Death and Deterrence: Efficacy Is Not All

Gallows and execution platform in medieval fortress

The Guardian newspaper, Britain’s major organ of liberal opinion, recently ran this headline: “The Arkansas mass executions on Easter Monday must be stopped.

The emotive words “mass execution” conjure up in my mind considerably more than the eight executions the state of Arkansas planned to perform over the course of 11 days, two of which, as far as I am aware, had been carried out at the time the headline appeared. Che Guevara would have laughed at the idea that a mere eight people put to death, let alone two, constituted a mass execution. He would have taken the use of the word as further proof of the decadence of late capitalist society and its ripeness for overthrow: and so, no doubt, would Slavoj Zizek, mass murder’s star philosopher and proselytizer.

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Cruel and Unusual

jail prison cell and bars

The world is full of little ironies. Last week, for example, I was in the Netherlands, discussing round the breakfast table the latest developments in euthanasia in Holland and Belgium (now the world leader in the field), and today I read in my newspaper the difficulties that the state of Ohio has in executing one Romell Broom.

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The Price of Civilization

children and dead

Is it possible to have civilization without killing?

J.R.R. Tolkien and George Martin approach this question in very distinct ways but they seem to agree the answer is “no.” Both believe that civilization needs the office of the knight: Because some seek power maliciously, others must unite ferocity and gallantry. “Fantasy” may be their genre, but there is a certain realism that runs through the civilizational stories these two authors have produced.

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Moral Preening and Capital Punishment

A feeling of moral superiority is often compensation for the lack of any other kind of superiority, and has the advantage that it can never be decisively disproved. With respect to capital punishment, Europeans feel morally superior to Americans because they have abolished it as a relic of judicial barbarism. So complete has been the revolution in moral sensibility that they speak as if the French foreswore the guillotine before the Roman invasion rather than in 1981, against the majority opinion of the public.

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