The Penalty of Death

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The Penalty of Death

Copyright © P. Meehan September 1998.  All rights reserved.

Curiously, debate in America concerning the penalty of death is commonly framed in terms of its deterrent effect, despite it being obvious that the thesis of criminal sanction as deterrent is a thesis of despotism, not of democratic republicanism.  The miscreant who in early republican times was put in the pillory was put there to be humiliated, and, so, to know the pangs of shame, since it was understood in that age that shame is the beginning of penitence.  And penitence is surely a proper object of the criminal sanctions of a democratic republic, which is after all a political order that is predicated upon virtue in its citizens, not upon the fear that may be struck in them by their noting the fate that befalls rogues.  Penitence is not of course an object of the sanctions now in place in our Republic, but into this it is pointless to go here, since in this age penitence has no more relevance to the question of the death penalty than does deterrence in any age:  a sentence of death is now handed down in our courts only against the felon whose crimes are either unspeakable or utterly indefensible and, so, against a marauder whose expressions of remorse, if any, are simply unbelievable.

Those foes of the death penalty who are drawn to ideas that strike at tradition usually press beyond this matter of deterrence to assert, among other things, that it is wrong to exact a life in reparation for taking one, or that it is inhumane to do so, or that there is racial bias shown by the courts in singling out the cases in which to make such exactions.

But if the word wrong is intended by these antagonists of tradition to have the sense it has in its leading entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, they evidently intend, by branding capital reparation wrong, to brand it “morally unjust, unfair, amiss, or improper,” from which it can only be assumed that they nourish a vision of moral behavior grounded in perversity.

Further, the assertion that capital reparation is inhumane must evidently be taken to mean, mutatis mutandis, that anyone who supports this form of reparation is “destitute of natural kindness or pity,” which plainly is a malediction, not an argument, and so is properly ruled out of order in any forum where reason reigns and the proprieties are observed.

Finally, the claim of racial bias is founded upon figures assembled to show that so called blacks who kill so called whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than are whites who kill blacks.  But nothing is brought into association with these figures to identify the relations between slayers and slain or the events that moved the slayers to kill, and so they are figures that signify nothing at all.  In the perspective shared generally by American judges and jurors the marauder who robs and kills strangers belongs to a wholly different category than does the drunken human cipher who kills an acquaintance in the course of a petty quarrel.  Sorting cases by such categories as these before making racial tallies might well prove instructive, but not at all agreeable, to those who address questions of social policy by citing superficial analyses turned out by amateur statisticians.  In passing, it is noted here that the assertion that a criminal sanction which has actually been shown to be unfairly applied should for that reason be abolished, has no warrant in logic; it is plainly an instance of the fallacy of non sequitur.

The more or less intellectually respectable foes of capital reparation, namely the illuminati, seem eventually to focus upon the argument that the threat to public safety posed by a murderer is better eliminated by a sentence of perpetual imprisonment coupled with a prohibition of parole, than by a sentence of death.  But there is in this argument a failure to consider that nothing connected with the system of criminal justice can be taken as settled in an age plagued by messianic agitators who lobby and litigate tirelessly against tradition and quietude, and by appellate judges who embrace the thesis of the Living Constitution; which is to say, the thesis that the constitutionality of a measure is not to be sought in the Constitution’s text–more accurately, in its text as understood in the late eighteenth century–but in intuiting whether it is a measure that should be constitutional, and, if intuited in fact to be so, in making it so, by judicial fiat.  These judges are quite plainly common law judges redivivous, operating in an age of written constitutions and popularly elected legislatures; they are clearly anti-democratic, presumptuous, disruptive, and in a practical sense unrestrainable, hedged as they are by law and custom against expulsion from office, even when beset by decrepitude or insanity.  And, so, urged on by litigators of some such creed group as the ACLU, a majority of the High Court may one day “discover” a constitutional right of every convict to periodic parole hearings, striking down every statutory prohibition of parole designed to protect the nation from its caged marauders.  The charming belief that multitudes of Satan’s fuglemen are fated to die of old age in prison is not, alas, one that is founded upon a rock.

Further, the objects of capital reparation go beyond this one of public safety, and the question must be asked why perpetual imprisonment better serves those objects than does the penalty of death.  The answer commonly given, that in the case of a miscarriage of justice the effects of the former sanction are reversible, whereas those of the latter are not, is plainly not an answer to the question raised.  That question goes to the purposes of capital reparation; an appreciation that justice can miscarry raises the wholly different question, whether the objects served by capital reparation should be abandoned because proceedings designed to accomplish them may miscarry.  Despite that a defensible argument can be made for an affirmative answer to this question, it is an argument which, for the majority of Americans, and certainly for this one, is not persuasive.

While a murderer breathes, his looming presence is felt by those whose lives he desolated, further desolating this second tier of victims by fostering in them a view of the statutes and rulings that serve to preserve his life as endorsements of his appraisal of his victims as playthings and of himself as autarch.  His execution is a formal public affirmation that his victims were, and remain, sovereign children of God whose lives were precious, and a public demonstration that he is wholly ruled by the will of the people and that his life is adjudged by them to be worth nothing.  Simply put, it is a formal reversal of the judgements he made of his victims and of himself.

But the great object of justice is retribution.  Which is properly discerned as a reparation meant to re-balance the civil order of a venue in disarray following an outrage of a criminal nature.  The illuminati seem generally to confuse this word retribution with the word revenge, a confusion as inexplicable as is their related confusion over the nature of the admonitions found in the twenty-first chapter of Exodus:  “[T]hou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”  This litany is not the bloodthirsty tirade of a vengeful God that it is commonly held by these deracinated folk to be, but is a poetic God’s strophing of what is signified in our unpoetic times by the scales in the hand of the blindfolded figure of Justice, as was widely understood even among schoolchildren in the long ages before the brayings of New Age jackasses began to sound across the land, stupefying the weak of mind and bringing the judicious to weep:

Restraint and balance are the marks of the justice the Hebrews are commanded in the stanza quoted above to practice:  to mete out to a wrongdoer a greater injury than he meted out to the person he wronged is to abandon the objects of justice for the loosing of the dark impulses of the heart; to mete out a lesser injury is to wilfully, cruelly, and publicly demean the person wronged.

And for a wrongdoer to be administered an injury differing completely in kind from the one he inflicted on the person he wronged is to bring justice and its great object into disarray:  If it is argued that a miscreant who wilfully knocks out a neighbor’s tooth should not lose a tooth, but should instead be mulcted, the question is:  Of how much?  How does the value of a shekel relate to the value of a tooth?  And if it is decided by a panel of pettifoggers that two shekels are in some mystifying way equivalent to one incisor, what of the fact that to a merchant two shekels may be pocket change and to a laborer in the vineyards, a bounty, so that for the same offense the former makes a trifling reparation, the latter a burdensome one?  If jailing is substituted for mulcting, nothing changes, save that the merchant no doubt now suffers more than does the laborer:  the merchant loses business opportunities; the laborer has a temporary surcease from toil.

There is on the other hand clarity, simplicity and equity in the rule that a miscreant of this stripe should have one of his teeth knocked out, and, so, suffer the same disfigurement and reduced capacity to gnaw crusts as he visited wilfully upon his neighbor.  The relation between violation and reparation is one of symmetry–of balance.  And it is clear to all that this is so, to the very last and to the very least of us.

And as with a tooth, so with a life.  There are those who argue that the dead are beyond being demeaned.  That they are beyond all knowing.  And they ask why we should require a life in retribution for the slaying of one who is beyond all knowing.  The answer is that we do so because our hearts are shaped to hold ancient imperatives that say we must, and which are as binding upon us as are those that bring us to hasten to the aid of a child in peril.  We are a social species; our sociality lies in the marrow of our bones and in our coursing blood:  those whom we count among our kindred are with us always; they can not be lost to us and they may not be abandoned, neither in life nor in death.  Above all, they may not be demeaned or devalued.  Modernists who have destroyed their capacities to understand these things have not, in doing so, elevated their thinking from the mythic to the critical; they have abandoned coherence for chaos, and have stilled in themselves the pulse of life.

For the rest, we require a life in retribution for the slaying of one who is beyond knowing so that the civil order may once again be in balance.  The rhythms of daily life, thrown into disorder by a murderous assault that ended a life, are restored by the execution of the assailant, and can be restored in no other way.  That the balanced state into which such an execution brings the civil order is one touched by sorrows that cannot be overborne, is an inescapable consequence of a satanic act in violation of the sovereignty of person that is the foundation upon which the invisible commonwealth of God rests.