Wednesday, December 14, 2005

European Elites and the Death Penalty


European elites enjoy showcasing their opposition to the death penalty as a progressive policy based on the respect of human rights. This stance is portrayed in stark contrast to the their brethren across the pond in the U.S. who execute criminals on a whim, sometimes even juveniles (note: the prior ability to of states to execute adults who committed murder as juveniles was commonly misrepresented in the European press as the execution of juveniles.). Like many policies, however, the moral basis of European opposition to the death penalty is riddled with contradictions, especially when viewed in the context of Europe's progressive euthanasia policies or dismal record on human rights on their own continent (reference their indifference to the Balkans). Such large contradictions usually suggest there are other motives.

Germany, along with France, has long led the anti-death penalty charge in Europe. The mayor of Paris took this viewpoint to such an extreme position that he named a city street after convicted American cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. So it came as little surprise when a Washington Post article revealed today that the true basis for Germany's strong anti-death penalty policy was not based on morals or a sense of humanity. Instead, it was based on protecting convicted Nazi war criminals:

Contrasting their nation's policy with that of the Americans, Germans point proudly to Article 102 of their Basic Law, adopted in 1949. It reads, simply: "The death penalty is abolished." They often say that this 56-year-old provision shows how thoroughly the postwar Federal Republic has learned -- and applied -- the lessons of Nazi state-sponsored killing. (Communist East Germany kept the death penalty until 1987.)

But the actual history of the German death penalty ban casts this claim in a different light. Article 102 was in fact the brainchild of a right-wing politician who sympathized with convicted Nazi war criminals -- and sought to prevent their execution by British and American occupation authorities. Far from intending to repudiate the barbarism of Hitler, the author of Article 102 wanted to make a statement about the supposed excesses of Allied victors' justice.

The historical roots of German opposition to the death penalty supports a theory of ours, namely that death penalty opposition is based more on self-preservation than morality. Specifically, the ruling class in Europe sought in the aftermath of World War II to limit the penalties available for any genuine or perceived crimes they may commit. The reason for seeking this protection is clear: European elites to this day are still haunted by visions of cascading guillotines and always cognizant of a population that finds more solace in the street-mob than the ballot box. Eliminating the death penalty all but ensures the Europe’s ruling elitist class will endure for the foreseeable future.

A 2000 article by Joshua Micah Marshall in the New Republic further substantiates this position and effectively destroyed the myth that Europeans as a whole are opposed to the death penalty. Marshall cited opinion polls showing the following:

The U.K. - Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the population favors the death penalty (about the same as in the U.S.)

Italy - roughly one-half the population wants the death penalty reinstated.

France - Clear majorities continued to back the death penalty long after it was abolished in 1981. Only last year [1999] did a poll finally show that less than 50 percent wanted it reinstated.

So not only is European opposition to the death penalty based on a questionable foundation, but the image of the anti-death penalty European is a mirage all together. Using these three, typically more “progressive” Western European countries as a representation of Europe as a whole suggests the death penalty enjoys much larger support across the European population than is commonly believed. No doubt that absent strong lobbying by European bureaucrats for the abolition of the death penalty, the numbers supporting capital punishment would be much, much higher.

It should be noted that the trend of death penalty support in Europe is likely to increase (if it has not already), as the influence of Islam grows. "Private" death penalty sentences appear to already be on the rise in Europe in the form of honor killings. As Sharia law takes hold in Europe, this situation can be expected to worsen, rather than improve.

On a related note, noted liberal scholar Cass Sunstein, recently wrote a paper based on the findings of a research group at Emory University. The study found "a direct association between the reauthorization of the death penalty, in 1977, and reduced homicide rates," but also that "the 'conservative estimate' was that on average, every execution deters eighteen murders." Sunstein and his co-author concluded, "this calculus makes the death penalty not just morally licit but morally required." It can be expected that this report will never see the light of day in the European, or even the U.S. press for that matter.
Posted by Jeff at June 7, 2005 09:30 PM

Joyce's Footnote: Stanley "Tookie" Williams was fortunately put to death by the state of California the morning of Tuesday, December 13th at the irrelevant outrage of European elitists, including Austrians. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's response, all 57 pages, is online at Read it and understand what civilized justice really means. His victims and their families would probably appreciate it if you remember them more while you direct your outrage at Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger If you still don't understand why the death penalty is widely supported here and it looks like abroad too, then you must be the type of person who cares more for animals then mammals.

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