«Authority is never without hate.
And those who have ability for power
But wisely keep their silence, are not eager
For public life, will mock my folly, blindly
Deserting peace for Athens' crowded Fears.»
Ion: 597-601, Euripides
The abolitionist perspective was criticised and characterised as unrealistic (Cohen, 1986) and utopian even by critical criminologists and rejected. However, there is no doubt that penal abolitionism is utopian. But what means «utopia»? In a recent article for Corriere della Sera the Italian writer Claudio Magris (1999: 43) offer a nice definition for utopia;
«Utopia means not to submit ourselves in the current state of affairs. Utopia means to fight for the change of this state. in order to bring the state of affairs it should be. Utopia means that we should recognise the necessity, as Bertolt Brecht asserted, to change and rescue the whole world».
Penal abolitionism is and in fact is obligated to be utopian. In order to understand and to proceed to the necessary changes, penal abolitionism and the abolitionist movement in general should be utopian, that it is to say, to be materialist and dialectical. It is not the abstract system of a knowledge that would lead us to a radical change in criminology but rather the study and understanding of the real changes in life and the continuous interactionism (Cornforth, 1975). As professor Jock Young observed (1997: 26) «what is argued by abolitionists is that what is needed is an ideal, some utopian position in order to orientate our long-term aims». Therefore, «there is a need for more utopian construction» (Haan, 1990: 2). On the other hand, utopian is not something that is impossible to become reality. This point of view for utopia is obviously misleading. In Sebastian Scheerer's words (1986: 7):
«there has never been a major social transformation in the history of mankind that had not been looked upon as unrealistic, idiotic or utopian by the large majority of experts even a few years before the unthinkable became reality ... and as in the case with other legal institutions, too, slavery had succeeded to look extremely stable almost until the day it collapsed».
It is true that intense political struggle can bring about radical changes in the field of penal and criminal policy, if only it has a bottom-up approach rather an attempt from the «top» (Mathiesen 1981). The latter is extremely vulnerable without mass support.
But I should say that there is no need to wait for radical political reform in order to see that penal abolitionism offers viable solutions. A process of a de iure decriminalization of certain offences like drug-use or prostitution for example is possible to bring about considerable and radical changes of great importance in the criminal justice system. On the other hand mass settlements of offences by administrative or financial means are also possible and positive.
Rene van Swaaningen said that the abolitionist critiques are stimulating, powerful and convincing. I feel the need not only to agree but also to add that the abolitionist answers are also convincing and viable. For the abolitionist rationale and reasoning a clear sense has protagonistic role; the sense of the need for radical diversion, or to use Mathiesen's terminology, need for revolutionary approach to what is been used to call criminal phenomenon.
It is a lively time for abolitionism; it is time to start groping the criminological field without abstract and general segregation and manichaen dualities. Critical theorists were right, the starting point for liberation can be found in resistance (Marcuse, 1970).
It seems that nothing has changed from the time that the Second International Conference on Prison Abolition held in Amsterdam. Herman Bianchi's observation during his opening address for ICOPA 1985 has its value even now (Bianchi, 1986: 156).
«It is a lively time for abolitionism; we have to fight the spirit of a neo-classicist ideas on crime, but the opportunities we have in doing this are good, for the legal and social sciences can work on our behalf, and I am sure they are willing to do so».
Analysing and evaluating at the same time the overall image and concept of the penal abolitionist theory the conclusion I came with is that the theory in question raised serious topics in the criminological agenda. But the most interesting part on this is that the answers given are convincing, applicable and viable. The abolitionist answer to «crime» is the most promising answer and solution given by a «down-to-earth» critical criminology.
Penal abolitionism is a criminological perspective that invariably and inevitably provokes (Ruggiero, 1999). And the paradigm is obligated to do so, the more the confrontation of social problems that engender deviation from law and rules would be based on the same punitive and coercive penal and state repression, the more there will be daily proved that this approach is ineffective and dangerous and the more the voice of abolitionism will be stronger, demanding and multiply helpful.
It is under the abolitionist perspective where the future is confronted as an action of today.
«Seize the Time».