In this 1995 lecture delivered at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum, philosopher Leonard Peikoff addresses the problem of crime, exploring the traits that criminals have in common and examining their cultural origins. Social scientists have sought to explain the dramatic rise in crime rates by reference to other cultural phenomena such as TV violence, drugs, poverty, peer pressure, and urbanization. Unsatisfied by these explanations, Peikoff takes a wider, philosophical perspective: “Perhaps, after all, you need to understand something about values and human nature in order to understand and cope with crime.”

Looking at the small minority of people who commit the vast majority of violent and serious crimes, such as rape, assault, murder, robbery and theft, Peikoff identifies five traits that these criminals have in common. Peikoff argues that criminals are ultimately motivated by the ideas they accept, and he ties the rising crime rate to widespread philosophical ideas that have permeated the culture. Concluding that major responsibility is attributable to “the humanities professors with tenure who built our crime-friendly culture,” Peikoff adds: “The solution is not midnight basketball, but daytime philosophy.”

The Q&A that follows the lecture expands on its subject matter and also includes the following topics:

  • President Clinton’s election and the Republican Party
  • Social Security and Medicare
  • The Oklahoma City bombing
  • “Family values” and crime prevention
  • Prayer in school
  • Fear as a motivation to prevent crime
  • What constitutes a threat?
  • President Roosevelt and the New Deal