My Review of Geoffrey de Lagasnerie’s Judge and Punish at boundary 2

I forgot to post this on my blog site. You can find it here. It opens this way:

Geoffrey de Lagasnerie’s Judge and Punish: The Penal State on Trial, first published in French as L’État pénal face à la sociologie (The Penal State Confronts Sociology, Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2016) and translated well by Lara Vergnaud, is an at times brilliantly written polemic, decoding the ways in which we take our systems of judging and punishing as an ever-existing part of our background. This book is not a genealogy of the jurisprudential models used in the West and so is not akin to Michel Foucault’s history of the prison in Discipline and Punish (1975). Nor is it a long history of the birth of punishment as in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals (1887). Nor is it is call for prison abolitionism à la Angela Davis. But it is a searing and necessary brief against how we judge guilt and innocence in criminal trials that provide entree to the state networks of systemic violence against the poor, those of color, and the marginalized in general. De Lagasnerie proves an ample prosecutor of the current French system—the book is replete with memorable lines that will stick with any jury of his peers reading along—and his suit is one that can and should be brought in different jurisdictions across the West.

Yet his case all but falls apart as he comes to his summation. There, in the final chapters, after so many allegations that he is undertaking a “radical” critique of these systems, he argues for a neoliberal response to crime and justice that he argues has not yet occurred in practice.  “If modern transformations of the state had truly been driven by a neoliberal logic,” he writes, “they wouldn’t have taken the form of a strengthening of the penal state,” he states as if it were a matter of fact (180). This left neoliberalism, he stipulates, would privatize much of the criminal justice system (175-6). He leaves unexplained the rapid increases in the prison population of the United Kingdom, the United StatesAustralia, and his home country of France, those places where fiscal austerity and neoliberalism have been strongest even as crime rates have decreased often to their historically weakest. How to explain this correlation between neoliberal governance and the steroidal increase in the rise of our prison populations if it’s not in fact a relation of causation? He offers no exculpatory evidence. His amicus curiae for neoliberalism—the idealist route when facts are not in evidence—is to say neoliberalism hasn’t been taken far enough: its hyper-individualism provides another “conception of judgment and law” (79) that has been ignored by a dépassé but still remnant state authoritarianism that neoliberalism has yet to conquer (62). Once this occurs, there will be a privatization of criminality, creating a “horizontal” relation between victimizer and victimized, with minimal intervention by the state, whose sovereign, top-down relation to those rendered guilty of crimes would all but disappear (183).