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Law and Crime

How to Discover the Origins of Crime

A Personal Perspective: Why are crimes committed? Is anyone above the law?

  1. Is Crime Due to Material Circumstances?
  2. Is It Due to the Family?
  3. Is It Due to the Lack of Consideration for the Life of Others?
  4. Is It Caused by a Belief in the Superiority of Certain People Who Feel Above the Law?
  5. What Are the Effects?

In trying to discover why crime is committed, it is useful to turn to great authors; in particular, Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." Why does the young anti-hero, Raskolnikov, murder the old pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna in cold blood, wielding an axe and breaking open her skull, followed by the murder of her step-sister, Lizaveta who comes into the room inadvertently?

Was it due to Raskolnikov's material circumstances: his extreme poverty, his miserable living conditions: the room which his mother describes as a "coffin," his lack of food, or even the claustrophobic heat and dust of the city of St. Petersburg in the nineteenth century during the summer time? Was it his desire to acquire the necessary money to return to the studies of the law he gave up due to poverty?

Was it his love for his family, his loving and impoverished mother, and the fear that his beautiful and brilliant sister, Dunya would marry a man entirely unworthy of her hand, Luzhin, a dandy, considerably older than her, pompous and condescending, to acquire money to help him with his studies?

Or on the contrary was it rather the thought that the life of the cruel, avaricious, and elderly pawnbroker who made the existence of so many people more difficult by beating her poor step-sister, charging exorbitant interest on the money she lent the poor students who came to her for help, was not worth anything, that the money she had stashed away under her bed that she had left in her will to a monastery to say prayers for her when she died, could on the contrary be used to help innumerable people who were in dire need?

Or finally was it the belief that would later be promulgated by Nietzsche that certain superior beings had the right, indeed the obligation to step over the law and to commit actions that would ultimately benefit humanity? Were Napoleon or Mohammed for example allowed to kill others in an attempt to spread justice and equality?

All These Possibilities and Their Effect

Dostoevsky in his brilliance never really gives us the answer to these questions, leaving all these possibilities to account for violent crime then and perhaps also today: the need which comes from the society in which we continue to live where poverty still remains prevalent and the ability to rise above the conditions in which life or fate or God has placed us is still extremely difficult or is it some inner anger or belief in our innate superiority over others which enables certain persons to ignore the law and step over the rules of society and take what they can for themselves with the belief they have the right. Whatever it may be, Dostoevsky makes its effects clear in the case of Raskolnikov who feels utterly alone after his crime and burdened by his absolute solitude finally feels obliged to confess and face his punishment.

Courtesy of Penguin
Source: Courtesy of Penguin


Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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