Hermann Mannheim

Biography and teaching at LSE

Hermann Mannheim
The white collar criminal is neither a political offender nor a rebel. He exploits the weaknesses of society rather than rebelling against its iniquities and his interest in the reform of the legal, political and social system is normally confined to changes which might enable him to make more and more money and to get more and more influence in order to exert increasing pressure to obtain his selfish objects.

Hermann Mannheim, 1965 Comparative Criminology vol 2 p470


Hermann Mannheim at LSE

Hermann Mannheim worked as a researcher at the London School of Economics, from 1935. Mannheim developed into an internationally leading criminologist and in 1946 he was appointed a professor. One of his main areas of work was the comparative criminology. His standard work Comparative Criminology compares sociological and legal perspectives. 

Early background

After a few years of private tuition at home, Mannheim was sent, at the age of nine, to Tilsit, in East Prussia. There he attended the classical Gymnasium for nine years and, after his parents had returned to Germany, between the ages of eighteen and a half and twenty-two years went on to study law and political science at the Universities of Munich, Freiburg, Strasbourg, and Koenigsberg.

On leaving school, Mannheim seems to have had little hesitancy in embarking on a legal career; the only other possibility might have been the study of music and although, having learned to play the piano from the age of five or six, he reached a sufficient level of competence to consider becoming a professional musician, he decided to favour legal training. What was to be of significance was, however, the particular bias of his legal studies.

Academic approach

It was not unusual in Germany at that time for a student to follow courses at more than one university and in different subjects, and in addition to law and political science Mannheim attended lectures in economics, philosophy, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology; indeed, much of his academic work and reading was done in these extra-curricular subjects.

Whatever may have been the social and political influences of his background and upbringing which fostered an inclination towards and a curiosity in the problems of ethics and justice, already during his years at school Mannheim had begun to interest himself in the philosophical and moral aspects of crime, an interest stimulated among others by his reading of Schopenhauer and Dostoevsky.

As a student he was preoccupied less with the law as such than with extending his interests outside its immediate limits into non-juristic subjects which are now recognized to be pertinent. For example, although before the first world war the influence of psychiatry, which was later to have a considerable effect on the study of criminal behaviour, was not marked in the study of law, Mannheim found the psychiatric case studies, illustrating the courses of lectures given by teachers such as Professor Kurt Goldstein, relevant to the understanding of the human material which was the subject of criminal law.

In 1911 Mannheim passed his first law examination and thenceforth spent several years in various courts and barristers' offices, undergoing the prescribed training to become a practising lawyer. A year later he took the degree of Dr Juris at the University of Koenigsberg, submitting a thesis, published in 1912, on the problems of criminal negligence.

Outbreak of war

By the outbreak of war he had passed his second and final law examination, qualifying him to become a barrister (Rechsanwalt) or a magistrate. Within the field of law his special interest had still remained criminal law and legal philosophy and while still a student he had attended the lectures and seminars of two well-known teachers of these subjects - Professor Kohlrausch and Professor Count Dohna, themselves among the most distinguished pupils and followers of Franz von Liszt.

During the 1914-18 war Mannheim served in the German artillery in Russia and in France. Towards the end of hostilities he was appointed judge of a court martial, which gave him opportunity to enlarge his practical knowledge of criminal law and criminology. In 1919 he married Mona Mark, who was to be a great support to him throughout his career.

Judicial career in Germany

During the reconstruction period he held an administrative post from 1919 to 1923 in local government, serving as legal adviser and as chairman of industrial courts, industrial disputes tribunals, rent tribunals, and so forth, which gave him first-hand knowledge of administrative work and of a variety of social problems.

His real interests remained, however, in the work of the criminal courts and in academic teaching: having produced the required Habilitations-schrift on problems of criminal procedure in 1923 (published in 1925), Mannheim took advantage of an offer from his former teacher, Kohlrausch, who had succeeded Franz von Liszt in the senior chair of criminal law in the University of Berlin, and was appointed Privatdozent (an appointment roughly equivalent to that of lecturer) in the Law Faculty of that university and at the same time became a deputy magistrate in Berlin.

This simultaneous tenure of teaching and judicial or administrative posts, which Mannheim regarded as particularly valuable, is still relatively unknown, except perhaps in medical circles, in England; in Germany, too, it was comparatively rare at the time. Criminology as such was not taught at that period in Berlin but, although his lectures had to deal primarily with criminal law and procedure, Mannheim tried to introduce criminology topics whenever possible within the limits of the time at his disposal.

Promotion was rapid. Mannheim was soon appointed a judge, first in the lower courts, then in the superior court - the district court of Berlin - where he took part in and presided over a large number of difficult criminal trials in what was the busiest criminal court in Germany. For two years he worked as an examining judge, which brought him into close contact with the offender as a person and also with police work and administration, and in this connection he took part in a special course on prison administration, arranged by the Ministry of Justice for criminal court judges.

He published a detailed analysis of his experiences as an examining judge in his contribution to the Festschrift of the German Law Faculties to the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Supreme Court of Germany in 1929. In the same year he was made a Professor Extraordinarius at the university and three years later was promoted to be a judge of the Kammergericht in Berlin, the highest court for the whole of Prussia, where he sat in the criminal division.

Second world war

When Hitler came into power, Mannheim, at the age of forty-four, had already achieved a position of both judicial and academic eminence. But within a short while he was to be deprived of his academic post and, faced with the alternative of being transferred in his judicial capacity to the Rhineland and realizing that there could be no future for him as a judge under the Nazi regime, he retired from the bench. (In 1951 the West German Government conferred on him the rank of retired president of a division of the court of appeal - Senatsprasident.)

London career

In January 1934 he emigrated to London. In one sense, the creative period of Mannheim's career begins at this point. This is not to belittle the considerable contribution, including several books and many articles, which he had already made to the study of crime and the criminal law, but at this juncture Mannheim's particular contribution to criminology - understanding of the relationships of sociology to criminal science and penology in its legal setting - was crystallized.

Birth of criminology

In England, at the time of Mannheim's arrival, criminology was not a recognized subject in the universities and in certain respects, notwithstanding the pioneer work of Charles Goring, Sir Cyril Burt, and Sir Norwood East, the scientific study of crime and the criminal was in its infancy.

It little in the way of criminological research was to be found in England, nevertheless there had been firmly established a long tradition of social inquiry, based largely on empirical methods which tended to eschew abstract thinking; thus the intermingling of the meticulousness and objectivity of German scholarship, with it's careful weighing of facts, backed up by a wide personal experience of the criminal law in its practical application and a knowledge of psychiatric procedures, enabled Mannheim to fashion a blend of the European and English approaches to his subject.

In many ways, however, Mannheim's empiricism was inborn and he was disinclined to habits of thinking and exposition in purely abstract legalist and dogmatic terms; indeed, he had always relate his teaching to his practical work in the courts. Accordingly, the ideas of the English social reformers, the work of the probation service, and expedients in the after-care of prisoners, had a natural appeal to him and soon after settling in London he had made contact with men such as Dr J. J. Mallon, Sir Basil Henriques, and Mr H. E, Norman, the then Secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, and also with the Institute for the Scientific Study and Treatment of Delinquency in London, founded shortly before his arrival.

Gradually, however, after his practical work had been forcibly brought to a premature end, Mannheim was to turn more and more to the theoretical and philosophical interests of his younger years, interests which came to dominate his later teaching and writing. Meanwhile Mannheim spent about a year in improving his knowledge of English, of which he was to acquire a considerable and precise command, and in studying the penal system and social conditions in England. It was doubtless during this period that he deepened his acquaintance with the latest sociological studies of crime, in particular the early work of the Chicago school and the studies of the Gluecks, whose influence had scarcely penetrated to Germany.

Mannheim joins LSE

In the summer of 1935 Mannheim was appointed an honorary part-time lecturer in criminology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, a post he was to fill for several years.

In 1936 came the award of the Leon Fellowship, tenable at the University of London, for a study of certain statistical and other aspects of crime in England, the result being published in 1940 under the title of Social Aspects of Crime in England Between the Wars. In the winter of 1938-39 he delivered, before a large audience, a series of four public lectures at the London School of Economics, published in 1939 under the title The Dilemma of Penal Reform, and in the winter of 1939-40 another series of public lectures at the London School of Economics in London and Cambridge, published later in 1941 as War and Crime.

In April 1940 Mannheim became a naturalized British subject. When the London School of Economics was evacuated to Cambridge he continued his regular teaching there; with the growing number of students interested in the subject, in five years his courses had expanded from their modest beginnings to separate courses of lectures in criminology and penology, various classes and seminars, and also a special course for students in mental health. In 1944 he was appointed to a full-time lectureship, and in the same year published the study, Young Offenders, undertaken on behalf of the Home Office and in association with Sir Alexander Carr Saunders, the then Director of the School, and Dr E. C. Rhodes as joint authors.

Criminal Justine and Social Reconstruction

Two years later followed one of Mannheim's most influential and widely-read books - Criminal Justice and Social Reconstruction. In 1946 Mannheim was made a reader in criminology in the University of London - the first readership in the subject established in the United Kingdom - and this position he was to retain until his retirement in 1955. His link with the London School of Economics, however was preserved through two years of part-time teaching and subsequently through his honorary directorate of the Criminology Research Unit.

After the war the number of postgraduate students, from Britain, the European countries, and form overseas, began to greatly increase. It is noteworthy that out of a selected list of some thirty senior students supervised by Mannheim in the years between the end of the war and his retirement from the School and with whom he had remained in contact, nearly half that number now hold university appointments, six are directly connected with law and its practice, another half-dozen hold senior positions in the administration of social or penal services, while the remainder are engaged actively in social work.

At least eleven of these students have published major contributions to the study of criminology or penology. At the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies of London University a special course in criminology for LL.M. students was established as his request soon after the war and criminology has since been one of the optional subjects for this higher degree in law. In addition, Mannheim's long association with the training of probation officers, at the London School of Economics, at the training centre at Rainer House, and at the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency, should not be overlooked.

Criminal reform

Mannheim's activities on behalf of various organizations interested in criminal reform are almost too numerous for detailed mention but reference should at least be made to his association of more than twenty-five years standing with the Howard League for Penal Reform, on whose Executive Committee he has sat since 1940 and which has now made him a Vice-President; and with the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency, of which he is one of the Directors as well as being a member of its Council and Executive. Mannheim was also instrumental, with others, in founding the Scientific Group for the Discussion of Delinquency Problems (now the British Society of Criminology) of which he was Chairman from 1956 to 1958 and is now a Vice-President.

British Journal of Criminology

Another landmark in the study of crime in England was the foundation, in 1950, by Mannheim jointly with Dr Edward Glover and Dr Emanuel Miller, of the British Journal of Delinquency (since 1960 called the British Journal of Criminology), followed in 1960 by the foundation of the Library of Criminology (now International Library of Criminology.)

In the international field, Mannheim was visiting professor at the Universities of Oregon and Pennsylvania in 1953 and made lecture tours after the war to Holland, Norway, Western Germany, the United States of America, and Canada. From 1950 to 1955 he was a member of the Council of the International Society of Criminology and for some years was President of the Scientific Commission of that body. For several years Mannheim has also been a member of the Colonial Secretary's Advisory Committee on the Treatment of Offenders. Repeatedly he has been invited to undertake research for the Home Office.

Criminal policy

Apart from the wartime study of juvenile delinquency mentioned before, he produced in 1955, jointly with L. T. Wilkins, the first large-scale prediction study carried out in this country, and later, in his capacity as Director of Criminological Research of the London School of Economics, he was responsible for directing and supervising two investigations on the sentencing policy of the magistrates' court and the psychology of the short-term prisoner respectively, carried out on behalf of the Home Office and the Nuffield Foundation and published in the Library of Criminology.


No account of Mannheim's life and work would be complete without some tribute to his relationships with colleagues and students. To one not without experience of academic teaching in other places of learning, the courtesy, kindliness, and sympathetic understanding displayed by Mannheim could not but make an immediate appeal. In particular, the postgraduate student was brought into close touch with an approach to criminological problems characterised not least by the wisdom and merit of unassuming scholarship; not did the relationship end at that point, and there are many able to testify to the personal friendship experienced in succeeding years when requests for advice always evoked from Mannheim a ready response in terms of guidance and encouragement.

It is a commonplace that the impact of a teacher and scholar must be through both the inspiration of his pupils and the enlightenment of a wider public by means of his writings. The essays in this volume may serve as a memorial to the former, and this brief note may be excused of the attempt to do justice to the influence of Mannheim's achievement in the latter respect; nor has it sought to evaluate critically his considerable output of books, essays, pamphlets, and articles. If after the end of his legal career in Germany formal recognition - the award of the Coronation medal in 1953, the honorary doctorate of law of the University of Utrecht in 1957, and the OBE in 1959 - has come late to Hermann Mannheim, the recognition is the surer for more than half a century devoted to the study of criminal behaviour.

An extract from Criminology in Transition: essays in honour of Hermann Mannheim. (1965) Grygier, T, Jones, H, and Spencer, JC (Eds), International Library of Criminology. Tavistock Publications, London.