Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/465

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UNTIL our own days, through that crisis of individualism which has prevailed since the last century, crime has been regarded as the most essentially individual thing in the world; and the notion of what might be called undivided crime was lost among criminologists, as was that also of collective sin among theologians. Whenever the attempts of conspirators or the exploits of a band of robbers forced the recognition of the existence of crimes committed collectively, the criminal nebulosity was promptly resolved into distinct individual offenses of which it was regarded as only the sum. But now the sociological or socialistic reaction against this great egocentric illusion is turning attention toward the social side of acts which are mistakenly attributed to the individual. Hence curious inquiry has been directed to the criminality of sects—concerning which nothing is more profound than M. Taine's labors on the psychology of the Jacobins—and, more recently, to the criminality of mobs. These are different species of the same genus; the criminality of the group; and the study of them together may be useful and opportune.

The difficulty is not to find collective crimes, but to discover crimes which are not collective, which do not involve in some degree the complicity of the surrounding. So much is this so that we may well ask whether there are any crimes really individual, the same as we doubt whether there are any works of genius that are not a collective result. Analyze the mental state of the most vicious and most isolated malefactor, at the moment of his deed; or that of the most enthusiastic inventor at the hour of his discovery; and having subtracted from it all in the makeup of his feverish condition which comes from education, companionship, apprenticeship, and the accidents of life—what is left? Very little; yet something, perhaps something essential, which does not need to be isolated to be itself.

Nevertheless, it is permissible to denominate, individual crimes any acts performed by a single person under the operation of vague, distant, and confused influences of some indefinite and indeterminate other one; and we may reserve the epithet collective for acts brought about by the immediate and direct collaboration of a limited and precise member of coexecutants.

There are, indeed, in this sense, individual acts of genius; or, rather, there is the quality of individuality only in case of genius. For, it is remarkable that while morally, collectivities are susceptible of the two contrary excesses of extreme criminality and ex-