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It certainly can't return unless democracy does.


"If this is the best that those who favour the death penalty have to offer..."

... and it's not, as you well know.

Third Avenue

Blimpish - good to see you're still around (I'm serious!).

In some ways you're right - there are more intellegent arguments out there than Heffer's lame attempt. But (and I doubt this will surprise you) I've yet to read anything even halfway convincing. The only country that uses the death penalty that is even remotely comparable to the UK is the US (and even there, the comparisons are pretty tenuous). But US experience shows that murder rates fluctuate pretty independently of the death penalty - some of the best crime reduction rates have been seen in those states that do not execute.

And that is just to take the purely utilitarian position, quite apart from the wrongness or rightness of the concept itself.

Phil Hunt


Wonderful piece of sarcastic writing.


Tell me, is "Phil Hunt" a wonderful piece of rhyming slang?


"And that is just to take the purely utilitarian position"

The problem with the utilitarian theory of punishment, although it is normally used to support the position you're taking, can just as easily be used either to support a variety of more draconian punishments - up to and including the death penalty - or could be used to support the case for the complete elimination of any form of punishment in particular cases if it could be shown that no possible soical utility could be derived from it.

This is the problem, I think, if you eliminate any notion of retribution from the concept of punishment. It's not that I support the death penalty; it's just that the utilitarian critique of it doesn't hold water and I think more satisfactory reasons for opposing it should be given by those of us who are opposed to its reintroduction.


Cheers 3A - work's beginning to get slightly saner, so I might even justify being called a blogger again one day soon.

As so often, especially on this site, Shuggy's right - utilitarianism as a justification for punishment might support executing shoplifters, because the deterrent effect there would be pretty ferocious, after all.

At any rate, the cost-benefit arguments for the death penalty go around and around, with lots of studies proving and disproving the deterrent effects. There's plenty of evidence in the UK, of course, that released murderers regularly go on to kill others, which calls to mind Mencken: "Hanging one scoundrel, it appears, does not deter the next. Well, what of it? The first one is at least disposed of."

I do support the death penalty, at least in principle - and I do so because on occasion just retribution warrants it, not because of its potential beneficial consequences; and the argument that a State doesn't have the power over life and death seems to me to be rather missing the point of what a State is.

Phil Hunt



Although it is true I have an uncle called Michael.

As in Mike Hunt. Think about it.


It's a classic Phil... But I'll see you next Tuesday...


I'm actually against the death penalty but have to take issue with this: 'Heffer comes across a Professor of Ethics from the US who supports the death penalty but is too scared to say so. To me, this suggests that the pusillanimous academic might be need of some assertiveness training (he is, after all, an 'adviser retained by the police departments of several major cities' so should be able to hold his own in debate).'

I'm an assertive person, debate all the time on my site and am quite agressive, actually, owing to my background, but I avoid most political discussions in my everyday life because liberals are well, fucking nuts. I've had them fly off the handle completely when faced with opinions that differ from their own. It doesn't have to be anything touchy like the war, or abortion or the death penalty either, it can be taxes or school choice and still they'll be practically spitting with hatred for me because I disagree. I would love to say 'to be fair, I live in NY and being so outnumbered means that I'm often faced with liberals that have really never met a conservative and so they feel the need to vent upon meeting a real, live one' but actually, I got much the same reaction in red state Georgia and swing state Colorado. As for Britain, I lived there for 3 years and never met a single person my age who identifies themselves as a conservative. I've lost plenty of British friends because they can't bear that I have a different opinion. It's about the worst thing one can do, you know? So, I can understand why this prof would keep his mouth shut. It's easier than someone yelling in your face.


That should say 'most liberals'. I wouldn't want to generalize. ;-)

Third Avenue

Karol. I think we're talking about two different thing here. One is where one finds oneself in a social situation with people who have strong views and friendships are strained because of it. But this, I'm sure you'll agree, is common to all people interested in politics. Walk into any Barnes and Noble here in Manhattan and you'll find easily as many books instructing people on how to 'hate liberals' as there are in the other direction. Ann Coulter, anyone? And you yourself, if I may say so, are hardly immune - if your opening line is that liberals (or 'most liberals') are 'fucking nuts', it's perhaps not surprising that people get riled. I might think twice before accepting a dinner invitation from you if that's the reception that would greet me. :-)

My own view here is that people should always treat those they disagree with with a certain respect. It's just common politeness. I wouldn't dream of calling Blimpish, for example, 'fucking nuts'. Well, not really.

But the point of my posting was different. It is one of the most common, and insidious, rhetorical devices of polemicits like Heffer to claim that they are somehow the victims of a great left-wing plot to silence them. That there can be no debate on the death penalty in the UK because of this plot. Heffer and his cohorts are almost comically blind to the fact that the debate is had to an endless extent, in the pages of the newspapers, journals and repeatedly over the decades on the floor of the House. The BBC covererd in considerable details the musings of a retired police commissioner on the issue only last week. And one of the proponents of the death penalty is currently in no less prominent a position than Shadow Home Secretary, with a fair to middling chance of becoming leader of the Tories. So to say, as Heffer implies, that proponents of the death penalty are somehow scared into silence is nonsense of the highest order. So, no, I have zero sympathy with the US academic he cites. Fine if he wants to stay silent at a liberal dinner party, but in his professional capacity he should either say what he believes, or consider another job.


3A, go ahead and call me 'fucking nuts' - I know you love me really...

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