Law, Society, and Economy: Centenary Essays for the London School of Economics and Political Science, 1895-1995

By Richard Rawlings | Go to book overview

modern Western European form: the white racist youth gang'. He interviews a skinhead in Leipzig: 'If he were in Los Angeles or Liverpool, he would be just another teenage gang leader. The nightmare of the new Germany is that its teenage gangs talk politics.'.48 But are attacks on foreigners by racist skinheads events that belong 'naturally' to politics and take on a criminal guise, or are they primarily locatable in criminological terms and only secondarily take on a political guise?

Of course this question makes no sense. Studies of racist skinhead groups in Germany49 rightly deal both with ideology (racist beliefs, links with organized neo-Nazis) and the subculture of violence, male chauvinism and cruel entertainment of dislocated young men. The same applies to equivalent groups elsewhere. To explain the rioting of English football hooligans in Dublin in February 1995, how much weight should be assigned to traditional models of delinquency and how much to the youths' racism, their connections with fascist groups (such as the shadowy Combat 17) and their chants of 'no surrender to the IRA'?

Or--to take contemporary terrorism, a subject I have not even touched on--when does ideology shade into pathology? One month's media commentary on four events in early 1995--the Oklahoma bombing, an ETA bombing in Barcelona, Hamas suicide bombings in Gaza and the Tokyo underground gassing--consisted entirely of variants of the question: how much is criminal, how much is political?

This question has little meaning. But others must be posed which do not rely on the touching conception of political ideology that informed the culture of the 1960s: voluntaristic personal conversions, rational choices, wholly disembodied from the social. There is no 'end of ideology'. And observers such as Hobsbawm and Ignatieff may underestimate the power of ideology because of their understandable lack of sympathy for ethnic nationalism and religious fundamentalism. But they are not guilty of stigmatic 'criminalization'. For grasping today's political barbarism, the language of the sociology of crime may be uncomfortably more useful than we would like to think. (And in neither language are there too many rational free market actors.)


CONCLUSION

It would be banal to conclude merely that the boundaries between crime and politics are now more complex than criminologists imagined thirty years ago. The question is what do we make of this complexity?

____________________
49
M. Schmidt, The New Reich: Violent Extremism in Unified Germany and Beyond ( New York, 1993).

-245-

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