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The rationale of punishment

Oppenheimer, Heinrich (1913) The rationale of punishment. Other thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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At the present time, when the State punishment of crime is constantly cited before the tribunal of science in order to show cause why it should not be eliminated, like other relics of barbarism, from the arsenal of modern civilization, in which there is no room for mere supersti- tions of the past, a critical investigation of the problem of punishment cannot be out of place. The new doctrine has already succeeded in insinuating some of its minor canons into more than one legislative system, and whilst it must be conceded that the measures hitherto adopted under its influence, such as the probation of first offenders, conditional sentences, and conditional liber- ation of prisoners, have all proved highly beneficial, the more extravagant claims of the criminological school threaten to subvert the very foundations of the rampart which society has laboriously erected against the on- slaughts of crime. Indeed, one shudders at the mere thought that the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years may be sacrificed, in a few years of revolutionary experiments, on the altar of a fashionable and self- complacent, withal utterly unverified, hypothesis. If we remember that the institution of punishment has had its beginnings in the infancy of the human race, and that it has accompanied mankind all along the course of its progress from savagery to barbarism, from barbarism to civilization, if we realize how deeply rooted it is even in the consciousness of modern society, we cannot accept the thesis that the elaborate machinery which it has evolved serves no useful purpose whatever without, at any rate, attempting to ascertain its deeper meaning in the past and in the present. I am not acquainted with any monograph in which both these aspects of the problem have been submitted to a critical examination. If a further apology were required for the appearance of this book, the extreme meagreness of the English literature on the subject would appear to supply a suffi- cient justification.

Item Type: Thesis (Other)
Additional Information: © 1912 Heinrich Oppenheimer
Library of Congress subject classification: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology

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