Fritzl – insane or just evil? Josef Fritzl doesn’t look insane to me

So, Josef Fritzl’s lawyer is trying for an insanity plea, on the grounds that a man must be insane to wish to rape his daughter.

I must admit, I don’t think that argument holds much water for me. I don’t think you need to be insane, you just need to be arrogant, without conscience or remorse – in a word, a psychopath.

In times past, he would probably have been called evil. As an atheist, I don’t much like using the word evil because of its religious connotations. After all, much behaviour that was considered evil in the past is now known to be due to mental instability, epilepsy, brain injury and the like. But my personal opinion is that Josef Fritzl knew exactly what he was doing, he just didn’t give a damn. That is not insanity.

His case seems radically different from that, for instance, of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Sutcliffe was was a schizophrenic who heard voices that commanded him to kill and although he was tried as a sane man and convicted (on the grounds of pure vengeance, really) some months after his incarceration he was removed to the high security psychiatric hospital at Broadmoor, where he remains to this day.

However, there is no indication that Josef Fritzl suffers from the kind of delusions that plagued Sutcliffe. As far as I know, he does have fits or hear voices. His actions seem to imply cold, calculated cunning and intelligence. This is the hallmark of the psychopath or sociopath, that percentage of the population that lives among us, passing as normal human beings, but functioning on a different level, without conscience or guilt. Many leading criminals, including gangsters, are probably psychopaths, but there are also plenty in civilian life – some 1-4 per cent of the population – superficially charming, ambitious at work and often high achievers. They are also liars, act without remorse, shaft their co-workers, cheat on their wives and make other people’s lives a quiet misery.

Of course, I should acknowledge here that the definition of psychopathy is constantly changing, and that different nations, and even different US states, have different definitions of it. In the UK, it is defined as: "a persistent disorder or disability of mind (whether or not including significant impairment of intelligence) which results in abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct on the part of the person concerned". That sounds like a pretty good definition of Fritzl – aggressive enough to commit his crimes and intelligent enough to carry them out. Psychopathic personality traits include callousness, grandiosity and fearlessness, lack of empathy, superficial charm, and inflated self appraisal. These are also all pretty good definitions of Fritzl.

It will be interesting to see if his benighted lawyer can make this defence stick, but I very much doubt it. Meanwhile, his victims must try, piece by piece, to rebuild their shattered lives.

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