A Clockwork Orange: Burgess and Behavioral Interventions

Bobby Newman


One of the more popular, and negative, images of behavioral interventions held by the lay public is that presented in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. It is suggested that because this image is so popular, the book and its author must be understood by behavior analysts if they are to adequately respond to claims made in the book and subsequent movie. The book was originally published in the United States with only 20 chapters, the movie also ending with the 20th chapter. The 21st chapter, first published in the U.S. in 1986, changes the focus of the book from the morality of behavioral interventions per se to the more general issue of the existence of free will and the State’ s destruction of same. Several of Burgess’ works are examined. It is suggested that Burgess wrote his books from the standpoint of a Catholic with a belief in original sin and deity-granted free will. It is concluded that although Burgess raises an important concern, A Clockwork Orange fails to offer any real answers to the questions it poses. With regard to behavioral interventions, it is suggested that the conditioning Burgess describes would rapidly extinguish, that his understanding of the philosophical and political ramifications of behaviorism is lacking, and that he fails to acknowledge any good that could come from such interventions.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/bsi.v1i2.168

Published by the University of Illinois at Chicago Library

And Behaviorists for Social Responsibility