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Schoenfeld, C.G. (1966). In Defense of Retribution in the Law. Psychoanal Q., 35:108-121.

(1966). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 35:108-121

In Defense of Retribution in the Law

C. G. Schoenfeld

The first requirement of a sound body of law is, that it should correspond with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong. If people would gratify the passion of revenge outside of the law, if the law did not help them, the law has no choice but to satisfy the craving itself, and thus avoid the greater evil of private retribution.

Though law and psychiatry may ultimately prove to be compatible, considerable tension now exists between them (15), (17). And though this tension may reflect certain unavoidable or inherent differences—for example, 'the focus of the law is on society primarily, and only secondarily on the individual; in psychiatry the emphasis is almost exclusively on the individual' (16)—much of the trouble may also be traceable, as is so often the case, to a lack of understanding: to the failure of both lawyers and psychiatrists to learn what is of fundamental concern to the other (15). Thus the psychiatrist whose training and experience have convinced him that vengeful, retributive punishments are utterly useless (4), (27), and who regards the lawyer's insistence upon retributive justice as indefensibly stubborn and stupid, may fail to realize what the lawyer is really worried about: the danger that if the law were insufficiently retributive, men would seek revenge outside the law and thereby undermine the law's effectiveness as a major—indeed, the major—peace-preserving social institution.

To the psychiatrist, the danger of nonretributive justice breeding private vengeance may seem remote; to the lawyer, however, the risk is very real indeed.

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