Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

HOME Secretary Michael Howard's 'boot camps' for juvenile offenders seem to have turned into something more like holiday camps. Nothing necessarily wrong with that in principle or practice, Plato would have said.

The Greek lawgiver Solon argued that a community was held together by rewards and penalties, and the earliest Greek law codes back him up, prescribing punishments on a wide scale. The general aim seems to have been to get some compensation for crimes committed. This acted as a deterrent, while satisfying affronted feelings and showing who was boss.

But there were other reactions. The orator Isocrates (b. 436 Bc) discussed the social causes of crime, and advocated prevention rather than punishment. The thinker Protagoras (b. 485 Bc) favoured penalties, but not to reflect the severity of the crime, rather to help the reform of the criminal. Plato (427-437 Bc) went the whole hog. For him, crime was a moral error, a disease, and needed to be cured. …

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