Anthropological School of Criminal Law

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Anthropological School of Criminal Law


one of the currents in the bourgeois theory of criminal law. It arose in the 1870’s. The founder of the anthropological school of criminal law was a professor of forensic medicine in Turin, Italy, named C. Lombroso. (This current is sometimes called Lombrosianism.) Lombroso’s closest followers were the Italian scholars E. Ferri and R. Garofalo. The anthropological school of criminal law was most widespread during the period of imperialism, when crime—especially professional crime—began to assume ominous proportions.

Bourgeois jurists—exponents of the so-called classical school of criminal law—disregarded social conditions and reasons for the existence of crime almost completely, asserting that a well-developed criminal law was sufficient for the fight against crime. Since it became evident that criminal law based on the theories of the classical school was incapable of halting the increase in crime; the need arose to establish a new approach for resolving these problems. The anthropological school of criminal law was thus a certain kind of reaction against the narrow, dogmatic classical school, which in effect gave no consideration to the personality of the criminal when resolving the question of legal responsibility. However, if the classical school grounded criminal responsibility only in the criminal act (the notion of the so-called criminal law of the deed—Tatstrafrecht), the anthropological school took into account only the personality of the criminal in resolving the question of criminal responsibility (the notion of the so-called criminal law of the actor, that is, the individual committing the crime— Täterstrafrecht).

Lombroso formulated a thesis about the criminal type which stated that certain people are criminals from birth and that this fact can be determined through their definite physiognomical peculiarities. These features of the external structure of the human body which are anthropological signs (hence the name of the school) determine the psychological makeup of the person and his entire internal world, including his criminal tendencies. According to Lombroso, the born criminal has inherited the physiological, psychological, and moral qualities of primitive man. Partisans of the school divide natural criminals into three types: murderers, thieves, and rapists. They believe that murderers, for example, have the following characteristic anthropological signs: cold, glassy, bloodshot eyes, a large, frequently aquiline, down-turned nose and overdeveloped canine teeth, jaws, and cheekbones. In addition to facial peculiarities, which Lombroso considered most significant in diagnosing the criminal type, the role of physiological and moral characteristics is considered important. Lombroso and his followers believed that natural criminals comprise up to about 40 percent of the total number of criminals, the rest being chance offenders.

Since the born criminal must, according to Lombroso, commit a crime sooner or later, the appropriate measures of security (not punishment) must be taken with respect to this person ahead of time. This position signifies a renunciation of legality in the fight against crime; it is this, above all, that is the reactionary essence of the anthropological school of criminal law. The school’s antipopular orientation emerges particularly in its evaluations and recommendations with respect to the revolutionary struggle of working people. For example, in the book Political Crime and Revolution (1890) by Lombroso and R. Laschi, the authors attempt to prove that revolutionaries—the active participants in the Paris Commune—were born criminals. Lombroso and his followers explained women’s crimes and prostitution by purely biological factors; this is discussed in a book by C. Lombroso and G. Ferrero, Woman—Criminal and Prostitute (1893).

Under the influence of criticism, the anthropological school of criminal law has undergone changes. Thus, with time Lombroso ceased to consider crime as only an atavism and advanced a thesis according to which crime also results from “moral insanity” and epilepsy, and began to recognize the influence of certain social factors on crime. Within the limits of the anthropological school, new currents and orientations arose (so-called neo-Lombrosianism), but as a whole, Lombroso’s conception retained its biocriminal foundation. The views of the advocates of the anthropological school exclude genuinely scientific research into the causes of crime, since they almost entirely discount the social bases of crime from the purview of study. This is an inevitable phenomenon under the conditions of exploitative society. A number of principles of the anthropological school of criminal law were applied by imperialist states in their struggles against participants in the revolutionary democratic and national liberation movement. In particular, fascist racial theory was based on the principles of anthropological criminal law. (E. Ferri, one of the Lombrosians, became a fascist.) Lombrosianism became the basis of biocriminology.


Reshetnikov, F. M. “Ugolovnoe pravo burzhuaznykh stran.” Klassicheskaia shkola i antropologo-sotsiologicheskoe naprav-lenie, issue 2. Moscow, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.