Present Orientedness and Crime

In Assessing the Criminal, R. E. Barnett and J. Hagel, eds., Cambridge: Ballinger, 1977, pp. 133-142. Reprinted in Edward C. Banfield, Here the People Rule: Selected Essays (Washington, DC: AEI, 1991).


Since the seventeenth century, political philosophers have maintained that an irrational bias toward present as opposed to future satisfactions is natural to both men and animals and is a principal cause of crime and, more generally, of threats to the peace and order of society. It is to protect men against this irrationality that civil government exists. Hume makes the fullest statement of the case. All men, he says, have a “natural infirmity”—indeed a “violent propension”—that causes them to be unduly affected by stimuli near to them in time or space; this is the “source of all dissoluteness and disorder, repentence and misery,” and because it prompts men to prefer any trivial present advantage to the maintenance of order, it is “very dangerous to society.” Government is the means by which men cope with this defect of their nature.

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