Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ilion's defense of the death penalty

Ilion says that I haven't really addressed his argument for capital punishment. It looks like it goes like this.

1. Any civilized society stands in need of protection.
2. The protection of society requires the preparedness to use deadly force. An example would be if, actually happened in 1966, someone went up into the bell tower at the University of Texas and started shooting people. He had to be shot down out of the tower to protect the student and staff of the university.
3. Therefore, a systematic rejection of deadly force in the protection of society undermines the very idea of protecting society.

I think this is a good answer to a simon-pure pacifism. However, someone could argue as follows.

1. The use of deadly force should be used only as a last resort.
2. In the case of captured criminals, deadly force is never a last resort. It is always possible to lock these people up and throw away the key.
3. Therefore, the need to protect society may require the preparedness to kill in some cases, but does not require the preparedness to execute.

It could further be argued that if we have the capacity to imprison for life, this is preferable, because of the possibility that always exists that exculpatory evidence may subsequently emerge.

14 comments:

Gregory said...

Protecting life in less than ideal circumstances (i.e. the necessity of using deadly force), in my mind, is not analogous to the implementation of state sponsored death sentences. And the reason is simple: the due process, prosecution and sentencing of capital offenses--after the fact--is not a relevantly similar scenario as war or deadly force encounters.

In the case of war or unusual, violent outbursts of citizens (i.e. 1966 U. of Texas sniper incident), there is no time for diplomacy or prevention....one is simply caught up in these events, and must act quickly...and violently. There isn't any alternative. However, in the case of criminals who have already committed capital crimes...well, prevention is no longer an option. So, the best thing available, in that case, is to protect society by permanently imprisoning a capital offense criminal. Society isn't any more protected by killing a criminal than they are in locking him/her up. Unless, of course, the criminal escapes. But, in those kinds of situations, it's a call for greater security measures; not more bloodshed.

The use of force during times of war, or in unusual situations that seem to require deadly force, could be said to be the "lesser of two evils" sorts of situations....not that these solutions are ultimately "good" or "right"....but necessary options in less than ideal circumstances. I would say the same thing applies to a situation where an abortion is performed to save the life of the mother.

Gregory said...

I didn't write/edit that second paragraph as well as I would have liked. I was merely drawing a contrast between events that require immediate, violent action as opposed to the drawn out legal process that, ultimately, results in the protection of society...and the end result is the same for society, whether a violent criminal receives life imprisonment or death row.

Eric said...

What if the rejection of deadly force isn't systematic, but pragmatic? I could support the death penalty in principle, but reject it in practice, given both the defeasible nature of the judgments reached by our legal system, and the indefeasible nature of capital punishment.

It seems to me that capital punishment cannot be justified in an adversarial system that is premised on the notion that the truth will come out in the clash of ideas. There are sundry problems with this, but I'll restrict myself to mentioning the two most obvious ones. First, there is often a great disparity with respect to the relative skill and dedication of competing lawyers, so we cannot necessarily suppose that the truth will come out in the end, since it can easily be distorted by clever procedural, strategical and rhetorical devices; and second, given the extremely complicated nature of both the law itself and the increasingly important reliance of lawyers on 'expert testimony,' it strikes me as -- well, problematic to place life and death decisions in the hands of laypersons who are simply not qualified to sift through the morass of highly technical information that's thrown at them. If we wouldn't trust laymen to peer review articles in academic journals, why should we trust them to come to the 'right' decision in trials in which the legal and scientific issues are sometimes just as arcane as those discussed in academic journals, but where the resolution of which will determine if someone lives or dies?

The only solution, it seems to me, is to do away with capital punishment.

Ilíon said...

VR: "Ilion's defense of the death penalty"

It's not intended as a *defense* of the death penalty, as though I like the idea of anyone killing other people, but rather as an exposure of the vacuousness (and, in some cases, hypocrisy) of the anti-capital punishment crowd, and of the implicit society-destroying nature of all anti-capital punishment arguments.

To make a very rough analogy that you, being a "liberal," may appreciate: when one grasps the point and stops pretending that reality is other than it actually is, then one's stance with respect to capital punishment will be similar to that of the anti-anti-communists.


VR: "Ilion says that I haven't really addressed his argument for capital punishment."

To be blunt, Ilíon says that of his anti-anti-CP argument, Ben Witherington didn't really address it, whereas you turned it on its head, thusly:
VR: "Are you telling me that the forcible removal of someone's liberty is no threat to them, than only if they are threatened by execution does the law have any power?

Ilion, compared with the Old Testament, modern American society, even where the death penalty is in place, has protracted the range of offenses for which the death penalty is deemed appropriate. Do you agree with this protraction? Should we be stoning adulterers and homosexual offenders, on your view? How about those who disrespect their parents? Why stop with murder?
=
Furthermore, do you pass the Jesus Test for executioners? Do you know anyone down at your local state prison who does?
"

The above is more than a disinclination to address the argument -- it's exactly akin to how the typical 'atheist' "addresses," say, the AfR.

[continued]

Ilíon said...

[continued]

VR: "1. Any civilized society stands in need of protection.
2. The protection of society requires the preparedness to use deadly force. ...
3. Therefore, a systematic rejection of deadly force in the protection of society undermines the very idea of protecting society.

I think this is a good answer to a simon-pure pacifism.
"

This is true enough -- but it's not the anti-anti-capital punishment argument I presented.

My argument turns on the realization that *all* normative law, all law which commands either "Do this! or "Do not do that! carries an implicit (or even explicit) death penalty. Do you even notice the distinction I made between "capital punishment" and "death penalty?"

Moreover, when the death penalty implicit in any normative law is actually imposed, it's always done extra-judicially, on the fly, and generally on the decision -- and passion and emotion -- of one individual (or of very few in number); whereas, capital punishment is applied after careful and dispassionate deliberation by several persons not involved in the case, and after the convict has had multiple appeals to overturn the sentence.

The *point* of my argument -- even aside from the generally emotive, and frequently anti-rational and even contrary-to-justice, nature of the anti-capital punishment arguments themselves -- is that *if* we accept the logic of the anti-capital punishment arguments, *then* we have accepted a commitment to having no laws at all. But, *since* we can't live with what logically follows from the anti-capital punishment arguments, *then* we should reject the anti-capital punishment arguments themselves.

As I said the other day: "A society (or regime) which *will not* execute when execution is morally appropriate is a society (or regime) which has already written its suicide note.
=
... the attempt to paint capital punishment as unjust is misguided (and is itself rank injustice) -- and [] such opposition to capital punishment must always delegitimize the regime and destroy the society.
"


Oddly enough, those societies most opposed to capital punishment -- or, at any rate, those of which the elites and rulers are opposed and claim to have outlawed it -- are also the societies which are falling apart for lack of and perversion of justice. Even as the number and minutia of laws increase continuously.

[continued]

Ilíon said...

[continued]

VR: "I think this is a good answer to a simon-pure pacifism. However, someone could argue as follows.

1. The use of deadly force should be used only as a last resort.
"

Does this conflict with anything I've said?

At the same time, it appears to be the case that the willingness to use deadly force as an early resort goes hand-in-hand with the blanket refusal to apply capital punishment when it is morally warranted (to say nothing of when it's morally required).


VR: "2. In the case of captured criminals, deadly force is never a last resort. It is always possible to lock these people up and throw away the key."

You're missing -- or avoiding -- the point.

It is *immoral* to impose any punishment for purposes of "deterrence" -- else, why not punish the innocent as an even more effective "deterrent?" (And, as we are seeing, what a very "liberal" idea that is!)

The just and moral imposition of capital punishment is not a matter of "resorts" or "Well, nothing else has done the job, so let's try this," but rather is a matter of justice and proper respect for the human person ... and of the preservation of the society.

For a society (or elite) which *refuses* to impose capital punishment for even the most heinous crimes is a society (or elite) which graphically informs its subjects that "We do not value you as highly as we will the criminal who will injure or murder you; for we do not consider *you* to be a real member of this society." This attitude must always result in death of the society or culture.


Furthermore, aside from certain high-profile assassins of certain politicians (and, sporadically, of lesser agents of the State), when was the last time that "liberal" jurisprudence "threw away the key?" There is not such sentence as "throwing away the key," and a "life sentence" doesn't actually mean imprisonment for life.

Shoot! for "liberals," even cannibalism doesn't necessarily rate that anymore.


VR: "3. Therefore, the need to protect society may require the preparedness to kill in some cases, but does not require the preparedness to execute."

It certainly does.

"We do not value you as highly as we will the criminal who will injure or murder you; for we do not consider *you* to be a real member of this society" is how the self-important elites murder the societies they rule.

A government may obtain and hold "legitimacy" in one of two ways:
1) by the contunuous and ruthless imposition of force; or,
2) by seeing to it that justice is done its subjects.

A government which refuses to avenge its subjects is a government which refuses to see justice done. A society ruled by such a government is one in which the subjects will (increasingly, as old societal habits decay) seek their own vengence. A society transformed by such a government is one of endless vendetta.


VR: "It could further be argued that if we have the capacity to imprison for life, this is preferable, because of the possibility that always exists that exculpatory evidence may subsequently emerge."

You're missing -- or avoiding -- the point.

The *point* of my argument -- even aside from the generally emotive, and frequently anti-rational and even contrary-to-justice, nature of the anti-capital punishment arguments themselves -- is that *if* we accept the logic of the anti-capital punishment arguments, *then* we have accepted a commitment to having no laws at all. But, *since* we can't live with what logically follows from the anti-capital punishment arguments, *then* we should reject the anti-capital punishment arguments themselves.

Victor Reppert said...

Charles Manson has the right to appeal, and does so every so often, but he will never get out of prison.

There is a big difference between the death penalty and life imprisonment, in that we can release an exonerated person from prison, but not from the grave. The argument from possible exoneration therefore does not strike other criminal penalties in the same way.

Not all victims' families prefer death for the murderers of their family members.

The argument here seems to be one of respect for persons, but I don't see the greater respect for society or persons in capital punishment as opposed to life imprisonment.

The fact that "throwing away the key" is an idea "liberals" might not like only shows that you can go too far in both directions.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Eric put it very well. I tend to hold such a position, in favor of capital punishment in principle, but not in practice because of the way our legal system is structured.

Much better for the state to err by sending 1000 people that deserve death to life in prision, than to err on the side of killing one person who deserves freedom.

Mark Frank said...

Oddly enough, those societies most opposed to capital punishment -- or, at any rate, those of which the elites and rulers are opposed and claim to have outlawed it -- are also the societies which are falling apart for lack of and perversion of justice.

Uhm - list of countries that still actively use the death penalty:

Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Chad, China, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States Of America, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe

Countries that have abolished the death penalty:

Albania, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote D'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome And Principe, Senegal, Serbia (including Kosovo), Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela

Well I suppose you could argue that Saudi Arabia, China and North Korea are not falling apart while Canada, Australia and the EU are. I think I would prefer to be falling apart.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Mark Frank: that is awesome.

Ilíon said...

Awesome in that it is exactly what one expect of a fool and to be impressive to fools.

Blue Devil Knight said...

The Ilion Dialectic
Ilion: X.
Interlocutor: here's some evidence and reasons that cast doubt on X.
Ilion: You are a fool at worst, intellectually dishonest at best. Why would anyone even bother responding to such reasons and evidence?

At least you are reliable.

Ilíon said...

Ah, but BDK, you're dishonest-to-the-core: you *know* your little dislectic does not reflect reality, but you will continue to assert it nonetheless. Right up to the time the noose is being slipped around your neck.

Ilíon said...

This is that famous "liberal" so-called justice and compassion which proposes to "throw away the key" for those guilty of heinous crimes: Terminally ill Lockerbie bomber lands in Libya.

As Adam Smith so rightly wrote 250 years ago: "mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent."