Friday, November 14, 2008

Sen. Joyce on the death penalty

A disappointing opinion piece by Senator Barnaby Joyce appeared in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herod in which he argued against the death penalty. Unfortunately, though, Sen. Joyce failed to makes clear whether he opposes the death penalty in every case or just in cases where the imperative of protection of society does not require it. At one point Senator choice says that

We, as a nation, either believe in capital punishment, or we do not. We either believe it is acceptable on occasions, or believe it is never acceptable.
and presumably one would think (at this point) that Sen. Joyce fits into the latter category (opposition in all cases). But later he says that

We have the right to protect life from imminent danger by whatever means available
implying that he supports capital punishment as a method of lethal defence (ignoring the fact that if it’s a defence then it’s not a punishment). So which is it?

Also confusing is Sen. Joyce’s view on punishment:

The harshest punishment for criminals is not execution, no matter how barbarous the act for which they are being punished. Rather, I believe to take the world to a better place, the greater punishment is to maintain that nothing done by criminals like these will alter our belief that all life is precious, even the lives of these criminals, lives which have been defiled by their own actions.
So he asserts that execution is not the harshest punishment, but then goes on to argue something completely separate, namely, that withholding the death penalty shows how highly we value life. But how does the moral state of the rest of society have any bearing on the severity of the punishment of the offender? To begin a paragraph by asserting one thing, and then arguing another is undisciplined thinking and sloppy writing. This is the kind of badly-constructed paragraph that one would expect from a maladroit high-school essayist, not something published in a major broadsheet.

But putting this failure of composition aside, how can Sen. Joyce argue that imprisonment, even life imprisonment, is somehow worse than execution? Presumably, then, there is some lesser crime for which the death penalty should be adequate. Another problem is that, regardless of one’s opinions on which punishment is the worse, the death penalty is the only available earthly punishment we have that fits the crime of murder; comparisons of better and worse in the manner of differences of degree aren’t really all that relevant, since deprivation of liberty and deprivation of life are in completely different categories—they differ in kind, not just in degree. Imprisonment is a completely inadequate punishment for murder.

Sen. Joyce also asserts that

Criminals abrogate the liberties of freedom, and accordingly society has the right to incarcerate criminals for the term of their life if required.
Now if Sen. Joyce can see that criminals forfeit the right to liberty, why is he unable to see that murderers forfeit the right to life? And predictably, Sen. Joyce makes the assertion that

Shooting someone in the heart while they are tied to a wooden stake - or however death is administered - brutalises us as well as them.
But this is a purely subjective argument; no doubt some, perhaps many, would be averse to carrying out an execution personally, but this does not mean that it would be the case for everyone, and the evil of the supposed 'brutalisation' must be weighed against the evil of withholding the just punishment anyway.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Josephat, Bishop, Martyr, 2008 A.D.

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