Destiny of Crime

by Theodore Dalrymple (July 2013)

The book was by Prof. Dr. Johannes Lange, Physician-in-Chief to the Munich-Schwabing Hospital and Departmental Director of the German Experimental Station for Psychiatry at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. It was translated by Haldane’s then wife, Charlotte, who was a feminist and socialist who subsequently became disillusioned with the Soviet Union when she was sent there in 1941 by the Daily Herald (the British trade union daily newspaper) as a war correspondent.

Perhaps this was not altogether surprising, given the general drift of Crime as Destiny. Lange is mentioned twice in Paul Weindling’s Health, Race and German Politics between National Reunification and Nazism 1870 – 1945, an exhaustive account of the German medical profession’s intellectual propensity to compulsory euthanasia as a solution to social and psychiatric problems, real or imagined. Lange was a member of a government sterilization committee that met to consider the sterilization of psychiatric patients before Hitler’s arrival in power.

Crime as Destiny attempts to show that criminality is predominantly hereditary or genetic in nature. The author compared the rates of concordance for criminality of monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (not-identical) twins: that is to say, the percentage of pairs in which, if one had a criminal record, the other had a criminal record also. The comparison is interesting because it is supposed to tease out what is caused by heredity and what by environment.

Monozygotic twins are genetically identical, whereas dizygotic twins are no more alike genetically than any other pair of siblings. It is therefore assumed that if, having been born at the same time into the same environment, dizygotic differ in rates of concordance of any given feature from the rates of concordance of monozygotic twins, the difference in those rates must be accounted for by heredity and not by environment. In this case, Lange found that 10 of 13 pairs of identical twins were concordant for criminal records whereas only 2 of 17 pairs of non-identical twins were concordant.  Crime is destiny (or is it that Destiny is Crime?).

If we desire that the fight against evil should be more successful in the future than it has been in the past, our first duty is to find out [the] causes…. No one in our generation has done more to dispel [the] darkness than Professor Lange.

It is likely also that Haldane’s wife endorsed Lange’s work, for she ends her own prefatory note:

The plain facts stated… could not be improved upon by any translator.

Early in his book Lange says something that is very startling, bearing in mind that his book was published four years before the Nazi accession to power:

We take the most comprehensive precautions to safeguard society, we sterilise thousands of criminals, and on the other hand we claim for a number of others protection on the ground of low powers of self-control which make them a danger to society, while we cannot know at all clearly who should be sterilised and who should be protected.

In his conclusion, Lange recalls one of his pair of identical twins, the Lauterbachs, both of them high-grade swindlers who, independently of one another, started companies to raise money for bogus inventions, and managed to inveigle large sums from investors. Lange says:

One might perhaps let them go [from prison] provided one could write their records on their foreheads for everyone to read, and if one could make it impossible for them to propagate their kind.

(Interestingly, the famous psychologist, H J Eysenck, who was born in Germany in 1916 but left in 1934 in protest against the Nazis, wrote a book published in 1964, revised and republished in 1977, entitled Crime and Personality, in which he maintained, like Johannes Lange, that criminality was predominantly hereditary in nature. Eysenck quoted Lange in extenso, most uncritically, and said of him that he was ‘the first to attack this whole problem [the heritability of criminality] in a truly scientific manner.’ Not surprisingly, the blurb of the 1977 edition of Eysenck’s book says:

(Such as sterilization, no doubt.)

chronic alcoholism is generally recognized now as indicating in a majority of cases either feeble-mindedness or some other defect of the nervous system.

The number of criminals who are in some way neurotically tainted is placed by some psychologists at 50% or more of the total prison population… The estimate has frequently been made that the United States would be much better off eugenically if it were deprived of the future racial contributions of at least 10% of its citizens… When a criminal of this [feeble-minded] type is found, the duty of society is unquestionably to protect itself by cutting off that line of descent…

And the authors go on to list the states that have sterilization laws.

Nor is it true that eugenics as a means of dealing with social problems was particularly attractive to the authoritarian right (if statist nationalism is on the right): it was equally attractive to the authoritarian left. The intellectual progenitors of the British welfare state, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, H G Wells and Bernard Shaw were strongly in favour of eugenics, both positive and negative. And by now it is well-known that Scandinavian welfare democracies continued with their eugenic programmes into the 1970s.

Oddly enough it was G K Chesterton who was the most far-sighted of opponents of eugenics. In 1922 he published a book, mostly written before the First World War, entitled Eugenics and Other Evils. It begins:

He foresaw the horrors that eugenics might bring.

Not everything about Chesterton’s book is admirable, however. It contains a certain amount of casual anti-Semitism, though mild by what was soon to come elsewhere. And I think that Chesterton misunderstood the psychology behind eugenics, to which he devoted the second half of his book (the first half he devoted to proving to his own satisfaction that eugenics was based upon fundamental, and obvious, intellectual error).

Third, socialists were at least as keen on eugenics as plutocrats, and in fact their enthusiasm for it lasted much longer.

Eugenics, I suspect, was in reality a symptom of a growing impatience of intellectuals with the intractability of the human condition, with the fact that that Man was irredeemably imperfect. And this impatience grew because of a decline in the religious understanding of life (it was no coincidence that Chesterton, who saw so easily through the pretensions of eugenics, should have been firmly Christian, while none of his opponents was). In the 1920s sterilization of the unfit would do for humanity what psychopharmacology is now supposed to do: render it happy because perfect. No one with an understanding of Original Sin could believe such a thing – even if Original Sin is not based upon an actual historical truth.


Farewell Fear.

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