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Saturday, 6 December 2014

Judicial Murder

By way of introduction:
It is interesting to note that opponents of abortion (the faction that has all the arguments on its side) are not always dogmatic opponents of capital punishment. There are cogent arguments on both sides in this debate – not least is the argument that capital punishment is irrevocable and that mistakes can be and have been made.
Still by way of introduction:
What should be the blogger’s rule when reporting an argument? First, be accurate – do not misrepresent your opponent’s position. Second, if your opponent admits defeat, do not gloat.

In the course of a long, enjoyable and good natured conversation the other night, the subject of capital punishment came up. My interlocutor opined that when the state takes a life, it is as much murder as when an individual kills. We agreed that an individual commits no murder when he kills in self-defence. We even agreed that a lowly soldier, compelled to fight by his superiors, is not a common murderer.

What, I wanted to know, is the alternative? Should there be no sanction against murder? Obviously not, we agreed. Deprivation of liberty (aka imprisonment)? Yes, apparently.

But, since we are talking principle here, why, since kidnapping by an individual is agreed to be criminal, should kidnapping by the state be any more justified than killing by the state? For sure, killing is more final and mistakes are possible. Nevertheless, it seems to me, in principle, ‘judicial kidnapping’ cannot be any more or less acceptable than ‘judicial murder’.

Is it true that anything which is verboten to the individual is verboten to the state? If so, taxation should be disallowed – and so should imprisonment. But, we need armies and courts and police forces! So, we need taxation. We cannot allow murderers to roam free. So, we need imprisonment and perhaps executions. The argument from finality and mistakes still stands. However, the argument which equates ‘judicial murder’ with ‘individual murder’ is exposed as being without principle.

A man accused of murder is allowed to defend himself on many grounds. It was an accident. It was self-defence. I was not in my right mind. The ‘judicial murder’ theorists allow society no defence whatsoever.

The argument from squeamishness is powerful. Could you throw the switch, pull the lever, shout ‘Fire’? There are circumstances in which I could. It is clearly the case that some murders are worse than others – just as some rapes are worse than others, though some feminists deny the latter. Could you sever a baby’s spinal cord as it emerges from the birth canal, or even minutes later? Could you vacuum it out from the safety of the womb? The executioner can claim that the murderer deserved his fate. The abortionist can make no such claim.

I have always believed that proponents of abortion are sentimental. The murder of a happy healthy child, in daylight, would revolt any and all of them. Abortion usually takes place in the dark. Even most pro-abortionists agree that Kermit Gosnell was egregiously evil. He is serving time. I could throw the switch on him.

Society and the State:

Careful readers will have noticed that I have used ‘society’ and ‘the state’ in this posting and that I have not distinguished between them. This makes me very uncomfortable. The best argument for the state’s existence is ‘the social contract’. It is not a very good one. Show me my signature on this august document!

Earnest defenders of capitalism (or the free market) are nearly always earnest defenders of ‘the rule of law’. Whence the rule of law? In England and the USA (as well as the other Anglophone nations) we have the sublime tradition of Common Law. Most of us never think about it. Daniel Hannan is eloquent in his praise of it. In our tradition, the ‘law of the land' is not the king’s law. It emerges organically from below – from cases not from statutes. Statute law also exists; and we have Parliament to protect us from its excesses – sometimes.

Obviously, Terry Wogan is the greatest living Irishman (with Gerard Casey a close second) – may their sins be forgiven. The greatest Irishman of all time was Edmund Burke, who attacked the French Revolution and defended the American one. He served as a Westminster MP (as a Whig) and is rightly regarded as the founder of modern conservatism. I am daringly going to summarise his philosophy as: Perfection is not possible; Improvement is.

Burke was an Anglican, though his mother was born a Catholic and his father converted. One of his most famous phrases was ‘the little platoons’ – To love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.

Loving the little platoons must make us fear and distrust the state. ‘The greater the state, the smaller the citizen’, says Dennis Prager and he is right. The state is a Moloch, which frequently devours the little platoons.

So, here am I, conflating society and the state. Shame on me! The state very imperfectly represents society. This is a melancholy truth. Life is full of melancholy truths.

Libertarians (some call themselves anarcho-capitalists) have creative ideas about how law can exist without the state. Gerard Casey is an excellent exemplar. But we are not there yet.
I have gone on too long. God bless!

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