It is certainly true that the child learns very slowly and very imperfectly to distinguish the ways by which he may and may not get property. His nature always protests against it as he goes along. Only a few can ever learn it in anything like completeness. Many men cannot learn it, and if they learned the forbidden things they would have no feeling that to disobey was wrong. Even the most intelligent ones never know or feel the whole code, and in fact, lawyers are forever debating and judges doubting as to whether many ways of getting property are inside or outside the law. No doubt many of the methods that intelligent and respected men adopt for getting property have more inherent criminality than others that are directly forbidden by the law. It must always be remembered that all laws are naturally and inevitably evolved by the strongest force in a community, and in the last analysis made for the protection of the dominant class.
ATTITUDE OF THE CRIMINAL
Probably the chief barrier to the commission of crime is the feeling of right and wrong connected with the doing or not doing of particular acts. All men have a more or less binding conscience. This is the result of long teaching and habit in matters of conduct. Most people are taught at home and in school that certain things are right and that others are wrong. This constant instruction builds up habits and rules of conduct, and it is mainly upon these that society depends for the behavior of its citizens. To most men conscience is the monitor, rather than law. It acts more automatically, and a shock to the conscience is far more effective than the knowledge that a law is broken. For the most part the promptings of conscience follow pretty closely the inhibitions of the criminal code, although they may or may not follow the spirit of the law. Each person has his own idea of the relative values attached to human actions. That is, no two machines respond exactly alike as to the relative importance of different things. No two ethical commands have the same importance to all people or to any two people. Often men do not hesitate to circumvent or violate one statute, when they could never be even tempted to violate another.
Ordinarily unless the response of conscience is quick and plain, men are not bothered by the infraction of the law except, perchance, by the fear of discovery. This is quite apart from the teaching that it is the duty of all men to obey all laws, a proposition so general that it has no effect. Even those who make the statement do not follow the precept, and the long list of penal laws that die from lack of enforcement instead of by repeal is too well known to warrant the belief that anyone pays serious attention to such a purely academic statement. No one believes in the enforcement of all laws or the duty to obey all laws, and no one, in fact, does obey them all.