Cesare Lombroso and the Causes of Violent Crime

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Cesare Lombroso and the Causes of Violent Crime

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There are myriad assumptions and conclusion made as regards the causes of the violent offense to others. Some are psychological whereas other others are inherent. Credible evidence instigates that violent crime originates from inborn, or genetic factors belong to a particular person. The explanation of crime and its causes has been complex just like the society is complex. Most criminologists in the sociological world try to establish the origin or cause of the queer behavior affiliated with violent crime. Some common ideas related to violent crime include the consumption of hard drugs. They hard drugs lead to impairment in decision-making. The cause is temporary and is subject to control by human beings. Other assumptions affiliated to violence in crime include the desperation that results from the problems that poor people face (“Cesare Lombroso – New World Encyclopedia.”, 2009). The degree of being desperate elevates the cause of crime into violent action. These are some of the common psychological inferences that laymen establish trying to identify what is the real cause of crime.

However, there are many approaches that are analyzing and establishing the short-run rationale of these assumptions of assertions. Precisely, there are a variety of theories that assert the causes of violent crimes. For instance, there is the Cesare Lombroso theory. In addition, there are the traditional explanations of violent crime. Others include the social contract theory of Cesare Beccaria and Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham. Most of these approached belong to the classical approaches to crime (“Cesare Lombroso – New World Encyclopedia.”, 2009). However, there is the positivist approach which includes Cesare Lombroso, which is a theory that is most outstanding. The paper aims to establish the rationale that Cesare Lombroso’s assertions about the causes of violent crime is the most appropriate amongst other theoretical approaches about the same.

First, it is important to denote some arguments posted by some rivalry theorists about violent crimes. For instance, Jeremy Bentham’s approach towards violent crime is based the utilitarianism concept. The concept considers that any action that a human being does is calculated. The assumption, according to Bentham may not support any biological or genetic reference to some conduct or behavior postulated by violent criminals (“Cesare Lombroso – New World Encyclopedia.”, 2009). However, most aspects of such human behavior do not depend on how much one had to calculate of plan. It depends on the guts one has to do such a thing. Therefore, the utilitarianism and classical approaches fail to establish the biological and genetic features’ participation in the entire context of determining the core cause of violent crimes.

Detailed research determines that there is not outstanding and memorable theory or approach towards causes of violent crime that can compare with Cesare Lombroso’s argument. His arguments remain relevant to an extent that scholars conclude that his name ought not to diminish in the sociological argument affiliated with violent crimes. Do people calculate or do they have the biological traits that foster the guts to participate in a violent crime? Lombroso has a series of arguments all of which try to establish the fact that criminal have a biological trait or physical traits that differentiates them from the normal people.

Lombroso moves away from the normal assumptions that do not have credible reference or proof concerning the causes of violent crimes and the traits possessed by the violent criminals. Lombroso focused on the slogan “born criminal” where he established that violent criminals show the characteristic as from the moment they were born. The aspect of biology emerges in that context. Arguably, Lombroso believed that criminals got differentiated from the noncriminal people through a series of physical stigmata or characteristics (Rose, 2000). There are distinct features included a long lower jaw, long and apelike arms, and a flattened nose. However, one thing that the theorist made clear is that the physical stigmata did not cause the violent crimes. The traits were just indicators of the criminals who were born as criminals. The theory developed on the basis of some cranial and physiological measurements of the criminals who have a record of participating in crimes with violence.

Lombroso further popularizes the “born criminal” via a biological determinism. Any conclusion made through a scientifically recognized approach forms a basis of trust where the audience believes in something that has found proof. Accordingly, criminals possess a physiognomic deformity (Pustilnik, 2009). The term physiognomy applies in the context where the personality traits of an individual yield from the physical features such as the limbs or the face. Lombroso utilizes this approach where he concludes that criminals devolve instead of evolving leading to easy identification. The inference results from the recent studies of criminals physiques.

The most interesting assertion that Lombroso makes is that criminality is inherited. Some of the physical traits of a criminal include the large jaws. He indicated that the forward jaw of criminals projected. In addition, the forehead had a slope and the cheekbones appeared to be high. The ears of a criminal According to Lombroso are handle-happed. The eyes were shifty, and the limbs were long.

The entire theoretical approach on the causes of crime amongst human beings majored on the atavism concept. The atavism concept refers to a scenario where an individual fails to undergo full evolution. The concept with regards to Lombroso goes back to the primates’ evolution. The inference could have possessed some vulgar stipulations in it were not for the series of studies he undertook to justify his assertions. He undertook studies associated with the skulls, the brain, muscles the viscera and other parts of criminals’ skeleton (Pustilnik, 2009). He established some reliable peculiar traits that differed from the rest of the skulls of people who do not associate with the violent crimes.

The epicenter of the notion by Lombroso based on the anatomic or autopsied bodies of an Italian criminal, Giuseppe Villella. The character traits of the Italian’s skull contained some features that the criminologist had identified in the apes. The collections gathered from the experiment suggested that criminal tendencies were associated with the organic features and history of the individuals (Vold, 1958). Concurrently, the violence was as a result of hereditary factors. It was the origin of the term atavism that Lombroso used. He uses some discriminatory terms to regard the criminals such as human subspecies and evolutionary drawbacks.

There are numerous approaches and critiques by other criminologists to propose different causes of violent crimes. Therefore, Lombroso had to ensure that he established a more solid argument to support the biological assertion as the most appropriate cause of violent crimes. Therefore, he supported a scientific approach to identify criminal demeanor and managed to sideline the criminal individuals who had the capacity to show traits of violence (Vold, 1958). The practice incorporated a series of statistical compilations of social and anthropological information. The possibility that other inferences will outdo what Lombroso asserted about this issue is very low.

There are different cases that Lombroso utilized to ensure that he delivered clear inferences about the theory. For instance, Lombroso extends his theoretical studies towards female criminality. He made an intensive research on the female skulls and photographs of the female culprits of his research. However, his research concluded that there are very few cases of female criminals who possess the traits of being violent. Lombroso’s theory asserts that female naturalists hinder the women from becoming violent criminals. It is the lack of intelligence that hinders them from expressing any form of biological and inborn violence.

The theories by Lombroso have myriad confirmation facts some of which relate to the criminal’s mind and others relate to the central nervous system. All these are biological and genetic issues that are passed on from one generation to the others. He comes up with a number of terms to describe the criminals with regards to genetics or the biological traits. For instance, he denotes the epileptic criminals, insane criminals, and the occasional criminals (Fajnzylber, Lederman, & Loayza, 2002). Such titles that Lombroso gives to the violent criminals are identifiable from the perspective of data collected. For instance, the biological understanding of the central nervous system and the embryonic development may affect the hierarchical neural centers of the body. The hereditary possession of the traits is beyond one’s understanding and control. The researchers try to disapprove the classical and the utilitarian approaches to violent crimes and criminals.

The theoretical works of Lombroso relate closely to Darwin’s assumption in terms of the genes and evolution. Remember that Darwin deals with the genetic concepts of evolution. However, there is a slight distinction between the Darwin’s arguments and Lombroso’s arguments. Lombroso’s arguments go beyond evolution into criminality. He creates a distinct form of evolution where human beings start fearing each other from the physical appearance perception. He was a pioneer of the scientific criminology especially with regards to demonstrating why people possess violence in their criminal activities (Wolfgang, 1961).

His legacy revolves around the popular atavistic and “born criminal” assertions. The arguments have solid proof from live examples which show the reality of the fact that they skeletal and mental structures play a part in determining one’s criminal characteristics. The theories distinguish the biological criminals and those that participate in violent criminal activities dues to circumstances. His theory is a paramount element in determining why it is advocated that criminals receive a humane form of treatment. The level of leniency depends on the fact that some of the criminals are so by default. Hence, they do not deserve severe punishments such as death penalties.


Lombroso as a positivist focused on the atavism, degeneracy and “born criminal” concepts to establish the idea of genetics and biology in violent crimes. He said that is possible that some environmental, political and economic factors result into violent crimes. However, the series of research on some criminal figures and their biological traits is a reliable strategy for determining genetic and biological factors as possible causes of crime. He establishes the concept of incomplete evolution as an indirect cause crime. Precisely, the people with such physical characteristics, mainly end up being violent criminals. Lombroso’s study of the human brain and its development is a factor in asserting the opinion that criminals possess some particular traits that qualify them to be violent. Not many theorists have managed to stage such strong arguments and violent crimes.


Cesare Lombroso – New World Encyclopedia. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Cesare_Lombroso

Vold, G. (1958). Theoretical criminology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wolfgang, M. E. (1961). Pioneers in Criminology: Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909). The journal of criminal law, criminology, and police science, 361-391.

Rose, N. (2000). The biology of culpability: Pathological identity and crime control in a biological culture. Theoretical criminology, 4(1), 5-34.

Pustilnik, A. C. (2009). Violence on the brain: a critique of neuroscience in criminal law.

Fajnzylber, P., Lederman, D., & Loayza, N. (2002). What causes violent crime?. European Economic Review, 46(7), 1323-1357.


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