Genes and Crime
Genes & Crime
by James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein
Simon and Schuster, 639 pp., $12.95 (paper)
Confronting Crime: An American Challenge
by Elliott Currie
Pantheon, 326 pp., $9.95 (paper)
Like rain on election day, crime is good for the Republicans. Whenever crime seems to be increasing, significant numbers of Americans tend to blame liberal permissiveness and turn to conservative political candidates, partly because they endorse a sterner approach to raising children, policing the streets, and punishing criminals, and partly because they oppose government “giveaways” to the poor, blacks, and other groups that commit a lot of crimes. While orthodox liberals answer that “getting tough” won’t really help and that the way to reduce crime is to make society more just and opportunity more equal, this response to crime has seldom moved the electorate. When crime rates rise, liberals almost always find themselves on the defensive.
The political effect of crime on the public may be the result of an intellectual mistake, but if so it is an understandable one. Modern liberalism is a product of the eighteenth century, and as its name suggests, its most consistent and powerful impulse has been to expand personal liberty, or, as we often say today, “opportunity.” In recent decades American liberalism has been primarily concerned with making sure that minorities, women, the poor, and other disadvantaged groups have the same opportunities as affluent white males, so it has acquired an increasingly egalitarian cast, but its strongest impulse is still to eliminate constraints and provide people with more choices.