Monday, October 20, 2014

Reflections on the guillotine

"Punishment, penalizing rather than preventing, is a form of revenge: society's semi-arithmetical answer to violation of its primordial law. This answer is as old as man himself, and usually goes by the name of retaliation. He who hurts me must be hurt; who blinds me in one eye must himself lose an eye; who takes a life must die.

It is a feeling, and a particularly violent one, which is involved here, not a principle. Retaliation belongs to the order of nature, of instinct, not to the order of law. The law by definition cannot abide by the same rules as nature. If murder is part of man's nature, the law is not made to imitate or reproduce such nature. We have all known the impulse to retaliate, often to our shame, and we know its power: the power of the primeval forests.

In this regard, we live — as Frenchmen who grow justifiably indignant at seeing the oil king of Saudi Arabia preach international democracy while entrusting his butcher with the task of cutting off a thief's hand — in a kind of middle ages ourselves, without even the consolations of faith.

Yet if we still define our justice according to the calculations of a crude arithmetic, can we at least affirm that this arithmetic is correct, and that even such elementary justice, limited as it is to a form of legal revenge, is safeguarded by the death penalty? The answer must again be: No."

~ Albert Camus, Reflections on the Guillotine

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