Cesare Lombroso (1835)
It was on this date, November 6, 1835, that Italian-Jewish anthropologist and criminologist Cesare Lombroso was born Ezechia Marco Lombroso in Verona, Italy. He studied at Padua, Vienna and Paris, knew Chinese, Chaldaic, and Hebrew before he was twenty, and was appointed in 1862 professor of psychiatry at Pavia. By age 40, Lombroso was the most famous criminologist in Europe, which coincided with the publication of his L’Uomo Delinquente (Criminal Man) in 1875, a work widely translated and greatly influential.
Lombroso rejected the Classical School of criminology, which held that crime was a characteristic trait of human nature. Although Lombroso’s science of criminology was largely based on the thoroughly discredited pseudoscience of phrenology — Lombroso’s theory of anthropological criminology essentially stated that criminality was inherited, and that someone “born criminal” could be identified by physical defects, which he termed stigmata — he transformed criminology from a legalistic art to a true science. Lombroso encouraged humane treatment of convicts by suggesting work programs to make them more productive members of society. As Ellwood points out in Lombroso’s Theory of Crime (1912):
One thing Lombroso’s work has definitely accomplished, and which will remain forever a monument to his name, and that is, that the criminal man must be studied and not simply crime in the abstract; that the criminal must be treated as an individual and not his act alone considered. The individualization of punishment, which all humanitarian and scientific thinkers are now agreed upon, is something which Lombroso’s work, more perhaps than that of any other man, has helped to bring about. While there may be many errors in Lombroso’s theory of crime, he set about to demolish a much more absurd theory. That the theory of the “classical school,” that crime is the product of an arbitrary free will, and the resulting criminal law and procedure, received from him a death stroke is now beginning to become apparent to all intelligent observers.*
Lombroso died in Turin, Italy on 19 October 1909. Toward his death, Lombroso was duped into the popular passion for Spiritualism, a fraud later exposed and today rarely remembered. Lombroso discusses his views on the paranormal and spiritualism in his book After Death – What? (1909), in which he discusses his belief in the existence of spirits. In her biography of her father, his daughter Gina Lombroso-Ferrero says at the time he was physically frail and susceptible to adverse influences.** Indeed, throughout his career, Lombroso was an outspoken Atheist and materialist, and became an honorary associate of the British Rationalist Press Association.
Even in that 1909 book, Cesare Lombroso tried to make the spirit world a materialistic one, saying, “If ever there was an individual in the world opposed to spiritism by virtue of scientific education, and I may say, by instinct, I was that person. I had made it the indefatigable pursuit of a lifetime to defend the thesis that every force is a property of matter and the soul an emanation of the brain.”†
* (Charles A. Ellwood, “Lombroso’s Theory of Crime,” 2 J. Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 716 (May 1911 to March 1912) ** Gina Lombroso-Ferrero (1872-1944), Cesare Lombroso: Storia della Vita e delle Opere, Narrata dalla Figlia (Cesare Lombroso: Story of His Life and Works, recounted by his Daughter). Turin: Fratelli Bocca; 1915.
† Cesare Lombroso, After Death – What?. London: T.F. Unwin, 1909.
Originally published November 2003.