Document Type


Publication Date



My thesis is that the left's problem regarding criminal justice is at least partially of its own making. Specifically, the problem stems from deep contradictions in the left's positions. Progressives have not one position on crime, but at least seven different ones, and these positions cannot be reconciled. Most of this essay consists of a taxonomy of conflicting progressive views on criminal justice. Before I begin, however, I need to qualify my thesis in three important ways. First, as will become obvious, what I present below amounts to no more than brief descriptions - really evocations - of attitudes, arguments, and predispositions, rather than anything like the detailed analysis that these positions deserve. My purpose is not to offer a full defense or critique of the views I describe, but to demonstrate the ambivalence and contradiction that are hallmarks of leftist and liberal analysis of crime and punishment. Second, crime is not only an academic preoccupation; it is also a subject of political debate. It is important, therefore, to distinguish between what might loosely be labeled highbrow positions and low- or middlebrow positions on criminal justice. In much of this essay, I will be discussing highbrow positions; at the end, I will turn briefly to low- and middlebrow views. Finally, because I will present this taxonomy as if I were an outsider, it is important to make clear at the outset that I consider myself a criminal justice progressive. The confusion I present here is, therefore, my own confusion, and the map I outline plots my own uncertainty.

Publication Citation

67 Law & Contemp. Probs. 23-32 (2004)

Included in

Criminal Law Commons