Crime, justice and capitalism: Justifying violence on moral grounds

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*

The right-wing henchmen and their liberal brethren provide moral justifications for extra judicial deaths during colonial plunders and imperialist wars. From Iraq wars to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and from honour killings to domestic violence, police encounters, and custodial deaths around the world are part of the same genealogy, that justifies violence on moral grounds. Colonialism as civilising mission, imperialist wars for democracy and human rights are products of unfounded moral discourses shaped by the ruling class propaganda. The moral arguments continue to provide justifications to institutionalise violence and patronise it in the name of nationalism, religion, community and caste honour. The masses fall into such false intellectual narrative and celebrate such extra judicial, structural and institutionalised violence as justice. It has shaped the Orwellian proverbial expression.“Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Those who do not die by the sword die of smelly diseases”. Such a violent social formulation derives its cultural legitimacy from Christian theology.  The Gospel of Matthew echoes it by saying “sword shall perish with the sword”. The patronage of violence is an integral part of most of the world religions. The idea of god and religions will perish without cherishing the ideals of violence and fear in the name of justice. In this way, normalisation and naturalisation of violence as justice derives its legitimacy from religious and moral discourses, which is antithetical to ideals of justice.

The moral foundation of extra judicial killing as justice is not new in the world. The modified version of the Hammurabian code and Anglo-Saxon culture of crime, evidence, punishment and justice continues to resonate in the 21st century judicial praxis. The origin and growth of crime and its moral foundation is intrinsically linked with ascendancy of private property from feudalism to finance capital. The economic construction of society and transformation of individual as a mere producer and consumer in support of capitalism both in its old and new forms led to the rise of crime. The culture of consumerism has promoted a culture of competition, where realisation of one’s own self-interest is supreme goal. The capitalist transformation of need-based culture to a desire-based culture with the help of advertisement industry, which has destroyed collective foundations of society.  The ascendancy of capitalism has increased wealth without diminishing miseries. It has led to the concentration of wealth in the hands of few, and growth of huge social and economic in inequalities in the society.

The rotten capitalist system continues to produce miseries for many and prosperity for the few. Laws are made by the capitalist classes to protect their own interests. The Corn Laws were made to uphold the interests of landed aristocracies, mercantile classes and industrial bourgeoisie in early 19th century England. The legacies of such laws continue to exist today in different parts of the world. The special economic zones, industrial zones, agricultural zones, export and import zones are classic examples of policies, working conditions and labour laws, which disempower the working-class masses and empowers capitalist classes. The strong-security state and conformist bourgeois judiciary is important to provide protection to the private properties of capitalist classes. The capitalist system not only produces crime, it also uses organised criminal gangs to promote its regimes of capitalist profit accumulation.

Historically, alienating capitalist system is an organic incubator for crime and criminals. There is nothing new in the criminogenic character of capitalism. The law is used and interpreted differently to different classes of people. As a result of which American prisons are over flowing with black, ethnic minority and working-class population whereas Indian prisons packed with lower caste, tribal and poor population. The criminals have their classes. The punishments and prison cells are different according to their class location of the criminals. If criminals are rich and powerful; the law takes a different course whereas law takes its own course with poor and vulnerable. The unequal availability and accessibility to police, law and judiciary did not help society to grow in an egalitarian way. The police, law firms, solicitors, judiciary and prisons did not deliver justice. These judicial institutions of law and order did not help to eradicate social and economic problems of our times. It has rather helped to consolidate the power of the capitalist elites while the masses continue to suffer in different forms of miseries.

The contemporary capitalism is organised around ideals of illiberal and undemocratic governance of the society in which citizens are free consumers and wage labours. The ideals of individual liberty, freedom and rights are cosmetic covers to criminogenic face of capitalism. The capitalist societies do not overcome the problem of crime but it opens up in frontiers of crime every day in different stages of its development. The culture of crime and punishment is an integral part of the proportional retributive judicial system with bourgeois spirit in which ‘popular/elite consciousness and an element of desire for revenge’ plays key role shaping laws to regulate crime and criminals. The capitalist judicial system is based on the perceived notion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Such a system disciplines the citizens and does not destroy the crime and criminals. It does not reform the criminals or did not provide the environment for the criminals to develop their abilities to reform themselves. It normalises and naturalises the culture of crime within retributive judicial system that complements capitalism. The moral foundations of retributive justice derive its legitimacy from major religions of the world. There is nothing modern about it. It is feudal, medieval and barbaric in letter and spirit. The social, economic, religious and cultural conditions that produce crime and promotes criminals continue to thrive under capitalist patronage. Such a system moves the society into unending darkness of injustice.

It is time to understand and unravel the innate goodness and human values in human beings, which are destroyed by capitalist cultures. Crimes and capitalisms are unnatural whereas love and peace is natural to all human beings in all societies. The cosmetic vicissitudes of capitalism and its actuarial justice cannot solve the problems of crime. The world needs new language of penology by addressing the alienating capitalist conditions that produces and patronises crime and criminals. The establishment of a crime free society is possible and inevitable. It depends on our abilities to struggle for an egalitarian economy, democratic society and non-discriminatory governance based on progressive politics of peace and prosperity. Such decriminalised transformations depend on unwavering commitment of people’s struggles to ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice for all. These ideals are indivisible to establish a crime free, punishment free and prison free society based on harmony and love for each other.

*Coventry University, UK

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