Monday, April 29, 2013

"execution should be frightening and violent"

If man has no soul, and this is the only life we have, and there is no eternity nor any divine justice, then the only arguments for the death penalty are utilitarian ones. In an age of unbelief, I tend to concentrate on the utilitarian ones. But even those lead me to the view that the act of execution, while not being actively cruel or involving mental or physical torture, should be frightening and violent, rather than pseudo-medical. I would be cowardly if I did not say this. I do not enjoy saying it, or thinking it. But those who wish to have anything to do with standing between the populace and evil must sometimes face directly the unpleasant duties that may fall on them. The main reason for the abolition of the death penalty is the squeamishness of politicians, who enjoy office but do not like all the duties which power loads on to their (often rather narrow) shoulders. Far easier to them to leave the matter to some trembling constable with a gun in a dark street, who can be disavowed if it all goes wrong later.
Excerpt from Richard Wilbur's "Castles and Distances":
Some cast their crowns away
And went to live in the distance. There was nothing seemed
Remotely strange to them, their innocence
Shone in the special features of the prey
They would not harm. The dread expense
Of golden times they dreamed 
Was that their kingdoms fell
The deeper into tyranny, the more they stole
Through Ardens out to Eden isles apart,
Seeking a shore, or shelter of some spell
Where harmlessly the hidden heart
Might hold creation whole. 
When to his solitude
The world became as island mists, then Prospero,
Pardoning all, and pardoned, yet aware
The full forgiveness cannot come, renewed
His reign, bidding the boat prepare
From mysteries to go 
Toward masteries less sheer,
And Duke again, did rights and mercies, risking wrong,
Found advocates and enemies, and found
His bounded empire good, where he could hear
Below his walls the baying hound
And the loud hunting-song.

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