Kristyna's Reviews > Resist Not Evil

Resist Not Evil by Clarence Darrow
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My first encounter with Clarence Darrow occurred when Kevin Spacey was playing the character at The Old Vic Theatre in London. What caught my interest, apart from Spacey's mesmerising performance, was a line uttered midway through the show: "The cause of crime is poverty, ignorance, hard luck, and generally youth." Then and there I knew I wanted to find out more about this American lawyer.

Unfortunately, Resist Not Evil is not as convincing as Darrow might have been in the courtroom. Darrow portrays the state as an entity, which only protects the interests of its rulers, yet he lacks a clearly structured argument, and thus also the persuasiveness of someone like Charles Tilly, who beautifully compared state-making to organised crime. Originally published in 1903, the book also suffers from its inability to react to the thoughts of famous international relations theorists, who were writing during (and after) the First World War, and who described the use of violence in international relations in great depth. In comparison, Darrow's views about complete disarmament seem quite naive.

When Resist Not Evil finally focuses on the conditions within the state, Darrow promotes the idea that causes of crime are environmental: that crime arises from poverty, lack of opportunities, the necessity to make a living. While I do agree that state should focus on building better schools, not better prisons (another thought mentioned in the play), his overall argument neglects the influence of free will, and the possibility that evil might exist even within a fair society.

That being said, Darrow makes a great number of interesting points. He emphasises that our justice system focuses on punishing 'bad actions' and offers no rewards for 'good actions'. He points out how nonsensical it is to imprison a perpetrator when it does no good to his victim. (I think Darrow would find African justice system, which focuses more on restorative as opposed to retributive justice quite interesting. For example, after the Rwandan genocide, the Gacaca courts were supposed to heal the community and help with reconciliation.) Darrow also claims that judging someone's life based on one action is wrong. He states that law is arbitrary – what's illegal in one state is not illegal in the other – and what's worse, even when decrees of courts are wrongful, citizens will be punished for their disobedience. He writes that there is no indisputable correlation between 'being a bad person' and 'committing a bad action' – for example, an inherently greedy man who inherited a fortune will never be tempted to break the law simply because of favourable circumstances. He says that we should judge others not solely by the temptation, to which they yielded, but also by the temptation, which they resisted.

And for all this, and many other thoughts, I am glad that I have read the book.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 1, 2016 – Shelved
June 1, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
June 1, 2016 – Finished Reading

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