Sin and Society

Chapter 3: The Criminaloid

Edward Alsworth Ross

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THE Edda has it that during Thor's visit to the giants he is challenged to lift a certain gray cat. "Our young men think it nothing but play." Thor puts forth his whole strength, but can at most bend the creature's back and lift one foot. On leaving, however, the mortified hero is told the secret of his failure. "The cat - ah! we were terror-stricken when we saw one paw off the floor; for that is the Midgard serpent which, tail in mouth, girds and keeps up the created world."

How often to-day the prosecutor who tries to lay by the heels some notorious public enemy is baffled by a mysterious resistance! The thews of justice become as water; her sword turns to lath. Though the machinery of the law is strained askew, the evil-doer remains erect, smiling, unscathed. At the end, the mortified cham-

(46) -pion of the law may be given to understand that, like Thor, he was contending with the established order; that he had unwittingly laid hold on a pillar of society, and was therefore pitting himself against the reigning organization in local finance and politics.

The real weakness in the moral position of Americans is not their attitude toward the plain criminal, but their attitude toward the quasi-criminal. The shocking leniency of the public in judging conspicuous persons who have thriven by antisocial practices is not due, as many imagine, to sycophancy. Let a prominent man commit some offense in bad odor and the multitude flings its stones with a right good will. The social lynching of the self-made magnate who put away his faded, toil-worn wife for the sake of a soubrette, proves that the props of the old morality have not rotted through. Sex righteousness continues to be thus stiffly upheld simply

(47) because man has not been inventing new ways of wronging woman. So long ago were sex sins recognized and branded that the public, feeling sure of itself, lays on with promptness and emphasis. The slowness of this same public in lashing other kinds of transgression betrays, not sycophancy or unthinking admiration of success, but perplexity. The prosperous evil-doers that bask undisturbed in popular favor have been careful to shun - or seem to shun the familiar types of wickedness. Overlooked in Bible and Prayer-book, their obliquities lack the brimstone smell. Surpass as their misdeeds may in meanness and cruelty, there has not yet been time enough to store up strong emotion about them; and so the sight of them does not let loose the flood of wrath and abhorrence that rushes down upon the long-attainted sins.

The immunity enjoyed by the perpetrator of new sins has brought into being a class for which we may coin the term

(48) criminaloid.[1] By this we designate such as prosper by flagitious practices which have not yet come under the effective ban of public opinion. Often, indeed, they are guilty in the eyes of the law; but since they are not culpable in the eyes of the public and in their own eyes, their spiritual attitude is not that of the criminal. The lawmaker may make their misdeeds crimes, but, so long as morality stands stock-still in the old tracks, they escape both punishment and ignominy. Unlike their lowbrowed cousins, they occupy the cabin rather than the steerage of society. Relentless pursuit hems in the criminals, narrows their range of success, denies them influence. The criminaloids, on the other hand, encounter but feeble opposition, and, since their practices are often more lucrative than the authentic crimes, they distance their more scrupulous rivals in

49) business and politics and reap an uncommon worldly prosperity.

Of greater moment is the fact that the criminaloids lower the tone of the community. The criminal slinks in the shadow, menacing our purses but not our ideals; the criminaloid, however, does not belong to the half world. Fortified by his connections with -legitimate business," - the regular party organization," perhaps with orthodoxy and the bon ton, he may even bestride his community like a Colossus. In his sight and in their own right the old-style, square-dealing sort are as grasshoppers. Do we not hail him as "a man who does things," make him director of our banks and railroads, trustee of our hospitals and libraries? When Prince Henry visits us, do we not put him on the reception committee? He has far more initial weight in the community than has the clergyman, editor, or prosecutor who arraigns him. From his example and his excuses spreads an influence

(50) that tarnishes the ideals of ingenuous youth on the threshold of active life. To put the soul of this pagan through a Bertillon system and set forth its marks of easy identification is, therefore, a sanitary measure demanded in the interest of public health.


The director who speculates in the securities of his corporation, the banker who lends his depositors' money to himself under divers corporate aliases, the railroad official who grants a secret rebate for his private graft, the builder who hires walking delegates to harass his rivals with causeless strikes, the labor leader who instigates a strike in order to be paid for calling it off, the publisher who bribes his text-books into the schools, these reveal in their faces nothing of wolf or vulture. Nature has not foredoomed them to evil by a double dose of lust, cruelty, malice, greed, or jealousy.

They are not degenerates tormented by monstrous cravings. They want nothing more than we all want, -money, power, consideration.,-in a word, success; but they are in a hurry and they are not particular as to the means.

(51) The criminaloid prefers to prey on the anonymous public. He is touchy about the individual victim, and, if faced down, will even make him reparation out of the plunder gathered at longer range. Too squeamish and too prudent to practice treachery, brutality, and violence himself, he takes care to work through middlemen. Conscious of the antipodal difference between doing wrong and getting it done, he places out his dirty work. With a string of intermediaries between himself and the toughs who slug voters at the polls, or the gang of navvies who break other navvies' heads with shovels on behalf of his electric line, he is able to keep his hands sweet and his boots clean. Thus he becomes a con-

52) -sumer of custom-made crime, a client of criminals, oftener a maker of criminals by persuading or requiring his subordinates to break law. Of course he must have "responsible " agents as valves to check the return flow of guilt from such proceedings. He shows them the goal, provides the money, insists on " results," but vehemently declines to know the foul methods by which alone his understrappers can get these - results." Not to bribe, but to employ and finance the briber; not to lie, but to admit to your editorial columns "paying matter; " not to commit perjury, but to hire men to homestead and make over to you claims they have sworn were entered in good faith and without collusion; not to cheat, but to promise a "rake-off" to a mysterious go-between in case your just assessment is cut down; not to rob on the highway, but to make the carrier pay you a rebate on your rival's shipments; not to shed innocent blood, but to bribe in-

53) -spectors to overlook your neglect to install safety appliances: such are the ways of the criminaloid. He is a buyer rather than a practitioner of sin, and his middlemen spare him unpleasant details.

Secure in his quilted armor of lawyerspun sophistries, the criminaloid promulgates an ethics which the public hails as a disinterested contribution to the philosophy of conduct. He invokes a pseudoDarwinism to sanction the revival of outlawed and by-gone tactics of struggle. Ideals of fellowship and peace are "unscientific." To win the game with the aid of a sleeveful of aces proves one's fitness to survive. A sack of spoil is Nature's patent of nobility. A fortune is a personal attribute, as truly creditable as a straight back or a symmetrical face. Poverty, like the misshapen ear of the degenerate, proves inferiority. The wholesale fleecer of trusting, workaday people is a "Napoleon," a "superman." Labor defending its daily bread

(54) must, of course, obey the law; but- business," especially the "big proposition," may free itself of such trammels in the name of a " higher law." The censurers of the criminaloid are "pin-headed disturbers" who would imitate him if they had the chance or the brains.


Nation-wide is the zone of devastation of the adulterator, the rebater, the commercial free-booter, the fraud promoter, the humbug healer, the law-defying monopolist. State-wide is the burnt district of the corrupt legislator, the corporation-owned judge, the venal inspector, the bought bank examiner, the mercenary editor. But draw near the sinner and he whitens. If his fellow men are wronged clear to his doorstep he is criminal, not criminaloid. For the latter loses his sinister look, even takes on a benign aspect, as you come close. Within

(55) his home town, his ward, his circle, he is perhaps a good man, if judged by the simple old-time tests. Very likely he keeps his marriage vows, pays his debts, "mixes " well, stands by his friends, and has a contracted kind of public spirit. He is ready enough to rescue imperiled babies, protect maidens, or help poor widows. He is unevenly moral: oak in the family and clan virtues, but basswood in commercial and civic ethics. In some relations he is more sympathetic and generous than his critics; and he resents with genuine feeling the scorn of men who happen to have specialized in other virtues than those that appeal to him. Perhaps his point of honor is to give bribes but not to take them; perhaps it is to "stay bought" or not to sell out to both sides at once.

The type is exemplified by the St. Louis boodler, who, after accepting $25,000 to vote against a certain franchise, was offered a larger sum to vote for it. He did so, but

56) returned the first bribe. He was asked on the witness-stand why he had returned it. "Because it was n't mine! " he exclaimed, flushing with anger. "I had n't earned it."

Seeing that the conventional sins are mostly close-range inflictions, whereas the long-range sins, being recent in type, hate not yet been branded, the criminaloid receives from his community the credit of the close-in good he does, but not the shame of the remote evil he works.

Sometimes it is time instead of .race that divides him from his victims. It is tomorrow's morrow that will suffer from the patent soothing-syrup, the factory toil of infants, the grabbing of public lands, the butchery of forests, and the smuggling in of coolies. In such a case the short-sighted many exonerate him; only the far-sighted few mark him for what he is. Or it may be a social interval that leaves him his illusion of innocence. Like Robin Hood, the criminaloid spares his own sort and finds

(57) his quarry on another social plane. The labor grafter, the political "striker," and the blackmailing society editor prey upward; the franchise grabber, the fiduciary thief, and the frenzied financier prey downward. In either case the sinner moves in an atmosphere of friendly approval and can still any smart of conscience with the balm of good fellowship and adulation.

It is above all the political criminaloid who is social. We are assured that the king of the St. Louis boodlers is "a good fellow, - by nature, at first, then by profession." "Everywhere big Ed went, there went a smile also and encouragement for your weakness, no matter what it was." The head of the Minneapolis ring was "a good fellow - a genial, generous reprobate," "the best-loved man in the community," "especially good to the poor." "Stars-and-Stripes Sam " was the nickname of a notorious looter of Philadelphia, who amassed influence by making "a practice

(58) of going to lodges, associations, brotherhoods, Sunday-schools, and all sort of public and private meetings, joining some, but making at all speeches patriotic and sentimental." The corrupt boss of another plundered city is reported to be "a charming character," possessing "goodness of heart and personal charm," and loved for his "genial, hearty kindness." He shrank from robbing anybody; he was equal, however, to robbing everybody. Of this type was Tweed, who had a " good heart," donated $50,000 to the poor of New York, and was sincerely loved by his clan.

It is now clear why hot controversy rages about the unmasked criminaloid. His home town, political clan, or social class insists that he is a good man maligned, that his detractors are purblind or jealous. The criminaloid is really a borderer between the camps of good and evil, and this is why he is so interesting. To run him to earth and brand him, as long ago pirate and

(59) traitor were branded, is the crying need of our time. For this Anak among malefactors, working unchecked in the rich field of sinister opportunities opened up by latter-day conditions, is society's most dangerous foe, more redoubtable by far than the plain criminal, because he sports the livery of virtue and operates on a Titanic scale. Every year that sees him pursue in insolent triumph his nefarious career raises up a host of imitators and hurries society toward moral bankruptcy.


Because so many good men are pious, the criminaloid covets a high seat in the synagogue as a valuable private asset. Accordingly he is often to be found in the assemblies of the faithful, zealously exhorting and hearing witness. Onward thought he must leave to honest men; his line is strict orthodoxy. The upright may fall

(60) slack in devout observances, but he cannot afford to neglect his ,church connection. He needs it in his business. Such simulation is easier because the godly are slow to drive out the open-handed sinner who eschews the conventional sins. Many deprecate prying into the methods of any brother "having money or goods ostensibly his own or under a title not disapproved by the proper tribunals." They have, indeed, much warrant for insisting that the saving of souls rather than the salvation of society is the true mission of the church.

The old Hebrew prophets, to be sure, were intensely alive to the anti-social aspect of sin. They clamor against "making the ephah small and the shekel great," falsifying the balances, - treading upon the poor." "Sensational," almost "demagogic," is their outcry against those who "turn aside the stranger in his right," "take a bribe," " judge not the cause of the fatherless," "oppress the hireling in his wages," "take

(61) increase," " withhold the pledge," " turn aside the poor in the gate from their right," ,, take away the righteousness of the righteous from him." No doubt, their stubborn insistence that God wants "mercy and not sacrifice," despises feast days, delights not in burnt offerings, will not hear the melody of viols, but desires judgment to "run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream," struck their contemporaries as extreme. Over against their antiquated outlook may be set the -larger view" that our concern should be for the sinner rather than the sinned-against. He is in peril of hell fire, whereas the latter risks nothing more serious than loss, misery, and death. After all, sin's overshadowing effect is the pollution of the sinner's; soul; and so it may be more Christian not to scourge forth the traffickers from the Temple, but to leave them undisturbed where good seed may perchance fall upon their flinty souls.

Likewise the criminaloid counterfeits

(62) the good citizen. He takes care to meet all the conventional tests, - flag worship, old-soldier sentiment, observance of all the national holidays, perfervid patriotism, party regularity and support. Full well he knows that the giving of a fountain or a park, the establishing of a college chair on the Neolithic drama or the elegiac poetry of the Chaldaeans, will more than outweigh the dodging of taxes, the grabbing of streets, and the corrupting of city councils. Let him have his way about charters and franchises, and he zealously supports that - good government " which consists in sweeping the streets, holding down the - lid," and keeping taxes low. Nor will he fail in that scrupulous correctness of private and domestic life which confers respectability. In politics, to be sure, it is often necessary to play the "good fellow; " but in business and finance a studious conformity to the convenances is of the highest importance. The criminaloid must perforce seem sober

63) and chaste, - a good husband and a kind father." If in this respect he offend, his hour of need will find him without support, and some callow reporter or district attorney will bowl him over like any vulgar criminal.

The criminaloid therefore puts on the whole armor of the good. He stands having his loins girt about with religiosity and having on the breastplate of respectability. His feet are shod with ostentatious philanthropy, his head is encased in the helmet of spread-eagle patriotism. Holding in his left hand the buckler of worldly success and in his right the sword of "influence," he is - able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."


The plain criminal can do himself no good by appealing to his "Mollies," it Larrikins," or "Mafiosi," for they have no

(64) social standing. The criminaloid, however, identifies himself with some legitimate group, and when arraigned he calls upon his group to protect its own. The politically influential Western land thieves stir up the slumbering local feeling against the "impertinent meddlers " of the forestry service and the land office. Safe behind the judicial dictum that "bribery is merely a conventional crime," the boodlers denounce their indicter as "blackening the fair fame" of his state, and cry "Stand up for the grand old commonwealth of Nemaha ! " The city boss harps artfully on the chord of local spirit and summons his bailiwick to rebuke the up-state reformers who would unhorse him. The lawbreaking saloon-keeper rallies merchants with the cry that enforcement of the liquor laws hurts business." The labor grafter represents his exposure as a capitalist plot and ells upon all Truss Riveters to "stand pat" and "vindicate" him with a reelection.

65) When a pious buccaneer is brought to bay, the Reverend Simon Magus thus sounds the denominational bugle: - Brother Barabbas is a loyal Newlight and a generous supporter of the Newlight Church. This vicious attack upon him is therefore a covert thrust at the Newlight body and ought to be resented by all the brethren." High finance, springing to the help of selfconfessed thieves, meets an avenging public in this wise: "The Integrity Trust not only seeks with diabolical skill a reputation to blast, but, once blasted, it sinks into it wolfish fangs and gloats over the result of its fiendish act;" and adds, " This is not the true American spirit.''

Here twangs the ultimate chord! For in criminaloid philosophy it is "un-American" to wrench patronage from the hands of spoilsmen, "un-American " to deal Federal justice to rascals of state eminence, " un-American" to pry into " private arrangements " between shipper and carrier,

(66) "un-American " to fry the truth out of reluctant magnates.

The claims of the wider community have no foe so formidable as the scared criminaloid. He is the champion of the tribal order as against the civil order. By constantly stirring up on his own behalf some sort of clannishness -local, sectional, partisan, sectarian, or professional clannishness-he rekindles dying jealousies and checks the rise of the civic spirit. It is in line with this clannishness that he wants citizens to act together on a personal basis. He does not know what it is to rally around a principle. Fellow partisans are 1 friends." To scratch or to bolt is to "go back on your friends." The criminaloid understands sympathy and antipathy as springs of conduct, but justice strikes him as hardly human. The law is a club to rescue your friends from and to smite your enemies with, but it has no claim of its own. He expects his victims to "come back"

(67) at him if they can, but he cannot see why everything may not be "arranged," "settled out of court." Those inflexible prosecutors who hew to the line and cannot be "squared " impress him as fanatical and unearthly, as monsters who find their pleasure in making trouble for others. For to his barbarian eyes society is all a matter of "stand in."

So long as the public conscience is torpid, the criminaloid has no sense of turpitude. In the dusk and the silence the magic of clan opinion converts his misdeeds into something rich and strange. For the clan lexicon tells him that a bribe is a retaining fee," a railroad pass ; is a "courtesy," probing is "scandal-mongering," the investigator is an "officious busybody," a protest is a "howl," critics are "foul harpies of slander," public opinion is "unreasoning clamor," regulation is "meddling," any inconvenient law is a "blue " law. As rebate-giver he is sustained by the assurance

(68) that "in Rome you must do as the Romans do." As disburser of corruption funds he learns that he is but "asserting the higher law which great enterprises have the right to command." Blessed phrases these! What a lint for dressing wounds to self-respect! Often the reminiscent criminaloid, upon comparing his misdeeds with what his clansmen stood ready to justify him in doing, is fain to exclaim with Lord Clive, "By God, Sir, at this moment I stand amazed at my own moderation! " When the revealing flash comes and the storm breaks, his difficulty in getting the public's point of view is really pathetic. Indeed, he may persist to the end in regarding himself as a martyr to "politics," or "yellow journalism," or the 16 unctuous rectitude " of personal foes, or "class envy " in the guise of a moral wave.



It is of little use to bring law abreast of the time if morality lags. In a swiftly changing society the law inevitably tarries behind need, but public opinion tarries behind need even more. Where, as with us, the statute has little force of its own, the backwardness of public opinion nullifies the work of the legislator. Every added relation among men makes new chances for the sons of Belial. Wider interdependencies breed new treacheries. Fresh opportunities for illicit gain are continually appearing, and these are eagerly seized by the unscrupulous. The years between the advent of these new sins and the general recognition of their heinousness are few or many according to the alertness of the social mind. By the time they have been

(70) branded, the onward movement of society has created a fresh lot of opportunities, which are, in their turn, exploited with impunity. It is in this gap that the criminaloid disports himself. The narrowing of this gap depends chiefly on the faithfulness of the vedettes that guard the march of humanity. If the editor, writer, educator, clergyman, or public man is zealous to reconnoitre and instant to cry aloud the dangers that present themselves in our tumultuous social advance, a regulative opinion quickly forms and the new sins soon become odious.

Now, it is the concern of the criminaloids to delay this growth of conscience by silencing the alert vedettes. To intimidate the moulders of opinion so as to confine the editor to the "news," the preacher to the "simple Gospel," the public man to the - party issues," the judge to his precedents, the teacher to his text-books, and the writer to the classic themes-such are

(71) the tactics of the criminaloids. Let them but have their way, and the prophet's message, the sage's lesson, the scholar's quest, and the poet's dream would be sacrificed to the God of Things as They Were.


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