought legal recognition for the limited mental responsibilities of the criminally insane, they attempted to avoid alienating jurists with excessive claims for institutional reform as the Italians had done.
122
Because the French critique was consistent with the concerns of the legal community, a split between the new ideas and the classical doctrines was avoided.
123

Lombrosoian criminal anthropology spread like a virus across Europe. It was well established in Spain by the start of the twentieth century. Félix de Aramburu, the vice-rector of the University of Oviedo, had given the first public exposition of Lombroso's theories in 1886. Two years later Alvarez
Taladriz and Rafael Salillas at the University of Alava founded the
Revista de Antropología Criminal y Ciencias Médico-Legales
, a monthly periodical in imitation of Lombroso's journal. As the country's foremost representative and promoter of criminal anthropology, Salillas came to be known as Spain's “little Lombroso.”
124
The penologist Pedro Dorado Montero and the lawyer and self-taught criminologist Bernaldo de Quirós y Pérez became the leading Spanish writers on the subject. The latter's
New Theories of Criminality
of 1898 gave prominent place to the innovators of the Italian school. By the early years of the twentieth century, the Italian positivist approach to crime had significantly permeated Spanish universities, the police and prisons, the Institute of Social Reform, parliament, and the government. As in Italy, criminal anthropology's mixture of radical and conservative tenets appealed to both ends of the political spectrum.
125

From the 1890s into the early years of the twentieth century, both Italy and Spain were experiencing attacks from anarchist terrorists. Whereas in Italy criminal anthropology was a sufficiently influential doctrine to be used to placate and contain terrorism, this wasn't the case in Spain. In his 1894 book on anarchists, Lombroso had attempted to demonstrate that assassins and bombers “were epileptic, insane, the victims of congenital disease of various sorts, degenerate, hysterical, and often suicidal.”
126
He reframed their politically motivated acts as the “deeds of the mentally unbalanced, juvenile delinquents, and common criminals.” Thanks to “a virtual alliance” between the government and the Italian positivist school, criminal anthropology was able to obviate further dissent by individualizing and medicalizing political agitation.
127
The result was a reconceptualization of the meaning of violence and a refusal to create political martyrs who might foment further protest. The Spanish government's reliance on the classical notion of the rational and responsible individual law breaker led to a disastrous handling of two anarchist incidents in the first decade of the twentieth century.
128
In 1906, after a needlessly politicized trial for attempted regicide, the anarchist educator Francisco Ferrer was inadvertently turned into a heroic martyr by the authorities. Three years later, he was made a scapegoat for being the ringleader of a riot in which one hundred people were killed by army reservists. Whereas criminal anthropology might have pathologized Ferrer and weakened his influence, instead he “became another Giordano Bruno or Galileo, an enlightened thinker who seemed to be the innocent victim of the reactionary policies of a Spanish government dominated by clerics—the sacrificial offering of a new Spanish Inquisition.”
129

The German medical community showed a considerable interest in criminological questions from the 1880s. German doctors had long enjoyed a standing contact with the criminal justice system as forensic psychiatrists in the courts and as prison physicians in the correctional system. As a result, the medical profession felt compelled to respond to Lombroso's biological theory of crime.
130
By the 1870s it was standard procedure to call a medical doctor to the court if a defendant's mental condition was in question. Ten years later it was known that there was a greater incidence of mental illness among prison inmates compared to the general population, although it was difficult to distinguish those who became ill after conviction from those who were so beforehand. Whereas pre-Lombrosian psychiatry was concerned with the offender as an exceptional phenomenon, the exploration of a general link between insanity and crime became the norm after Lombroso.

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