Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Quote of the Day--updated

Russel Roberts, of Cafe Hayek, on European outrage over Gov. Schwarzenegger's decision to continue with the execution of murderer Stanely Tookie Williams:
But the really strange thing about this article is the invoking of the Holocaust as the reason for European outrage. Capital punishment is too close to state-organized murder? Executing a murderer is too close to trying to exterminate the Jews? Sorry, but I don't quite see the parallel. If Europeans were really affected by state organized murder, they'd let their citizens carry lots of guns and they'd make their governments less powerful. [emphasis added]

Talk about learning all the wrong lessons. Instead of the proper realization that state power is an inherent evil (in that it contains within it the latent capicity for abuse by the few over the many, by the maniacal over the masses) they instead learn a lesson of extreme moral equivalence--that two radically different actions (in this case the extermination of the Jews vs. the extermination of a duly convicted murderer) are morally equal due to superficial similarities.

In addition, such a stance of opposition to capital punishment predicated on the somber lessons of the Holocaust does not reinforce the moral enormity of the Holocaust--in fact, it trivializes it. The argument can just be run backward. For if the execution of Tookie Williams is equivalent to the Holocaust in some respect, then the Holocaust is similar to the execution of Tookie Williams in that same respect.

update: It should be noted that this post does not constitute an argument either way for whether capital punishment is good and just--it is just to point out that one form of argumentation is misguided and, indeed, dangerous. On the whole, I remain agnostic on the issue. From what I've read, the Catholic Church is not opposed to the death penalty itself, as it is to abortion, but is rather opposed to the unfair manner in which it sometimes operates.

The one thing that irks me about the debate, though, is the manner in which leftists assume--as they often do--that their position is obviously morally right, and that only a moral cretin could believe the opposite. But this is not the case. Immanuel Kant, a model of Enlightenment reason and probably THE most influential liberal philosopher of all time, felt that the death penalty was owed, as a matter of obligation, to those that killed other people. He felt you denied them their autonomy if you didn't treat them like rational agents by levying out punishment equal to the crime--death for death. He would argue that it is unjust to deny a person the death penalty if they've, so to say, earned it.

So, as in most other issues, there is room for disagreement on both sides without self-righteous moral posturing.

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