Moral Struggles and Crime: The State, Individualism, and Community

Gabriel Santos, University of Delaware

This paper proposes a critical theoretical framework for criminology centered on the moral struggle for recogntion and public trust within local community. This articulation of struggle illuminates alternative foundations for critical theorizing. The analytical dualities that guide this analysis include: 1) the Impersonal State and the need for moral recognition and 2) the relationship between possessive individualism and the development of trust in the local community. First, the author draws on political philosphy, as well as criminolgoical studies, to underscore the importance of conceptualizing the Liberal State in such a way that discloses how bureaucratic processes and political leadership affect social perceptions of authority and recognition. This involves a critique of the Nation-State and how its leaders engage the potential contributions of local citizens and the relevance of this condition to local 'codes of honor' that bestow moral recognition. Second, critical theory informs a discussion of the degradation of conditions that lead to community-centered 'public trust.' This diminution of trust stems from expectations attending participation in the possessive market. This section argues that the discernment of needs and desires is confused and without a general frame of reference that accounts for community-based moral expectation. These factors constitute a peculiar social organization of crime. Indeed, in the absence of a normative vision that links national identity to community life and leaders to members, meaning and order are provided through alternative relationships governed by possession, 'private trust,' and an informal source of authority that recognizes the whole person. Criminal behavior is thus a maintenance and product of these factors: persons attempt to secure a mystified conflation of needs and desires in a predictable fashion and ensure membership in a recognition-granting group. This argument further claims that the definition and occurrence of crime reveals a failed relationship between the Sate and members of local community.

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Updated 05/20/2006