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An Unlikely Conservative By: Michael Tremoglie
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 14, 2002


THE PRESIDENT’S faith-based institution initiative appears to be in limbo. And judging from a poll recently released by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, most Ivy League academicians disapprove of the president’s initiative. However, President Bush has an advocate, albeit an unknowing one, for his faith-based initiatives.

In what is a truly provocative and cutting-edge theory, Australian criminologist John Braithwaite’s concept of reintegration, proffered in his 1989 book, is an innovative model attempting to explain the criminological conundrum. Braithwaite compares different societies’ reactions to criminals, and works to provide an explanation as to why some have higher crime rates than others.

Braithwaite’s thesis is that different societies control crime by the use of disapproval (he refers to this as shaming a term that for me conjures images of my kindergarten teacher) and redemption (in Braithwaite’s nomenclature this is reintegration). In Braithwaite’s theory, the criminal is provided the opportunity to rejoin society after realizing disapproval and some consequence to his actions. Braithwaite differentiates his concept from the current use of stigmatization because of the process of reintegration. As currently practiced, stigmatization is done without reintegration and is thereby negative. Braithwaite believes stigmatization is necessary. However, without reintegration, stigmatization is counterproductive. He believes that reintegration is the part of the social control process that is currently lacking from the present American criminal justice system and which results in recidivism.

What makes Braithwaite’s thesis heretical among academicians is his reference to religious principles. Braithwaite states that his book is "a Victorian analysis of crime," and he mentions the New Testament, and claims his theory "is directed at signifying evil deeds rather than evil persons in the Christian tradition of ‘hate the sin love the sinner."

This is the opposite of the nonjudgmental relativism, which has been the preeminent philosophy of the past generation. Secularist orthodoxy eschewed judgment, morals, and ethics as passé. Some secularists considered the concept of morals and judgment harmful to society. Jurists such as former federal judge Bazelon attempted to substitute "science" for morality. Bazelon and other liberal jurists incorporated this scientific thinking into their opinions five decades ago implementing a practice used by judicial activists currently. This is part of a societal trend to eliminate religion from the classroom and the courtroom and just about everyplace else.

Braithwaite admits in his preface that such concepts are difficult for contemporary scholars to accept. He illustrates the hypocrisy of modern scholars who find moral indignation unacceptable - except as it is applied to white-collar crime. The irony, according to Braithwaite, is that criminological modernity and its examination of white-collar crime " leads " to Victorian morality.

This idea of atonement and reintroducing the criminal into society has become a basic constituent of the present criminological trend of restorative justice. Indeed, in a March 1998 interview with the National Institute of Justice, civil rights attorney and Visiting Fellow Thomas Quinn refers to Braithwaite’s theory as one that, "condemns the criminal act, holds offenders accountable, involves the participants, and encourages repentant offenders to earn their way back into the good graces of society."

Braithwaite believes that informal institutions are most useful in employing reintegration. This is a corollary that dovetails with the concept of faith-based institutions. Braithwaite’s spiritual concept of reintegration is the model not only for criminology; it is the philosophy of faith-based institutions and the devolution of government in the social-welfare continuum.

Many academicians do what they can to bowdlerize religion from the doctrine. Many bureaucrats and civil servants do what they can to obstruct religious organizations from participating in the system. One adjunct professor I know, who works for a local county court system, criticized the "Christian" organizations that are included in the new "restorative justice" program in his county. Their inclusion was unwarranted and not efficacious. " Civil rights " groups have complained about religious organizations as well.

(Interestingly enough, Rutgers University Law School students are posting on the Internet papers from Nazi archives that reveal their plans to eliminate Christianity. It seems the Nazis wanted to eliminate all religions - not just Judaism.)

However, despite liberal academia’s efforts to repackage it and distill awat any religious concepts, the fact remains that religion is the concept of which Braithwaite speaks. How ironic that in their zeal to impugn capitalism and capitalists, liberal academia has incorporated religion into the criminological canon. It validates President Bush’s faith-based organization proposal.


Michael P. Tremoglie is the author of the new novel A Sense of Duty, and an ex-Philadelphia cop. E-mail him at elfegobaca@comcast.net.


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