Jonathan Simon




They Died with Their Boots On: The Boot Camp and the Limits of Modern Penality

Jonathan Simon’s article continues the philosophical discourse on current practices of punishment. The Clinton administration, with its ethics of obligation, has been a strong supporter of penal boot camps. The 1994 crime bill contains $150 million for grants to the states to fund alternatives to traditional incarceration, specifically including boot camps. While preliminary findings suggest that boot camps are not very effective in either reducing recidivism or costs, their continuing popularity provides Simon with an empirical focus for a discussion of modern penality and its limits. According to Simon, although there is much about the boot camp that signals the continuity of the modern in punishment, an alternative interpretation, which he presents in great detail, is to view boot camps as an exercise in “willful nostalgia,” a sensibility that is a crucial marker of the postmodern for many scholars. In the course of his analysis, he contrasts “classical nostalgia” with the postmodernist “willful nostalgia.” One of Simon’s most important conclusions is that though classical nostalgia often provided the grounds for a critical inspection of present practices, the willful nostalgia of the boot camp has the opposite tendency of reinforcing complacency with the present while providing inertia against any real change.

military training, penology, criminology, modernism, culture and politics, clinton administration

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 22, No. 2 (1995): 25-48


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