Drugs in a society is a largely debated topic. There are many reasons and theories surrounding possession, punishment and drug laws. I will analyze two early theorists, Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx. By viewing the topic of drugs from these too perspectives we can see how greatly theories differ.
Durkheim believes that laws are passed by the views of society as a whole and that laws are based on the basis of morality and justice. Durkheim’s theory states that all laws are created equal by the majority of society agreeing upon what is acceptable behavior. On these grounds he created the term “collective conscience”. Durkheim’s views of law and punishment is he believes that when a crime is committed the “values” of the public have been violated. However Durkheims views sometimes fail because he has a heavy emphases on sociological influences rather than psychological/biological influences. Also when he speaks about “collective conscience” or “society’s morality” he cannot talk about every single person, so his theory is biased towards the majority
Marx’s views surrounding drugs is a more difficult approach. Marx’s theory explains how the laws of society are biased because it is a constant struggle between the upper and lower classes, and that laws and punishment are created to suppress the lower class. Marx’s theory acknowledges the economic factors on social phenomena such as crime. He also talks about the systemic discrimination and power and how crime and drugs are necessary to maintain a capitalist society. Marx’s theory fails in aspects describing why and how individuals get into rugs and also how they reform. Furthermore Marx theory is purely from an economic stand point and fails to explain other reasons why Individuals get into crime.
Though both have valid points and fall backs one would need to combine theories for an interdisciplinary approach for a full description of crime.
In ancient Rome, during times of crises or war, the republic of Rome would appoint one individual as leader, and he alone could create and dictate his own rules and laws. In our modern society we have similar measures during conflicts or distress where we can fall upon the “War Measures Act”. The state of exception can be roughly explained as being able to suspend the rule of law for certain individuals allowing for more efficiency to get a grasp of the conflict at hand.
A state of exception is needed when a conflict or crises arises to such a high point, where if normal channels were taken, the results would take too long and could even possibly do more overall harm then good. According to Agamben’s theory when a state ” increasingly suspend their democratic structures, laws, and principles, the very nature of governance changes as “the rule of law is routinely displaced by the state of exception” (Giroux, 2006, p. 180). When a state of exception is enacted the government can bypass certain channels and laws for the good of the majority of citizens.
In some cases, during the states of exception, individuals can be gathered up if they are seen to be a threat. Agamben sees “the state of exception exists as a potentiality underpinning all relations between individuals and the sate”. Individuals held under the state of exception lose their legal rights and are basically treated as prisoners by being told exactly what they are and aren’t allowed to do, or as Agamben had termed “bare life”. Agamben’s theory shows how the relationship between the state and its citizens ceases to exist however one could point out how his theory mainly revolves around the criticisms of initiatives such as the war measures act. Though his theory can be argued one cannot look past the fact that in name of fear the government appoints its self a tyrant and rules over its citizens with nothing more then an iron fist.
References: Giroux, Henry A. (2006). “Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability”, College Literature 33(3): 171-196330
Crim 3305 Handout – Larsen: Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy
Food for Thought:
“Law’s repressive coercive (material) functions are obscured by its ideological (symbolic) functions that portray it as equal, universal, and just”.
This quote means that in theory the law is idealized to apply to everyone equally and universally, however in practice the law can actually be the source or driving force behind repression. I believe that this quote is true and is applicable to present society. I would choose to take this stance because all societies are supposed to be governed by the rule of law, which states no one is above the law. However, in practice laws do not apply universally to all individuals or interest groups. The judiciary has considerable control on how laws are interpreted and disparities between the leniencies on corporations versus the over-represented Aboriginal population in prisons reveals that there are problems with how the law is applied.
Karl Marx argued that “the foundation of social being and history is predicated on something entirely necessary for our survival; he calls this the mode of production” (Pavlich, 2011, p.90). Karl Marx focuses on this mode of production and its relationship with law. He thinks of law as being an ideology that is used to maintain the existing mode of production, for example in our society he would see that the law is used to maintain a capitalist society (Pavlich, 2011, p.96). Therefore the ruling class is able to maintain its domination in society by instilling rules through law which substantiate the system. It can be argued that the dominating class in Canada today, are Caucasian white males, who manipulate the law to maintain their status in society. For example, women are equal before the law, yet in certain occupations such as business and legal areas they are grossly underrepresented. Marx would argue that this “glass ceiling” effect occurs as a result of the division of classes into private and public.
The argument of equality in law is a topic which should not have to be brought up however it is necessary to do so. At face value we believe that, and are told that the law is equal and that all who commit the same act of crime, no matter wealth, race, or economic status should be tried the same; however this is simply not true. If more minorities had a louder voice in the law making and implementing process, we start to see a shift of a biased legal system to a more equal standing law system. And once we reach a fair justice system, one that is not swayed by wealth or classes we will begin to bring forth the true stance of what law was meant to be- blind.
Food for Thought:
Durkheim’s sociology of law proposes that crime is a normal part of society, and that it is necessary and indispensable. What does this mean? Is Durkheim correct? Discuss, with reference to contemporary examples.
Durkheim asserts that crime is a necessary and indispensable part of society; what he means by this is that in any society, at any time there will be crime because not everyone conforms to society’s collective consciousness (Pavlich, 2011, p.74). Collective consciousness refers to the overall beliefs that individuals in a society hold (Pavlich, 2011, p. 74). Durkheim insists that crime is functional in the sense that it helps members of a society determine what is right and what is wrong (Pavlich, 2011, p. 80). In a sense, crime helps guide individuals in determining what is moral and what is not. For example, assisted suicide or euthanasia may be of moral contention to members of a society. However, based on Durkheim’s theory the laws criminalize it and thus help guide individuals in coming to the conclusion that euthanasia is wrong.
In contrast, I think Durkheim was only partly correct. Crime is a part of society and will always be because not everyone will conform to society’s standards. However, I do not think crime is necessary in a society; individuals may be guided morally without crime. Further, Durkheim does not explain how society’s collective consciousness may change to include acts that were once crimes and therefore considered immoral. One could look at same-sex marriage as an example. In the past, most members of a society would see it as a crime and therefore immoral, however this ‘crime’ is more readily accepted now. Does this mean morality has changed?
The sociological theory presented by Durkheim revolutionized the mentality society had by shifting the focus from “them” to “us”, or from the “individual” to “society” as a whole. A contemparary view which I think Durkheim would not agree with is the view of restorative justice. Since restorative justice is based on rehabilitating individuals back into society, Durkheim would argue that they, in fact cannot do so, since crime will always be present and punishment is the only answer.
Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.