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The Death Penalty in a Civil Society

The purpose of this research is to examine issues surrounding whether the death penalty is an appropriate feature of civil society. The plan of the research will be to set forth a brief historical survey of capital punishment and then to discuss bases on which the death penalty can be considered a proper attribute of society in the modern period.

The history of capital punishment is as old as attempts to organize the human social impulse around ideas of security and comity, and mutual obligation and protection. Equally, however, that history demonstrates a pattern of conflating those ideas with ideas of retribution, punishment, and justice and manipulating them for the benefit of the most powerful persons and groups in a given society. Until the European Enlightenment, the Western discourse of capital punishment did not include debate about the social or moral benefits of capital punishment. In his study of crime and punishment, Beccaria says that the law must be "capable of being learned by all" in society and that there is a social evil in laws that are so obscure as to require interpretation, forcing everybody "to rely on a handful of men because it is unable to judge for itself how its liberty or its members may fare--in a language that transforms a sacred and public book into something very like the private possession of a family" (Beccaria 17).

Beccaria does not say that there should be no punishment of crime. He does say that punishment should be commensurate with the crime. What this comes down to is the foundation for advocacy against capital punishment on one hand and on the other prevention of crime based on the fact that "the magistracy as a whole," including the divine-right monarch, must "observ[e] rather than corrupt[] the laws" (Beccaria 98). Some of this sentiment became policy in Europe. Clark cites the reformist/romantic reaction to dehumanization created by the industrial revolution, including humanitarianism ...

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The Death Penalty in a Civil Society. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 01:57, December 02, 2020, from