Death Penalty: Politics of.

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Sun Mar 7 13:37:24 PST 1999

Max asks what the political arguments I referred to were? I thought most of my arguments (and Michael's and Yoshie's) were political in that for the most part we emphasized not the cruelty to the accused but the damage to the public in general and the working class in particular that the death penalty did. But specifically, I was referring to the following post, which I sent last Wednesday. As its heading suggests, it was not intended to be comprehensive, but at least it raises issues which cannot be handled either by references to Gallop Poll like reports on the "working class" or maunderings about the victims of crime (as though the death penalty was any help to them).

As to Guthrie, if you think him a sentimentalist, very well, I've retired as a teacher of remedial reading.

I don't intend to participate further in this thread for the time being.


A few observations.

1. I'm amazed at how few bring to this subject the Epicurean insight that death is a tragedy for the living, not the dead. The death penalty primarily penalizes the relatives and friends of the executed person.

2. As Linebaugh points out, the use of the death penalty always increases during periods when the working class is being transformed in some way or other.

3. The primary victim is the public -- the death penalty pollutes the public mind in innumerable different ways. It is in fact much worse than private vengeance, for it brings the whole magesty of "The People" (i.e., the Ruling Class masquerading as The People) to bear in the most dramatic way possible on one isolated individual. And the way common sense (which I have come to regard as a better phrased than "ideology" to get at this social mechanism) operates, it generates the general mass consensus that *the* great menace to human happiness is from individual criminals. (Why would "we" go to so much trouble to kill this one person with such pomp and ceremony if there were not really great concerns involved? Common sense (ideology) is never either sensible or conscious.)

4. Emphasizing the execution of the innocent obscures the real issues involved. by suggesting that all would be well if only the guilty were punished. As is usually the case with opportunism, it is in fact impractical and inopportune. From the perspective of humaneness, it would be better to carry out executions within a week or so, even at the cost of killing many more innocent, because the real horror of the death penalty for those subject to it is the long stay in the death cells, which are torture chambers. The illogic here is not mine but the "logic" of the penalty itself.

5. Emphasizing the sanctity of human life (and all other pacifist garbage) is also inopportune. It opens up endless irrelevant arguments and only increases the corrupting effects of the death penalty on the public mind.

6. Someone mentioned approval of the death penalty by African Americans. That is the one thing I use to really tangle with my black students on.


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