This is not an Article about the Nazi regime’s war on crime, nor does it analyze the possible lawlessness of the Weimar Republic. It does, however, consider the role of crime in transitional states. As such, the observation above is relevant to the issues examined in the pages that follow. Crime and the manipulation of the fear it promotes were essential to the rise of Nazism, the fall of the Weimar Republic, and the historical record of both regimes. I contend that we must recognize the vital role of street crime in the stability and instability of newly democratic and transitional states, a role far more important in many ways than other, more studied threats to democratic stability and nation-building. Thus, for example, notwithstanding the overwhelming barrage of media coverage, academic analysis, and political punditry to the contrary, the greatest violent threat to human security, and by extension, to political stability, in the twenty-first century has not come from terrorism. Instead—and here, reliable data are quite clear—a far greater danger to human life in this century has been, and almost certainly will continue to be, non-political violent crime. In many of these states, therefore, the inability to provide security to ordinary citizens becomes a major political issue, or even the main issue on the political agenda, with instability provoked by surging crime weakening support for democratic rule. Thus, given the potentially severe consequences of citizen insecurity in such states and the high percentage of countries currently located on the spectrum of democratic transition, it is clear that common crime represents a significant threat to the stability of much of the developing world. Despite all this, I contend, insufficient attention has been paid during the transitional era to addressing ordinary crime during transitions and beyond. Nation-building, the central task of transitional efforts and the unifying theme of this volume, requires much more attention to common crime and to the establishment of transparent, efficient, and democratic police and criminal justice systems to control it. In other words, transitional states must focus as much or more on the types of problems that can reasonably be anticipated (through a prospective, system-wide focus) as on those that have historically plagued them during periods of non-democratic rule. To support this contention, this Article draws on three case studies, two from Latin America (Brazil and El Salvador), and one from sub-Saharan Africa (South Africa).

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