Friday, March 4, 2011

A Necessary Evil

     Over at The Atheist Conservative, the estimable staff have begun a dialogue about capital punishment. The following is slightly expanded from your author’s comments:

     Nobody is really happy about capital punishment, but for crying out loud, it’s a necessary evil. One fault of the Left is to ignore human nature. The truth of human nature is that some small numbers of people will be deterred from committing murder only by the certainty of execution. Another group of people will only be deterred from lynching murderers by...the certainty of execution. Social order demands the state deter both groups with a robust program of capital punishment. It’s too bad that’s how people are, but that’s how they are.

     One good point about not being Christian is that we unbelievers are free to reject Christ’s command to “turn the other cheek.” Whatever we do to dilute the strength of the twin message of deterrence and just vengeance endangers public order (which is another way of saying, endangers the lives of the innocent). By contrast, whatever we do to strengthen the twin message is helpful. For this reason, we should reconsider public executions of convicted murderers.

     The sole caution about capital punishment should be the fear of a mistaken conviction. There is probably nothing more horrible in individual cases than the state killing an innocent man. That danger is why we should continue to grant heightened procedural safeguards in capital cases. Still, on balance, capital punishment remains essential to a society of human beings, as opposed to a society of the idealized, humanlike creatures of Leftist fantasy.


  1. Capital punishment is equivalent to splitting the soul from the body. Just my question: 1) Whether it is a prerogative of human being? 2) whether the product of capital punishment is a guarantee that bloody murder will not happen again?

    However, the debate on this topic is far from over, but at least I have give my vote : disagree.

  2. Tikno, glad to hear from you again. I trust that means all is well in your part of the world, after the volcano and tsunami last fall.

    I have to say, your choice of doing without capital punishment is the only way to guarantee the state never executes someone who is innocent. You are also right that whether capital punishment actually deters crime is a question worth answering, and in principle, it could be answered as an empirical question.

    In the end, though, we take these positions as matters of opinion. For me, satisfying the need of the victim's family for vengeance is an important part of capital punishment (though not many people these days will agree). That's not something we can measure, unlike recidivism rates. So, it remains a question of value.

    As always, I respect your opinion and I'm glad you shared it with us!

  3. CONSVLTVS, I am glad I bothered to find your site after reading your comments on Heathen Republican’s blog. Your blog is seemingly excellent in all regards, sir.

    As to the point of your posting here, I would have found myself to have echoed your sentiments here nearly verbatim some years ago. As the years have turned, I find myself questioning certain things now though. Whether that is a case of attaining wisdom or senility is yet to be fully determined. While I absolutely agree that if America were to engage in the routine use of execution, it would prove to be a far greater deterrent and certainly improve the recidivism rate, I am no longer certain that such is a just punishment for the vilest among us.

    Not that it would ever happen in today’s society, but I think it would be far better to place those guilty of murder and other capital crimes into a life-long solitary confinement. The prisons today are seemingly not a significant deterrent as they should be. Perhaps Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona is onto something there. Create large prisons with minimal creature comforts (even tent city prisons) and isolate those that have perpetrated the most heinous crimes for the remainder of their natural lives. Such would prove to be a far worse punishment than death, in my humble opinion.

    I think this too would serve the purpose of becoming a huge criminal deterrent and would also exclude the possibility of wrongly executing a potentially innocent person should new evidence be brought to light.

    Again, this is nothing more than a theoretical exercise, as the implementation of such a plan as I described is as likely as the returning to the public executions of which you wrote, sir.

  4. You are right. My friend (a policeman in Indonesia) once told me that it's better to let 10 people who considered guilty but not yet proven than to punish one innocent person. Moreover, death can not be canceled even after new evidence revealed. Life-long confinement (maybe until being a senile old man) can be the answer for this circumstance (satisfying the need of the victim's family for vengeance).

    As you have said, it remains a question of value, and the value maybe different on different society of this world.

  5. T. Paine: Glad you dropped by, and I hope you will continue helping me sharpen my thinking about all these issues. As will become apparent, the view here is decidedly conservative, but from a skeptical or secular vantage point. We get grief from right-wing theists (who want us out of their not-so-big tent), from libertarians (who think we're clueless squares), and from Leftists (who can't figure out why people lacking religion would still embrace conservative ideas). But we do exist, as you can see if you try some of the other blogs linked at the Skeptical Conservatives tab. Someone has to whistle in the wind.

    On the death penalty, I do not relish standing where I do, but I do so out of what seems to me to be realism. Many years ago, before law school, I held views close to yours. Now, I feel sadly disillusioned (about a great many things, for that matter). In any event, you two have reminded me that not all those who oppose the death penalty are Leftist numbskulls.

    My favorite death penalty supporter? Pat Buchanan. A nominal Catholic, he once provided several minutes of very entertaining television as he tried to reconcile his belief in Papal infallibility and his support of lethal injection.

  6. Tikno: I have a feeling the different values you and I hold on this issue are more from our own thinking than from the societies in which we live. Let me assure you, although I remain in favor of the death penalty, it is a position I have come to with reluctance. I hope that makes some difference.

  7. CONSVLTVS, to some extent, since baby, our view is also influenced by parental education, religious teaching, culture, and the views of the society in which we grew up.

    But I admit this is a very complicated issue. This post reminds me with my post about the death penalty for Bali bombers, and I saw most of the comments are also reluctant to death penalty including two bloggers from Australia whose fellow was the majority of the victim.

    I respect your opinion and will abstain if the number of vote for supporting death penalty win.

    BTW, our difference opinion makes me feel closer to you ;)

  8. CONSVLTVS, be warned my friend, I am indeed one of those conservative theists, but I would like to think that despite such a handicap that I can still entertain in logical discussions of ideas and in debating differences that might present themselves with intelligent folks. ;)

    As I said, I absolutely can understand and appreciate your perspective on this issue as I once held similar thoughts on the topic.

    Even if I did not share any commonality with your thoughts on the topic, I suspect I would still have respect in our differences as you seem to lay out your reasoning quite well for the positions you take.

    I too look forward to your intriguing writing helping me to sharpen my increasingly feeble mind! :)

  9. Tikno: Good friends can disagree, as you have proven. I wish more people shared their opinions with courtesy like yours!

  10. T. Paine: I aim to be a skeptic who is sympathetic to religion. For some of us who did not receive the gift of faith, religion is a solace we wish we could take. There certainly are angry atheists on the web--but I'm not one of them.

  11. I appreciate the background information, CONSVLTVS. By the way, my intent was not to be confrontational but simply to provide you with information so that you might understand the context with which I make my statements too, sir. If it came across otherwise, my apologies!

  12. T. Paine--oh, no apology necessary, and no offense taken! (We're becoming a little "Chip-and-Dale-after-you-sir-no-after-you" aren't we?) ;-)