Commenting on Quotes – Ingersoll

By Nathan Barton

A while back, Liberty Tree posted this quote from the great Robert Ingersoll.

“Every crime is born of necessity.  If you want less crime, you must change the conditions.  Poverty makes crime.  Want, rags, crusts, misfortune – all these awake the wild beast in man, and finally he takes, and takes contrary to law, and becomes a criminal.  And what do you do with him?  You punish him.  Why not punish a man for having consumption?  The time will come when you will see that that is just as logical.  What do you do with the criminal?  You send him to the penitentiary.  Is he made better?  Worse.  The first thing you do is to try to trample out his manhood, by putting an indignity upon him.  You mark him.  You put him in stripes.  At night you put him in darkness.  His feeling for revenge grows.  You make a wild beast of him, and he comes out of that place branded in body and soul, and then you won’t let him reform if he wants to.”

While much of what Mr. Ingersoll preached (yes, even he called it a sermon) in 1886 is correct, he still reflected his background and understanding as a lawyer, politician, and the understanding of the times. Nevertheless, we could probably consider him to be an advocate of self-government, and at least a minarchist.

I think his points are worth pondering for lovers of liberty. Consider:


First, he is correct in much of crime – and especially in the 1800s before we entered into the modern Age of Plenty here in the Fifty States (and much of the world). Much crime IS born of necessity: poverty often does make crime.

But there are two points that we must consider.  First, not ALL poverty, not ALL necessity, leads to crime.  People who are taught correctly, who know that aggression is wrong – and that includes theft and conning people – do not commit crimes, for the most part.

I am not saying that poverty cannot lead to crime.  The man whose children are starving will steal that loaf of bread, if there is no other alternative.  Just as people who are taught correctly will do something criminal, losing their temper or in frustration, or faced with a temptation they do not resist.  But overall, poverty does NOT issue a “go straight to jail” card.

So what does lead to crime?  One concept is the confusion between “want” and “need.”  The modern American underclass is wealthy beyond understanding when compared to their counterparts in the 19th Century, to say nothing of earlier centuries.  First Century Syrians or Tenth Century Anglo-Saxons would have boggled at the idea that “poor people” would be overweight, have personal transportation, and enjoy all the benefits of television and radio broadcasting and cellular phones.

Another is the idea that we as individuals or families or groups have a “right” to a certain socio-economic status or standard of living.  This is closely related to “want” versus “need.”

Yet another is the idea that not all humans are “people,” and that we (and our families, associates, etc.) are superior to other humans and groups, and therefore have a “right” to demand whatever we want from the inferior humans around us.  (This is sometimes called tribalism.)

These things lead to crime.  Including the crime of tyranny. So, we see how tyranny and other crimes come about. If someone stop believing (or never believed) in the intrinsic worth of each and every individual, then it is easy to decide that those “non-people” with less worth can be owned (more or less) by others – by “real people.” This results, inevitably, to a lack of personal responsibility (on the part of both “owners” and the “owned”). Which in turn excuses and demands tyranny, as well as all sorts of crimes against persons and property. Even if they are no longer recognized as crimes by the decayed society.

The solution to crime is NOT ending of poverty, but rather, the teaching of personal responsibility for our actions. And that is an essential part of teaching and living liberty for all people.

Even then, it won’t be perfect: there will still be those who try to be parasites and prey on others: commit crimes against others.

But nothing else works, either. And liberty has a great many more benefits than any other methods.  Especially the welfare state and the police state (often one and the same).

Liberty is best, and God’s greatest gift to man other than His Son (in Whom we HAVE liberty). Even if Mr. Ingersoll would not agree! <grin>



About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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