May 5, 2007

People of the Inquiry: Douglas Johnson

Filed under: Inquiry — ubikcan @ 8:28 am

Douglas Johnson has been mentioned here before but not given his own entry. That is still some way off, but I did come across this interesting piece called Muddy Thinking:

the result of hopelessly muddy thinking. As a third indication of muddy thinking, let me name the failure to follow a line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, the failure to “think a thing through.” This type of thinking is frequently observed in the case of well-meaning enthusiasts who propose courses of public action for state or nation. When I listen to the argument that criminals should not be punished, that crime is only a form of sickness, that society makes the criminal and therefore should not punish the innocent victim of its own sins, I cannot help suspecting that muddy thinking is back of these pronouncements. If the well-meaning individuals who want to call all crime “illness,” would only be consistent, and call all punishment “medicine,” and would then recognize the fact that different types of illness require different kinds and quantities of medicine, sometimes for prevention and sometimes for cure, one could more readily keep step with them. Unfortunately, they see but half the problem, and that half through a glass darkly.

Here Johnson seems to reject the idea (it’s 1934) of seeming criminals as ill or sick, or at least of not following through on that assessment. Here I’m not so much interested in his examples of muddy thinking, as his views which might emerge from those examples (in this case on crime).

Johnson continues (and here he must be referring to recent events):

In this great civilized country, men properly charged with crime, and held by the supposedly strong arm of the law, are dragged from prison by infuriated mobs and brutally murdered with the most degrading exhibitions of savagery. If you ask why, the answer is that the people neither trust nor fear the law.

They do not trust the law to protect them, because they see on every hand overwhelming proof that crime is efficiently organized as a big business and effectively protected by alliance with powerful politicians ; that gangsters long and
intimately known to the police live openly in luxury, and impudently flaunt in the public press their criminal careers; that the arm of the law, paralyzed by a thousand technicalities, bound helpless in a maze of red tape, and weighted down by cumbrous procedure, reaches slowly, falteringly, uncertainly for the criminal, often failing to find him, and when finding, often failing to hold. Disgusted and hopeless, the people substitute, or condone the substitution of, the fury of mob violence for a legal system fallen into a state of inefficiency which can only be called disgraceful.

Johnson isolated the cause of this with skilled lawyers who are able to delay their client’s trial with technicalities and obfuscation. He especially opposed lawyers obligation to their clients instead of to justice.

He also had some kind words at the end for the president (FDR).


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