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Ancient and modern

Extinction Rebellion proves Aristotle was right about the follies of youth

12 October 2019

9:00 AM

12 October 2019

9:00 AM

Extinction Rebellion is blocking the streets again, foolishly demanding the impossible on a very important issue. But what does one expect from the young? As Aristotle pointed out, since they have no experience of life, they always have exalted notions and think themselves equal to great things. As a result, never having been duped before, they readily trust others and are easy meat for adult exploitation. Platonic criminal theory can help them.

The ancients generally argued that society was held together by systems of rewards and penalties, and revenge, recompense and deterrence were the main features of their penal thinking. Plato, however, took a different view. He thought of crime as a disease. The point about a disease was that it was not your fault: no one willingly caught one. That did not make it any better for the public: diseases, after all, spread. At the same time, since deterrence of disease was impossible, it made no sense to punish anyone so infected. Therefore one must attempt to cure the disease — or preferably, prevent it in the first place.


So while Plato recommended restitution to victims in the form of e.g. compensation for loss or damage, his penal theory set out to cure the criminal mind. His means to this end were therapy and education — or, indeed, anything that would make the criminal see where his own real best interests lay. Whatever that required — pleasure, pain, honour, disgrace, fines or rewards — it should be done.

The innocents of Extinction Rebellion are not criminals but just duped into behaving in criminal or at best antisocial ways to further their worthy cause. They should therefore be encouraged to see where their best interests lie — in ensuring they do everything possible to further that cause. So they should be delighted to be punished by having their smartphones, driving licences, credit cards and passports, all major engines of global warming, confiscated. Something suggests they would be horrified at the prospect: how could life have meaning without a smartphone? But such a punishment might help them start thinking less immaturely about legal and more effective means, which do not infuriate the public, of advancing their noble aim.


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