Notes: Episode 39, Early Modern Criminology (Part 1)

As with every show, I’ll list any corrections or clarifications here. If there’s anything I’ve overlooked, please contact me by email or in the comments and I’ll edit the notes to reflect the new information.


2:52 – Nope, created by Dr. Franz Mesmer in the 18th century. It was basically the Force from Star Wars in its initial conception as an invisible force exerted by all living things, and Louis XVI was a huge fan. I know, this sounds made up, but it’s a real thing that happened. Medical science is crazy.

10:37 – Not to say that every one of these thinkers believed that human beings are innately good, though. While Thomas Hobbes wrote of the natural equality of man, he also famously postulated in Leviathan in 1651 that government was necessary to keep man’s base desires in check – exactly the concept of human beings that informed the Classical School of criminology. This doesn’t suggest goodness, but rather necessity in the creation of civil bodies to counter these hedonistic desires. A few decades later John Locke was more forgiving of man’s nature, believing that civil bodies were not a bulwark against man’s desires, but rather a rational construct to facilitate order – prevention rather than necessity. In the 1750s, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that crime is rooted in the hoarding of property by the powerful, and that in a natural state human beings would have no need to commit crimes in order to counter these claims; again, idealistic, but once again consistent with the idea that crime is a calculated decision by a rational actor. And finally Thomas Paine, to whom I referred in the show, wrote largely a few years after the initial development of the Classical School, but nevertheless was a product of the same schools of thought. Paine essentially used this concept of crime as an analysis of cost and benefit to show that it was in the best interests of the American colonists to rebel in his 1776 work “Common Sense”, framing it as a rational and moral choice.

13:13 – I shouldn’t say that thinking about crime completely ignored class at this point in time; there was certainly a concept of lower class people being more likely to commit crimes, especially petty ones. However, this was viewed more as a function of their economic status making the benefit of petty crime seem far higher in their analysis of the situation. An upper class person would never steal a pair of shoes simply because paying for them is so painless that the risk of jail is essentially unthinkable, while for someone of a low enough class it might be impossible to obtain them any other way.

19:47 – This element is known as “phlogiston”, and was first identified as a combustive property of matter in the 17th century by Johann Joachim Becher. It was also initially believed to explain rusting. One of his students, Georg Ernst Stahl, studied phlogiston extensively considering it a fifth element. His work was integral to the transition from alchemy to chemistry in many ways. It’s pretty interesting stuff, if that’s the sort of thing you’re curious about.

33:04 – The man Dan is referring to is Christoph Meiners, who invented the terms “caucasoid” and “negroid” in 1785. He believed that different races of people had different origins and were different species, and was literally against the enlightenment, thinking the whole movement had been a giant mistake. He was a pretty bad person.

41:35 – Yellow bile, not yellow phlegm, and the word is choleric. Its opposite is phlegm. None of this matters, because it was all made up anyway.

45:44 – Dan is referring to the notorious and ominously named Unit 731, which killed thousands of people in unethical human medical experimentation during the war. Perhaps the most tragic part of this story is that all participants in the project, including the leaders, were granted immunity by the United States in exchange for the information generated by the experiments, in the hope that the information would be valuable. Some was usable for biological weapons; virtually nothing of healing value was produced. This immunity is one of the largest reasons these scientists are not mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Dr Mengele.

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