Many readers think of William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies as a pessimistic take on humanity in general. But John Locke, who is an optimist about the rational inclination toward justice of adults is a pessimist who doubts the inclination of youngsters toward justice. In section 63 of his 2d Treatise on Government: “Of Civil Government” (Chapter VI. Of Paternal Power), he writes:
The freedom then of man, and liberty of acting according to his own will, is grounded on his having reason, which is able to instruct him in that law he is to govern himself by, and make him know how far he is left to the freedom of his own will. To turn him loose to an unrestrained liberty, before he has reason to guide him, is not the allowing him the privilege of his nature to be free; but to thrust him out amongst brutes, and abandon him to a state as wretched, and as much beneath that of a man, as their’s. This is that which puts the authority into the parents’ hands to govern the minority of their children. God hath made it their business to employ this care on their offspring, and hath placed in them suitable inclinations of tenderness and concern to temper this power, to apply it, as his wisdom designed it, to the children’s good, as long as they should need to be under it.
This resonates with me. At least in my own, relatively fortunate life, I was much more frightened of the possibility of physical harm from other youngsters when I myself was young than I have been of physical harm from other adults now that I am an adult myself.
It is also true that a large share of crime is committed by those who, while they might have reached the age of majority in our culture are still relatively young adults. At least in relation to the danger that they might commit bodily harm, age tends to mellow most people.
Another important correlation is between criminality and having difficulty reasoning. Criminals are often caught because they make stupid mistakes. And the crimes they commit in the first place are often stupid mistakes. For example, some commit crimes because they are not good at thinking about the future, when penalties such as being thrown in jail might fall upon them. Not all crimes come from a lack of rationality, but many do. So there is something to what John Locke is saying.
For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: