Social Defense, Theory of

Social Defense, Theory of


a trend in bourgeois criminal law in the 19th and 20th centuries, that advocates social defense as a means of imparting more rationality to anticrime measures.

The theory of social defense embraces two sharply opposed currents. The reactionary current, which developed the ideas of the sociological school of criminal law, took its lead from the Italian legal scholar F. Gramatica. The proponents of this doctrine opposed such basic concepts of criminal law as crime, guilt, and punishment, which they proposed to replace with the concepts of “dangerous condition of the personality” and “safety measures.” Instead of criminal punishment, they advocated the “resocialization” of criminals through medical and other preventive measures, which in effect meant the elimination of elementary guarantees of legality and opened the way to arbitrary action on the part of judicial and administrative bodies.

After World War II, as it became necessary to combat growing crime rates in all the capitalist countries, a more progressive current emerged. The school of new social defense, as it is called—or the humanist movement in criminal policy—takes its lead from the French scholar M. Ancel. Ancel and like-minded scholars speak of the “dejuridification” of the judicial process—that is, they prefer to fight crime not through juridical measures but through social measures, such as medical treatment, supervision, and reeducation, provided that the fundamental principles of criminal law, bourgeois legality, and the formal guarantees of individual rights are observed. They pay considerable attention to crime prevention, to the structure of crime, and to groups of criminals, especially juveniles.

The new social defense movement stands firmly on the canons of bourgeois legality. It proposes measures merely of “juridical correction,” so that the offender can adapt to bourgeois society. It does not investigate the social causes of crime, which are rooted in the very foundations of bourgeois society. The new social defense school has the serious failing, as it develops anticrime measures, of overestimating the importance of biological traits in the personality of the criminal.


Ancel, M. Novaia sotsial’naia zashchita. Moscow, 1970. (Translated from French.)
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