Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/September 1896/Enrico Ferri on Homicide I




ENRICO FERRI, the pupil and collaborator of Cesare Lombroso in the science of Criminal Anthropology, which the latter may almost be said to have created, has just published a truly monumental work consisting of over seven hundred closely printed pages and an appendix of over three hundred, in which he subjects to a most searching and minute examination the problem of homicide from the point of view of Criminal Anthropology. In it he treats of the murderer by instinct or from madness, reserving for future treatment the cases due to occasion and passion. This huge book is the result of nearly thirteen years' work, during which it has been often interrupted by Ferri's legal and parliamentary labors. These interruptions have not been without their benefit. As a criminal lawyer he had much opportunity of coming in contact with criminals and of studying them closely, and he is convinced that his work has gained rather than lost from the circumstance of its having been so long on the stocks. He has taken as his watchword Michelet's "La science de la justice et la science de la nature sont une. Il faut que la justice devienne une médecine s'éclairant des sciences psychologiques et physiologiques"; and it is on these calm lines that the whole work is penned. The author's purpose, in writing this book, was to demonstrate the methods by which we should endeavor to study the natural genesis of every crime in order to acquire positive and special knowledge of the causes of criminal phenomena, to deduce thence certain indications as to the most efficacious remedies, which should be at the same time the most effective and the most humane, to be applied against these symptoms of social pathology, to bring into relief more especially those data which will explain the genesis of murder, serve to delineate its psychological diagnosis as it affects each individual who commits it, and hence give the degree in which he is to be feared, according to the anthropological category to which he belongs. Starting from the axiom that the elementary notion of homicide as a criminal fact—that is to say, that the murder of one man by another is totally inadequate to satisfy the demands of contemporary penal science, which has been fundamentally reconstituted by the new methods of positive research—he deems that he must conduct his study to the true origin of these phenomena. Hence the necessity of a twofold inquiry: first, that bearing on the natural evolution of homicide, which includes in its vast domain the historical evolution that forms the theme of the last chapter, and consequently those which bear on the natural causes of homicide. It is necessary, therefore, to commence with animals and end with man, who is but the last link in the same chain.

Simplifying and generalizing the elementary notions that prevail on the matter of homicide, it may be said that it is the destruction of one animal by another of the same species. Homicide as a criminal fact does not consist in the act of taking life—since killing in order to live is a natural law, and hence is moral—but in killing a being of the same species. All beings of a superior species kill those of an inferior one in order to nourish themselves. The deed becomes criminal only when it is unnatural. This fact of unnaturalness defines it as a crime.

Sociology of late has planted its pioneers in the ranks of zoölogy. This was done by Lombroso in his Criminal Anthropology, and on these lines all scientists work nowadays. These scientific conclusions, which affirm the strict relationship, psychological as well as physical, existing between man and the other animals, every day demonstrates as more true. Hence the embryology of murder must be sought in the obscure depths of zoö-psychology, for it is now certain that the criminal activity of man is only the reproduction of animal criminality, developed and modified by means of intelligence. Homicide is a primitive crime like theft, and can be found in nearly all its forms and variety of motives in the animal world. As in man so in beasts there are races more prone than others to the taking of life, beings who transmit the murderous instinct. The classification of animal criminology made by Ferri can therefore be extended to man. Utilizing the studies and researches in animal psychology made up to the present, the author classifies in convenient grades a goodly number of the most accredited facts, demonstrating how homicide manifests itself in the animal kingdom. These facts are more numerous than would be generally imagined, and well adapted for precise classification. The first group, which relates to the different aspects of the struggle for life, nutrition, social supremacy, and sexual reproduction, deals with the crimes due to the natural laws of existence. The general character of this group presents a minor degree of perversion than those of premeditated ones of the second group, which includes murder determined by an instinct in the species. Animals destroy each other from sexual instinct, for love, maternal affection, for defense, for the common weal, for punishment. With respect to this last motive—punishment—among animals, which some deny, considering it a mere question of vendetta, Ferri maintains that among animals, besides this motive, there exists a more or less exact notion of chastisement. Our author admits that it is difficult to distinguish the sentiment of responsibility from the fear of punishment, but still he holds that animals have a rudimentary sentiment of responsibility. In dogs this sentiment is far from rudimentary. The theme, however, deserves a more extended study, which in this place would have led Ferri too far afield. In any case, as he points out, punishment is not merely a means adopted by man toward man and animals, but is not unknown among the latter themselves. It is above all among animals that punishments are efficacious as deterrents from crime. If monkeys are so thievish in India it is because they are not punished, being held sacred. On the other hand, no punishment can have any effect on certain perverse instincts which have become organic from long heredity. Therefore, where crime is an inborn organic tendency, the need of substituting segregation for the usual punitive methods is evident, in accordance with the conclusions of science which have confirmed the efficacy of penal substitutes for punishment even in the animal world.

That crime is a natural phenomenon can be still better seen when studying the group determined by an antisocial instinct. Ferri asserts that for man as well as for animals every action is determined by a movement of passion, which will be stronger in proportion to the gravity and importance of the act effected, but it always exists, however imperceptible, whatever be the action, and therefore, in studying criminal activity, the principle now dominant in schools and jurisprudence is erroneous, by which passions in their relation to responsibility are distinguished by the degree of their violence—for example, that an overmastering passion can cancel or diminish the responsibility of the individual. This is an empirical criterion, which in studying criminology in man as well as in animals it is needful to substitute by the more scientific distinction of passions which are useful and passions which are harmful to the species, motives which are social and motives which are antisocial. For crimes provoked by social motives have a natural and juridic character of their own and must be judged apart.

In this group of murders of an antisocial character are included those determined by covetousness, ingratitude, war, personal vendetta, antipathies, anger, and the like, which, whether as isolated motives or as concomitants of crime, bear the stamp of individual perversity. The motor impulse must not be confounded with that thus designated by the classical school of criminalists who, when they do not find the cause proportionate to the crime, invent the stock phrase of bloodthirstiness. Thus homicides induced by vendetta, by covetousness, etc., are, according to them, acts of bloodthirstiness. On the contrary, the experimental study of delinquency reveals that homicide without apparent or proportionate motives is nothing else but the result of abnormal or diseased organisms. However, this factor of bloodthirstiness might better be classified by itself. Perhaps (among the animals who are criminals born), although it has a no less legitimate place among those crimes induced by antisocial instincts where Ferri has placed it, it has also no connection with madness. The classical divorce of crimes from insanity, rejected by positive science, finds also here in the study of innate or acquired bloodthirstiness a heavy defeat. Just as there are good and domesticable animals, so there are perverse ones even among the domesticated, absolutely comparable to the criminal born, as Lombroso and others have contended.

This group of facts brings still more into relief the fundamental analogy between the criminal activity of animals and of men. A yet, more eloquent proof is found, by studying the group of murders induced by mental alienation and by cannibalism. From l'homme machine of Descartes we have come to insanity among animals, concerning which there is no manner of doubt, seeing the result of recent studies, and this means that brutes have in common with man various mental maladies, differing only in degree.

Ferri divides into five categories the cases of murder among animals determined by madness, no matter whether transitory or permanent, innate or acquired: murder by hereditary tendencies, by mania, by impulse of fear, by senility, by alcoholism (for the effects of alcohol in all its divers forms on animals are well known), and subjects them to a brief but deeply interesting examination. All the murders enumerated have their scope and limit in the murder of their fellows. In animals, as we also see among savages and even among civilized peoples, crime is continued with outrages on the corpse and with cannibalism. The origin of this unnatural mode of alimentation must certainly be sought in the need induced by hunger. It is only after that that cannibalism becomes an organic tendency in animals and man. However, man has motives for anthropophagy different from those of animals. Ferri classifies cannibalism among animals in two categories, simple cannibalism (wolves, rats, etc.; Lombroso also cites the case of a dog), and cannibalism among relations—that is to say, infanticide and parricide (crocodile, fox, etc.). To render this exposition of crime in animals yet more complete, the author hints at another possible class, suicide, which is certainly not unknown among animals.

Having thus passed in review all the categories of crime in animals, Ferri devotes a chapter to drawing from the facts he has accumulated their obvious and special conclusions, pointing out the striking psychic analogy of motive and of execution existing between the human and the animal world, once more insisting on the undoubtedly natural character of the crime. He then passes on to examine homicide in primitive savage humanity, which is an intermediate form of homicidal evolution between the animal and civilized society. Concerning the importance of these studies of savage peoples, as well as concerning the modern reconsideration of the conditions of primitive humanity deduced from the study of contemporary savages, doubts have been uttered and objections raised even in the ranks of evolutionists. Ferri, however, who is convinced that the paleontological data can, for lack of other evidence, be elicited from these analogies with contemporary savage life, accepts the evolution hypothesis that in contemporary savages is seen reflected a large portion of the primitive conditions of humanity.

The purely descriptive style adopted by Ferri in his study of animals in the second chapter of his book is interspersed with psychological reflections, for though at the outset his purpose was to prove the existence of criminal murder among animals, he had also to study not only the manifest existence of this murder, but to show that such acts have their moral as well as their juridic side. To do this he examines and classifies divers forms of homicide in primitive humanity, beginning with the least fierce and ending with the most repulsive, while leaving aside those common also to civilized man. Here we find new criminal aspects: for example, abortion; infanticide, elevated to a custom and a method in Malthusianism; the killing of the old, of women, of the sick, of those unable to work, of useless mouths (practiced also in historical primitive times), homicide for superstition, race hatred, vanity, homicide without apparent purpose, for bloodthirstiness, frequent in savages by reason of the very brutality of their nature and the small account in which they hold their lives; finally, cannibalism, the most repugnant and ferocious form of homicide, common to all the peoples of antiquity according to Vogt; born of hunger, of warlike fury, of need, and transmitted by heredity, by religious tradition, and lastly, the ultimate grade of human ferocity, by gluttony. We see this crime reappear in part and without the stimulus of hunger, for vendetta and simple anger.

This classification of the various forms of homicide presented by Ferri in a growing scale of ferocity, in order to give contrast to the two extremes of primitive and civilized man, does not tally, as he himself points out, with the duplex process of natural evolution which can be studied in primitive man. In fact, here we have on one side a continual diminution and disappearance of the most repulsive forms of crime, and on the other side the ever-increasing development of moral sentiments and of the juridic instincts, such as we find afterward in history. Some forms of homicide, such as cannibalism, blood revenges, etc., where they do not entirely disappear, become less frequent, are less tolerated, and assume more moral and juridic aspects (juridic homicide and cannibalism as a punishment for evil-doers), and this new aspect constitutes the embryo of the succeeding social right of repression.

After this extensive analysis Ferri thinks he is justified in asserting that savages do not entirely ignore any notion of crimes and of punishment, and if some peoples lack the sense of crime, the majority consider as punishable a certain number of criminal actions, although no doubt these are few as compared with the number existing in our actual codexes. After this review of primitive homicide, although the ethnographical study of criminality and legislation is still incomplete, Ferri believes he may draw various conclusions, of which the most important are: "As among animals, so among savages, these more or less atrocious facts are not alone the effects of specific race tendencies, but also occur among gentle peoples and those relatively less savage. The moral and juridic evolutions against homicide exist hardly even in embryo among the most savage tribes, any more than among animals, and follow, like any other psychological manifestation, the slow evolution of human society. . . . Justice in the moral and juridic sense is essentially relative and variable." As a general and definite conclusion of these preliminary examinations of savage humanity and animals in the order of their criminal activity, it follows, contrary to the affirmation of the schools, that neither punishment nor social innovations will ever succeed in extirpating homicide. But this ideal may be reached rather by the slow labor of progressive evolution.

This interesting examination of the natural evolution of homicide is followed by an inquiry into its natural causes. This second scientific examination needed to be subdivided on the basis of the classification generally adopted by the others (anthropological, physical, and social factors) into three special studies. The combination of the factors among themselves, and the respective prevalence of one of these, determined a special category of crime. Thus the prevalence of the anthropological factor gives us the figure of the murderer born and the murderer by insanity, the main subject of this large work; the prevalence of physical and social factors furnishes us with the figure of the murderer by occasion and by passion, which is to form the theme of the second volume. The anthropological factor in the criminal divides itself yet again into its constituent elements of organic and psychic.

Ferri begins with the examination of the organic constitution of homicide, objecting with great force to the criticisms and methods of the modern school of anthropology and exposing the criterions by which he himself has been guided. It is not easy or possible, however, to deduce even from these precise criterions anything but an approximate conclusion. Ferri points out frankly, in the brilliant treatise that precedes his study of comparative anthropometry, the difficulties of such classification. He insists, for example, that, besides craniological characteristics and the qualities inherent in the individual and the race, due regard must be had to psychological conditions.