Seeing Executions as Breaching the Liminal Line: Undermining Modern Justifications for the Death Penalty Open Access

Williams, Jennifer Alden (2013)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/vq27zn962?locale=en
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Abstract


Abstract
Seeing Executions as Breaching the Liminal Line:
Undermining Modern Justifications for the Death Penalty
In his essay, "On Crimes and Punishment," Beccaria stated, "The
punishment of death is pernicious to society, from the example of barbarity it
affords." He argued that the law is intended to civilize society, but by executing
individuals, it does not achieve this goal. Beccaria asks, "Is it not absurd, that the
laws, which detest and punish homicide, should, in order to prevent murder,
publicly commit murder themselves?" Benjamin Rush took up this question in
his presentation to Benjamin Franklin's Society for Promoting Political Enquires,
when he argued that public executions increase the likelihood of murder in 1787.
The brutalization argument again was picked up in the modern day, with articles
appearing in both sociological and economic academic journals from 1978 - 2011.
Only one explanation for the brutalization effect has been posited, but not
fully explained, by the authors of the modern brutalization effect articles: that of
lethal vengeance. Lethal vengeance turns the rationalization of the deterrence
theory on its head: instead of identifying with the condemned person being
executed, the possible criminal identifies with the state and "executes" the person
who has wronged him. No detailed explanation for why this is possible is
articulated, however. This paper attempts to fill this gap in the literature and
explain why the brutalization effect is possible and, consequently, how the
modern justifications for the death penalty are undermined.
If only God controls the decisions of life or death for humanity, then the
state breaks the barrier between God and humanity when it chooses to execute a
condemned individual. By breaking this barrier, the state opens up the possibility
for lethal vengeance and the brutalization effect. If executions are understood as
a Girardian sacrificial ritual that breaches the liminal line between God and
humanity, today's death penalty justifications of deterrence and retribution are
undermined.

Table of Contents


Table of Contents
Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 1
1: Executions as Girardian Sacrificial Rituals that Breach the Liminal
Line ........................................................................................................................................... 11

Sacrifice as a Rite De Passage .............................................................................................. 13
Early New England Executions and the Girardian Sacrificial Ritual ............ 18
Girardian Sacrificial Rituals: The Evolution of Early New England
Executions to Modern Executions .................................................................................... 24

Understandings of God and Breaking the Liminal Line ....................................... 32
2: The Consequences of Breaching the Liminal Line for Modern
Justifications for the Death Penalty ....................................................................... 39

The History of Deterrence as a Justification for Capital Punishment .......... 40
Deterrence or Brutalization: Literature Review ....................................................... 42
Brutalization and the Liminal Line .................................................................................. 48
Retribution as an Invalid Justification without Deterrence .............................. 51
Conclusion ............................................................................................................................ 56
Bibliography ........................................................................................................................ 57



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