A 'Suitable Amount' of Crime and a Cultural-Civilisational Approach

Author:Jüri Saar

The article presents the hypothesis that a normal level (e.g., optimal, reasonable, or suitable amount) of crime is an empirically measurable variable. Adequate assessment of crime in a specific civilisation is possible via comparison of crime across different civilisations. To this end, key elements for a cultural-civilisational approach, distinct from 'cultural criminology’, are presented. In... (see full summary)

Jüri Saar*1
Professor of Criminology
University of Tartu
A ‘Suitable Amount’ of Crime
and a Cultural-Civilisational
1. Introduction to the notion of ‘suitable amount’
of crime – when is enough enough?
In the classic view of crime, the criminal o ence and criminal o ender resemble ‘social junk’, a societal
pathology that can be treated by means of active measures. If crime is really an undesirable by-product of
social life, the main rule is simple – the less crime and the fewer criminals there are, the better. There is no
such thing as a suitable amount of crime in principle. If, in fact, crime is a social sickness, punishment is the
treatment and cannot be conceived of otherwise; hence, all the discussion aroused revolves around knowing
what the punishment should be such that it ful ls its role as a remedy.
The paradigm established by Émile Durkheim is in opposition to the approach described above. Through
his studies, Durkheim posited, social science should be able to determine whether a given society is ‘healthy’
or ‘pathological’, with social reform sought, accordingly, to negate organic breakdown or ‘social anomie’.
All behavioural acts (e.g., suicide or criminal o ences) performed at the level of the individual arbitrarily
(via ‘free will’) are at the level of society social facts sui generis characterising the state of the social organ-
ism in an indicative manner.*3 He believed that a ‘social fact is normal for a given social type, viewed at
a given phase of its development, when it occurs in the average society of that species, considered at the
corresponding phase of its evolution’.*4
Durkheim proposed a novel theoretical view of the precise amount of crime that should be treated
as a normal phenomenon at its optimal level. A lower quantity of crime indicates a stage of stagnation in
the society, while a higher level accompanies a state of social disorganisation. Durkheim developed a new
and totally di erent view of the criminal too, that ‘the criminal no longer appears as an utterly unsociable
creature, a sort of parasitic element, a foreign, unassimilable body introduced into the bosom of society. He
plays a normal and important role in social life’.*5 In response to the accordant change of approach, crime
and crime-control issues moved from the periphery to a central position in social science.
No grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-pro t sector was earmarked for this research.
The term ‘cultural-civilisational approach’ is used for distinguishing from ‘cultural criminology’, which has its own agenda
and followers.
É. Durkheim. Suicide: A Study in Sociology. London, New York: Routledge [] .
É. Durkheim. Rules for the distinction of the normal from the pathological. – S. Lukes (ed.). The Rules of Sociological Method.
New York, London: The Free Press [] , p. . – DOI: https://doi.org/./----_.
Ibid., p. .

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