The right-wing henchmen and their liberal brethren routinely provide moral justifications for extrajudicial deaths during colonial plunders and imperialist wars. From America’s war in Iraq to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, from honour killings to domestic violence, police encounters, and custodial deaths – all are part of the same genealogy that justifies violence on moral grounds.
Colonialism as a 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 institutional violence and patronise it in the name of nationalism, religion, community and caste honour.
The masses fall for such false intellectual narratives and celebrate such extrajudicial, structural and institutionalised violence as justice. This is exactly what has shaped the proverbial Orwellian 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”. In fact, the patronage of violence is an integral part of most 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 derive its legitimacy from religious and moral discourses that are antithetical to ideals of justice.
The moral foundation of extrajudicial 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 continue to resonate in 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.
This entails a capitalist transformation of need-based culture to a desire-based culture with the help of the advertisement industry. 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. For instance, the Corn Law was devised 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 empower capitalist classes. The strong security state and conformist bourgeois judiciary are also crucial in providing 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, the alienation-inducing capitalist system has been 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, for instance, American prisons are over flowing with black, ethnic minority and working-class people, whereas Indian prisons are packed with members of lower caste, tribal and other marginalised sections.
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 course different from what it would with poor and vulnerable criminals. The unequal availability and accessibility to police, law and judiciary did not help society become egalitarian. The police, law firms, solicitors, judiciary and prisons did not deliver justice. These judicial institutions of law and order did not help eradicate social and economic problems of our times.
Instead, they have helped consolidate the power of the capitalist elites while the masses continue to suffer from myriad miseries.
Contemporary capitalism is organised around ideals of illiberal and undemocratic governance of society in which citizens are free consumers and wage labourers. The ideals of individual liberty, freedom and rights are cosmetic covers to the criminogenic face of capitalism. Capitalist societies do not overcome the problem of crime, but instead, open up new 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 or elite consciousness and an element of desire for revenge play key roles in 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 citizen but does not destroy crime and criminals. Neither does it reform the criminal, nor does it provide the environment for criminals to develop their abilities to reform themselves.
It normalises and naturalises the culture of crime within a retributive judicial framework that complements the very system of capitalism. The moral foundations of retributive justice derives 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 capitalism are unnatural, whereas love and peace are 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 a new language of penology by addressing the alienating conditions that produce and patronise 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.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak is a political economist based in Coventry, UK. He researches and writes on political economy of religion, market, business and development.