JURIDICA INTERNATIONAL 25/2017
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 oﬀ ence and criminal oﬀ 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 fulﬁ 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 oﬀ 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 diﬀ 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-proﬁ t sector was earmarked for this research.
The term ‘cultural-civilisational approach’ is used for distinguishing from ‘cultural criminology’, which has its own agenda
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. .