Flogging!: H. S. Salt’s Book

Flogging!: H. S. Salt’s Book

When a community condemns many of its best citizens to goal for no more appropriate reason than they have demonstrated their honesty and high character, it is difficult to predict where will be the end of the long chain of consequences. But this may be said with certainty: the movement against reaction will gather a great impetus from such persecutions.

After the passage of the Conscription Acts the anti-militarists were thrust into the army, and the immediate effect of their steady resolve and unyielding loyalty to conviction was a concentration of public attention upon the methods of “breaking in” employed in the army. The agitation, primarily intended to secure the proper treatment of men of anti-militarist principle, will do incalculable service to the ordinary soldier in raising the whole question of army “discipline” and the means used to enforce it.

When it was found to be highly undesirable to keep the anti-militarists in the army, they were transferred to the civil prisons. And we may expect the result of that to be a powerful and growing agitation for prison reform, specially when our people turn their eyes from the ends of the world and look again to home affairs. Mr. Salt has chosen a good moment for the publication of his book, “The Flogging Craze” (George Allen & Unwin, 2/6 net). It is a work that is bound to be read with great interest by those young men who have now had personal experience of prison life, and they, by the advantages of their social connections and their various abilities—some of them being speakers, others writers, some teachers, others enthusiastic Trade Unionists, and all of them being able in intimate circles to exert an influence over social and political thought—will give a strong support to the endeavour to root out of our national life the baser conceptions and practices that have remained with us from a bygone age. Mr. Salt’s book is a necessity to-day, for more than one magistrate has shown himself to be susceptible to the prevailing atmosphere of brutality, and has increased the infliction of corporal punishment in his dealing with juvenile crimes.

The readiness to “punish” what are regarded as wrong actions is an indication not only of failure to understand the problem of “crime” and the psychology of the “criminal,” but also of a lack of any desire to understand. As Mr. Salt says on page 148:

Crime is a social disease, an act of violence, a symptom of deep-seated malady. To those, therefore, who clamour for the flogging of malefactors, we answer that, just as the only effective way of dealing with bodily disease is to remove the cause of it by sanitation and right living, so the only method by which crime can be eradicated is by improved social conditions and a removal of the sources of crime. The best way in which society can mark its indignation at evil deeds is by reforming itself. The criminal, after all, is but the product of society; and for a community to turn and torture these wretched children of its own heartlessness is to mistake the symptom for the cause, and so to add folly to folly in its treatment of social disorder.

There is an irony in any deprecation of savage practices just now, but by some strange psychological aberration the masses of the people can tolerate a colossal outbreak of international murder with all its horrible and disgusting accompaniments, and even see in it something “noble” and “necessary,” while they may be roused to very strong feeling against the continuance of a barbaric custom in our national and local relationships. Flogging is one of the revolting habits that die hard, and Mr. Salt has written the history of the movement against it in this country. His case against flogging is strong and is, necessarily, allied to the case against the use of force in general. His attack is not, of course, restricted to flogging in prisons; he protests against the state of mind that permits the practice in the school and in the home, and shows that the degradation of those who inflict it is finally greater than that of the sufferers. The demand for the abolition of flogging should be one of the principal planks in any prison-reform agitation, and when it is finally abolished from the prisons it may become too unpopular to exist even in our aristocratic schools. The disappearance of a habit so vicious from all our public institutions, it may be hoped, will lead to a more enlightened private life. We commend Mr. Salt’s book to all who wish to make a well-informed attack upon the flogging craze.


The Labour Leader, 1916

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