The concept of anomie, as originally developed by Emile Durkheim more than one hundred years ago, connotes a state of lawlessness. What happens in this state is of continued and increased concern, for example, if a government collapses, as in the case of Nazi Germany, or as a consequence of natural disasters, such as hurricane Katrina. Detached evaluation of recent events is impaired because it requires some lapse of time. The essence of lawlessness also prevents resort to traditional legal sources. Thus one is confined to empirical evidence and whatever norms can be derived from them. Essentially, unwritten law emerges in groups of people and in neighborhoods under circumstances of extreme emergencies and in the absence of any organized communal or state power. The evidence from the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945 and taken from the cities of Frankfurt and Berlin indicates a spirit of excitement and raw energy, in other words, an upsurge of vitality that facilitates improvisation under conditions of severe threat to survival. Standards of morality and legal behavior are temporarily suspended in the interest of coping with immediate emergencies. Yet the more serious the state of anomie, the more reactive forces come into play that ultimately gravitate toward reestablishing traditional legal controls. The evaluation is rendered difficult because standards of analysis shift. What seemed to be plausible under circumstances of threat to life and health may appear at a later time to be questionable if not offensive. Throughout these processes traditional criminal law leads a shadowy existence in the minds of people who continue to adhere to core values regardless of the fate of government.
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