Apr 222009

Opposition to the death penalty is discriminatory, when there are differential benefits from its application, between different groups in society. The obvious example is the possible introduction of the death penalty for discrimination. Discrimination by ethnic origin is well-evidenced on the labour and housing market in western societies, for instance. Existing anti-discrimination laws have made no impact: enforcement is minimal and limited to extreme cases. Introduction of the death penalty would, through its strong deterrent effect, reduce discrimination – and therefore benefit minorities.

If there is a case of discrimination, and if the death penalty can be applied, then there is a conflict of interest between the victim and opponents of the death penalty, including Amnesty. Some victims may also reject the death penalty, and some may even prefer to suffer discrimination, rather than see someone executed as a result of their complaint. But suppose the victim is a Somali woman refugee in a western European state, discriminated by a racist employer. What if she does approve the death penalty? What if she did complain, and what if she wants the perpetrator to be executed, in order to deter similar discrimination in future?

Can a successful white middle-class lawyer (a typical supporter of Amnesty International) legitimately deny the woman the implementation of her preferences? Isn’t that simply another discrimination – “white middle-class lawyers count for more than Somali women”? Amnesty’s answer would presumably be, that they are not appealing to individual preference, but to universal rights. However, that’s simply another way of saying “Our views are superior”. The rights can’t be shown to exist, they are simply claimed to be universal and binding. The value preference of the privileged group (non-immigrant ethnic majority) is imposed on the weaker minority, using this appeal to universality.*

Now, as any fule kno, there is a very good argument for limiting capital sentences, if you are going to have them at all, only to the most destructive and physically damaging of crimes. There are very good reasons, as chappie claims elsewhere in the post, for believing the death penalty to be a deterrent to crime, but a simple thought experiment flags up his error:

You are a bigot who lives in a country where discriminators, rapists, murderers, etc., can be executed. One day, a dark-skinned lady applies for a job you have advertised. So incensed are you at her presumption that, momentarily unable to control yourself, you call her a filthy name and assure her that you would die before you gave a job to a pathetic dark-skinned specimen like her. As she stares at you, affronted, you realise that you have now opened yourself up to prosecution for discrimination with a possibility of capital sentence. In your panic, an idea blossoms: you can silence her! After all, the state can only kill you once; and if she’s not around to inform on you, maybe you’ll never get caught at all. What have you got to lose? So you throttle her and bury the remains in a landfill. Problem solved.

The moral of the story is: the death penalty, if applied to minor crimes, will deter neither those nor the more serious ones. It is only an effective deterrent when applied to the most serious of crimes, and then only because they can’t be covered up using worse ones.

I leave you with the words of a far greater mind than mine:

One day when I was dining with him there happened to be at the table one of the English lawyers, who took occasion to run out in a high commendation of the severe execution of justice upon thieves, who, as he said, were then hanged so fast, that there were sometimes twenty on one gibbet; and upon that he said he could not wonder enough how it came to pass, that since so few escaped, there were yet so many thieves left who were still robbing in all places. Upon this, I who took the boldness to speak freely before the Cardinal, said, there was no reason to wonder at the matter, since this way of punishing thieves was neither just in itself nor good for the public; for as the severity was too great, so the remedy was not effectual…

St Thomas More, Utopia.

*[For further context, this is the same chappie who petitioned the Dutch government to censor the websites of LPUK and the Adam Smith Institute on the grounds that both groups seek to subject others, against their will, to freedom – as well as to exclude Drs. Madsen Pirie and Eamonn Butler from the country (ha! not possible under EU law) because ‘they obstruct the work of the financial regulatory authorities.’ In the case of lpuk.org, at least, he was unsuccessful.]

  One Response to “Capital madness”

  1. […] To get a flavour of the kind of disgusting little people that we libertarians are up against, why not have a look at this post from a… er… gentleman who tried to have the UK Libertarian Party website banned in the Netherlands (a tip of the horns to Bella). […]

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