Students do not generally ﬁnd Emile Durkheim easy. So, why begin with him? Aren’t there othercriminologists that are less abastruse that one could begin with?Of course there are many criminologists less difﬁcult than Durkheim, but few of them dig asdeeply, travel as far, or aim at satisfying so thoroughly. Later on, we shall eat these words and,indeed, ﬁnd grave fault with Durkheim; but for the moment he does not have to be understood
. But the tone he sets and the line he takes are aspects with which we might successfully ac-quainting ourselves.To get over initial difﬁculties, however, let us begin by addressing seemingly simple questions. What is crime? What do we mean by punishment? And what is the link between crime and pun-ishment? If we ask these questions of Emile Durkheim, he will reply some as follows.
Crime is something that offends every normal individual’s strong and deﬁned sentiments
.Would you agree with this simple deﬁnition of crime in general?Secondly, what about punishment? What does Durkheim say Punishment is?
Punishment is a passionate social reaction, of graduated intensity
.The passionate reaction is aimed at the criminal. Nothing could be apparently simpler. But,again, do you agree with this formulation?Finally, is there a link between crime and punishment so deﬁned?According to Durkheim, there is. Crime and punishment are linked through what he called oursocial or ‘ collective conscience’ – and it is this ‘conscience collective’ that makes crime inten-sively offensive to us and it also makes punishment society’s social resolution to crime. Wouldyou agree?None of these ideas (except, perhaps, the last) can be thought of in any respect as difﬁcult to un-derstand. Like so many others, you might want to hear more about this‘ collective conscience’. It is hardly the kind of concept you expect social scientists to use. Andyet, the notion is not too removed from the Christian conscience, and even less so from theCatholic viewpoint, according to which we are all to be judged on the day of ‘general judgment.’This concept of the ‘day of general judgment’, implies a general conscience and is arguably notthat far removed from Durkheim`s earlier notion of the‘ collective conscience.’