Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/14
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
The apparent great excess in the prevalence of crime among men forms one of the most interesting facts of sex in crime. At the outset we ought to reach, if possible, the cause. In this connection all ideas of the innate morality of women over men must be abandoned. Modern literature is full of a false and even morbid idea upon this subject. M. Michelet has written a romance called "Woman," and it is a fair sample of what may be termed the sentimental estimate of the. sex. But the frail creature portrayed in the florid sentences of Michelet
propensity was one thing and its physical expression another. It therefore follows that if we are to reach the degree of woman's propensity to crime it must be by other means than a simple expression of the difference in the actual perpetration of total crime. The propensity can be approximately measured by the degree of the offense. Quality and degree are in law the measures of the punishment inflicted on the offender. This is called justice, and it is indeed tempered with mercy when we compare it with the operations of law less than a century ago, when it dealt with crime simply as a quality without reference to degree. In its treatment of criminals, society took its first scientific stand-point when it measured the propensity to evil by the degree of evil actually committed. It seems safe to assume that in a certain limited range, as the degree of crime defines its penalty, so also it expresses the extent of the propensity. Another fact maybe approximately established from the same data. The causes of crime, those deeply-hidden undercurrents existing in society, the ebb and flow of which seem to register themselves in undeviating curves of human conduct, must vary in intensity to the degree of crime which is their natural outgrowth. Thus, a man who commits a criminal act with the full knowledge that his life is jeopardized thereby must surely be exposed to an influence far greater than one who, under all circumstances, would shrink from the greater crime through a sense of punishment, but would not hesitate to commit a lesser offense. If this is not so, then society has been acting upon a false theory in its repression of crime by the fear of punishment. But I believe legislation for this purpose has been based upon a correct knowledge of human nature, and that the average man with criminal tendencies is, to a certain degree, deterred from criminal conduct by a fear of punishment. There is strong confirmation of this in the condition of society existing in the border States and raining regions, in which there is a low estimate of the value of human life, not from the fact that life is individually less precious there than elsewhere, but that the tendency to this form of crime exists in greater force as a natural outcome of the conditions under which human life is there grouped. I believe it is just, therefore, to partly form an estimate of the tendency to crime by the method I have adopted, aided by a simple comparison of the prevalence of crime in general in the sexes.
- "Woman," from the French of M. Michelet, by J, W. Palmer. New York, 1874.