From what illness is D’Souza supposed to be suffering? Is it of such a contagious nature that he needs state-mandated therapy, like Typhoid Mary? To judge by the comments left by New York Times readers, not everyone likes D’Souza, and indeed some of the hatred expressed toward him seems—well, almost pathological, at least in the metaphorical sense. Even the preposterous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, which makes patients of us all, could hardly find anything morbid in D’Souza’s conduct. The only justification for forcing him to undergo therapeutic counseling would be if crime were illness. (I leave aside the absurdity of the concept of such counseling itself, in the efficacy of which the judge must presumably have believed as others believe that walking under a ladder is unlucky). This idea has a long pedigree and is far from liberal in its consequences. In the year of my birth, C. S. Lewis published a brilliant essay titled “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” In it, he wrote, inter alia: “Those who hold it think it is mild and merciful. In this I think they are seriously mistaken. I believe that the ‘Humanity’ which it claims is a dangerous illusion and disguises the possibility of cruelty and injustice without end.”
If crime is illness, no limit exists to the treatment that may be employed to cure it and nothing inhibits the use of ferocious remedies to root it out. As Lewis intuited, cruelty may then be disguised as benevolence, and there is no cruelty like that which believes it is doing good.